Working Poor


  • By the middle of the 1st Cent. AD., most upper class Romans forsook manual labor.
  • They considered it beneath their dignity to work.
  • As a result, the work was performed by slaves or a large class of poor citizens.
  • Their were very skilled craftsmen, worked long hard hours and few became rich.


  • Artisans set up their shops throughout the city.
  • The shop was just a one room store from which the craftsman sold directly to the buyer
  • The most common were cobblers, goldsmiths, cutlery makers, and butchers.


  • Many other free Romans were unskilled and had to depend entirely upon the charity of the rich
  • Every morning these poor "clients" would line up outside a rich man's door for scraps or coins
  • The government also provided free bread, water, and entertainment for the poor


  • Slaves were deprived of civil rights
  • They were considered as animals to be worked to exhaustion for no pay except bare survival
  • All slaves were completely at the mercy of their owners.
  • Many were cruelly punished, maimed, or even killed for slight offenses
  • Rome had approximately 200,000 to 300,000 slaves and 500,000 free men.
  • By 100 AD. A law was passed forbidding a master to kill, torture, or mutilate a slave.
  • In Rome, many slaves were freed and were known as "freedmen."
  • A number of skillful freedmen became wealthy and politically influential.