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.
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.