Occupations of Our Ancient Ancestors

By Grace Dobush

If our ancestors scoured today’s help wanted ads, they’d probably find many modern jobs baffling (Application Systems Support Engineer? Analytics Consulting Analyst?). But their occupations are often equally bewildering to us, especially the further back in time you go.

Case in point: This morning, I heard a radio interview with Vicki Leon, author of Working IX to V, a new book about professions in the ancient world. Consider a few of the career opportunities for our long, long ago ancestors:

  • Flabellifer—Primary job function is carrying a fan and flapping it on command.
  • Sandaligerula—Seeking highly motivated sandal remover. This position is responsible for changing boss’ street shoes and party slippers, and ensuring he or she is wearing situationally appropriate footwear at all times.
  • Praepositus camelorum—Only the best in beast supplying need apply. Must demonstrate proven ability to track, capture and supply animals used in Roman gladiatorial contests and circuses.
  • Armpit Plucker—Steady hand and high tolerance to shrieking strongly preferred.

You’ll find a glossary of occupations your more-recent ancestors might’ve worked on our Web site, and a guide to researching employment records in our April 2005 issue.