PROFESSIONS FOR ANCIENT ROMANS
Actors are held with contempt in Roman society, particularly because they are viewed as prostituting themselves for public entertainment. In fact, some are indeed prostitutes on the side! Actors work on a per commission basis, usually hired to perform at a particular games or festivals, or travelling as a troupe and performing one or two days at each town before moving on. Most actors are slaves or foreigners, and it would be a social scandal if a plebeian would lower himself to act. In fact senators have been removed from the Senate for engaging in public performance.
Although strictly speaking there weren’t any professional athletes in Rome, a character could be a Greek athlete who has been brought to the city by a wealthy patron in order to put on a performance at the games, or an ex-champion who offers his skills as a personal fitness trainer. Most are skilled in the classic sporting disciplines of the Pentathlon and spend most of their time at the gymnasiums in the baths or the Campus Martius. Only Olympic champions are particularly well regarded, but their fame soon fades along with patronage. Otherwise, most are looked down upon for either making life hell at the gymnasium, or for following what is in reality a Greek rather than a Roman tradition.
Apothecaries have then knowledge to reduce plants into potions that make sick men healthy, help lonely men find love, and give bald men hope. They possess knowledge learned from the ancients as well as from their own research. They travel far and wide to locate the herbs needed for their concoctions.
Bankers and usurers are the most despised people in Rome. They charge a steep annual rate to keep your money safe, or to issue credit notes against it whenever you travel. Worse still, they impose extortionate rates of interest if you are foolish enough to borrow their money! Most bankers have to hire bodyguards for personal protection, to keep their strongboxes safe, and to act as enforcers to extract payment from late payers. Although bankers often come from the equestrian class, they are usually ostracised by polite society.
The barbarian doesn’t consider himself crude, crass, or filthy, but the Romans’ do. The Romans’ don’t realise that the barbarian appreciates their culture and skills, and plan to make the Empire yours someday. For now, the Barbarian bides his time, learning everything he can.
Barbers perform several vital services. As well as haircutting, hairdressing, shaving, and plucking; barbers performed extraction of teeth. Barbers are also sources of daily news and gossip. Most work on the streets, where the light is better and they avoid paying rent.
Beast Hunter (Venatores)
Hunters who work in the amphitheatre killing unusual animals (see Gladiator).
Usually beggars are freed-men, or foreigners. No citizen would lower himself to such work without losing their status first. Beggars generally sport (or fake) terrible scars or injuries that help them evoke pity from potential donors. Most beggars belong to a gang for mutual protection and hang about the bridges and main streets of the city where most people pass.
These were usually ex-gladiators (see Gladiator).
Bureaucrats are members of the Roman civil service, and were the real power behind the magistrates and Senate. They fulfil the tasks of administrators, scribes, customs officials, trade supervisors, and judicial secretaries. Normally only State owned slaves and a few freedmen work in the bureaucracy, and most magistrates find the internal workings unfathomable.
Trade is crucial to the Roman Empire. Without people to organise and drive the long caravans of wagons from one city to another, trade stops and the daily operations of the Empire grind to a halt. Not only do caravaneers drive a wagon, but they also organise and manage the entire caravan and negotiate prices when it reaches its destination.
Reckless, sporting heroes of the Roman world, they are both famous and short-lived. Racing in the Circus Maximus is dangerous, since both on and off the track there are few rules save to win at any cost. Successful charioteers or even their horses are frequently cursed, and sometime poisoned prior to important races!
Craftsmen are the artists and manufacturers of the Roman world. All are plebeians or freedmen, since no member of the equestrian or patrician class would openly lower themselves to such work. Most craftsmen sell their goods from the front of their workshop, which normally opens out directly onto the street. Artists work on a commission basis, to decorate homes, paint or carve statues, etc. Most lack the funds to simply create art for art’s sake.
Dancer (Saltator or Saltatrix)
Dancers are effectively the same as Actors in terms of skills, their use as prostitutes, and public attitude towards them.
Dilettantes represent those members of the wealthy classes who neither work for a living, nor actively seek magisterial office to support the Empire. Many live in indolent luxury, waited on hand and foot by slaves, and providing patronage for artists and poets. Some dilettantes are young, dissatisfied sons of high rank blocked from a political career, who waste their time (and father’s money) on unceasing entertainment and dubious intrigues.
most diviners are foreign soothsayers who pander to Roman superstitions. They live a borderline legal existence usually paying bribes to city magistrates to be overlooked during their frequent expulsions from Rome. Many people, even those of the highest classes, seek the advice of diviners before undertaking decisions. Diviners use many strange and exotic methods to see the future, some are frauds or self-deluded, but others show an uncanny ability for precognition. Practitioners of divination are often sought out to perform other, darker, magical rites…
Doctors must decide whether to be either Physicians or Surgeons. Somewhat surprisingly of the two the surgeon was considered inferior, because most surgery was limited to battlefield treatments, and usually failed to preserve life despite rudimentary knowledge of disinfectants. Physicians on the other hand specialise in treating illness using physical exercises, sanitary lifestyle, diet and medicines. They cannot perform surgery since they are specifically forbidden by the Hippocratic oath to cause harm to a patient. Most doctors of either speciality possessed a questionable knowledge of medicine or anatomy and even less about their dubious cures. In many situations the doctor was only called in as a last resort! Doctors are usually fluent in Greek as most medical texts are written in that language.
