The Roman world has often been idealized and compared to ours. However, this could not be more wrong. Its moral and social values were utterly different, as I tried to show in this book. Far from me the idea to write a thesis on Roman life in the first century A.D., I have, nevertheless, retained certain aspects of their society in my book ‘The Riddle of a Murdered Slave‘ which will appear shocking if read with a modern mindset.
For example, the Romans had slaves which were not linked to race, but to a class within the society. People could thus transition during the course of their life from the master class to a slave position, and ‘potentially,’ they could start as a slave and end their life as a master.
Despite that potential evolution, slave conditions were often horrific, and although it was not lawful to kill or allow a slave to die through lack of care, they were, nonetheless, considered as cattle and worth no more than a piece of furniture or a dog.
Their price varied according to their qualities. Under Vespasian, the price of a male was around 500 or 600 denarii. A specialized laborer could be worth three times as much. However, a young woman could be sold for between 2,000 and 6,000 denarii, which leaves no doubt as to their role. It should be noted that a cow cost 200 to 400 denarii, which is to be compared with the current value of a bovid (1,500 €).
I want to add on that subject that if the treatment of slaves may seem exaggerated in some pages of this book, it, nonetheless, reflects the reality of what was happening at the time. I invite the reader to browse Cato the Elder for evidence of that.
The position of women in Rome had no similarity to that in our western societies. Women with influence, like Claudia, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, or Caenis, who is mentioned in this book, are exceptionally rare. Most of them were of no more value than slaves. They were the property either of their father or of their husband until both of them died.
Another aspect of Roman society described in this book is the relationship between a “patronus” and his clients. It refers to the relationship between two citizens, where one places himself under the financial and physical protection of the other. This relationship, which is difficult to comprehend today, can be compared to the link between a gangster and a godfather in the mafia. It is therefore not surprising that the mafia, as we know it, first appeared in Italy before spreading elsewhere.