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The people of Handwave-land have created time travel technology and are training people to send back to Ancient Rome and become part of the community without disturbing the future too much (to observe ancient events). They have already been versed on all other aspects of blending in with society. The only thing left is occupation.

  • These observers need well paying jobs for the era as to supplement their needs.

  • Also they will be trained in their occupation but their job cannot have any direct impact on the Roman world. i.e. young Julius Caesar's tutor.

My question is, what would be suitable good jobs that would fit the requirements above?

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    $\begingroup$ I actually question their need. Money is required to get goods or services from the locals, but what goods or services would time-travelers need so much? An occupation as small-time seller of trinkets seems to me to be more than enough to justify living in Rome. For security reasons, most everybody in the household would have to be an up-time traveler anyway, slaves included. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Apr 28 '17 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ Can your time travelers bring stuff back with them? That seems to be what a lot of answers hinge on. That said, many hoards of Roman coins have been found in modern times. Your time travelers would need to know the location of a couple of them and be set for start up cash. $\endgroup$ – Mazel Apr 28 '17 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Salaried jobs were for slaves and freedmen (and freedwomen). Honorable people did not work for wages. If the time-travellers want to be accepted in the good society they must avoid being associated with work. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 '17 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need "real" roman coins; a coin was simply a standardized bit of precious metal so you didn't need an assayer for everyday transactions. Assuming this operation is decently resourced you can just buy some modern gold and silver and mint as much as you need. As long as your coins are a fair match for historical samples nobody is going to notice. $\endgroup$ – Paul Johnson Apr 29 '17 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ If a time traveller had some sort of regular/legal job (source of income) in anchient Rome, he would most likely show up on tax records. Especially if it's "well paying". Nowadays, most of the tax records of ancheint Rome are lost, but still a prudent secret time traveller might consider these traces, which could be found like 2000 years later could constitute an excessive disturbance of the past (as per requirement that a future historican should not be able to observe the influnce of the time traveller in anchient Rome). $\endgroup$ – Klaws Apr 30 '17 at 6:47

16 Answers 16

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The history of Ancient Rome is long, and to provide any kind of meaningful answer we need to fix a time-frame; consider that the history of the U.S.A. begins in 1776, less than two and a half centuries ago, and yet asking for how to become "part of the community" in the U.S.A. without saying in what period would be meaningless. So we must choose a period; let's say that our travellers arrive in the 2nd century, during the age of the five good emperors.

Choosing the 2nd century has the advantage that Jerome Carcopino's Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire (English translation by E. O. Lorimer, London, 1942) is freely available at the Internet Archive in multiple formats. This should be required reading for anybody who wants to write a story set in imperial Rome.

Let us first enumerate thing which the time travellers cannot possibly do:

  1. They cannot pass for Romans.

    • They have no family connections, which were a big thing in Roman society.
    • They are not registered as citizens in the census scrolls, and the Romans took a very dim view on peregrines who attempted to pass for citizens.

    Also important:

    • They speak funny: while we know a great deal of how Latin sounded in the 2nd century, we don't have actual records, and our knowledge of the actual spoken language is incomplete. Ah, and by the way, anybody who was somebody (or actually, anybody who was not nobody) in 2nd century Rome spoke or at least undertood Greek. Just a reminder.
    • They don't know how to behave in society; we have a general idea of how Romans interacted socially, but we have no video and our knowledge of table manners etc. is incomplete.
    • As a consequence, they cannot be lawyers or military officers.
  2. They cannot pass for well-educated Greeks.

    • First, because just about all free-born Greeks were Roman citizens in the 2nd century, so see (1).
    • Second, and most importantly, because they actually cannot be well-educated by the standards of the 2nd century -- too many books were lost which would have been well-known at the time; way too many. A modern person travelling to 2nd century Rome could not avoid revealing surprising gaps in their education.
  3. They cannot pass for foreign merchants, ...

    ... because they obviously have no business connections in Rome or elsewhere, and moreover they have only a vague idea of the current prices and costs.

    (Unless, of course, if they intend to do commerce between the modern world and the ancient world; in this case they not only can pass for merchants but they could easily become the most important merchants of Rome; but I think that this would fall under the "no influence" restriction. They could, for example, sell buttons; the ancients did not have buttons and buttons would immediately become a must-have fashion -- and also they would show up in the archaeological records where they shouldn't.)

So, what can they do? Plenty. The Roman society in the 2nd century was very open, and welcomed useful foreigners.

  • They can declare that they are foreign doctors. Romans loved foreign doctors. Bring a knowledge of hygiene, asepsis, and medicinal plants and they are all set. Introducing rubbing alcohol would do wonders. (This may alter Roman society, but probably not that much.)

