The business classes were very busy supplying armies, building public works, and supervising colonial economic activities. They were accumulating staggering fortunes. They probably felt that they should be accorded full prestige, for it is authoritatively reported that the last decades of the Republic were periods of struggle between the equestrians and the senators over the spoils of imperialism. 46 However, even with the establishment of the Empire, there is no evidence of social victory for the publicani and equites.Next Page
Independent farmers were, as is well known, rapidly losing ground. They were sinking, and to that extent there was social class descent. Their position, in comparison to other groups, was falling. This, of course, was a special kind of social class mobility.
Slaves and the Roman proletariat. There were many kinds of slaves, as has been shown. Tiro was Cicero's chief secretary. "His literary powers fitted him to help Cicero in his writings . . . . " 47 Some slaves were tied by chains, some were house servants, some were teachers and physicians.
There was much social class mobility among freedmen, if one views the matter superficially. Actually most of these ascending persons were only regaining in Rome something of the position and status which they had had in Greece. The period of frequent "rising freedmen" came during the first century AD. and will be discussed in that connection.
The artisans in the cities experienced irregular employment and much unemployment. They lacked education, adequate housing and home training; even a private place to lounge was not theirs. 48 The plebs were by the conditions of life virtually cut off from a chance to rise. Household slaves were frequently in better positions, socially and economically.
Were these the plebeians? The people who, three centuries earlier, had achieved equality with the patricians? Truly, these were the great body of plebs who had become the proletariat of Rome. In six hundred years their position had not improved in the least. And not for another three hundred years were they to be given work and the dignity of inherited and apprenticed occupations. As usual in the ancient world, their mobility was never great. Like the toilers on the land they fluctuated between "B" to "C" on the social scale. To them the vote was given; it was taken away. Their class position was little affected either way.
46. Frank, op. cit., p. 47.
47. Cook, et al, op. cit., vol. IX, p. 788.
48. W. Warde Fowler, Social Life at Rome (New York, 1909) p. 29.