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Awful Ancient Positions in Life
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  5/28/12
By: Yona Williams

We've seen the TV reality shows that highlight some of the world's dirtiest and dangerous jobs. However, with a lack of technology, resources and safety measures, the ancient world has seen its fair share of awful positions and career choices. For some people, they had no choice but to follow their lot in life. In this article, you will learn about some of these unfortunate professions from the past.

Working the Silver Mines

In order to get silver, the ancient world relied on the small size and nimble hands of children to do their dirty work. Not only did they lack tools strong enough to complete the job, but the conditions were also extremely dangerous. The ancient Romans sent young boys down very small holes dug deep into the ground. Inside the holes, the boys encountered rising temperatures and stuffiness that choked their lungs. The holes weren’t sturdy and many boys died when the ground around them collapsed. The life expectancy of a silver mine worker was about three months. Once outside, the silver ore was melted down, which generated poisonous gases that took many lives.

Divers for Salvage

Before their were cranes and bull dozers to move construction equipment and materials around, the ancient Romans relief on urinatores. In the ancient harbor city of Ostia in Rome, urinators were salvage divers that worked under the water. The name of this position is believed to originate from the body's response to having too much pressure placed on the abdomen when they dived deep – the men would urinate a lot. To assist in their job, the urinatores used one tool – a diving bell shaped like a kettle that was filled with air for breathing. It was weighed down by lead, which assisted the divers in reaching depths of up to 30 meters below the surface. The job was quite dangerous, but the pay was impressive for those days. Typically, an urinatore would become a wealthy member of ancient Roman society.

Making Wine

Being a wine maker during ancient times was not the glorious and fun job you'd imagine of today. In the past, the lack of proper equipment and safety knowledge made this job quite dangerous. The ancient Romans were unaware of the dangers of lead poisoning and had no idea that they were dangerously sweetening their wine with sugar of lead. The lead-laced wine was also served in cups made out of lead. It is estimated that the average Roman drank a quaff or two of wine, which meant that their body received up to one gram of lead per day.

In the second article in the series of "Awful Ancient Positions in Life," you will learn about more jobs that tested both the limits of safety and sanity.


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