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Article

Jean-Jacques Aubert

Because of the traditional reluctance of the Roman elite to engage personally in profit-oriented economic activities other than agriculture (Cic., Off. 1.151), entrepreneurs of all kinds formed a distinctive social class and would tend to act as non-advertised agents for those who may have had the needs, the means, and the willingness to operate businesses on a larger scale than the individual, subsistence-level enterprise. However, the concept of agency was foreign to Roman law, because acting on behalf and in the name of someone else smacked of magic. Consequently, agents were, at least originally, legally dependents, as slaves or sons and daughters in power, whose lack of legal personality enabled them to better their principal’s economic condition and eventually to engage both their delictual and contractual liability, under certain circumstances. The key to such a legal arrangement was the formal appointment (praepositio) of business managers (institores).

Article

H.E.M. Cool

Glass came of age during the Roman period. Within the ancient world it had been used from the mid-second millennium bce onwards, but only for jewellery and luxury items like small perfume bottles. This started to change in the late 2nd century bce, when the Hellenistic industries started to produce simple glass drinking vessels. In the early Imperial period there was an explosion in the vessel forms available, in part made possible by the discovery of how to blow glass. The new types included both the luxurious, such as exquisite cameo vessels, and the utilitarian, such as disposable packaging for cosmetics. A similar expansion was seen in its role in buildings, where glass went from luxurious interior decoration to structurally important window glass. References in literary works and depictions in wall paintings at the time attest to the considerable attention this new phenomenon attracted in the early to mid-1st century ce. Vessels, windows and other items spread widely throughout the empire and beyond, and to all levels of society. Over the next 400 years, how the material was used changed with time and place as the various regional industries responded to the needs and preferences of their communities. This was a major high-temperature industry which would have made considerable demands on resources such as fuel, but there are still many things that are unknown about it. Where, for example, was the glass itself made? Waste from secondary workshops producing vessels is regularly encountered, but evidence for the primary production is extremely rare. This has led to considerable debate, with competing models being proposed. Glass is not a material where scientific techniques such as those used to provenance pottery have proved very helpful. The composition of Roman glass is extremely uniform throughout the empire, and again there has been much debate about why this might be. Of late, some useful advances have started to be made in approaching these questions, and this may eventually disentangle what was going on. The study of Roman glass provides a unique window into the past. Through it the impact of new technologies and materials can be seen, as well as the choices people made about what was useful in their lives—all against the background of some of the most beautiful and skilful vessels ever made.

Article

Cameron Hawkins

The social worlds of artisans and craftsmen were structured around skill on both conceptual and practical levels. On a conceptual level, artisans employed skill (τέχνη / ars) as a crucial component of the identities they constructed for themselves—identities that differed distinctly from perceptions of artisans among the elite, who dismissed most craftsmen as “base” manual labourers. On a practical level, the importance of apprenticeship as a tool for the acquisition of skill had a profound impact on the social profile of artisans and craftsmen: while it ensured that skill could be acquired by both free and enslaved artisans, it limited opportunities for women and for children born into households of low economic status. From an economic perspective, the small workshop remained the backbone of artisanal production. The ubiquity of small workshops in the economy can be explained best as the product of artisans’ efforts to respond to the risks created by product markets in which demand was inherently seasonal and uncertain. With some exceptions, artisans sought to mitigate their exposure to risk by minimizing fixed costs, while nevertheless preserving the ability to expand their output in periods of elevated demand. This was true even in industries that fostered specialization in discrete and technically demanding stages of a vertical production process: in these industries, artisans typically coordinated their production not within integrated firms, but rather within subcontracting networks.