Freedmen could be Influential in Pompeii and Herculaneum Essay Example
Freedmen could be Influential in Pompeii and Herculaneum Essay Example

Freedmen could be Influential in Pompeii and Herculaneum Essay Example

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  • Pages: 11 (3022 words)
  • Published: December 23, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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A freedman was a former slave who had been legally set free by their master, often for a great show of faithfulness or a general good service to their master.

In the process of being set free (known as manumission) the slave was beaten one final time to remind them that they were still in debt to their master after being released. I'm going to explore what happened after they were liberated from slavery and how we know that many of them found themselves to be quite prosperous and influential. Although many freedmen in Pompeii were traders, nearly half of all artists were freedmen and freedmen doctors had existed for a long time.Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that many freedmen had learnt to look after their masters and in them had grown an interest


in medicine. More often than not, slaves came from other countries such as Egypt and therefore may have felt they had some alternative culture to express through art.

Trade was a constantly up and coming career in daily Roman life and a good way to build up your fortune, this is why I think that these career paths seemed appealing to freedmen if they wanted to use their skills to gain respect.In the ancient Roman Empire people were passionate about art and if you could prove yourself to be a good artist you would gain respect and admiration. The ever growing field of medicine was also very much depended on, as it still is today and as there was clearly no discrimination between freedmen and born-free citizens so that, and trade, would be good areas to prosper in.

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The Earthquake.

On April 5th AD62 under the Emperor Augustus (previously called Octavian) Pompeii was hit by a devastating earthquake which was to cause a total change in the economic sector of the city.Anybody with money and sense fled the city fearing for their safety, thus leaving behind a social power vacuum. Freedmen, who were looking to increase their status, were quick to seize this opportunity on returning to the city to fill the gap left behind. They could do this in many ways; they built tombs and put up monuments or temples. Some examples of prominent men who were the sons of freedmen are; Larcius Macedo who was an ex-praetor murdered by his slaves in AD100.

Pertinax, who became emperor of Rome in AD 193, was the son of a freedman and it is said that the grandfather of Augustus himself was a freedman.As these people had nothing to do with the earthquake of AD62 and it probably had no effect on them it proves that freedmen or their families were able to come to prominence without taking the place of other people. It was the historian Tacitus who first realised that a significant proportion of Roman nobility was descended from freedmen. In Pompeii I saw many houses which had small rooms slightly sectioned off from the rest of the house which looked out onto the front of the streets.

These had been made into or let as small shops in order to earn back the money lost by the building works needed after the earthquake.So after buying housing for cheaper prices than before the earthquake freedmen could let rooms so they were able

to own admirable residence without spending too much. After AD62 and the rise in power of freedmen the social situation was reflected in the architecture. The fussy and over the top style called 4th Style (a mixture of 2nd and 3rd Style) could be seen all over Pompeii and was a sign of the power seeking "nouveau riche". It included many Mythological murals and sometimes a large number of marble ornaments filled the gardens of these freedmen (a good example of this is the House of the Vetii).

 Discover examples of expressed powersGreek tragedies displayed around your house were a sign of your culture and were an ostentatious display of new-found wealth and prosperity. The caduceus (magic wand) of the God Hermes was a symbol of trade and was a typical 4th Style feature. Some of these symbols can be found in houses of freedmen of Pompeii e.

g. The Vetii brothers were freedmen and wine merchants and had a fresco featuring Hermes in their triclinium because he was the God of Trade and they felt they owed thanks to him. The paintings of small cherubs doing menial tasks point to their pasts as slaves.

Patrons and their Clients.

Freedman, although legally "free" were still particularly reliant on the support of their previous master and they would consider him their "Patron" and in turn be called a "client" the definition of patronage being: "Patronage is a system which operates when the client needs money or influence from some person or company (the patron or sponsor) and the patron can see some return for the favour such as political

support or prestige and the spread of one's name.

" David Taylor, Roman Society, 1980 The word patronage comes from the word patronus, originally developed from pater meaning father.The Emperor was, in turn, called "pater patriae" "father of the fatherland". The patron/client relationship was meant to mirror the father/family or senior statesman/state relationship but didn't usually work out as planned. By late in the first century AD Patronage began to break down and the balance of mutual respect was often upset by one or both sides trying to get more out of the system than they put in. So although a freedman was often very dependent on their patron they could not always be relied upon to help their struggle for success.The giving of this could help freedmen sustain a particular standard of lifestyle and they could possibly lean on their patrons if they were trying to start up a business or fund a project such as the reconstruction of a building after the earthquake.

