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Ancient Rome Pompeii & Herculaneum. Social Structure. Plebeians and Patricians. The People. Wealthy Romans often holidayed in Pompeii in magnificant villas which they built on the hills overlooking the sea.

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Ancient rome pompeii herculaneum l.jpg

Ancient RomePompeii & Herculaneum

Social Structure

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The People

  • Wealthy Romans often holidayed in Pompeii in magnificant villas which they built on the hills overlooking the sea.

  • Population before the eruption – estimated between 10 000 – 20 000. Approx 40% were SLAVES.

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Roman Social Structure

  • Extremely class-conscious society

  • Based on HIERARCHY with no definite middle class

  • People were born into a particular social class and it was difficult to change classes

  • Factors that determined ones place in society included:- citizenship status- place of birth- level of wealth- living in country or city- freedom

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Roman Social Structure

  • There were numerous divisions in the social structure and these divisions between groups were often reinforced by legal & political privileges

  • “Legal status defined power, influence, criminal punishments, marriage partners, even dress and where you sat in the amphitheatre.” (Dr. Valerie Hope)

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Roman Social Structure

  • There were Roman citizens at Pompeii who were clearly identified by their power and privilege. These were the senators, equestrians and the provincial elite

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The Upper Strata

  • When P&H came under Roman control, the form of government was a republic in which the Senate and the magistrates held power.

  • Their position was based on birth and wealth

  • When Augustus came to power in 28BC, Rome underwent a significant change.

  • Power was now in the hands of one man, emperor, although senators and magistrates continued to function.

  • 28BC-AD79: Pompeii had senators, equestrians, freedmen (liberti), lower strata and slaves.

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Qualifications: property qualifications of one million sesterces.

Duties: served emperor in offices throughout the empire

  • Most gained their wealth from large estates

  • The position was hereditary

  • Distinguished by their clothing – a toga with a broad purple stripe

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Equestrians (Equites)

Qualifications: property qualifications of 400 000 sesterces.

Duties: served the emperor in important posts such as commanders of the fire service, grain supply and as military officers. For example, Pliny the Elder was an equestrian and held the post of commander of the fleet at Misenum.

  • Gained their wealth from public office, trade and banking

  • Their position was NOT hereditary

  • Wore a toga with a narrow purple strip and a gold finger ring

  • Imperial period - increased in numbers & importance

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Freedmen (Liberti)

Qualifications: were slaves who had been given their freedom by various means.

  • Gained wealth from trade, banking, manufacturing and land ownership.

  • Were excluded from entering the senatorial order, but some were able to become equestrians.

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Lower Strata

  • There was great diversity among the lower strata of Roman society.

  • This stratum consisted of poor freeborn citizens, poor freedmen and slaves.

  • These people were city dwellers or urban plebs.

  • They were generally despised and their lives were hard:- they suffered squalid living conditions- unpleasant working conditions- inferior food and clothing

  • Occupations varied: legal advisers, doctors, scribes, actors, engineers, working in small businesses, crafts and trade.

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Lower Strata

  • Craftsmen and artisans belonged to guilds called COLLEGIA. These guilds were controlled by the state and the members paid dues for meals and a decent burial.

  • One way to improve social standing was through their membership of the trade or religious guilds.

  • It was possible for members of the lower social strata to hold office and titles within these collegia. In wider society they could not hold much authority.

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  • Performed most of the work in agriculture and manufacturing, and upper class Romans drew most of their wealth from exploiting slave labour.

  • Romans saw the ownership of slaves as a valid expression of power, but they regarded slavery ‘as a state of living death’ (K. Bradley)

  • Slaves were generally looked down on in society (even after they were freed).

  • Slaves were those who had been defeated in war, or were free citizens who had sold themselves to pay their debts.

  • The state often purchased and used slaves.

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  • Typical role of women was to perform tasks such as running a household, bringing up the children and controlling the finances.

  • Evidence provides a valuable insight into the lives of women in all social classes.

  • Women appeared to have had more freedom than their counterparts in Rome.

  • Wall paintings, inscriptions and frescoes show Pompeian women actively engaged in public life and moving freely around the city.

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Complete pages 19-21 of the book of sources