Tired of living in a violence-obsessed society, where teachers are barely paid enough to buy decent shoes and children are being poisioned by everyday objects?
Welcome to Valarium, the third largest city in ancient Roman Britain, home to about 8,000 souls and located on the site of the modern British city of St. Albans (now a leafy, trendy commuter neighborhood for London). Back in 400 A.D. at the height the city teachers were paid 180 denari per year, but a pair of boots cost 60 denari, or a third of the yearly salary, according to the Velarium Museum in St. Albans. About a liter of salt cost 18 denari, or ten percent of a year’s pay. By comparison, a skilled construction worker back then could earn two to five times the wage of a teacher. Sounds like Hawaii before the housing bust.
Cups, utensils, plumbing and other everyday objects contained lead, poisoning adults and children a little bit each day. (Recall the lead paint in childrens’ toys scandal of 2008.) Lead poisoning was a serious problem for ancient Romans, leading to insanity, infertility and premature death. But lead was an integral material in their way of life at the time and nearly as common as plastics are now.
For entertainment, citizens of Valarium went to the outdoor theater. Spectators gorged on violent sports such a bear fighting and gladiators fighting to death. The theater also hosted the occasional public hanging. (Violence is so widespread in our society that film, TV, sports and the death penalty provide plenty of examples.)
Eventually Rome fell and Valarium was abandoned by about 700 A.D. The East Anglians took over, eventually becoming the modern British city of St. Albans. (A Celtic tribe possessed the site for hundeds of years before Rome.) Civilizations come, civilizations go. If history is any gauge our society will eventually fade as well. But similarities persist, including those that helped the Romans undoing in Britain.