Beggars in the Roman World

As is, tragically, the case with many cities and towns and other locales in the modern world, homelessness and begging were ubiquitous in the ancient Roman world.

4699760_origBronze coin bank in the image of a girl begging for coin, Getty Museum

Ancient authors such as Seneca, Juvenal, and Persius refer to itinerant people taking shelter under bridges and archways. The homeless poor were often found along roads and especially well-traveled routes to major tourist or religious sites, such as sanctuaries.  Pliny the Younger tells us that Trajan was so affected by the crowds of homeless families lining the roads begging for coin that the emperor continued and in fact increased a subsistence system called the alimentaria that was designed to help the poorest citizens of Italy (especially children) through taxation of wealthy land owners, although it is unclear exactly how or how much money the homeless received. The town of Aricia in the Albans Hills outside of Rome was famous for its hoards of roadside beggars.

Gaius and Allerix on the way to Marcia’s estate in Aricia… unedited and subject to change. Book 3. Gaius’s POV. 

~~~~~

Allerix turned in his saddle, the sun lighting the curled ends of his thick dark lashes to golden, and asked, “Who are these people, sir?”

“At the top of this hill are Lake Nemorensis and the great sanctuary of our revered Diana. As you can see, the road’s steep and travel necessarily slow, so these beggars set up shop amidst the shrubs and trees. They bless those who are generous and curse the miserly. Some imaginative people believe they’re disguised agents of the divine huntress.”

“Do you believe these beggars have powers?”

“No, I don’t. But, as haughty Acteon discovered, it’s a piss poor strategy to anger an armed virgin goddess, even under normal fucking circumstances. Let’s indulge Artemis’ needy nymphs with our generosity.” Gaius pulled out a second small leather sack of money from the pouch clipped to his belt. “Here, throw a few coins, Alle. Toss the bronze by their feet, and try not to hit the poor creatures. Striking them with specie is also bad luck—or so I’ve heard.”

~~~~~

JPK

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: