Text 6. Social Rank in the Empire

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Text 6. Social Rank in the Empire

Read the text and do the tasks that follow.

Roman social status determined what people could wear, where they could sit – even what their job could be. Roman society was divided into three major classes – the elite, the “more humble,” and the slaves. Birth and wealth determined social class.

The best seats at the Colosseum were saved for the elite. This group included senators and other government officials and wealthy citizens. The elite made up less 2 per cent of the people, but they were the most powerful. They even had special legal rights. If they were guilty of a crime, they could not be punished as severely as ordinary citizens or slaves.

Only a few jobs were acceptable for a man of the elite class. The emperor appointed members of the elite class to serve as government officials. Also acceptable for the elite were jobs in law and ownership of farms. Jobs in business were not acceptable. If a man of the elite class wanted to make money in business, he would hire someone of the “more humble” class to do it for him.

The people seated above the elite in the Colosseum were the ordinary citizens, who belonged to the “more humble” class. The more humble class included most of the free men and women in the empire. Farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, soldiers, and other working people were in the more humble class. Some of the more humble were fairly wealthy. Others just scraped by.

Crammed together with the poorest people at the top of the Colosseum were the slaves – human property that could be bought and sold. Slaves could not own property. By some estimates, slaves made up as much as a third of the people of Roman Italy during the empire.

Besides working in household and on farms, trained slaves worked in mining, shipping, road building, and construction. Slaves also might hold office jobs in the provinces. Conditions for slaves varied widely. Slaves on the farms worked long hours in the fields. Sometimes they were chained together.

Slaves in cities usually worked as servants in the homes of wealthy masters. They had an easier life than the slaves on farms. Some city slaves even gained important positions as heads of household staffs. But all slaves were at the mercy of their masters, who could beat or torture them.

Some Romans complained about the mistreatment of slaves. However, no one in the ancient world thought seriously about the end of slavery. Apparently, people saw slavery as a necessary part of the social system.

Social divisions were clearly defined in ancient Rome. However, people were occasionally able to improve their social position. The key was gaining wealth, and for most, becoming wealthy was impossible According to Juvenal, the Romans decided the importance of man in this way:

The first question to be asked will be about his wealth the last about his character. How many slaves does he maintain?

How much land does he possess?

How many courses does he have served at table and how much does he provide for his guests?

Romans could improve their social position if they became wealthy. If they lost wealth, however, they could lose their social status. Raising one’s social level was not easy. The great majority of people in the “more humble” class worked on farms, and they were usually lucky just to get by each year. They had little chance of becoming rich. Soldiers had a better chance. Some earned promotions and wealth during long military careers. When they retired, they were rich and respected enough to join the elite class.

Even slaves had a chance to better themselves. Through a master’s kindness, an urban slave might be set free as a young adult. His master might even set him up in business, and then he might join the “more humble” class. Rural slaves had harder lives and fewer opportunities. They had little chance of gaining freedom or improving their lot in life.


Word Check

Ex. 1. Vocabulary extension.

1. guilty – having done wrong;

2. acceptable – welcome;

3. to scrape by – to manage to live in spite of difficulties;

4. to cram – to push very much or too much into;

5. estimate – assessment; approximate calculation;

6. house hold – all persons (family, lodgers, etc.) living in a house;

7. to be at the mercy of – in the power of, without defense against;

8. to torture – to cause severe suffering to;

9. mistreatment – a bad way of handling smtb. or smth.

10. to earn – to get in return for work as a reward for one’s services;

11. to retire – to withdraw, (from an army), to give up (one’s work, position).

Ex. 2.Find words or expressions in the text which mean the following.

1. This group included senders and other government officials and wealthy citizens.

2. This group included most of the free men and women in the Empire.

3. Human property that could be bought and sold.

4. A place where the Romans watched games in which professional fighters called gladiators fought lions, bears and other wild beats.

5. Giving smb. a higher position or rank.

Ex. 3.Use the following in pairs of antonyms.

1. the elite class, legal, guilty, to buy, mistreatment, occasionally, to improve, impossible, wealth, majority, respect, to better, an urban slave;

2. a rural slave, to worsen, disrespect, the slaves, illegal, innocent, to sell, treatment, often, possible, poverty, minority.

Ex. 4.Complete the sentences use the words and expression from the text.

1. Roman society was divided into three major classes … , … , and … .

2. The elite included senators and government … and wealthy … .

3. If they were … a crime, they could not be punished as severely as ordinary … or slaves.

4. Only a few jobs were … for a man of the elite class.

5. Others just … .

6. … together with the poorest people at the top of the Colosseum were the slaves.

