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Part One: Setting the Stage for Studying Ancient Coins


ACE CD: “Wages and Food Costs in Ancient Rome” and “Roman Weights & Measures” handouts

ACE Website: Bookmarks and Links


By the end of the lesson segment the students should have some idea of the cost of living in ancient Rome. Students should have considered what life would have been like for them in ancient times and may develop a curiosity about the future lesson segments and ancient history in general from putting ancient life into terms with which they are familiar.

1. Ask students what profession they might have chosen as ancient Romans. A senator? A legionnaire? A blacksmith? Have prepared materials on various Roman occupations, salaries, etc. at your disposal.

2. Ask students their thoughts about the earliest forms of money. Point out that the Latin word for money, pecunia, comes from the word pecus, meaning “herd”, “flock”, “cattle,” “beast.” You may want to discuss briefly the development of coinage, introducing the ideas of intrinsic and token value.

3. Ask students to estimate how much of their or their parents’ income is devoted to buying food. The average is not more than 20% in the United States. Using the provided wages and food costs tables, have students determine how much of their income would be devoted to food, based on the profession they chose. If a profession is not listed in the materials, the wage can be extrapolated from other similar professions.

4. Have students compare the foods they eat today with the staples Romans ate: The average adult male in ancient Rome consumed two pounds of bread a day, with meat seldom if ever being on the menu.

5. You may also wish to discuss clothing in ancient Rome. Have the students talk about their favorite clothes today, and about how many such articles of clothing they own now. Then, have them determine how many outfits their chosen profession could have provided after food costs.

6. Close the day’s lesson by discussing how frugality was a necessary part of almost every Roman’s life. The poorest of Romans received grain free, but social programs in ancient Rome were quite limited in scope. Announce that in the next lesson, students will receive a genuine ancient coin.

This part of the lesson could be done as an informal, group discussion designed to get students involved by making them ask, “How did the ancient Romans survive?” It may be appropriate to assign the students an activity, such as a report on “A Day in the Life of My Chosen Ancient Roman Profession” to further whet their appetites for the coins!