  • They set up shop as astrologers or philosophers. Romans loved foreign astrologers and philosophers. Bringing knowledge of practical astronomy, Chinese astrology, cold reading and so on will probably be accepted as not changing the society too much.

  • One or two of them may try to pass for students of philosophy or rhetoric.

  • They may pass for wealthy foreign tourists. Yes it was a thing, and Baiae was a famous resort; studying Roman society in a vortex of luxury and a harbor of vice (Seneca the Philosopher, 1st century) may be the subject of a great TV series...

There are some things that a successful team of time travelers must do:

  • They must bring plenty of gold and silver with them; some of the silver must be in the form of acceptable coins for the timeframe, because they must first rent a house, buy acceptable clothes etc. and only afterwards look for a friendly banker.

  • They must be organized, with one, two or three people posing as upper-class rich foreigners and a corresponding number of people acting as servants and bodyguards. Rich people never went anywhere without servants and bodyguards.

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    $\begingroup$ Foreign astrology, perhaps -- but cold reading in particular sounds like it would run into the same problems with being unfamiliar with the everyday details of society you mention under (1). $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Apr 28 '17 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ How much of our knowledge of languages of the era is founded in formal, written, speech and how different might that be from casual, informal, spoken language? Was their a vast difference between the language of various social classes? And do we reliably know how they pronounced things, or just how they wrote things? $\endgroup$ – CaM Apr 28 '17 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @CM_Dayton: For Latin and Greek we have a pretty good idea of the everyday spoken languages (from the lowest register used by slaves and hooligans to the highest used by educated people), including pronounciation; se W. Sidney Allen's Vox Latina and Vox Graeca. The issue is that we have a "pretty good" idea which is nowhere near "perfect knowledge". Even today, with U.S.A. dominating the culture of the world and with the sound of American English being heard everyday by everybody, an American would need about two seconds to realize that American English is not my mother tongue... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 '17 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Good point; we'd need expert voice coaches who've had a lot of time listening to native Romans before we could even begin to approximate the accent of a native, and then pass that training on... $\endgroup$ – CaM Apr 28 '17 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ In the US, you'd need to specify not only "what period" but also "where", and in the Roman Empire (and even just the city of Rome, probably), that holds as well. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Apr 29 '17 at 17:24
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Spice Trader

First they pick up lots of spices at their local Mall-Wart. Then they carry them back in time to when they were fantastically valuable. Profit!

Traders come from faraway countries and don't speak Latin very well. They have exotic looks and don't even know how to tie a proper toga!

And they have some weird religion that means they do odd things in private and don't even let Rome's best doctor treat them!

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    $\begingroup$ This idea is good enough for TV, but in reality the Romans did not use the spices we use, and the spices they used are either no longer extant (silphium? what's that?) or we don't know that well how make them. Not a spice, but typical: in the Antiquity carrots were yellowish-white, never orange. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 '17 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP : then introduce new spices to them. I would guess that, especially when their expansion was the fastest, they made contact with new civilizations and learned of new animals, plants, spices etc. all the time. $\endgroup$ – vsz Apr 29 '17 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ Re: tying a toga; only Roman citizens were allowed to wear togas. See third paragraph here. $\endgroup$ – Brian McCutchon Apr 29 '17 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP then only trade spices they knew, for example pepper, and trade only sorts they knew. Since Handwave-land is not interested in messing up the timeline, they have to conduct enough upfront research anyways. $\endgroup$ – MauganRa Apr 29 '17 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP: and what makes you think that the people of Handwave-land use the spices we use? $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Apr 30 '17 at 21:59
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I doubt any job would be a good idea. Much better to own a business and be the boss than try and get a job with non fluent language skills and no first hand knowledge of the place.

Owning a business is also problematic if there is just one or a few of you. The business itself is not as important as surviving the street gangs. You need a patron.

The sorts of suitable businesses depend on whether you can take stock back with you or whether you need to import/produce in situ. If you can take it back I would suggest a boutique sort of business selling fine wares. The sort of porcelain you can get in shops nowadays for peanuts would be exotic and wonderful (expensive) in Rome, crystalware, stainless steel things etc,. You could probably walk into a $2 shop nowadays with a thousand dollars and take enough stock to make you a millionaire. You could just take a lot of salt and you're instantly rich, salt was both necessary and hard to get, so expensive.

If you can't take it back then you're better off doing what foreigners with corner dairies do these days. Supply the staples, bread, milk etc,. keep your head down and quietly be comfortable living off the profit margins.

