Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Augustus Notes From Ch. 1

"The family seems to have been in trade, a sure sign that it was not of aristocratic status. Gaius' paternal great-grandfather fought in Sicily as a military tribune during the second war against the great merchant state of Carthage in North Africa."

"Gaius' grandfather, who lived to an advanced age, was well-off, but had no ambitions for a career in national politics, being apparently content to hold local political office.

"Later hostile gossip claimed that the great-grandfather was an ex-slave who, having won his freedom, made a living as a rope maker in the neighborhood of Thurii, a town in Italy's deep south. It was also rumored that the grandfather was a money changer, with 'coin-stained hands.' Friendly propagandists took a different tack and invented a fictitious link with a blue-blooded Roman clan of the same name."

"Gaius merely noted that he 'came from a rich old equestrian family.' The equites, or knights, were the affluent middle class, occupying a political level below that of the nobility and members of the ruling Senate, but often overlapping with them socially."

Men who were 'novus homo' - 'new men', people who came from the non-noble levels of society but were elevated due to having made their fortunes had a hard time breaking in to politics. "The Roman constitution was a complicated contraption of checks and balances, and the odds were stacked against an outsider winning a position of authority."

"Rome became a republic in 509 B.C., after driving out its king and abolishing the monarchy. The next two centuries saw a long struggle for power between a group of noble families, patricians, and ordinary citizens, plebians, who were excluded from public office. The outcome was an apparent victory for the people, but the old aristocracy, supplemented by rich plebian nobles, still controlled the state. What looked in many ways like a democracy was, in fact, an oligarchy modified by elections."

Only Roman men were allowed to vote.

"By tradition, the paterfamilias held the power of life and death over his household, both his relatives and his slaves. When a child was born, the midwife took the infant and placed it on the floor in front of the father. Should the father wish to acknowledge his paternity, he would lift the baby into his arms if it was a boy; if a girl, he would simply instruct that she be fed. Only after this ritual had taken place did the child receive his or her first nourishment.

"Apparently, Gaius was lucky to survive this procedure, for an astrologer had given him a bad prognosis and he narrowly escaped infanticide. If Gaius had been rejected, he would have been abandoned in the open air and left to die; this was a fate to which illegitimate children and girls were especially liable, as were (one may surmise) sickly or disabled babies. Rejected infants were left on dunghills, or near cisterns. They were often picked up there by slave traders (although the family might reclaim the child later, if it so wished) or, more rarely, rescued by a kindly passerby. Otherwise, they would starve, unless eaten by stray dogs."

"A slave was something one could own, like a horse or a table. In the Roman view, he or she was 'a talking instrument.' Slaves could not marry, although they could make and save money and could receive legacies. If a master was murdered by a slave, all the slaves in his ownership were killed. It was believed that a slave could give true evidence only under torture. Perhaps a third of the population of Italy were slaves in the late Republic - as many as three million people."

I'm really enjoying this book, it's full of really neat information. But I'm trying not to spam you guys with my obsession!


  1. It's not spamming when you share things you like on your own blog! :-D Plus, it's educational for me, right?

    Hope you are doing well!

  2. Except for the first and last lines, I hadn't actually read this post when I commented before, but WOWOWOWOW! That *is* fascinating. Please do spam your blog and share more of these types of things. It is so interesting to learn these facts (or be reminded of them.)


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