Dual Class Elites
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Severan Imperial Family 181

Roman Merchant Ships

Severan Imperial FamilyThe aristocratic group in Roman society of both military and religious elites consisted of no more than three percent of the population. From these families both army and temple leaders were chosen. These dual class elites were crowned by the imperial family in the Roman system and its apparatus which controlled vast amounts of property and power. These aristocratic dual class elites were supported most directly by a small group of "retainers" who served the needs of the ruler and elite class. They were the governmental, religious functionaries and bureaucrats whose positions depended directly on the dual class elites, but who profited socially and economically by their status. In the Roman Empire, many of these were the slaves, freedmen and women of the emperor and the aristocracy.

Patronage Network

Roman Merchant ShipCarolyn Osiek and David L. Balch in "Families in the New Testament World - Households and House Churches" assert that others, the class of urban non-elites, were in less direct contact with centers of power through the complex networks of patronage. Some of these constituted a merchant class that tended to benefit from the dependence on them of the city merchants, to whose tastes they primarily catered. In no way, however, were any of these groups a middle class, as that term is understood today. In most areas, probably no more than seven percent of the population lived in cities, while the vast majority of the rural populations were peasants who worked the land or provided support for them through small crafts or trades.

Economic Burden

This silent majority who worked the land and supported small peasant villages ultimately bore the crushing economic burden of taxation, which forced them to give up the fruit of their labors to support the luxuries, military campaigns, and religious pomp of the urban wealthy.

"Dual Class Elites"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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