Alternatively if you can take stock back you don't even need to work at all. Take a big load of salt, buy a domicile and servants and just live their. Just don't get robbed and murdered trying to sell it in the first place. Rome was a rough place.

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    $\begingroup$ You are going to mess up the archaeological record with modern porcelain and stainless steel! :) $\endgroup$ – Mazel Apr 28 '17 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazel: True, but as Killsi said: salt merchant! $\endgroup$ – sharur Apr 28 '17 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazel: I don't care. I'll sell the stainless steel and plastic large kitchen knife and tungsten sharpener. Advertisement: treat this knife well and it will last a lifetime. But staneless steel spoons and forks would be worth so much more. Advertisement: eating ware that does not rust. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 1 '17 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ The salt trade was fairly important and lucrative, but salt itself was not that valuable on a per kilo basis - the idea that salt was worth its weight in gold is a baseless myth (though sadly common). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Aug 21 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi it doesn't have to be worth it's weight in gold, it's an extremely cheap commodity in our times that is worth a LOT more back then, so for an investment of 1000 bucks or so, you will do very well on the exchange. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Aug 23 '17 at 10:04
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In Wagers of Sin, gambler and/or bookie.

Given that he can arrive with capital already, an importer merchant would be good, and good cover as well. All your strange things and strange ways will be accepted from a foreigner.

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Your story would need to explain why they don't do the simplest method to have money: Take them with you/ get a hold on easily but unknown in Roman times source of gold/rare material.

It would be easier to just pretend to be a merchant with gold than be this merchant. He wouldn't need to spend time "merchanting" but could do his real job instead.

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Singer

Consider how much more important live performance was as entertainment in the days preradio. That is what people did: sing and play songs. The time traveling performer would have the advantage of the immensity of popular music and catchy tunes written over the last 200 years. Also he or she could play guitar which would be novel and interesting. With these advantages, even a performer of moderate talents could easily get a wealthy patron and pull in a good income.

Also, foreign ways would not be unusual in an artist / performer. Strange comings and goings are typical for this set.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would an exotic ‘foreign’ instrument, like a violin or clarinet, be too much? $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Apr 29 '17 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Anton Sherwood: Tough to sing while playing clarinet. If you have succeeded at this, please link video. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 30 '17 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Will youtu.be/StVuVk4TAaU?t=2m30s $\endgroup$ – vguberinic May 19 '17 at 15:12
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You are doing it backwards. If you are going back in time to learn about the past, you likely don't already have enough information about the past to get a good job. Plus, working just means more time away from anthropology.

What you want to do is bring a bunch of wealth into the past with you.

So, go into the past. Hide something really, really well. Maybe some lost work of da vinci or picasso. Auction it off for millions of bajillions of dollars. Then send your people into the past with pockets full of gold and silver.

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Fire Fighter/Fire Speculator

Crassus was by far the richest man in Rome during his day. The way he amassed his fortune was by offering insurance to people who's houses were burning down, in exchange for helping to put it out (well, having his slaves help put it out). Moreover, he would buy burned down and damaged houses in prime real estate areas, rebuild them, and sell them for massive profit. Rome was constantly burning back then, so this was big business (the folks you send back can obviously maintain only a small-time operation to remain under the radar).

The limitation here is that it requires that the person you're sending back bring startup capital to acquire skilled construction slaves and burned lots in the first place. Still, it's probably one of the more safe/relaxing jobs out there, and has big money making potential if they want to enjoy a comfortable existence.

Edit: That said, as LSerni points out, the big fish could very easily go after you to beat you up and shut down your operation. You would definetly need to either have mafia connections (the mafia or "collegia" were a big deal), or you could kick some profits back to crassus, in exchange for him not going after you.

Soldier

Here's a case where they can cheat the system a bit. Roman soldiers were paid quite poorly, but they'd let anybody join up as long as you could hold your own in a fight. In the course of normal campaigns it would certainly not be worth it to tag along, but soldiers were also paid in the loot they acquired. Since your travelers know all the campaigns (and will be trying not to alter them), they will know when to tag along for safe/easy loot, and which campaigns to avoid. Not only that, they know exactly where to go during battles/sieges for the most looting potential.

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    $\begingroup$ "Still, it's probably one of the more safe/relaxing jobs out there"... until Crassus came for you. He didn't get to be the richest man in Rome by letting small competitors grow big, and he wouldn't have understood a small competitor not wanting to get bigger. At the times it was more or less accepted practice for the incumbent to send his slaves to beat the living daylights out of you; and if you were rich enough, the requirement of not getting caught red-handed was often waived. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Apr 28 '17 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ "They will know when to tag along for safe/easy loot, and which campaigns to avoid". I don't think you understand how armies work. The soldiers don't get to pick their campaigns. You sign up for 25 years and you go where they tell you, or they'll crucify you to set an example. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Apr 29 '17 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterTaylor: sure, but as a time-traveller, you can sign up just before the particularly profitable campaign in XXX, and have your contacts spring you out just before the disastrous expedition to YYY. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Apr 30 '17 at 22:02
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Staying within the city itself, and without references, your best bet is likely a doctor, craftsman, or the owner of an establishment. The problem with the latter being of course, starting funds and references. With time, materials, and a hefty serving of foreknowledge, you could probably pull it off. The issues with craftsmen being that even today we don't understand how they made some of the things they did. We can not replicate some of their metalworking. BUT glass working would be stupidly lucrative, techniques were jealously hoarded and glass vessels were highly prized, meaning you could come in with just-mildly-ahead techniques and make utter loads of money. Again, you would need starting funds, a feasible backstory, and a workshop. OR, if you have no moral qualms, you could become a doctor. Of course to fit in and be allowed in to see patients, you would need to follow local-time medical practices. This sometimes involved catching a mouse, cutting it up, and stitching it under the patient's skin.

Also, the Romans had laundry services, that cleaned their clothing with urine. And all the water pipes were lead.

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    $\begingroup$ Lead pipes were not a problem; but stay away from food using grape-based sweetener. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 28 '17 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ That's more a problem with lead-lined cookware. But most people used copper, anyway. $\endgroup$ – Salda007 Apr 28 '17 at 5:27
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As someone mentioned earlier, salt. While anyone could travel with salt, producing your own would lend to easier access of the elite so studying the arts would be easier. In the ancient world salt was typically transported from salt mines. This makes evaporation of sea water profitable or open pan production.

For solar evaporation: find a place near the sea that gets lots of sun, make large basins where your sea water can slowly evaporate. Cash in.

For open pan production: find a place near the sea with easy access to peat. Use the peat for heat in large pans/pots and boil your water into salt. Cash in.

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    $\begingroup$ Um. Salt was very important in history, and the sea very large and salty... and lots of people knew that. Before depending on this, you might want to ask why people weren't already doing this (instead of or in addition to mining). Maybe costs are higher (basins, fire fuel, areas good for this work, labor to move gallons and gallons of seawater and sacks of salt), maybe more difficult (lower yield, salt contamination, reliability of sun/lack of wind, others already making salt this way, mine-salt-mafia) that might make this not a shortcut to rich-merchant quantities of tradable salt. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jun 13 '17 at 4:24
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As a prostitute.

This job could be performed without being a citizen. A prostitute could be a slave, or a former slave or even a free-born person. Being a slave could explain the foreign manners and appearance and lack of familarity with the roman culture.

A female time traveler will probably have more success in this Profession. "Although both women and men engaged prostitutes of either gender, the evidence for female prostitution is more ample." (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_ancient_Rome)

Caligula (emperor from AD 37–41) introduced a tax on prostitution. This means that the time traveller could show up in tax records. However, I assume that tax records of a prostitute will not raise any suspicion (about a potential time traveller) when analyzed by histricans 2000 years later.

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    $\begingroup$ You would need to be pretty special for this to be well paying. I have to think there would be organized competition. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 30 '17 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, indeed. However, spies have taken similar approaches in the past. Also time travel must be a very limited resource, so researchers might be willing to go "the extra mile" for such a special opportunity. If time-travel wasn't a limited resource, the population of anchient Rome would consists mainly of time travels from different future millenia...all trying to hide the fact that they are from the future. - Organized competion would be present, but not in a way that would prohibit a newcomer to enter the business. $\endgroup$ – Klaws May 1 '17 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder how breast implants would affect a prostitutes "appeal". I think we have forgotten what natural bodies actually look like due to the near ubiquitous use of implants and other cosmetic surgery. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 28 '17 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Jason In ancient Rome, small breast were the feminine beauty ideal. "Since the Romans regarded large breasts as comical, or characteristic of aging or unattractive women, young girls wore breast bands (fascia) secured tightly in the belief that doing so would prevent overly large, sagging breasts." (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_bras). It appears that women (including prostitutes) would keep this tightly tied bra on during sexual intercourse so the breasts would retain their smallest possible appearance. $\endgroup$ – Klaws May 21 at 8:56
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Engineer, of course. Explain to them how to make concrete, build aquaducts, etc. The downside is that everybody will think the Romans were incredibly advanced for their age, and you might alter the temporal record quite a bit.

Of course, that's only a problem if anybody actually finds out about it...

