Desperate Times

As we advance through the month of January, I’m afraid our situation is deteriorating. My father’s wage, which he receives from the glass workshop, is failing to sustain a family of five sufficiently. We are becoming increasingly malnourished and desperate for more money for grain. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so my mother has taken up prostitution to provide the family with extra income.  I suppose many Romans forget that a man can use the strength of his body for a number of labors, but a woman is limited to sex as a use of her body for income (Knapp 236). In many ways, my mother had no choice if she wanted her children to survive.

I fear for her, the life of a prostitute is not an easy one. Actually the fact that she is not a slave endangers her more. While no one is looking out for my mother, at least slave prostitutes receive some security from their master, as they do not wished to have damaged goods (Knapp 237). However, while my father is working at the glass factory, my mother is unprotected from the brutality of her clients and especially prone to physical and psychological damage or even murder. She refuses to enlist the aid of a pimp as she wants to maintain some degree of respect for her husband.

My mother attempts to avoid the authorities as much as she can. Prostitutes are, for the most part, untouched by the Roman government, but a tax on prostitution has been present since the mid first century (Knapp 239-240), which my mother attempts to avoid at all costs to maximize her profit. She can evade these authorities rather swiftly as she doesn’t not belong to a slave owner or brothel, she works privately and therefore has no connections which authorities could trace to her and discover her status.

To her credit, she spends many hours at work in an attempt to maximize her total clients and feed us. The money isn’t a significant amount, but the increase to our total income has made a noticeable difference in the amount of food we can afford and rent we can pay, creating a securer environment for ourselves. One might see a life of prostitution as negative. It is degrading and humiliating for the individual, not to mention extremely dangerous.. However, it is common place in families like ours as a supplementary source of income and I therefore see it as more of a necessary evil.


Work Cited

Knapp, Robert C. Invisible Romans. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011. Print.


I, Lucius Labienus

My father migrated with my mother from Rome in 136 CE, when I, Lucius Labienus, was born, to escape the over packed tenement homes of Rome, in which they were practically stacked shoulder to shoulder with others (Rawson 211), so that I could live in a more wholesome environment. My father has always seemed to be cursed with debt wherever he travelled. His intentions were always pure, to feed his young children and his wife, but fate never brought him enough to compensate his loaners. Alas, we travelled from small city to small city to escape any humiliation and punishment that is promised by the twelve tables until we found peace in Aphrodisias in this year, 150 CE.

The census bestows the title of “Proletarius” on my father, and our family extension. Rightfully so, considering how we have been emptied by debt. One might consider this an insult to a Roman’s prestige. After all, the title implies that all we can attribute to Rome is children, as if we were animals. I, Lucius Labienus, consider it all a matter of perspective.  To be born healthy and survive the Roman judgment of physical health is one thing (Rawson 116), but considering that the risk of everyday life significantly slims the hopes of surviving to the teenage years (Rawson 220), I’m overjoyed to be part of a full family with my brother and sister, in addition. Most importantly despite our class, we are still Romans, and that is more than many poor souls can say.

My father works as hard as he can to provide for our family by working in a secondary glass workshop. Here his workshop accepts broken and unwanted fragments of glass imported from other regions of the empire and converts them into finely crafted vessels which can be used to for a variety of purposes.(Mahon and Price 168). Sometimes I visit him during the day, it is hard not to sweat with the furnace blazing at unimaginable temperature and our small tenement home at the heart of the city feels like a dream in comparison. Sometimes I wonder how he does it.

I am genuinely concerned that our family will fall victim to the debt again, as my father has continued to turn to loaners to provide us with enough grain, as sometimes his payments from the workshop are just not enough. If he were ever to fail to pay his debts again, I fear we would revert to our nomadic lifestyle.







Works Cited

MacMahon, Ardle, and J. Price. Roman Working Lives and Urban Living. Oxford: Oxbow, 2005. Print.

Rawson, Beryl. Children and Childhood in Roman Italy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.