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ARTIF´ICES 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 (Il. 8.386). Odysseus makes his own bed (Od. 23.189), Arete spins (Od 6.306), and Nausicaa washes her own clothes (Od. 6.31). 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, Od. 1.416, 17.382--the regular term) from their town (ἄλλοθεν) to another. They were free Greeks, not barbarians (cf. e.g. Il. 7.221), not 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 (Od. 15.506; cf. Il. 18.558), though the “called-in” artisans may have also received presents as ξένοι. 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, 1873; Buchholz, 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. 26). 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. 43). In 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. 22); 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). Themistocles 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. p. 1308.30).

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. Timarch. § 27; Thuc. 2.40; 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). Leisure (ἀργία), 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 (Thuc. 2.40). 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. c. Eubul. p. 1313.57). Phaenarete, the mother of Socrates, had been a midwife (Plat. Theaet. 149 A). 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. Oec. 4, § 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). For 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. 1.324) 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 the artist 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 ἀποχειροβίωτος. See the striking speeches of Statuary (Ἑρμογλυφική) and Culture (Παιδεία) in Lucian's Somnium, 6-9, the whole tone of which dialogue is most instructive. (Cf. Plut. Praecept. reip. ger. 5, 7 = 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 different houses.

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). The sculptors at Athens called themselves Daedalidae (Plat. Euthyphr. 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, 33). 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, Arbeiter, § 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 apprentices (μαθηταί, Plat. Meno, 90 D). But, besides these small artisans, we find large workshops (ἐργαστήρια), the 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. Aphob. 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 (Thuc. 7.27). 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, Dem. de Cor. 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. Hermann-Blümner, Privatalterthümer, 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) says, οἱ μὲν ἑνὶ λειτουργοῦντες τὰ τοιαῦτα δοῦλοι, οἱ δὲ κοινῆ βάναυσοι καὶ θῆτες. Masters, 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 Εὐρυσακεῖον (Poll. 7.133). The united artisans celebrated the festival of the Chalkea in honour of Athena and Hephaestus (A. Mommsen, Heortologie, 313 foll.). On manufactories in Greece, see Drumann, op. cit. § 11.

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 (Ath. 12.518 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. 2.366 ff.). There are stray allusions to a χειρωνάξιον or tax on trades generally (Aristot. (Oec. 2.1, 4, and C. I. C. 4863 b). Each man was allowed to exercise as many trades as he liked, though Plato (Legg. 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, 6) 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. i. p. 173); nightwork at the mill, 2 drachmas (Athen. 4.168).

The principal works on the subject are Drumann, Die Arbeiter und Communisten in Griechenland und Rom, 1860; Frohberger, De opificum apud veteres Graecos conditione, 1866; Büchsenschütz, Besitz und Erwerb im Griechischen Alterthsume, 1869, esp. 249-292, 316-355; Caillemer in D. and S., 1874; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 3.93-97; Hermann-Blümner, Privatalterthümer, § § 41, 42.

2. Roman

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, Privatleben, p. 589 seq.). For the distinction of “liberal” and “sordid” or “common” (volgares) arts 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, 150). 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); and, secondly, that the professors of the liberal arts were in strictness called artifices, while opifices or sellularii was the name given to those who exercised the artes operosae or sordidae (Cic. Off. l.c.). The artifices were painters, sculptors, engineers, architects, musicians, actors, &c. These latter appear to have been specially called artifices (Weissenborn on Livy, 5.1.5). 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. Numa, 17) instituted nine guilds: viz. αὐληταί, tibicines; χρυσοχόοι, aurifices; τέκτονες, fabri; βαφεῖς, tinctores, or, according to Marquardt, fullones; σκυτοτόμοι, sutores; σκυτοδέφαι, coriarii; χαλκεῖς, aerarii; κεραμεῖς, figuli; and all the rest of the mechanics formed the ninth collegium. Mommsen remarks (R. H. 1.202, 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.). Later 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, 135 [136]),--a highly important passage given by Wordsworth, Fragm. and Specimens, p. 334. It shows that Mommsen, R. H. 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. [p. 1.197]3.5, 34 if. The strike of the tibicines recorded in Liv. 9.30 reminds one of a modern trades-union. The rate of wages appears to have been about 12 asses a day (about 8d.) for an ordinary journeyman labourer (Cic. Rosc. Com. 10, 28). On the whole, it must be confessed with Mommsen (R. H. 1.203) that about the state of trade during the Republic we know next to nothing.

The artifices, 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 ( “honestis manibus,” 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). A 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, 10; Tac. Ann. 14.21; and Drumann, op. cit. § § 31, 32). All these professions were to the Romans mediocres artes, “second-rate arts” (Cic. de Orat. 1.2, 6), leviores artes (Cic. Brut. 1, 2).

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 (Civ. Dei, 7.4). Now a capital feature of the empire was the tendency to concentrate the different kinds of handicraftsmen in collegia. [COLLEGIUM] An interesting and full account of these collegia 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, p. 498). 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, 65). The coppersmiths used to wear a cap and apron: πιλἰον καὶ περίζωμα (Epictet. Diatrib. 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. 88, 18, 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. 40). Alexander Severus, and apparently before him Antoninus Pius (Justin Martyr, Apol. 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. 24.)

In post-Diocletian times all artisans were scheduled and formed in each community a corporation. Each corporation paid a fixed tax, called lustralis collatio (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, 7 (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, 1, 17, 2).

Besides Drumann, op. cit., see Mommsen's Roman History; Friedländer's Sittengeschichte Roms, especially i.4 284 ff.; Marquardt's Privatleben; Lange, Römische Alterthümer, 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, Berlin, 1881.


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  • Cross-references from this page (45):
    • Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1
    • Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 2
    • Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae, 312
    • Aristotle, Politics, 3.1278a
    • Aristotle, Politics, 2.1267b
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.43
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.177
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.33
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.167
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.60
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.37
    • Homer, Iliad, 7.221
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.416
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.382
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.384
    • Homer, Odyssey, 6.31
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.12
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.40
    • Thucydides, Histories, 7.27
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.6
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.7
    • Xenophon, Economics, 4
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.371
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.558
    • Homer, Iliad, 8.386
    • Homer, Odyssey, 15.506
    • Homer, Odyssey, 23.189
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.2.87
    • Cicero, For Archias, 10
    • Cicero, For Sextus Roscius of Ameria, 10
    • Cicero, For Archias, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 30
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.21
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.14
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 1.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.43
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 1.5
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 1.4
    • Plutarch, Agesilaus, 26
    • Plutarch, Cimon, 4
    • Plutarch, Solon, 22
    • Plutarch, Solon, 24
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.7
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