Farmers are the backbone of the economic and military strength. Most are smallholders; working the land themselves to feed their family and barter excess produce for other necessities. However over time, with the drain of manpower in the ceaseless wars, many small farms go to seed and the families are forced to sell to cover their debts. In recent years the yeoman farmer still exists, but now as either a tenant farmer, or the manager of larger, conglomerated farms (latifundia), which are worked by slaves. For landlords of huge estates see Dilettante.
Sometimes prefects and senators don’t want to get their hands dirty, but need to learn details of a rival’s life - preferably the embarrassing ones. That’s where the finder comes in. Part spy, part private investigator, and part thug, he makes it his business to know other people’s business without them catching on.
Usually but not always freedmen or slaves, gladiators fight men or beasts for public entertainment. There are many specialities of gladiators, each one trained to fight in different weapon and armour combinations. Combatants who put on a spirited or entertaining show usually survive defeat, assuming their injuries can be treated. Popular gladiators are granted the rudis (wooden training sword) that earns their freedom from the amphitheatre. Gladiator can also earn extra money or gifts by acting as sex-slaves or bodyguards during or after their careers.
Labourers are slaves, freedmen, or plebeians who perform backbreaking work of construction, engineering or farming. They are usually poorly educated and poorly skilled, but some are men who have fallen from high station either via poverty or criminal activity.
Strictly there were no professional lawyers . Young men of high social class took up litigation in the law courts as a prequel to serving in the magistracies of the Curses Honorum. See Senator.
Professional soldiers they are given months of hard training in diverse skills. Tough, disciplined and (usually) loyal to their generals, ex-legionaries are sometimes granted land to farm after extended campaigns. Legionaries often learn other languages in their postings around the Empire and are experienced with several different weapons. See Weird War Rome for appropriate Skills and Edges, as well as other troop types.
A magistracy is a short term appointment. See Senator.
Whereas craftsmen manufacture and sell their own goods merchants are specialists in buying and selling goods in bulk. Generally this involves moving merchandise to and from the city, or acting as an auctioneer for others. Merchants have less status than craftsmen, save those who run (or rather own) huge import/export enterprises where they cease to be the negotiating middlemen. Most merchants have a knowledge skill appropriate to the goods they trade or business procedures, such as Geography and Accounting.
Musician (Musicus or Musica)
Although decried by some snobbish Romans as a sign of decadence, musical performance are common and skilled musicians highly valued. Music has great importance in certain religious contexts, and is popular at feasts or celebrations. Most musicians have a range of performance skills to satisfy their patrons.
Scholars who dedicate themselves to the understanding of the universe, philosophers study both sciences and society. They are a highly regarded profession, usually Greek or Greek speaking, and most belong to a specific school of philosophy. In general philosopher are skilled in several areas of knowledge, but also teach and hold open debate about the truth of the world.
Those poets who aren’t wealthy dilettantes live a marginal life in Rome. They rely on patronage to support themselves whilst creating new works, and in return perform their compositions at banquets and dinner parties. Most poets come into vogue for a brief period of time before eventually their popularity fades. Some poets directly satirise leading politicians, often at great danger to themselves.
In general, priesthood was an appointed honour rather than a career in itself. Most people perform their own rituals and sacrifices to their household gods and ancestors. Even the priests of major state gods were elected positions (often influenced by political motivations) whose duties were performed as an adjunct to their normal lives and responsibilities.
Prostitute (Exoletus or Meretix)
Roman prostitutes come in many types from the lowliest streetwalkers to the highest paid courtesans and can be either men or women. Those who don’t work in an official brothel are sometimes also thieves. Whilst prostitution is an accepted fact of life it does hold a degree of social stigma and many prostitutes lose some legal rights in terms of marriage.
Scholars are an affectation rather than a viable profession in ancient Rome, being those people who study or even write about particular subjects in their spare time. Most are either independently wealthy enough not to need to work, or have retired.
Most shopkeepers are either craftsmen or small scale merchants.
Leaders of the Republic, senators are the commanders of the army, priests of the Roman pantheon, and politicians who guide the state. They normally come from the patrician and eventually equestrian class, and take the lion’s share of the annual magisterial offices.
Slave (Servus and Serva)
Slaves can be simple household slaves, but will also be craftsmen, gladiators, labourers, priests, and teachers. The majority of urban slaves are granted some freedom of movement to accompany their masters, maintain their education, or even earn money for themselves. Since most are foreigners, or the children of foreign slaves, they usually speak another language.
Tavern Keeper (Caupones)
Rome is full of taverns, inns, wine bars, and even small stalls on the streets. Most tavern keepers offer wines and cheap food, and bar maids act as informal prostitutes. Tavern keepers are viewed with neutrality, since they are a centre-piece of Roman life.
Teachers can be slaves, freedmen, or plebeians and treach everything from basic literacy and numeracy to artistic skills. They are normally fluent in Greek since most ancient literature available at the time was written in that language.
Roman criminals range between burglars, confidence men, muggers, forgers, pick pockets, or even street thugs. Life is hard and short for a thief, since punishment if captured, is brutal. Many criminals form gangs for mutual protection, which often clash when rival gangs invade each other’s territory. Members treat their gang leader as their patron.