It is proposed in this article to touch
on the general condition of the artisans in Greece and Rome, and the
estimation in which they were held, without treating of the agricultural
labourers, or going into the special technical details of the different
manufactures.. For the latter, the reader is referred to the articles
treating of the separate trades.
Among the Homeric Greeks we find gods and heroes engaged on the works of
artisans. Thus Hephaestus himself works at the forge (Il. 18.371
), and Athena at the loom
). Odysseus makes his own
bed (Od. 23.189
), Arete spins
6.306), and Nausicaa washes her own clothes
). This shows that much was
done in the family which in later times would have been the work of
slaves or hired workmen. But in Homeric times there were professional
artisans who worked for the people, δημιοεργοί,
--a term which probably comprised all kinds of
artisans, and not merely the few mentioned as examples in Od. 17.384
; viz. physicians, soothsayers,
shipwrights, and singers. Some acquired such reputation that they used
to be “called in” (καλεῖν,
--the regular term) from their town (ἄλλοθεν
) to another. They were free Greeks,
not barbarians (cf. e.g. Il. 7.221
forming anything like a caste, of which there is not the slightest trace
in Homer. They appear to have been remunerated generally by a feast
; cf. Il. 18.558
), though the
“called-in” artisans may have also received presents as
They almost always belonged
to the lower classes (χέρηες
). Work was
no shame at that period; idleness was shame (Hes. Op.
301). (On the Homeric workmen generally, see Riedenauer, Handwerk
und Handwerker in den homerischen Zeiten,
Die homerischen Realien,
2.1, 27 ff., 1881).
The patriarchal times gave place to a period of unrest while Greece
“was moving about and settling itself” (Thuc. 1.12
). During this period the warriors
were everything; the artisans were of small account. These latter came
to be looked down on, as they are in every military society.
Accordingly, when the aristocratically governed Dorians took possession
of Laconia, they made the perioeci and the slaves [p. 1.195]
practise all the manual arts. An artisan could not be a
citizen; nor could a citizen learn a manual art. The allies were almost
all artisans (see the story in Plut. Ages.
). Similarly, the Thespians did not allow their citizens to be
either mechanics or agricultural labourers, and were accordingly very
poor, says Heraclides Ponticus (De polit. Graec.
other aristocratical communities the laws were not so strict. If a man
had ceased to be a mechanic for ten years at Thebes, he was eligible for
magistracies (Arist. Pol.
vii. (vi.) 7.5,
compared with 3.3.4). Still less strict were the timocratical and
democratical communities; least strict of all the Corinthians (Hdt. 2.167
). Manufacture involves work and
brings wealth, and work and wealth make a state in peace contented and
happy. The Athenian legislators knew this, and enacted that every father
should have his son taught a trade, or else the son should not be under
any obligations towards him (Plut. Sol.
); anyone who had no visible means of support, and yet was
idle, was liable to an ἀργίας γραφή,
“a law with which we can find no fault” (Hdt. 2.177
); citizenship was offered to
strangers who were skilled as artisans and were willing to settle at
Athens (Plut. Sol. 24
advised the people to encourage the artisans by freeing them from all
tribute (Diod. 11.43
). Any one abusing
another on account of his trade was liable to a κακηγορίας δίκη
(Dem. c. Eubul.
This latter enactment gives a very clear hint as to the way artisans were
regarded, even in democratic Athens. They were recognised and protected
by the law, had a share in the deliberations of the assembly (Aeschin.
§ 27; Thuc.
; Xen. Mem.
3.7.6), but looked down upon
by the upper classes, and so suffered in general repute, as they did in
all ancient states (Hdt. 2.167
), they considered with
Socrates, was the sister of Freedom (Ael. Var. Hist.
10.14); but work was to be resorted to in order to escape from poverty
). Thus in Macedonian times,
when Athens became poor, we find many even of the free women turning to
menial occupations, such as nurses and mowers and vintagers (Dem.
p. 1313.57). Phaenarete, the mother of
Socrates, had been a midwife (Plat. Theaet.
According to genuine Greek minds, such as Plato's, no native should
engage in the employments of artisans (δημιουργικὰ τεχνήματα
); he has quite as much as he can
do to maintain and further the honour of the state (Legg.
846 D). Aristotle holds similar views (Pol.
3.3.2). Phaleas of Chalcedon in his constitution allowed no artisans
except slaves belonging to the state (Aristot. Pol. 2.4.13
). The Greeks had many reasons for this
contempt for manufacturing industry. Mechanical labour (βαναυσία,
properly labour over a furnace,
Suidas s. v.) prevents the full development of the body, and
consequently of the mind, owing both to the sedentary and confined
nature of the various employments and to the want of leisure they
entail. The mechanics are thus unable to attend to the interests of
their friends or of the state (Xen.