Patrons could often prove to be useful if they held a high status or were relatively well respected (which most patrons were) because if you had been faithful and continued to show gratitude towards them they could commend you and consequently improve your career. The whole idea of patronage kept freedmen humble despite any rise in status and would be a reminder of to whom they owed thanks.The House of the Vettii. One of the most prestigious houses in Pompeii that I visited, it had belonged to a family of profound influence and the Vettii were freedmen. The two brothers Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva owned the house

and filled it with famous frescos creating a status symbol and making it clear that they had new money made through trade.

There is evidence of them being wine-merchants and they were clearly part of the "freedmen aristocracy", they are a clear example of what kind of success a freedman could have after being freed.They were "nouveau riche" who had risen after the earthquake of AD62 and had election posters painted in red outside the front of their house. As freedmen, thy were not in a position to vote, let alone to run for a political position but as influential people who probably owed some favours to people after their rise in power they could ask other people to vote for friends of theirs or possibly even their patrons.This was found outside the House of the Vettii and was a show of the freedman influence that I have been exploring. This was a way of exposing yourself as a man with connections and political interest and also drawing attention to the person you want to make people vote for. This was, in a way, the nowadays equivalent of putting up window stickers facing the road saying what political party you support.

Women, although unable to vote, could also play a crucial role in the elections due to the number of influential contacts they had through work or friends.

The Temple of Vespasian.

During the time of the Roman Empire the Emperor was the pinnacle of society. He was the only person in Italy who did not have a patron but legally every citizen in the empire was a client of his (see Patrons and their Clients). Freedmen

felt that they owed a lot to the emperor and after their rise in status after the earthquake this temple was built to honour him.

The Emperor was against worshipping people, as he saw them as highly inferior to the gods and he thought of it as inappropriate but he said that it would be acceptable to honour his "genius" and the Augustales (freedmen) of Pompeii were quick to construct this temple.As can be seen in the photo, in front of the temple is an elaborate alter made of white marble which remains in surprisingly good condition. The front depicts a sacrificial scene, suitable because the altar was used for making sacrifices to the Gods. The side of the alter facing the cella shows a crown of oak leaves whilst the other two sides portray the sacred instruments used in sacrifice. This kind of altar is unusual and would have been very expensive showing the importance of this temple and the pride that the Augustales took in its maintenance.

The Temple of Isis.

In relation to the inscription above the entrance, this temple is of particular interest when considering the actual power held by a freedman after the earthquake of AD62, it reads: N[umerius] Popidius N[Umerii] F[ilius] Celsinus Aedem Isidis terrae motu conlapsam a fundamento p[ecunia] s[ua] restituit iiunc decuriones obi liberalitatem cum esset annorum sexes ordini suo gratis ad legurunt. Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius rebuilt the Temple of Isis [having collapsed in the earthquake] from its foundations with his own money. The town council admitted this person to their order even though he was only six years of age.Although it seems ridiculous to have

a six-year-old boy as a member of the town council that was made up of wealthy and influential Pompeiian citizens, it was a very clever plan.

His father (Numerius) was a freedman and his child was born free so although Numerius himself would never be admitted to the town council he could give his son a better start in life and a more prosperous future than he could ever have himself. Numerius would have put enough of his money in his son's name for him to pay for the reconstruction of the temple, therefore gaining more respect for his family through this gesture.This gesture also shows the importance of the Cult of Isis because after the earthquake many public buildings weren't repaired, a good example of this is the Temple of Jupiter (the most important God) found in the forum. The council had many more important immediate concerns to deal with such as cleaning the city so Numerius was clever to do this At a time of crisis because the Council would owe him thanks for making their job easier, they expressed this gratitude by honouring his son.One of the reasons why Isis was well respected by freedmen was that she was the Goddess of rebirth so when a slave was freed and able to start a new beginning perhaps they thought they owed it partially to her.

Isis appealed to slaves and women particularly (along with many of the mystery cult religions) because those were the religions that had no social boundaries and there was no distinction between men and women or slaves and their masters. Normal people who wanted a good afterlife would

often turn to the Cult of Isis.

Herculaneum and the School of Augustales.

