Ermak Travel Guide


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The cost of living and life in the Roman Empire

The cost of living and life in the Roman Empire







The Romans were people, and therefore they also had to think about earning and living wages. Here we give some quotations on life and how ordinary citizens of the Roman Empire spent their lives.


Goods and services
While the city of Pompeii was a more industrial metropolis, Herculaneum was more prosperous and more residential. However, citizens in both cities still had to earn a living.

High class
Some of the estates around Pompeii and Herculaneum were built for the rest of wealthy Roman citizens, that is, they were holiday villages. Other estates were quite working, where they cultivated various crops on the fertile slopes of Mount Vesuvius, where they grew crops and vegetables between the rows of vineyards and olive trees. Animal breeding also flourished. The money earned from the land was concentrated in the hands of several important families, who, thanks to this, accumulated both economic and political power.




Basic Groceries
The staple foods were mainly produced by small traders, but, sometimes, they were also produced by wealthy landowners.

Bread was produced daily in local bakeries. Pistrinum (Pistrinium) on Kardo V Street in Herculumum is an excellent example of such a bakery in which the entire baking cycle from grain to baking of bread was performed. After baking, the bread was then usually sold at a nearby store.

Since both Pompeii and Herculaneum stood on the sea and were port cities, fishing was an important source of income for many of its inhabitants. The fish were sold entirely or used in the production of the garum.

Garum, a favorite seasoning in the life of Roman citizens, was a strong-smelling fish sauce made from fish with salt added as a preservative. The fish rotted in large amphoras and its internal juices decomposed all tissues into one large porridge. A few days later the juice was poured, and everything else was thrown away. The quality of the garume largely depended on the type of fish. Used fish such as tuna and mackerel for more expensive varieties, and anchovies for the less sophisticated.

Wool production
The production of wool and wool products used any number of artisans, depending on the wealth of the employer. Raw wool supplied by local landowners was treated in the same way as today. Wool was originally washed, defatted, and then fought off.

Spinning and weaving was a slave in private houses and in large manufactories. The finished fabric will be sent to the final process - felting and dyeing. The fabric was kept in a large vat of mixed slurry from water, potash, soda, and urine. After rinsing and drying, the fabric is then bleached due to sulfur evaporation, or stained, before being sold.

Shopkeepers, small traders, servants and slaves
At the Forum, along the sidewalks, in open spaces, there were a lot of small traders who were smartly selling their products, whether they were shoes or fabrics or ceramics. Doctors, musicians, teachers and other workers also stood here and looked for work for themselves among the rich citizens of the city.

After the earthquake of 62, the city of Pompeii still came to its senses from devastation. Simple workers, builders and other professions of work were quite a lot and unemployment was quite small.

The cost of living
The Romans were a developed civilization and most people used money to sell and buy goods and services. The Roman currency consisted entirely of coins, which included aces (copper coins), dupondii (bronze coins), sesterces (bronze), denarii (silver) and aureas (gold). The ratio of coins is given below.

1 dupondii = 2 aces
1 sestertia = 2 dupondii
1 dinar = 4 sesterces
1 staphylococcus = 25 denarii

Quadrans, quinarium argentus and quinarium aureus were also used at different times.

The cost of living in Pompeii seems to have been relatively low. In addition, judging by the amount of money found on the bodies of its inhabitants (more than 25 bodies carried between 3,000 and 10,000 sesterces while 60 victims carried about 200 sestertia), many Pompeii citizens were clearly wealthy and very rich.



Some examples of basic costs are:

Category Items Price
Food Average wine glass 1 aces
  Loath of bred 2 aces
  1 kg/2lbs of butter 4 dupondii
  Modius (6.5 kg) of grain 15 dupondii
Utensils Pot 1 aces
  Plate 1 aces
  Drinking cup 2 aces
  Bucket 9 aces
General Tunic cleaning 4 sesterces
  New tunic 15 sesterces
  1 mule 130 denarii
  1 slave 630 denarii
  Prostitute services On average 2- 8 aces