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drhess
05-01-2006, 08:24 AM
There's the scene in a Monty Python movie where the crowd begins to list things that the Romans have down for their community after a rabble rouser tries to incite a revoluation. It got me wondering: what kind of major public works projects did the Romans build or public programs for general welfare did they engage in that weren't related to just improvement of their core populations? In other words, did the Roman Empire try to nationbuild and advnace public welfare or just conquer?

I recall the word "dole" comes from them, but I don't know if this was just for ex-military, or very limited class of citizens, etc.

Obviously, a complicated topic and long history, but Monty Python is my only source for classics learning. :p

Thanks.

threemae
05-01-2006, 09:37 AM
As a classics minor, I can give you a pretty good qualified answer to your question, but it'll be a little short on citations.

To begin with, they were certainly more than just conquerors. You cannot build a stable empire that lasts for hundreds of years by just conquering. You can certainly take over a lot of land, but it will fall right back apart in decades or months like Alexander the Great's empire.

This "advancement of public welfare" typically took on the form of export of knowledge. We know from sources such as Pliny the Younger's Letters with Trajan that if you wanted to say, build an aqueduct, Rome would be happy to provide the architectural drawings, engineers, and other important knowledge, but this construction was to be done via locally collected taxes. Only rarely would an emperor permit spending of the emperial treasury on a project outside of Rome.

There are tons and tons of examples of infrastructure built in the provinces ("states" outside of Rome and a central section of Italy) for the benefit of those provinces.
http://www.cyberspain.com/ciudades-patrimonio/fotos/segacui.htm

http://www.travelinginspain.com/merida4.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephesus

Also, in more recently settled parts of the empire, there was likely to be an army stationed there to both defend the border and provide police-like services. If this is simply an occupation or a benefit is up for debate of course, but it was far more than simply moving an army through territory, razing, raping, and pillaging, and then moving on to the next territory.

"The dole" was a fairly minimal, subsistence level of support for citizens of Rome. In this sense, this is the taxes, money, and support of the provinces going to the benefit of Rome and not the provinces. So although it was certainly a welfare state for those lucky enough to be born in Rome, living in the provinces and going to the leader of your province and saying, "g'day guvvahner, may I have some bread?" would likely lead to being laughed off.

Certainly, the empire was set up for the benefit of Rome (the city) itself but it was probably a net positive for the people ruled under it. YMMV, various people underwent various levels of integration into the empire based upon time under the empire, local traditions of rule, and other factors.

Helen's Eidolon
05-01-2006, 10:05 AM
Sorry this answer will be short - I'm a bit pressed for time. As threemae said, in the city itself, the citizens were given out a certain amount of grain/bread. In times of famine, the government would also buy grain and sell it at a reduced price to citizens of Rome.

In the provinces, there was a phenomenon known as 'euergetism'. Prominent people would spend money building temples or public buildings or statues, and attach their names to it. Patronage was common and had a big effect on the economy.

threemae
05-01-2006, 10:27 AM
In the provinces, there was a phenomenon known as 'euergetism'. Prominent people would spend money building temples or public buildings or statues, and attach their names to it. Patronage was common and had a big effect on the economy.

Oh yeah, I should have mentioned that too. This patronage also extended beyond buildings to entertainment. To be popular and have political power rich people would also sponsor spectacles such as gladiatorial combat, theatre, and chariot racing. These games were for almost everyone from the very wealthy sitting down at the front to slaves and women in the uppermost reaches of seating.

JRDelirious
05-01-2006, 10:54 AM
did the Roman Empire try to nationbuild and advnace public welfare or just conquer

To a great extent that depends on your definition. As mentioned before, any conquest that's intended to be long-term sustainable (whether outright imperial annexation or just doing what we now call "regime change") requires more than merely moving in and killing those who oppose you.

Many parts of the Empire being a lot emptier back then, it was not uncommon to seek to "romanize" the provinces by establishing colonies of Roman citizens who would otherwise be landless in Italy (e.g. veterans), who would found homesteads and make the requisite investment in infrastructure to create a proper Roman city with proper Roman roads, ampitheatres, aqueducts, etc. The name of the German city of Köln is an evolution of Colonia, "colony", for instance. Among the non-Roman communities, those locals who were smart enough to surrender and cooperate were usually allowed to remain in positions of responsibility, with aid and assistance of representatives of the Roman authority. These communities would often be expected, or themselves want, to develop the aforementioned infrastructure.

As stated before, these investments were charged to the provincial tax rolls; and "welfare" such as it was, would work on the basis of a private or semi-public "patronage" system at the local level. The only "redistributive" component was redistributing the wealth of the provinces in the direction of the Roman homeland, which itself grew ever less productive and less capable of providing for its own inhabitants as time went on.



