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Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Sun Dec 29, 2002 2:37 pm

Salvete!


I asked myself this question: did the Romans have a kind of postal services? I can understend that the officers and senatores could send messages to eachother and to other cities, but could the plebeius do the same?


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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sun Dec 29, 2002 7:34 pm

As far as I'm aware, messages were taken care of by servants and slaves, and as such it seems unlikely to me that the poorer people could afford to send letters.

Think of it: most people couldn't write. Why should they send mail to one another? Also, I guess that many plebeians didn't have the means to spread out across the Empire, unless through conquest and the army perhaps. But could legionaries write? Is there any info available on litteracy? I don't know :).

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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Mon Dec 30, 2002 5:22 am

Salve Scorpio

First, may we get something straight. Plebeian does not, and never did refer to the poorer classes. By the time you can begin to speak of a Roman postal system, during the early empire, the distinction between patrician and plebeian held no meaning really. In the earliest history of the city when the distinction first appears, plebeian does not refer to any difference in ethnicity, culture, or wealth. It is completely uncertain what the distinction did refer to. A topic we need to take up some time.

While the poorer classes would not likely have been able to read, or affored to send mail, or afford to move freely about the empire, as you indicate, these would be the proletariat and the capiti censi, and while not patrician, not all plebeians could be regarded as being the poor. The army, until Marius in 107 bce, was exclusively composed of a propertied class. (The navy on the other hand did recruit members of the proletariat.) In the imperial period the army was composed of various classes and various foreigners, and while the legionaries might be of the poorer segment of society, they were not the proletariat or what would be urban poor.

While literacy among the Romans was not very high (estimates range from 7-10%, although some might claim more) writing does appear among soldiers, wives of lower propertied classes, urban craftmen, and others who would be considered working class. Some graffitti might be attributed to urban poor, certainly freedmen and slaves (as some graffitti in Italy is written in Greek), these being the very lowest of social classes (not necessarily the poorest however). So literacy does not appear to have been limited to the wealthiest classes of Roman society.

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Dec 30, 2002 2:12 pm

Salve Piscine,

Yes, I should have been more careful. By "plebe" I simply meant a poor citizen which was a gross oversimplification.

Good point about the graffiti. I'm also suddenly reminded that many house slaves in charge of administrational or educational work were most likely able to read and write (perhaps they even were bilingual, since most teachers were Greek).

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