, § 2; Aristot. Pol.
v. (viii.) 2.1). Again, even the free
artisans were in a manner slaves to their employers for their hire; and
as most of the artisans were either actually slaves or strangers (Aristot. Pol. 3.3.2
), all came to
be regarded together as forming one class, viz. βάναυσοι
(also called τεχνῖται,
χερνῆτες, χειροτέχναι, χειρώνακτες, χρηματισταί
it must be carefully borne in mind that the greater mass of the artisans
were foreigners (μέτοικοι
) or slaves;
in the list of workmen at the Erechtheum (C. L. A.
the foreigners are twice as numerous as the citizens.
What is most remarkable to us in the low opinion of the ancients with
regard to manual labour is that they made no radical distinction between
and the artisan,
as long as both took pay for their services. No doubt
Phidias was thought more of than a fuller; but still even the greatest
statuary or painter, if he took pay, was regarded even till the latest
times as a βάναυσος καὶ χειρῶναξ καὶ
See the striking speeches of Statuary
) and Culture
) in Lucian's Somnium,
6-9, the whole tone of which dialogue
is most instructive. (Cf. Plut. Praecept. reip. ger.
= 2.802.) Aristotle, too, deprecates professional skill being displayed
in music (Pol.
v. (viii.) 6.2, 3). If,
however, the artist took no pay, this raised him in public estimation:
e. g. Polygnotus, who painted the Stoa Poecile gratis (Plut. Cim. 4
). How one who took money for
services was in a manner lowered in social estimation may be felt from
the way professional athletes are still regarded.
Such states as Phocis and Locris deserve a passing notice. They were poor
and had for a long time no slaves, so that all the artisans were
citizens. We hear that they strenuously resisted, as depriving them of
their daily bread, a capitalist Mnason, who wanted to compete against
them with slave labour on an extensive scale (Athen. 6.264
d); for, says
Athenaeus, it was customary for the younger to help the elder in their
This leads us on to the consideration of the question whether there were
any castes of artisans among the Greeks as there were among the
Egyptians. We may say generally that there were not (cf. Grote, iii. p.
51), though we occasionally meet with something like them: thus the
functions of the heralds, flute-players,. and cooks were hereditary in
certain families at Sparta (Hdt. 6.60
sculptors at Athens called themselves Daedalidae (Plat.
11 C); and some priesthoods appear to have been
confined to certain families, the Eteobutadae at Athens (Aeschin.
de Fals. Leg.
47.155), the Telliadae and Iamidae in
Elis (Hdt. 9.37
). But by an individual member of a family holding a
priesthood that family was not rendered holy or separated from the rest.
(On the absence of castes in Greece, see especially Drumann,
§ 6.) Neither did the trades form
corporations till late in Roman times and under Roman influence. The
artisans appear to have had partners, συνεργοί
(C. I. A.
1.324, p. 173), and
90 D). But, besides these small artisans, we
find large workshops (ἐργαστήρια
owners of which managed them by foremen (ἔργων
ἐπιστάται, ἐπίτροποι, ν̔γεμόνες τοῦ ἐργαστηρίου
taken from among their slaves or freedmen (Dem. c. Aphob.
819.24; Aeschin. Tim.
14.97). In the two factories of the
father of Demosthenes there were fifty-two slaves (Dem. c.
816, [p. 1.196]
§ § 11,
12); and Lysias and his brother Polemarchus had a shield-factory with
120 slaves (Lys. contra Eratosth.
8, 19). Thus the establishments do not appear to have been large. The
work of the slaves in them was probably severe. Most of the 20,000
slaves who deserted in the Decelean war to the Spartans were χειροτέχναι
). The owners of these workshops were generally considered
highly respectable members of society; the father of Demosthenes was
something more than one of the middle-class citizens (μετρίων,
p. 228.10), yet was called “a cutler” (Mayor
on Juv. 10.130
); and we may well suppose
that some of the tanners, cobblers, lamp-makers, &c. satirized
by Aristophanes, were owners of such factories (cf.
399, notes 2, 3). The workers in these factories were mostly slaves,
though sometimes no doubt day-labourers were hired (θῆτες, μισθωτοι
). Indeed, there was not much
difference between the condition of slaves and such artisans: Aristotle
(Aristot. Pol. 3.3.3
οἱ μὲν ἑνὶ λειτουργοῦντες τὰ τοιαῦτα
δοῦλοι, οἱ δὲ κοινῆ βάναυσοι καὶ θῆτες.
too, often allowed their slaves to be hired. These day-labourers were
sometimes called at Athens Κολωνῖται,
as the place where they congregated for hire was the κολωνὸς ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ παρὰ τὸ
(Poll. 7.133). The united artisans celebrated
the festival of the Chalkea in honour of Athena and Hephaestus (A.
313 foll.). On manufactories in
Greece, see Drumann, op. cit.
The state interfered very little with the artisans. They appear to have
sometimes removed unsanitary factories, e. g. tanneries, outside the
walls (Artem. Oneirocr.
1.53); and at Sybaris, noisy ones
c). We find at Paros the
agoranomi seeing that fair contracts were enforced between employer and
employed (see the important inscription in honour of Cillus at Paros in
Rangabé, Antiq. hellén.
There are stray allusions to a χειρωνάξιον
or tax on trades generally (Aristot.
2.1, 4, and C. I. C.
Each man was allowed to exercise as many trades as he liked, though
846 E) would not have tolerated it; yet, as
a matter of fact, the extension of the principle of division of labour
(cf. Xen. Mem. 2.7
) must have practically limited the
exercise of more businesses than one. We have allusions to patents for
discoveries (Ath. 12.521
d); and to the
selling of good--will (Lys. pro Inval.
§ 6). The
rates of wages may be seen from the following:--Farm-labourer, 4 obols a
day (Lucian, Tim
6); hodman, 3 obols (Aristoph. Eccl. 312
); stonecutter and
such as worked at the Erechtheum, 1 drachma (C. I. A.
p. 173); nightwork at the mill, 2 drachmas (Athen.
The principal works on the subject are Drumann, Die Arbeiter und
Communisten in Griechenland und Rom,
De opificum apud veteres Graecos
Besitz und Erwerb im Griechischen Alterthsume,
esp. 249-292, 316-355; Caillemer in D. and S., 1874;
§ § 41, 42.
It has been epigrammatically remarked that whereas with the Greeks every
handicraft was an art, with the Romans every art was a handicraft. But
both agreed in looking down on all manual labour for hire, whether art
or handicraft. Seneca (Epist.
88, 18) hesitates about
classing a painter among the practisers of liberal arts (see Marquardt,
p. 589 seq.
For the distinction of “liberal” and “sordid”
or “common” (volgares
was that adopted by the Romans, the former being those which involved
greater skill and produced greater advantage, the latter those which
required mere labour (opera
), not skill,
the wages for which constituted an obligation of slavery (auctoramentum servitutis,
Cic. Off. 1.4. 2
Now it is to be noticed, firstly, that the practical Roman valued in any
art the greater advantage, not the aesthetic excellence, of what was
produced, always making profession before the people of being quite
unskilled in aesthetic judgment (e. g. Cic.
Ver. 2.35, 87
secondly, that the professors of the liberal arts were in strictness
the name given to those who exercised the artes
l.c.). The artifices
were painters, sculptors, engineers, architects,
musicians, actors, &c. These latter appear to have been
specially called artifices
). However, it will be convenient
here to treat of the whole class of what we call artisans.
The earliest notice we have of such artisans is that king Numa (Plut.
17) instituted nine guilds: viz.
or, according to Marquardt, fullones;
and all the rest of the mechanics
formed the ninth collegium. Mommsen remarks (R. H.
Eng. trans,) that there are no workers in iron, so that we may infer
that iron was a late introduction. The skilled artisans no doubt united
in order to preserve the traditions of their art. There are no signs of
monopoly by these guilds, or protection in their interest (Mommsen, l.c.
). These collegia remained in existence all
through the republic.
The simplicity of the early times and the paucity of
skilled slaves must have caused the artisans to be held at
first in high esteem. But of this they were deprived by the Servian
timocratic organisation, which excluded artisans (except the carpenters,
coppersmiths, and musicians) from serving in the army, not formally but
practically, because service was connected with a freehold, which the
artisans did not possess (Mommsen, l.c.
the increase of capital in a few hands led to the employment by these
capitalists of slaves or freedmen as artisans, and this prevented any
middle class growing up in Rome. Most of the requirements of life were
produced in this way. Manufacture was spread throughout Italy. The
Ficoroni casket was made by a Praenestine. Cato advises the Campanian
farmer to buy the different necessaries of his calling at the most
various places (de Re Rustica,
),--a highly important passage given by Wordsworth, Fragm.
p. 334. It shows that Mommsen, R.
2.379, is misleading. That cloth-working must have been
fairly extensive is to be inferred from the frequent mention of the
fullers in Roman comedy. A considerable list of manufacturers may be
seen in Plaut. Aulul.
3.5, 34 if. The strike of the tibicines
recorded in Liv.
reminds one of a modern trades-union. The rate of wages
appears to have been about 12 asses
) for an ordinary journeyman labourer
(Cic. Rosc. Com.
, 28). On the whole, it must be confessed with Mommsen
1.203) that about the state of trade during
the Republic we know next to nothing.
properly so called, except
the architects, came mostly from Greece: painters, e. g. Metrodorus
(Plin. Nat. 35.135
, who gives
numerous other examples); statuaries, e. g. Pasiteles (Plin. Nat. 36.40
), Arcesilaus (ib.
§ 156); architects, e. g. Hermodorus (Cic. de Orat. 1.14
, 62); and for many
more see Drumann, Arbeiter,
§ § 29, 30.
But few Romans practised these arts. One of the Fabian gens got the
honorary title of “Pictor” for painting the temple of
Salus, in 304 B.C. The poet Pacuvius was also celebrated as a painter,
but after him the art was seldom seen in respectable hands (
Plin. Nat. 35
. § § 19,
20). See, too, the scoff of Naevius in Mommsen, R. H.
2.478. Spurius Carvilius (Consul 293 B.C.) made a colossal bronze statue
of Jupiter (Plin. Nat. 34.43
Roman architect, Cossutius, is found building a temple to Honor and
Virtus at Rome, and later engaged on the temple of Zeus at Athens in 170
B.C. (Vitruv. vii., Pref. § 15). That actors were either
slaves, freedmen, or strangers; and that, though in later times they
were much admired and received enormous salaries, they were always
considered unworthy of citizenship, is well known (see Cic. Arch. 5
; Tac. Ann. 14.21
Drumann, op. cit.
§ § 31, 32).
All these professions were to the Romans mediocres
“second-rate arts” (Cic. de
, 6), leviores artes
(Cic. Brut. 1
The great boon of the empire was peace. Industry increased vastly in all
departments. The division of labour was of the most extensive kind; see,
for example, the immense number of different workmen engaged in the
making of clothes, as given in Marquardt, Privatleben,
pp. 566-7, and indeed the whole volume; also Friedländer, i.4 286, and his quotation from St. Augustine
7.4). Now a capital feature of the empire
was the tendency to concentrate the different kinds of handicraftsmen in
] An interesting and full account of
of workmen, which were at
once trades-unions and clubs, insurance and burial societies, is given
in Boissier, La Religion Romaine,
2.238 foll. They were
the most conservative element of society. It was mostly foreigners and
freedmen who carried on the different trades; though rich people and
even the emperors put their money into large businesses (Hermann
Schiller, Röm. Kaiserzeit.
424), e. g. the
purple-manufacturers (Marquardt, Privatleben,
The artisans in these large workshops were slaves or freedmen
(Friedländer, i.4 285, 291). The working
dress of the lower orders appears to have been the tunica (Hor. Ep. 1.7
). The coppersmiths used to wear a cap and apron: πιλἰον καὶ περίζωμα
4.8, 16). A considerable contempt, natural
in a slave state, hung round the exercise of trade: at Tarsus we find a
number of the small artisans “outside the state” (Dio
Chrys. vol. 2.43 and 45, Reiske). This contempt did not merely attach to
trade, but also to what we call art: see Sen. Ep.
and also ap. Lactant. Inst.
2.2, 14, “simulacra
deorum venerantur . . . fabros qui illa fecere contemnunt.”
The technical skill and inventiveness of several of the artisans was of
the highest order, details of which will be found in the articles
treating of the different handicrafts.
The trades were sometimes taxed. Caligula exacted one-eighth of their
gains from the porters (Suet. Calig.
Severus, and apparently before him Antoninus Pius (Justin Martyr,
1.27), laid a tax on several classes of
artisans,--braccarii, linteones, vitrarii,
pelliones, claustrarii, argentarii, aurifices
--mostly makers of
articles of luxury. (Lampr. Alex. Sev.
In post-Diocletian times all artisans were scheduled and formed in each
community a corporation. Each corporation paid a fixed tax, called
(Cod. Theod. 13.1;
and especially Marquardt, 5.230). During the same period the lower class
of artisans and traders was organised into the COLLEGIATI, while a number of artifices
by a law of Constantine obtained special exemption
from all state burdens, in order that they might have more time to apply
themselves each to his special art and to teach it to their sons (Cod.
Theod. 13.4, 2; Cod. Just. 10.66
). In the
schedule to this law, which enumerates thirty-five different kinds of
artisans concerned, architects, physicians, painters, sculptors,
goldsmiths, fullers, potters, &c., all appear to be on an
equality. Special immunities, too, are granted to architects, engineers,
builders and painters (see the whole title Cod. Theod. 13.4, “De
excusationibus artificum” ). Compare, for similar immunities
granted to military artisans, Dig. 50
(6). The idea was
that the artisans were not rich enough to undertake munera patrimonii;
but if the artisan or manufacturer
grew rich, he became liable (Dig. 27
Besides Drumann, op. cit.,
especially i.4 284 ff.; Marquardt's Privatleben;
i.3 247, 470, 506, ii.3 28,
&c.; Humbert in D. and S., s. v. Artifices;
and E. Wezel, De opificio opificibusque
apud veteres Romanos,