(In the Life of Brian sketch, of course, the the PFJ is parodying the politics of 20th Century "national liberation" movements, rather than really reflecting anything about Rome)

t-bonham@scc.net
05-01-2006, 11:40 AM
what kind of major public works projects did the Romans build or public programs for general welfare did they engage in that weren't related to just improvement of their core populations?One thing they did was build roads. Pretty good ones; some are still extant today.

Well they were officially built for use by the military (like the Interstate Highway Systen in the US), they were used by all kinds of travellers, and generally increased the amount of trade & commerce in the area. So that was a major public works project.

I'm not sure of the details on who financed these roads. But I beleive the local governor was responsible for the upkeep. Some used prisoner 'chain gangs' to keep them repaired, others hired workers. At least some depended on pride: wealthy people would ensure that the mile or so or road near their villa was always in good shape.

The Romans also built some Military fortifications; like Hadrian's Wall in Britain, and various forts around Europe. But these were for millitary use; I don't know that these would count as works done for the public welfare. Possibly the walls would.

Maastricht
05-01-2006, 12:02 PM
So the free(non slave) "paupers" in Rome could expect to get for free:
*bread/grain,
*free access to Games
*free use of the Roman infrastructural works like roads and waterworks.
(so that would mean that water from an aquaduct was free for the taking, right?)

How about housing?

And how did the Roman governments ensure that the grain-aid wasn't abused by not-so-poor Romans who just wanted free bread?

Helen's Eidolon
05-01-2006, 12:23 PM
Giving out grain wasn't subsidizing the poor, really - it was for any Romans (in Rome) who wanted it. Children needed to be registered by their fathers on official rolls, and every once in a while (5 years originally, but irregularly into the Late Republic) a census would be done to verify the rolls. Obviously, the rich people would never go stand in a line to get a small amount of grain, but it wasn't just the indigent, either.

Grossbottom
05-01-2006, 12:56 PM
So the free(non slave) "paupers" in Rome could expect to get for free:
*bread/grain,
*free access to Games
*free use of the Roman infrastructural works like roads and waterworks.
(so that would mean that water from an aquaduct was free for the taking, right?)
Pretty much, yes. Some water from aqueducts went to fountains, which in addition to their artistic value, served as communal watering holes and places to do your laundry. Some water went to public baths for use by everyone (though probably not nearly as posh as private bath clubs where you'd have to pay for membership). Leftover water not directed to these or other uses went to the sewers. If you happened to have indoor plumbing, you could probably connect to the water system for free or a nominal fee. Slaves could use these things as well, they would have had to, since fetching water and laundry was a mostly slave gig. There were even slave baths, I think. Given the Roman affection for being clean, their military accomplishments are doubly amazing.

How about housing?
I'm not certain, but I doubt it. The Romans had little or nothing like our modern building codes with our minimums of acceptable health and safety. Only the poorest of the very poorest wouldn't be able to rent a closet, or an attic corner, or some space under a tarp somewhere in the Subura slums. I've never heard of state-sponsored insulae programs or anything.

And how did the Roman governments ensure that the grain-aid wasn't abused by not-so-poor Romans who just wanted free bread?
My understanding was that the free bread sucked, when they had it. Unlimited free bread sounds great until your second straight week of nothing but subsistence level wheat-and-oat cakes...I mean this stuff was probably unleavened piles of cheap and poorly ground grain cooked in ash, not exactly a fresh baquette. Enough to live on but no one would eat it for fun. And often, what they had was simple raw grain, and you'd get some and have to make your own bread. So there was likely some work involved. Moreover, Rome was about a million plus people at its height(s), which was huge for the time but not so big that the guy handing out the grain dole wouldn't notice the same guy coming back for multiple rations in a day. Now add in a free market economy of food peddlers plus what was probably an enormous hassle just to get your daily bread, and the cheaters were probably limited to the truly impoverished or truly masochistic.

Helen's Eidolon
05-01-2006, 01:01 PM
Just a note, the free bread was NOT unlimited. A certain amount was given out per week, I think.

Grossbottom
05-01-2006, 01:12 PM
Actually, I should clarify that bit about the grain dole, though again I'm at work and don't have my library so I could still be wrong. I've read that the grain ration was usually raw grain, or perhaps it had been milled but not baked. You had a choice of either making your own food with it, or going to a baker. The baker would make your bread in exchange for a part of your dole.

But I've also often just heard that it was bread, so who knows. It probably depended on circumstances at any given moment (availability of mills and bakers, quality and quantity of supplies, & etc).

Maastricht
05-02-2006, 03:34 AM
..the cheaters were probably limited to the truly impoverished or truly masochistic.Not necessarily. I'm thinking like a Roman calculating pauper here, to see where I could abuse the system. :) If I can find a loophole, so could a Roman guy who set his mind to it, and it would be interesting to see what what the Roman authorities's answer to such abuse was.

So, what would stop me from hiring a couple new faces from the Forum every week to stand in line for free grain, and feeding my chickens and my piglets with it, so I could make a living selling eggs and meat on the market subsidized by government grain?

