Farming in the Roman economy
Some farmers owned their own land. But most people had to rent their land from a richer person. Farmers spent their time plowing, scattering seeds on the ground, pulling up weeds with a hoe, harvesting, and processing the food they had harvested so it would be good to eat and last for a long time. They threshed grain, pickled cucumbers, and pressed olives and grapes into olive oil and wine.
What did Roman farmers grow?
Depending on what land they had, people grew wheat and barley and olives and grapes and apples, pears, figs, onions, cilantro, rosemary, and celery. They also grew lettuce, lentils, chickpeas, and many other foods. Some people raised pigs and cattle and sheep for meat. Some people kept chickens.
Not everything farmers grew was for food. A lot of people grew flax to make linen for clothing, ropes, and sails. Other people kept sheep for their wool.
Roman markets and Roman taxes
Mostly farmers didn’t just eat what they grew. They sold what they grew in markets in the towns, and bought food in the market to eat, the way most farmers do today. And they paid taxes, as farmers do today. Roman farmers paid their taxes partly in money and partly in food.
Buying stuff in Roman stores
With the money they got from selling their crops, these Roman farmers also bought clothes and furniture and tools. They bought flip-flops and baskets, clothes, glass drinking cups, pottery dishes, leather, and animals to sacrifice to the gods.
Walking to work
A lot of these farmers lived in small villages or on isolated farms, but a lot of them also lived in bigger towns, and walked out to their fields every day. Some people who lived in small villages made charcoal in the forests to sell for fuel.
Roman businesses – textile factories and working women
Rich people and their slaves also lived in the towns. Most of these rich people owned a lot of land, and rented it out to poorer farmers, or made their slaves farm it. Many of the rich people ran businesses, making clothes or tools in factories. Some rich people owned mines, and had thousands of slaves digging up gold and silver, iron, salt, coal, copper, tin, and other things in mines. Many people were involved with fishing. Others worked in factories processing fish into a fish sauce called garum.
Most of the people who worked in these factories were enslaved. Roman people didn’t usually have jobs that paid money by the year or by the hour, like we do. But the Romans considered people who worked for money to be not much different from slaves, anyway.
Some poorer men in the towns taught school, or were doctors, or carried water, or ran bakeries, or begged. Women in the towns sold things in stores, or worked as wet-nurses or waitresses, or begged. Women didn’t generally teach school in ancient Rome. But there were women who worked as doctors and as midwives.
The Roman Empire and international trade
Even ordinary farmers could afford a lot of these things.
Roman trade with Africa, India and China
Some traders went even further, into the Indian Ocean or across West Asia, and traded with people in India or in West Asia to get Indian cotton, pepper, cinnamon and medicines, and even silk that came all the way from China.
These things were more expensive than they are now, but most people were able to have them occasionally, or in small amounts.
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