7. By some … slaves made up as much as a third of the people of Roman Italy during the empire.

8. Some city slaves even gained important positions as heads of … staffs.

9. But all slaves were … their masters, who could beat or even … them.

10. Some Romans complained about the … of slaves.

11. The great majority of people in the … class worked on farms and they were usually lucky just … each year.

12. Some … promotions and wealth during long military careers.

13. When they … they were rich and respected enough to join the elite class.


Words for reference: retired, earned, to get by, “more humble”, the elite, the more humble, the slaves, officials, citizens, guilty of, acceptable, scraped, crammed, mistreatment, at the mercy of, household, torture, estimates.


Ex. 1.Answer the following questions.

1. What role did social rank play in Roman life?

2. What did the elite class include?

3. What jobs were acceptable for the elite?

4. What did the “more humble” class include?

5. What was the third class?

6. How did life differ for city and rural slaves?

7. How did the ancient Romans feel about slavery?

8. Was it possible for the Romans to improve their social position?

9. How did the Romans decide the importance of a man?

Ex. 2.Speak on the following points:

1. three social classes;

2. the elite class;

3. the “more humble” class;

4. the slaves;

5. the importance of social level;

6. changes in social level.

Text 7. The Roman Economy

Read the text and do the tasks that follow.

Agriculture was the backbone of the Roman economy. In Italy itself, farmers grew grain and planted olive groves and vineyards. Olive oil and wine were shipped to cities throughout the empire. As the empire expanded, olive oil and wine were also produced in Gaul, Spain, and Africa as well as Italy.

But on the whole, Roman farming methods were not very advanced. As a result, crops were small, and many people were needed to work the land. Four out of five people in the Roman Empire worked on farms.

Another reason for the poor performance of Roman agriculture was taxation. The emperors required farmers to give most of their surplus grain to the government in taxes. Farmers could not make money by selling surplus grain at a profit, and so they had little to spend.

One result was a limited demand for manufactured items. Modern industry employs so many people and produces so many items because there is a large market,or demand, for its products. In ancient Rome, most people could afford only simple clothes and inexpensive pottery. Only the wealthy could afford decorated pottery and fine jewelry. As a result, the market for such items was small.

Most manufacturing plants in ancient Rome were small. An example is the pottery shop in Arretium, one of the empire’s best-known manufacturing operations. It employed only about 50 slaves.

For all its accomplishments, the Roman Empire never developed a complex economy. It did not create large banks and other financial institutions. Instead, the Roman economy was mainly concerned with the basic task of feeding the empire’s soldiers and city dwellers. This same basic task made Rome the hub of an extensive network of trade routes.

Here’s how the Greek writer Aelius Aristides described Roman shipping in the A.D. 100s:

“So many merchant ships arrive in Rome with cargoes from everywhere, at all times of the year, and after each harvest, that the city seems like the world’s warehouse. The arrival and departure of ships never stops – it’s amazing that the sea, not to mention the harbor, is big enough for these merchant ships.”

Ships hauled goods, such as wine, grain, and exotic animals, to and from ports in every part of the Roman Empire. On land, carts pulled by oxen or mules and even caravans of camels carried such items as lumber, clothing, and household goods over the empire’s extensive system of roads. A side benefit was that trade brought news of other cultures and foreign places.

The most important item that the Romans traded for was grain. Wheat and barely were used in making the bread and other foods that formed most of the Roman diet. Grain was needed for people of the cities as well as army legions throughout the empire. Providing enough was a constant challenge.

Rome itself had become a city with about one million people by the A.D. 100s. The farmland around Rome could not grow enough grain everyone. Therefore, the city depended heavily on products imported form North Africa, Egypt, and Sicily.

An added problem was that as many as 300,000 people in the city of Rome were so poor that they could not buy grain. The government had to give it to them. Free handouts became important to the peace of the city. An emperor might face riots if he did not provide enough grain for the people.

Another 300,000 men in the army stationed in the empire’s provinces also had to be fed. Food was generally supplied by the provinces where the men were stationed. Then the government had to send more grain from other parts of the empire.

The largest industry in the empire was mining. Marble and other materials for the empire’s great building projects were mined in Greece and northern Italy. Gold and silver came from mines in Spain. Lead and tin came from Britain. The metals were needed to manufacture weapons and other items, including coins for trade within the empire. Metals were also exchanged for luxury goods from foreign lands.

Italian communities manufactured pottery, glassware, weapons, tools, and textiles for use in Rome and for trade throughout the empire. In contrast to farm products, however, trade in manufactured goods was limited.

The trade in luxury goods made up the smallest part of the Roman economy. Not many people had enough money for luxuries. However, traders traveled far beyond the borders of the empire to bring back unusual items for wealthy Romans.

Traders went south into the Sahara and brought back ostrich eggs and ivory, which were strange and wonderful to the Romans. They went north and brought back blond slaves from the land that is now Germany. These blond slaves were so intriguing to the dark-haired Romans that some rich Romans even began wearing blond wigs. The traders also went into the Far East, bringing back silks from China, and spices and gems from India.

