Rome was a civilization that placed a great deal of value and importance on one’s social standing in society. A Roman’s social status was largely based on his family name, his wealth and his accomplishments (whether military, religious or political). There were clear and well-known distinctions that separated the different classes. Access to distinguished positions in the military, priesthood and public offices were reserved for certain classes. Social statuses defined different legal rights, criminal punishments and even marriage partners. There were many different ways to determine a Roman’s social status. However, the easiest way to determine the social status of a Roman walking down the street is from the way he is dressed. The use of clothing as a status symbol was in practice since the beginning of Rome. There were many differences between social classes in the way citizens dressed. The certain distinctions between outfits of the citizens of varying classes were also constantly changing throughout the duration of the Empire. Romans spent a great deal of time and money when choosing their attire. Through studying Roman clothing we can determine the varying levels of the Roman social hierarchy.
Roman elites wore extravagant and distinctly marked clothing in order to show off their higher status. They worked hard to widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor. One way they separated the social groups was by forcing lower classes to wear certain clothing to make sure the differences in classes was well established. Slavery in Rome was the foundation of Rome’s economy. Slaves were estimated to make up roughly 30-40 percent of Rome’s population (^1). Despite making up such a large proportion of the population, slaves held little to no power, they weren’t considered citizens and they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. A slave’s master had complete control over what his slave wore. Thus there was no one specific outfit for a slave; it depended on the relationship between the slave and master, the slave’s job and the education of the slave. Educated slaves had more power over uneducated slaves and therefore were typically better dressed. Slaves with different jobs were also given different clothes. The most uneducated and unskilled slaves typically worked jobs labor jobs on farms, in Roman Galleys and in the mines. Slaves working on farms were given a cloak and pair of wooden shoes every two years and a tunic each year (^6). Slaves working in the Galleys were given nothing but a loincloth to work in. The mining slaves were often forced to work completely naked and were given no clothing at all. Many lower ranking slaves were also forced to shave their heads in order to create wigs for wealthy female Romans. Despite the elite trying to degrade slaves further, over time people began to closely associate a slave’s appearance in public to his master’s wealth. laves who belonged to more noble and prominent masters were beginning to get nicer clothes. In the many Roman paintings recovered with slaves belonging to noble master we can see a reoccurring outfit. In The Mosaic Panel, discovered in Tunisia dating back to the 2nd century A.D, 5 slaves are depicted each wearing a short tunic with no shoes or sandals. The simple short tunic without footwear was a common outfit for higher-ranking slaves along with many of the poorer common citizens. Roman Gladiators were also slaves. They wore simple, inexpensive wool tunics. Unlike other Roman slaves, gladiators were occasionally able to collect money. After each fight popular gladiators won they were allowed to collect some money from fights they won. With this money they were able to purchase finer clothes. Gladiators who won numerous fights were seen as celebrities in Roman society. The more fights they won the closer they moved to becoming free men. With each win, gladiators obtained more power allowing some gladiators to wear fine...
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