Enforcing Social Order in History Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Sumptuary Laws in the Roman Empire

The Roman Republic and the Roman Empire were both grandiose and both are a major part of the history of the world. However, they were quite different in many significant ways but they were also similar in some ways as it relates to social structure, the way people dressed and how society proceeded and developed. The major difference between the two was that the Senate and people had a lot of power in the Republic while the Emperor reigned supreme in the Roman Empire. However, the differences are a lot deeper than that in some ways. While some people conflate the Roman Empire and Roman Republic, there is a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Roman History.


The main differences between the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic are fairly easy to list. When it came to the Roman Republic, there are a few things that can be said. First off, this was the Roman history arc that ran from about 500 BC to about 30 BC. This is the time period in which the rule of Rome expanded from the city of Rome to the larger areas in and around the Mediterranean. Some of this expansion was willing on the part of the acquired country while other takeovers were by force. The countries and areas that were included in this expansion included the northern parts of Africa, France, Greece and Spain. The end of the Roman Republic came with leader Octavian naming himself Augustus and Emperor in 27 BC. The creation of the Roman Republic happened when the Etruscans were overthrown in roughly 509 BC. The government of the Roman Republic is the loose basis for the government in the United States right now. Even so, it has to be recognized that a republic and a democracy are not the same thing. In a democracy, everyone is expected to have an active part in the government of a country and this was simply not the case when it came to the Roman Republic. In the Roman Republic, there were varying level of citizenship. A "full citizen" could vote, could marry freeborn people and could practice commerce. However, some citizens were not allowed to vote but were privy to other rights due to their presence in the Republic (U.S. History, 2015).

There were even slaves within the Roman Republic. They were eventually freed and granted citizenship. In 212 BC, the Edict of Caracalla said that all free people could vote. This was followed the fact that all non-Roman allies of the Republic gained citizenship in 90 BC. However, one should look at the earlier Roman Republic. In that day, the rich people (known as the aristocracy) dominated the Roman Republic, its power structure and its actions. These aristocrats were otherwise known as patricians. These people in turn tended to be the two highest leaders in the Roman Republic and they were known as consuls. The consuls were elected by a group of aristocrats so it is easy to see why non-patricians, known as plebeians, would never have power in the Roman Republic. In general, plebeians had absolutely no say in the Roman government. Further, both men and women were considered citizens in the Roman Republic but only men could actually vote. However, this was truer in the earlier times of the Roman Republic rather than later on (U.S. History, 2015).

Over time, there was a separation between the patricians and plebeians that broke down or at least softened over time. At one point, the plebeians started to assert their own power in the form of electing their own representatives that were known as tribunes. The tribunes eventually gained enough power to the point that they could veto measures and laws that were passed by the Senate. However, this was all despite the fact that a man in one class (e.g. patrician) could not marry someone in the other class (plebeian). However, there came a point that the plebeians were eventually able to hold the position of consul, something that was previously only done for patricians (U.S. History, 2015).

The Senate was initially on one hundred people but it later expanded to be three times that. It was indeed the most powerful governing body in Rome and this was an even stronger fact when the kings were expelled. As noted before, the senators were from the patrician class alone for a very long time but that did shift over the years. They gathered in an ornate building called the Curia, which was in the Roman Forum area of the city of Rome. Julius Caesar built an even larger curia at one point. In the latter part of the Senate, things got quite bloody as Dictator Sulla had a large number of senators killed in roughly 82 BC and he also increased the member of the Senate to double its largest prior size, going from 300 to 600. Further, the eventual dictator status that ended the Roman Republic was entered by choice at times. When a war or other major event would come up, the Senate would appoint a single person to be the voice and leader in war for the Roam Republic. What was unique about the Roman Republic is that they would allow the people of the lands they conquered the same rights and opportunities as the people that were already in the Roman Republic. The earlier timeframe of the Roman Republic was full of war and struggle. This period came to be known as the Punic Wars. Punic was basically a reference to the "people of Carthage." After a total of three Punic wars, the people of the Roman Republic were ready to quit fighting and they did so by holding a very long siege of Carthage that ended in the city being burnt to the ground. They went to so far as to put salt on the ground all around the city so that nothing would ever grow there again (U.S. History, 2015).

The shift into the Roman Empire was a bloody one. Julius Caesar was betrayed and in a very nasty, prolonged and multi-faceted way. Indeed, he was stabbed in the neck by one person and then a series of other people did much the same thing. This happened around 44 BCE. Those familiar with the Shakespeare play know the event fairly well already. There was a nasty civil war after that assassination. However, after this bloody period that involved a lot of death and destruction from the likes of Octavian, Marc Antony and others, there was a good amount of peace that ran from 27 BC to about 180 BC. This period was known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. Economic prosperity was sky-high and the empire spanned completely around the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The population of the Empire soared to 70 million people and included England, Morocco, Iraq and so on. However, another three hundred years later and the Roman Empire as a whole came crashing down (U.S. History, 2015).

Sumptuary Laws

Before getting into the sumptuary laws, it should be explain what the articles of clothing in the Roman Republic or Empire were and who got to wear them and why. First off, every Roman would wear two to three articles of clothing not counting their shoes. The common dress in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire were pretty much the same. However, it is worth to note that Roman dress was heavily influenced in a positive way by contact with the Greeks and the Etruscans. Even though men and women were held in very different steads within the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, the men and women dressed in a very similar fashion to each other. There were several different levels to each person dressing and they are as follows:

Indutus: This meant to "put on"…generally considered garments that many people would consider underwear

Amictus: This was "wrapped around" and these were the outer garments (T&T, 2015).

The toga is a famous Roman garment but it was actually originally worn by women…not men. The toga became one of the two main garments worn by Romans with the other one being the tunic. The toga was a loose woolen robe of a semi-circular form. It did not have sleeves, was open from the waist upwards and was closed off below the waist. It would wrap around the body under the right arm but would drape over the left shoulder so as to keep the garment up. Togas would come in various forms based on who was wearing it and why and that will be explained below. The tunic was a white woolen vest that would be worn beneath the toga for those that were allowed to wear it. On men, the tunic would come down to about the needs. For women, it would go all the way down to the feet. If a person wearing a tunic was of a…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Encyclopedia.com,. 'Sumptuary Laws Facts, Information, Pictures | Encyclopedia.Com

Articles About Sumptuary Laws'. Encyclopedia.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 27 Apr.


Fashion Encyclopedia,. 'Sumptuary Laws Regulate Luxury - Fashion, Costume, And

Cite This Essay:

"Enforcing Social Order In History" (2015, April 27) Retrieved October 20, 2019, from

"Enforcing Social Order In History" 27 April 2015. Web.20 October. 2019. <

"Enforcing Social Order In History", 27 April 2015, Accessed.20 October. 2019,