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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IV. THE RISE OF ROME TO 264 B.C.
» Contents of this ChapterPage 8
EARLY ROMAN SOCIETY
THE ROMANS AN AGRICULTURAL PEOPLE
Agriculture was the chief occupation of the Roman people. "When our forefathers," said an ancient writer, "would praise a worthy man, they praised him as a good farmer and a good landlord; and they believed that an praise could go no further."  Roman farmers raised large crops of grain—the staple product of ancient Italy. Cattle-breeding, also, must have been an important pursuit, since in early times prices were estimated in oxen and sheep.
 Cato, De agricultura, I.
In such a community of peasants no great inequalities of wealth existed. Few citizens were very rich; few were very poor. The members of each household made their own clothing from flax or wool, and fashioned out of wood and clay what utensils were needed for their simple life. For a long time the Romans had no coined money whatever. When copper came into use as currency, it passed from hand to hand in shapeless lumps that required frequent weighing. It was not until the fourth century that a regular coinage began. This use of copper as money indicates that gold and silver were rare among the Romans, and luxury almost unknown.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy