Working IX to V, by Vicki Leon
If I ever thought that I'm overworked and under-payed, well...I changed my mind. It could have been worse. Imagine being a slave 2000 years ago (or all the time throughout the history), or a servant, or the guy that cleaned the Cloaca Maxima in ancient Rome. There could have been many many other 'challenging' ways to earn a living. And I would have not know about it if not for 'Working IX to V', a book by Vicki Leon.
When we think, speak, write or read about historical times or happenings, we mostly focus on political aspects, wars, big events, religious facts, personalities. The life of ordinary people is overshadowed by kings, emperors, dictators, the daily living is silenced by the blast of war. During the 20th century, some historians have made a great effort to reveal the ordinary life. They had to dig dip to find documents that speak about common events.
The first attempt to fully succeed had been made by Ecole Des Annales, a French historiography movement founded by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch, in the period between the two World Wars. They wanted to overcome the traditional ways of writing history that was limited only to military, diplomatics and politics. By adding a social and economic dimension, and later a cultural one, they wanted to create a 'total' history. The French tradition refers at Fabvre and Bloch as the first generations of new historians. They had been fallowed by the second one, represented by Fernand Braudel, George Duby, Pierre Goubert, then the third generation with Emmanuele Le Roy Ladurie. To recreate the past, they did a very complex work: they search for documents created by churches or monasteries, they analyzed the census, they read journals kept by monks or other community leaders, they interpreted the accounting books kept by business, they correlated written and archaeological sources. And it worked. It was not in my intention to write about L'ecole Des Annales. But reading Vicki Leon's book,
I could not pass the similarities between her work and the French historians'. 'Working IX to V' (which translates 'Working 9 to 5', 'IX' and 'V' being the Romans numbers for 9 and 5) brings life to ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Like the French historians, her sources varies from chronicles to funeral inscriptions. It is an unique, interesting, fanny book, well documented and vividly written and can be easily red by academics and non academics. In ten chapters, Leon describes 120 jobs, common in ancient Greece and Roman Empire.
‘Two thousands years ago, a world uncanny like ours moved at a hustle, its people working a jaw-dropping assortment of jobs to earn their daily bread’, says Vicki Leon in the Introduction. She orders them by categories like slave related jobs, military jobs, entertainment careers, occupations in food industry, construction jobs and mainly anything you can or cannot think. Each job has about two pages where you can find which were the main attributes, if it was a good job or a bad one, which category of population perform it, how it was paid, who was famous or infamous, and few anecdotes related to that job. Also, each job description is placed into a social background and is enriched with collateral facts, everything blended into a spicy and saucy little tablet.
Through my education, I can say that I’m familiar with the history of ancient Greece and Rome. But this book surprised me with small facts that I did not know, nor thought about them or underestimated their importance. Sribs, or ‘librarii’, were bookkeepers and the first one to write an ancient version of a newspaper; the roman vigils where the first firefighter; the people’s assembly in democratic Athens needed six thousands male citizens to reach a decision; the life expectancy of a miner slave was only few months; Cloaca Maxima was Rome’s sewage system; and much more.
‘Working IX to V’ was published in 2007 by Walker & Company, New York.
Vicki Leon is a former teacher and a prolific writer. She has published history books along with children’s books. Her well know work is the well known series of ‘Uppity Women’. Her website is http://www.vickileon.com/.
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