Word Check

Ex. 1.Find words and expressions in the text which mean the following:

1. a group of tries, small wood;

2. an area of land planted with grape;

3. extra;

4. request for, desire by people ready to buy (goods);

5. to make, produce (goods);

6. a single article or unit;

7. (can, could, be able to) spare or fend enough time or money for;

8. a citizen;

9. a central point of activity or importance;

10. to transport;

11. roughly prepared wood; wood that has been sawn into planks, boards;

12. threat;

13. charity, kindness in giving help to the poor (money);

14. the process of getting minerals from mines.


Ex. 1.Answer the following questions.

1. What were some important products of the Roman economy?

2. Why were they important?

3. Why was Roman farming so poor?

4. Why did the Romans need to import grain?

Ex. 2.Discussion

People are productive when they expect to be rewarded for efforts. Relate this idea to the poor productivity of Roman farmers.


Ex. 1. Translate this text into Russian.

Rich and Poor

A rich family might own 500 slaves. Some very wealthy Roman families might own 4,000 slaves. An emperor might command a personal slave population of 20,000. Household slaves did just about every job imaginable. They cooked, served meals, cleaned, and took care of the children. Each slave might have only one job – folding the master’s clothes or fixing the mistress’s hair, for example.

In contrast, the vast majority of those who lived in the city had tiny apartments in five-story apartment buildings called insulae. In some cases, an entire family would crowd into a single room.

For every wealthy home in Rome, there were 26 blocks of insulae. Most insulaewere dark and had no heat or running water. The poor got water from public fountains outside.

The Roman writer Juvenal described the poorer neighborhoods of Rome in the A.D. 100s:

Most of the city [is] propped up with planks to stop it collapsing. Your landlord that have been there for years and says, “Sleep well!” although he knows that the house itself may not last the night. I wish I lived where there were no fires, no midnight panics.

In these crowded conditions, fires and crime were serious problems. Lack of sanitation also contributed to the spread of disease. The problem was so severe that about onefourth of the babies born in Rome did not live through their fist year. Half of all Roman children did not live to be 10 years old.


Ex. 2. Translate this text into English.

Золотой век

«Золотой век» – согласно представлениям древних – период, когда люди вели счастливую жизнь – без раздоров, войн и тяжелого труда. Легенда возникла в Элладе в период становления классового общества, когда жизнь части общинников ухудшилась: они должны были трудиться для знати, испытывая унижения. Как рассказывает Гесиод в поэме «Труды и дни» (109 – 201), людей «золотого века» создали боги, когда правил Крон (Кронос). Они не знали горя, ни забот, ни старости, проводя дни в застольях. Земля сама приносила плоды, и на ней паслись многочисленные стада.

Пришедший на смену «золотого века» серебряный век наделил людей всяческими благами. Однако Зевс истребил людей за то, что они не пожелали приносить богам жертвы. Затем, по Гесиоду, наступил медный век: люди создавали медные орудия труда и оружие, они существовали за счет войн и грабежей, чем уничтожили воинственное, но справедливое и благородное поколение героев. Они погибли во время похода семерых против Фивской и Троянской войны. Свой век Гесиод называет железным: люди вынуждены постоянно трудиться, горе и заботы не оставляют их, а сама жизнь стала краткой. Вместо законов на земле правит сила; исчез стыд, и человечество идет к гибели – Зевс погубит и это поколение.

Легенда о «золотом веке» была популярной в римской литературе (см., напр., «Метаморфозы» Овидия).


1. How did the Romans build a peaceful and prosperous Empire?

2. What did Augustus do for the city of Rome and for the provinces?

3. What policies did the Roman emperors follow in order to unify the empire?

4. What role did social rank play in Rome life?

5. How did life differ for people in the three Roman social classes?

6. How was life different for rich and poor Romans?

7. How did the emperors provide “bread and circuses” for the people of Rome?

8. How was trade carried on within the Roman Empire?


Summarize the information from the unit and be ready to speak on the following points.

1. Emperors of the Pax Romana.

a) Caesar;

b) Augustus.

2. Social classes in the Empire.

3. Family life in the Empire.

4. Religious Practices.

5. The Roman economy.

Unit V




1. How were Judaism and early Christianity alike, and how were they different?

2. The Christians decided to preach to Gentiles as well as to Jews. Why do you think that decision was important to the development of Christianity?

3. How did the persecution of the Christians hurt the growth of Christianity? How did it help?

4. Is our culture today more like the Roman culture or the Christian culture in its attitudes toward money and property?

5. Not all historians agree on the reasons for the fall of Rome. What do you think the most important reasons were? Why?



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