Aulus lucius proculus and aulus lulianus sons of aulus from the tribe of Mentia with their own money established a dinner as an offering to Augustus by way of dedication for the town council and the augustales. The town council consisted of former duumvir who were obviously not freedmen and were high up in the social hierarchy (below) as they were the two people who governed the whole town. This collection of Augustales and the town council was a big step in narrowing the gap between the classes.

A combination of old and new powers in the town increased social mobility amongst the people.It was thanks to Augustus that this odd mix of people was possible. Temple of the Genius of the Emperor. Freedmen were put in charge of the "genius of Augustus" as priests.

This may have been done partially as a way to control them and remind them that they owed their position to somebody else but it also gave them a sense of power and responsibility because it was a powerful tool for these "social climbers" to gain recognition. By being one of the many Augustales a freedman was able to prove their devotion to the emperor and show their thanks to him, it gave them a chance to increase their social status.The importance of the emperor to the freedman is evident because although Pompeii is covered with signs of Vespasian the actual emperor at the time of the eruption was Titus. In Herculaneum there is the base of a statue dedicated to Titus proving the dedication of the freedmen and

how they valued the Emperor and were quick to recognise the very recent change. Tombs. The tombs that can be found on the street of Tombs are critical evidence to show how the treatment of slaves and freedmen or women could differ enormously.

If the slave of a master died, the master may mourn them but it is likely that he would feel more of a loss around the house than a personal one, depending upon the nature of their relationship. However there is evidence that freedmen could often be greatly mourned by their patrons as is suggested by this tombstone: "Marcus Aurelius Zosimus, freedman of Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus business agent for his patron, I was a freedman, I confess; but in death I have been honoured by my patron Cotta.He generously gave to me the equivalent of an equestrians fortune... He provided douries for my daughters as if he were their father.

.. And now he has with sadness paid for this message..

. on my tombstone. " At Nola Gate small gravestones of the poor can be found. If you were not a citizen of Rome then you were considered unimportant after death; this is then a compliment to the freedmen who ended up in tombs resembling small temples. Inside these beautiful tombs could often be found portrait busts and niches for the urns containing the deceased's ashesThis caring and poignant message shows how freedmen or freedwomen could really make a fresh start and be looked at differently from when they became slaves, generosity could extend as far as treating a freed slave or slave themselves like family.

The fact that patrons (and or previous

slave owners) wanted to be buried with or honour their freedmen or clients after death was a great sign of respect towards the freedmen and showed that they were proud to have that specific person as their client.A close relationship such as the one above could help a freedman or woman prosper and widen their career options as the generosity could extend to your patron's friends. If a slave had shown particular dedication during their service to a master and continued to show faithfulness after being granted their freedom then freedmen could be rewarded in life by receiving help starting their career and if they had a patron willing to get them started after being freed they stood a good chance of success. i. e.

The patron could get them a job, give them money etc. hen self-promotion or one generous gesture could gain them extra public popularity. However, it was not always set in stone and as "free" people freedmen were nearly always incredibly dependent on other people to guide them through life, which does not come as a surprise.


From the evidence that I have been able to have access to in Pompeii and the research that I've done on this subject there are a few conclusive factors which, I believe, helped promote the prosperity of freedmen and women.

The presence of a patron was vital for widening a freedman's options and creating a solid bridge between the life of a slave and the life of a working and self-sufficient free person. It gave them someone experienced to lean on for advice or financial support and their own personal promoter! As can be seen on

the entrance of the Temple of Isis, having born-free children meant that it was possible to gain more respect for your name and that your name could be continued on through more generations unlike someone who died a slave without hope of successful children despite a bad start to life.Turning to religion as one of the Augustales or a priest at either the Temple of the Genius of the Emperor or The temple of Isis was a way of gaining a feeling of responsibility and a higher position handed to you, in a sense, by the Emperor himself. As only freedmen could be Augustales, it created a separate class for them, almost a mid-way point between the upper and lower classes.Getting a job and a substantial house were always ways of boosting your self image and confidence as a fully pledged member of Roman society, prime examples of this are the Vettii brothers, with their magnificent house and jobs as wine traders they really created a high standard of life for themselves.

Freedmen were able to be influential and powerful businessmen, doctors, artists, traders, bankers etc. but they needed support along the way. There is evidence of them all over Pompeii and were clearly very determined to succeed and surprisingly, people seemed quite willing to help them.

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