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Thread: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

  1. #1

    Default What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    The Roman Republic's successes in wars proved to be it's eventually downfall as the wide gap between the rich and poor became even wider.

    If the majority of Rome's citizens lived in abject filth and poverty and had to be given a grain dole to not starve to death, what was the point of even keeping them around? Why have a city of a million people if the majority is on the brink of starvation?

    Was it for the political power it came for supporting the poor?

  2. #2
    Rosbjerg's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    At some point inertia simple takes over. Then the bureaucracies begin to outright perpetuate the circumstances that necessitated it in the first place. The population surplus was there - and had to be handled somehow.
    For Rome, if you didn't supply the poor with the grain dole, they would rebel (and possibly kill you) - if you did, you kept them in poverty and gave the poor in surrounding areas a reason to migrate to the city, proliferating the problem.

    Roman nobility tried to alleviate this problem in several ways, from indebted servitude leading to the Marian reforms to the patrician patron system (using the poor for political leverage) leading to the Empire - in the end though, as you say, the weight of the problem eventually caused a collapse of the system - interestingly also due to population surplus in surrounding areas, migrating in.


    When there's an explosion in population (due to stability and better crop management), the population needs a place to migrate to - this is usually cities, a phenomenon that is still taking place.

  3. #3

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tactics Mayers View Post
    The Roman Republic's successes in wars proved to be it's eventually downfall as the wide gap between the rich and poor became even wider.

    If the majority of Rome's citizens lived in abject filth and poverty and had to be given a grain dole to not starve to death, what was the point of even keeping them around? Why have a city of a million people if the majority is on the brink of starvation?
    and what would be the solution, this?: https://youtu.be/owI7DOeO_yg

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    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    If the majority of Rome's citizens lived in abject filth and poverty and had to be given a grain dole to not starve to death, what was the point of even keeping them around?
    Ever heard of the French or Russian Revolution?

    Poor people can be dangerous and people are a lot less likely to rebel if they have enough to eat and something to distract them.
    Elder Scrolls Online :Messing up the Lore since 2007...

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  5. #5

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    on a more serious note than my post above, i dont think anyone is actually 'keeping' the poor. their numbers grow, and concentrate in places where survival is easier/more likely, based on macro processes. the poor were/are the product of the disintegration and impoverishment of the 'working/middle class', the bulk of the society - small landowners in Roman case. land was taken over by the rich and turned into latifundia based on slave labour. simply put, big fish obliviously eats small fish causing, eventually, system collapse.

  6. #6

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    IIRC there were several programs around the time of Caesar's campaigns in Gaul that wanted to give agrarian land to the urban poor in Rome so they could actually make a living but many of these were opposed by senators who owned large latifundiae. The rich weren't about to hand off their land to some schmoes who were down on their luck.

    So yeah, what would you have done? Displaced the growing urban poor? Where? At whose expense? Wealth disparity, then as now, is a systemic problem - nobody is really intentionally propagating it, it's more a side effect of certain economic systems and policies that are difficult to reform due to inertia. So nobody was "keeping" the poor around intentionally - it was just a problem that the Roman state, riven as it was by special-interest groups who often opposed things like land reform, was unable to solve.

  7. #7

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    I have understood that slavery itself was the main issue causing poverty and leading to the collapse of the republic. If unpaid labor becomes the norm in any social class, the problem tends to spread from the bottom up. If you don't have to pay anything for the person who digs you a ditch, why should you pay a good wage to the person who cooks for you? And once the cooks are replaced with slaves, you look to the next person in line. Also, if some are allowed to have unpaid workforce, it becomes impossible to compete with them using paid workforce. It has a very disruptive effect on economies. Some countries are starting down that path in modern times as well.

  8. #8

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sarkiss View Post
    and what would be the solution, this?: https://youtu.be/owI7DOeO_yg

    No, this;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism

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    QuintusSertorius's Avatar EBII Hod Carrier
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    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
    I have understood that slavery itself was the main issue causing poverty and leading to the collapse of the republic. If unpaid labor becomes the norm in any social class, the problem tends to spread from the bottom up. If you don't have to pay anything for the person who digs you a ditch, why should you pay a good wage to the person who cooks for you? And once the cooks are replaced with slaves, you look to the next person in line. Also, if some are allowed to have unpaid workforce, it becomes impossible to compete with them using paid workforce. It has a very disruptive effect on economies. Some countries are starting down that path in modern times as well.
    The economics of slavery aren't quite that simple. You don't pay slaves a wage, but you have to feed, house and clothe them. For the newly-emancipated, the change of status can actually make them poorer, if their wages aren't equal to the value they were getting when they were being fed, housed and clothed by their master.
    Last edited by QuintusSertorius; January 12, 2019 at 06:24 PM.

  10. #10

    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    Quote Originally Posted by QuintusSertorius View Post
    The economics of slavery aren't quite that simple. You don't pay slaves a wage, but you have to feed, house and clothe them. For the newly-emancipated, the change of status can actually make them poorer, if their wages aren't equal to the value they were getting when they were being paid, housed and clothed by their master.
    Yes, good points. One can of course pay wages below the subsistence level or spend lavishly on one's slaves' quality of life. In American history one is often presented a theory that slaves were more expensive to keep than let go, but I am not the only one to be extremely suspicious of that being true.

    However, the economically disruptive nature of slavery persists regardless. A mainstream theory in the American context is that the use of slave labor led to technical and commercial underdevelopment in the South and prevented a healthy market economy based on specialization and trade from forming.

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?

    What was the point of Rome keeping many of it's poorer citizens?
    I know this is an otherwise serious thread, but there's something very Swiftian going on here. Perhaps, like Jonathan Swift and his (satirical) rationalistic British solution for the impoverished Irish, the Roman poor should sell their children to the cannibalistic Patrician class in Rome as food, to make better use of them. Or they could just join the freaking army like Marius had them do when faced with the national emergency of the invading Cimbrii breathing down Roman necks.


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