Pushkin
05-02-2006, 04:19 AM
Small towns usually grew up around Roman forts didn't they? The soldiers having money to spend and all that.

Grossbottom
05-02-2006, 09:27 AM
So, what would stop me from hiring a couple new faces from the Forum every week to stand in line for free grain, and feeding my chickens and my piglets with it, so I could make a living selling eggs and meat on the market subsidized by government grain?
Well, nothing. You could probably just stand at the end of the line with a sack of money and offer to buy the grain that people had just received. But either way, the economics of the situation dictate that you'll be paying for the grain plus the cost of that person standing in line to get it. Why not just go down to the market and buy a sack of grain by itself from a wholeseller? Faster and cheaper. Everyone who harvested grain around the Mediterranean shipped it to Rome, and in the absence of famine or strategic difficulty, it just wasn't terribly valuable. Now if there had been an olive oil dole, things might have been different.

As for punishment in re: the grain dole, I don't know. Reading Roman law is like jamming flaming splinters of bamboo under your fingernails. I'll take a pass.

Chronos
05-02-2006, 03:54 PM
Pretty much, yes. Some water from aqueducts went to fountains, which in addition to their artistic value, served as communal watering holes and places to do your laundry.The fountains were also necessary for maintaining proper pressure. If you just ducted water straight down from the mountains into the sea-level cities, without fountains, you'd get a hellacious pressure at the bottom end. Putting fountains along the aqueduct every so often let that pressure dissipate.Reading Roman law is like jamming flaming splinters of bamboo under your fingernails.Heck, from what I know of Roman law, that probably was a punishment, for something or other.

drhess
05-03-2006, 11:47 AM
Thanks all. Let's not confuse benefits that some got from Roman civ and welfare. Welfare entails some kind of transfer, be it money, food or education or public investment. Just making money off of Roman soldiers is not a transfer in this sense.

Did Roman's feel a duty to "uplift" communities they conquered? A lot of what has been described sounds like projects to make life nicer for the elite, and the rest just were ancilliary beneficiaries.

Spezza
05-03-2006, 04:24 PM
The fountains were also necessary for maintaining proper pressure. If you just ducted water straight down from the mountains into the sea-level cities, without fountains, you'd get a hellacious pressure at the bottom end. Putting fountains along the aqueduct every so often let that pressure dissipate.Heck, from what I know of Roman law, that probably was a punishment, for something or other.

Er, no; though perhaps I misunderstand what you mean. Roman aqueducts entered the city and terminated at a large holding tank (castellum). From these large holding tanks - which themselves provided the necessary pressure - water was distributed to individual or commercial users. An aqueduct itself was only a supply line. The water pressure was provided by the castellum. The greater the height that the aqueduct entered the city at, the higher the castellum could be situated at. The higher the castellum, the greater the head and ability to supply water to a wider area. From my understanding, Roman fountains played NO role in solving any water pressure problems.

However, it is true that the fact aqueduct's cannot just be "turned off" meant the public fountains ran constantly. (Don't think this running was like a modern tap, it could have been only a trickle, and would vary in supply as the aqueducts water supply itself varied depending on weather/seasonal conditions.) The fountains provided water for those who wished to draw from them. As well, their persistent overflow served to help wash the streets clear of rubbish.

Some water from aqueducts went to fountains, which in addition to their artistic value, served as communal watering holes and places to do your laundry... If you happened to have indoor plumbing, you could probably connect to the water system for free or a nominal fee.

Roman fountains were certainly NOT used for laundry! Frontinus (Rome's official water commissioner, at the end of the 1st century CE, and our best source of information of ancient Rome's water supply) writes about the legislated punishments for defiling a public fountain. Fountains were used as neighbourhood water sources. Water would be taken from them to a domestic site to do daily chores (eg - laundry, cooking). Anybody caught polluting the fountain source to do their laundry would be liable to a fine. Frontinus discusses different fines and punishments concerning all aspects of Rome's water supplies, from defiling fountains to illegally tapping aqueduct lines.

Finally, private users, those with indoor plumbing, did indeed pay for the luxury. There was a scale of payment depending on the quantity (size of the water line) supplied to your house. The larger the line the larger the bill. (An emperor could and would give water grants to wealthy private citizens as an act of patronage.)

Lemur866
05-03-2006, 04:41 PM
Reading Roman law is like jamming flaming splinters of bamboo under your fingernails.
Nitpick: I think you meant to say, "Shoving a living snake up your ass".

t-bonham@scc.net
05-03-2006, 05:41 PM
Small towns usually grew up around Roman forts didn't they? The soldiers having money to spend and all that.Well, sometimes. But only occasionally.

In most cases in the provinces, the towns were already there; the fort was added to protect the town, or some strategic route nearby. Most of the 'good' locations for human settlements have been obvious for centuries, and people have lived there most of that time. In many of the ancient ones, historians digging there have found layers of a half-dozen or more cities, built on top of each other over the years.