The Common People of Ancient Rome eBook

Frank Frost Abbott
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 172 pages of information about The Common People of Ancient Rome.
In the last days of the Republic, however, they began to enter politics, and were used very effectively in the elections by political leaders in both parties.[115] In fact the fortunes of the city seemed likely to be controlled by political clubs, until severe legislation and the transfer of the elections in the early Empire from the popular assemblies to the senate put an end to the use of trade associations for political purposes.  It was in the light of this development that the government henceforth required all newly formed trades-unions to secure official authorization.

The change in the attitude of the state toward these organizations, as time went on, has been traced by Liebenam in his study of Roman associations.  The story of this change furnishes an interesting episode in the history of special privilege, and may not be without profit to us.  The Roman government started with the assumption that the operation of these voluntary associations was a matter of public as well as of private concern, and could serve public interests.  Therefore their members were to be exempted from some of the burdens which the ordinary citizen bore.  It was this reasoning, for instance, which led Trajan to set the bakers free from certain charges, and which influenced Hadrian to grant the same favors to those associations of skippers which supplied Rome with food.  In the light of our present-day discussion it is interesting also to find that Marcus Aurelius granted them the right to manumit slaves and receive legacies—­that is, he made them juridical persons.  But if these associations were to be fostered by law, in proportion as they promoted the public welfare, it also followed logically that the state could put a restraining hand upon them when their development failed to serve public interests in the highest degree.  Following this logical sequence, the Emperor Claudius, in his efforts to promote a more wholesome home life, or for some other reason not known to us, forbade the eating-houses or the delicatessen shops to sell cooked meats or warm water.  Antoninus Pius, in his paternal care for the unions, prescribed an age test and a physical test for those who wished to become members.  Later, under the law a man was allowed to join one guild only.  Such a legal provision as this was a natural concomitant of the concession of privileges to the unions.  If the members of these organizations were to receive special favors from the state, the state must see to it that the rolls were not padded.  It must, in fact, have the right of final supervision of the list of members.  So long as industry flourished, and so long as the population increased, or at least remained stationary, this oversight by the government brought no appreciable ill results.  But when financial conditions grew steadily worse, when large tracts of land passed out of cultivation and the population rapidly dwindled, the numbers in the trades-unions began to decline.  The public services, constantly

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The Common People of Ancient Rome from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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