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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IX. THE EARLY EMPIRE: THE WORLD UNDER ROMAN RULE, 31 B.C.-l80 A.D.
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LOCAL TRADING AT ROME
The importation and disposal of foreign goods at Rome furnished employment for many thousands of traders. There were great wholesale merchants whose warehouses stored grain and all kinds of merchandise. There were also many retail shopkeepers. They might be sometimes the slaves or freedmen of a wealthy noble who preferred to keep in the background. Sometimes they were men of free birth. The feeling that petty trade was unworthy of a citizen, though strong in republican days, tended to disappear under the empire.
FREE LABORERS AT ROME
The slaves at Rome, like those at Athens, carried on many industrial tasks. We must not imagine, however, that all the manual labor of the city was performed by bondmen. The number of slaves even tended to decline, when there were no more border wars to yield captives for the slave markets. The growing custom of emancipation worked in the same direction. We find in this period a large body of free laborers, not only in the capital city, but in all parts of the empire.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy