Most people in the Roman world were farmers. Some were slaves, but most were free. Some farmers owned their own land, but most people had to rent their land. Farmers threshed grain, pickled cucumbers, and pressed olives and grapes into olive oil and wine. People grew wheat, barley, olives, grapes, apples, pears, figs, onions, rosemary, celery, lettuce, lentils, and chickpeas. Some people raised pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens for meat. Others grew flax to make linen for clothing, ropes, and sails or kept sheep for their wool.
Roman farmers paid taxes partly in money and partly in food. Farmers sold what they grew in town markets. They bought clothes, furniture, tools, baskets, glass cups, pottery dishes, leather, and animals to sacrifice to the gods.
Many farmers lived in small villages or on isolated farms, but some lived in bigger towns and walked out to their fields. Some people who lived in small villages made charcoal in the forests to sell for fuel. They mostly lived in mud-brick apartment buildings with courtyards, and they did their cooking on braziers in the courtyards.
People who lived in town often lived in small apartments with no courtyards. They didn’t have kitchens, so they bought food from street vendors or in restaurants.
Rich people and their slaves also lived in the towns. Most rich people rented out their land to farmers or their slaves farmed it. Some rich people owned mines, with thousands of slaves digging for gold, silver, iron, salt, coal, copper, and tin. Many people were involved with fishing. Others worked in factories processing fish into a sauce.
Some poorer men in the towns taught school, were doctors, carried water, ran bakeries, or begged. Women in the towns sold things in stores, worked as wet-nurses or waitresses, or begged. Some women were doctors or midwives. Others worked at home or in factories spinning, knitting, and weaving to make clothes for rich people.
Traders sailed across the Mediterranean Sea bringing papyrus from Egypt, glass from Phoenicia, and steel sewing needles from Syria. Ships brought pork sausage and salt from Austria, tin from England, fish sauce, cooking pots, and dishes from North Africa, and olive oil from Spain. Even ordinary farmers could afford a lot of these things.
Some traders went even farther, trading with people in India or in West Asia to get expensive Indian cotton, pepper, cinnamon and medicines, and even silk that came all the way from China. In exchange, Roman traders sold silver, gold, wool cloth, linen, wine, and glass.
Source: Roman economy ancient Rome
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