What can our evidence tell us about the size and social composition of Rome

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Last updated: April 6, 2019

These days there any many ways to count the population of a city/country. You can count by using the census. You could count houses and set an approximate figure for how many people you think are living in each house. Church records can be a useful source of information if you wanted to know the number of Christians living somewhere. Another way to look for population figures is the number of claimants; this would give you a figure as to how many claimants there are in a city.The amount of food being imported in is a good way to see how many people are in a city, as the amount of the water supply being consumed daily.

In Ancient Rome they counted the population by the same means as mentioned before, but they did not use church records as Christianity was still in its origins. The Roman census was done annually by the censor. The main reason for the census was to count the number of adult males and to see how many fiscal and military citizens there were in Rome. Only men were allowed to register for the census, women and children were not counted.They had to go and register in different areas depending on their social class.

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During the Republican Period there were 37 sets of Agules. From these we know some figures of the population in Rome. In the 5th Century BC there were 120, 000 males in Rome, in 4th Century BC there were 160, 000 males. In 250 BC the figure was 300, 000, in 115 BC there were 390, 000 males and in 70 BC the figure shot up to 900, 000 males.

We know that was the amount of adult men in Rome but we do not know the amount of women, children, slaves, foreigners or traders at any one time in Rome.There is one main reason as to why we think the population of Rome had a sudden increase in its population of males in the space of 45 years. If you were part of the Roman Army you would have to serve for 25 years, after the 25 years was done every soldier was promised Latifundia – large farms in the countryside. As this was the time that the army was doing their greatest conquests more and more land was becoming available for soldier’s latifundium. Certain Senators were immensely rich with many slaves as all slaves were very cheap and people often bought dozens.The senators then bought land in Italy, near where the soldier’s Latifundia were.

The slaves worked the land on the farms that were owned by the Senators. As the senators were considerably rich they could afford to put their prices of their produce low enough to outsell the other businesses around. The soldier’s then went out of business, as they could not compete with the low prices of the senators. They then sold their farms to the Senators for reasonable prices and went off into the city to find work there. Once they moved to Rome most ex-soldiers were commonly unemployed.

This would explain the huge sudden increase in adult males in Rome as Latifundia were introduced in the 1st Century BC. We are able to know what these figures are because the scripts survived after the fall of Rome when monks kept the scripts safe in their monasteries. They copied them out to practise their handwriting but occasionally made scribal errors and some words were changed. Even though we have the figures for the adult males in Rome we do not know the number of women, children, slaves, foreigners and traders in Rome, if we did then the population figure would be much higher than what it was.If in the Year 1 AD there were 1 million adult males, then at an estimate there would probably be around 4 million men, women and children as an estimate. Also including around 2 million slaves, visitors, traders and foreigner then at an estimate the population altogether would be 6 million people in Rome. There were a lot of slaves imported into Rome from all over the empire because there were stereotypes put on them depending on which country they were from. German slave assumptions were that all of them were big, strong, extremely faithful yet stupid.

Their ideal job would have been bodyguards, most emperors and senators had dozens and dozens of German slaves accompany them everywhere as they would risk life and limb for their owners safety. Thracian slaves were seen as warlike and hardy, they were well built but barbaric too. They were suited to fighting jobs like gladiatorial combat or working on farms. They were also worked until death. Slaves from Egypt and Syria were assumed to be musical, artistic, were good at divination, were also seen as gypsy-like too.

They were good for sex and entertaining at parties and fortune telling.All Greek slaves were seen as learned people, even though many of them probably were not. There were thought of as being cultured, intelligent, humane but not physically strong. Greek slaves were given all administration jobs on offices, they were doctors, teachers, architects, and all important jobs went to Greek slaves. In the whole of Rome there were the rich and the poor, the males and the females, the slaves and the free, the natives and the foreigners, the plebeian and the aristocrats, the old and the young, the employed and the unemployed.We can say that the poor outnumbered the rich, because all over Rome there were tower blocks called insulae, where most poor people lived. The regionally catalogues the “Curiosum” and the “Notitia” listed the number of insulae in Rome, and at the 4th Century BC there were 1830 insulae in the city of Rome. There were also about 150, 000 corn dole claimants in the reign of Julius Caesar (50 BC) and about 250, 000 corn dole claimants Rome in the reign of Augustus (1 AD).

Males outnumbered the females because infanticide was practised against female babies as males were seen as more likely to bring in money and get work more easily than females.The number of slaves outnumbering the free was most probably equal or a number less than the free. The number of natives and foreigners was most possibly an equal variable, festival and events would bring in more visitors to the city. Plebeian’s outnumbered the aristocrats, as there were only 600 aristocratic families in Rome. The old did not outnumber the young as elderly people died from early deaths with high mortality rates because they lived in conditions of the 19th Century slums where disease was everywhere, slum fires were common and many people perished most commonly elderly people.The figures of the employed and the unemployed may have been an equal figure as there were around 250, 000 dole claimants in Augustus’ reign and the rest of the males may have been working Rome was a very crowded city as it was a small city with a massive population.

There were 1 million people crowded into an available area of 8 square miles. A modern analogy of the size of it would be to compare it to the size of modern-day Bombay, or Hong Kong but you would have to make room for public baths, civic buildings temples and all other public buildings, this would reduce the space even more. Using food to count the number of people in Rome.To do it effectively you would need to take the amount of available food and divide it by the average daily intake of one person; which would produce the figure of how many people were eating it. The Romans counted out their grain in modii, which is equal to 6kg.

In the late 1st Century AD there was 60 million modii imported per annum, 20 million came from Egypt and 40 million from North Africa. Around 80, 000 modii were eaten daily throughout the entire city. To get the figure pre annum you times the daily amount of intake by the number of days in the year. 80, 000 x 365 comes to just under 30 million modii eaten per annum.

There may have been a “push/pull” factor that brought people to Rome. The push factors may have been economic crisis, Latifundia for example, which made ex soldiers go to Rome because they had nothing else. War may have also brought people to Rome soldier’s may have lived outside of the city and came in when they were called up to serve in the war.

Villages destroyed by war may have made its inhabitants move to Rome in the hope of starting again. The many pull factors that brought people to Rome were the promise of a better life, people wanted a different, and a more urban lifestyle to what they had already.The glamour of what they hoped Rome may have been why they flocked to Rome, from hearing stories they may have set their dreams on living in Rome. The promising hope of an education was another pull factor; Rome was the only city in Italy with schools. The prospect of getting jobs or better jobs than what people had drew more to Rome, or even the annona sounded tempting. One good reason so many people moved to Rome was that they provided free entertainment for the citizens the expression “Bread + circuses” was often used to sum up a reason as to why people moved.

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