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    $\begingroup$ Except for one thing, the Romans did already know how to make concrete. And aqueducts too. But ancient civilizations were a lot smarter than we often imagine they were. Welcome to Worldbuilding, hansg, your answer may be tongue in cheek. But focus on answering the actual question finding a suitable job buttressed with facts, information, & reasons why will improve your answer. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 30 '17 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ I have considered the role of an aquarius of the Aqua Augusta because they were often foreigners. $\endgroup$ – Cameron Leary Apr 30 '17 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android: That's what you think. Turns out they were OP's time traveling engineers. $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 1 '17 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Joshua They were, until the time police got them. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 1 '17 at 5:58
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Slave trader.

Actually gambler is a very strong choice. Land-owner would also blend in well. Merchant is fine too. But what I'm missing in current answers is slave-owner, trader, and especially trainer.

Slaves were the mainstay of Rome's economy. Well-trained slaves were worth a fortune. No stigma is attached to the slave trade, it was not unknown for a well-educated Greek to sell himself into slavery as a tutor to be guaranteed an easy comfortable life.

So come up with some seed money, rent a place and some guards, and set up a Gladiator school. Or whatever line of trade is profitable. You want to be respectable AND provincial as you need to keep a low profile. In order to be successful, you real trade of course is knowledge.

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    $\begingroup$ There may have been no stigma in Ancient Rome but that doesn't mean people from Handwave-land would be equally comfortable with slave-trading. $\endgroup$ – jcm Apr 28 '17 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ True. But if you buy so-called 'low-grade' slaves and train them you improve their lot. By quite a lot $\endgroup$ – Bookeater Apr 28 '17 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ There was no (or at least not overwhelming) stigma associated with being a freedman, but there was a lot of social stigma associated with being a slave dealer -- actually the Romans made little difference between a slave dealer and a pimp, and both professions were reviled. A master of gladiators is a little better than a pimp, but only a tiny little. He still wouldn't be allowed in the house of a respectable man. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 28 '17 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ Caesar himself owned a set of Gladiator schools. No stigma attached. $\endgroup$ – Bookeater Apr 30 '17 at 19:11
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A boarder/hotel

First off. I presume that you will plan on staying in Rome for a period of time that is lengthy. You should hire someone to buy a house with 4-8 rooms and set it up as a hotel. You would come in from the hinterlands probably by ship to take over the establishment.

Your guests would be fellow time travelling people who also arrive from out side the area and who come to stay at your hotel while in Rome as tourists. They come and go as their various tasks complete.

You get accepted by the community as a legitimate businessman. You pay your fire insurance to make sure no one lights fire to your business. You have a few rooms with magic keys where in an emergency you can all leave Rome without leaving by boat or merchant caravan.

As for learning the language better, how hard would it be to place and remove a few recording devices that transmit signals outside of the city. Their wouldn't be any other radio signals unless made by other TTs or Alians. As long as you removed them all there is no chance of their archaeological discovery. Overflights with a UAV at 300m or placing recording devices for later retrieval at night in areas away from your future hotel location.

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    $\begingroup$ Just keep the future Tech away from the hotel. You don't want to attract any attention there. You will probably need to purchase a slave and a cook. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Hawkins May 1 '17 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ You would probably need to be a Roman citizen to own property. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Aug 20 '17 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ The Roman Empire used making a person a citizen, a way to bring conquered people into the fold of the empire quickly. A person of means would have had some mobility. you could if you were time traveler establish yourself in such a place, wait for the Romans to take your City while you are "traveling" and come back to Roman citizenship. $\endgroup$ – Rowan Hawkins Aug 23 '17 at 13:52
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I'm surprised nobody thought of Astrologer or soothsayer or whatever they were called in those times.

While I'm no expert in Ancient Roman history (though very interested in all kinds of history), my lay person perspective is, therefore, probably unencumbered by my knowledge.

So, I recall the plot point from the movie, "Back to the Future part II" where a sports almanac from the future secreted into the past enabled the antagonist to become rich, powerful and despotic.

So, my suggestion to this extremely well-readable thread would be -- pose as a foreign mystic / oracle. A little theatrics, some mumbo-jumbo, and if you have been a good student of that time period in your own era, you'd fit in as well as stay afloat with minimal risk, not upset the temporal apple-cart. And be able to supplement and expand your knowledge -- the main goal of your time travelling adventure.

What say?

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A Slave

A Roman slave had more rights and was paid, more if he/she was educated, and even more if he/she was a male. A time traveler would be educated, and be prized to be a slave. It was much different than 1800s slaves. It wouldn't take much to get as a job, to a fairly noble family, but if you want no temporal impact, it depends on the severity of your butterfly effect.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome

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protected by Community Sep 24 '17 at 10:03

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