Frankie Howerd in Up Pompeii
Bankers as slaves? In an age where it seems to have been the bankers who have enslaved everyone else, this might seem like a contradiction in terms, but such a world did once exist – no, really. The things we journalists have to do, but I’ve just been along to a preview of the British Museum’s Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition, generously sponsored by Goldman Sachs.
In ancient Pompeii, and indeed throughout the Roman empire, the slave was omnipresent, even, if the exhibition’s wonderfully preserved frescoes are to believed, at moments of greatest intimacy between master and wife. Titter ye not, as Frankie Howard might have said in Up Pompeii.
Whether old Lurcio was actually expected to be lurking around with a goblet of wine or a helping hand during the act of coitus, or this was just artistic license to demonstrate the master’s power over his slave, is impossible to know, but it certainly did get me thinking, and before you leap to conclusions, not in a smutty way.
Along with most of the other professions, banking in Pompeii was almost wholly performed by slaves or ex-slaves. Together with cooking and washing out the loos, this kind of stuff was very much considered a menial task, and certainly beneath the dignity of the master. In any case, bankers were there to serve, and not to be served. Happy days indeed, for the masters at least, until that wretched volcano went off.
Who are the masters now?