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6 - Port Occupations and Social Hierarchies

A Comparative Study through Inscriptions from Hispalis, Arelate, Lugdunum, Narbo Martius, Ostia-Portus and Aquileia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2020

Pascal Arnaud
Université Lumière Lyon II
Simon Keay
University of Southampton
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From small fishermen to tradesmen, port societies were composed of a broad range of occupations, which brought differing levels of income and prestige to those who practised them. Literary sources only mention a limited number of port activities, often situated at both ends of the social hierarchy, in particular the traders at the top and the fishermen at the bottom. Epigraphic sources allow us to be more specific about this hierarchy. First, far from being generalizing, they refer to particular port contexts, even if all the information is not available. Moreover, the inscriptions were often created by professionals themselves or by people who were in contact with them and who probably knew them better than the élite who wrote about them. The inscriptions also have the advantage of using a precise vocabulary that allows us to know about the existence of some activities that are unknown in literary sources. This is an advantage, but it can also be an inconvenience, because without any reference in literature it is sometimes difficult to know the exact meaning of the Latin words. Difficulties in determining the meaning of a word can also be encountered with well-documented words, like navicularius, something that makes us realize how important it is to take into account the contexts in which a word is employed. The aim of this chapter is to try to find clues for hierarchical relationships between different attested occupations. Are there any activities that are more prestigious than others, or that allow their members a better degree of social mobility? Alternatively, do some activities condemn those who practise them to remain at the bottom of the social scale? Is the hierarchy of occupations identical at each port?

Roman Port Societies
The Evidence of Inscriptions
, pp. 132 - 151
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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