The class of senators to which most of these aristocrats belonged had grown steadily richer as the years of empire increased, building up immense landed properties something like the feudal estates of a later date. These ‘villas’, as they were called, were miniature kingdoms over which their owners had secured absolute power. Their affairs were administered by an agent, probably a favoured slave who had gained his freedom, assisted by a small army of officials. The principal subjects of the landlord would be the small proprietors of farms who paid a rent or did various services in return for their houses, while below these again would be a larger number of actual slaves, employed as household servants, bakers, shoe-makers, shepherds, &c.
The most striking thing about the Roman ‘villa’ was that it was absolutely self-contained. All that was needed for the life of its inhabitants, whether food or clothing, could be grown and manufactured on the estate. The crimes that were committed there would be judged by the master or his agent, and from the former’s decision there would be little hope of appeal. Where the proprietor was harsh or selfish, miserable indeed was the condition of those condemned to live on his ‘villa’.
1. What was the most striking thing about the Roman “villa”?
2. What were slaves’ jobs?