Ever stayed at a hotel and felt you got ripped off? This is nothing new. Ancient innkeepers had such an unsavory reputation that Babylon's Code of Hamurabi from 1754 B.C.E. specified that the punishment for cheating a patron who ordered a drink was death (by being thrown into the water) [source: Vuletić].
Perhaps you didn't know that innkeeping had been around so long. We often talk about the occupations that become obsolete, but many others have survived for centuries. Pretty much any occupation that serves a basic function – like garbage collectors, clergymen and bureaucrats — will likely never go away.
Curious about which occupations have stood the test of time? Here are 10 that have been in existence for at least 2,000 years, and some for much longer.
Professional bakers have been around at least as far back as 3000 B.C.E., when the ancient Egyptian empire was flourishing. Artwork on ancient tombs, statuettes and other Egyptian artifacts depict scenes of large numbers of people kneading dough or baking loaves.
An excavation of a Giza bakery, circa 3000 B.C.E., shows that at that time, bakers used heavy pottery molds to make their breads; the molds were then placed on embers to bake. By about 1500 B.C.E., bakers were preparing bread in clay ovens. The process involved slapping a doughy disk onto a heated oven wall, then peeling it off when it was fully baked (and before it fell into the embers below) [source: Howard].
During the Middle Ages, European bakers were governed by craft guilds, which determined the price of a loaf of bread, fines for cheating and quality standards. At this point in time, people were typically eating unleavened bread. Since it was hard to chew and digest, bakers crafted these breads in thin disks that people used as plates. As they ate, their bread "plates" absorbed the juices from their foods so that eventually the "plate" could be easily downed [source: Newman].
Today, bakers still flourish, whether it's at a small cupcake shop or as part of a large chain of supermarkets.
It's hard to say for sure when the first professional butcher opened shop. But scientists and underwater archaeologists with the University of Miami found the butchered remains of a giant sloth dating back about 12,000 years in a Florida sinkhole. Whether or not this was the work of a pro, we do know butchers were in business in the ancient Roman Empire by 100 C.E. A relief sculpture from that period shows a butcher in his shop, cleaver in hand, hooks hanging overhead and a meat-dressing table nearby [source: The Butchers Guild].
The profession became more popular over the centuries until its apex in the 19th and 20th centuries, when meatpacking behemoths like those working out of Chicago's Union Stock Yards reigned over the industry and skilled meat cutters were in great demand [source: Chicago Historical Society].
But as the 20th century wound down, supermarkets muscled out butcher shops and meat consumption began to be viewed as not so great for one's health, causing the number of butcher jobs to tumble. However, in the early 21st century, quality products from small producers became fashionable, like craft beer, artisan cheese and locally grown specialty meats. Today, industry consultants say butchers are in demand, and higher-end butcher shops are on the rise [sources: The Butchers Guild, Jackson].
Carpentry was another profession that flourished in ancient Egypt. Some carpenters were permanent employees of the pharaoh, while others labored in workshops. Most of their business was in building tomb-related items, but they also crafted doors, window fretwork, beds and tables. Egyptian drawings from 2,000 years ago show wood furniture, and the same has been found in tombs. The ancient Egyptians also invented veneering (gluing thin strips of wood together) and were the first to varnish their woodwork [source: Morgan].
The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Middle Easterners also had professional carpenters in their midst, constructing ships, intricately carved paneling, aqueducts and even weapons such as catapults and battering rams. Archaeologists found a furniture shop in Pompeii while excavating the famous site buried under volcanic ash [sources: Alter Eagle, Morgan].
Today, carpentry remains a popular profession, with people learning the craft through apprenticeships, much as in the past. Carpenters work on everything from buildings and bridges to furniture and artwork. The job market for carpenters in the U.S. is supposed to increase 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, a much higher rate than most other occupations [sources: Morgan, Bureau of Labor Statistics].
As we said in our introduction, innkeepers had a shady reputation in antiquity. During the Roman Empire, most travelers actually stayed in guest rooms set aside in private homes. Inns offered spartan accommodation in communal sleeping rooms, with space outside to tie up animals. Innkeepers often colluded with robbers and supplied guests with prostitutes. (Given their bad character, some experts say the Biblical Mary and Joseph likely were seeking shelter in a guest room, not an inn.) Because of such skullduggery, Roman law is filled with punishments for these types of offenses. Unfortunately for the honest innkeepers, the laws were written with the assumption the innkeeper was guilty [sources: Seiglie and Robinson, Vuletić].
During medieval times, monks became de facto innkeepers, hosting travelers trekking long distances on religious pilgrimages. In late-medieval England, innkeepers were members of the upper class and influential citizens. Inns here typically offered communal sleeping, although private rooms started to become more common [sources: Medieval Histories, The Metropolitan Museum of Art].
In the U.S., people first began traveling for business or pleasure in the 1700s, causing stagecoach inns to pop up. These were very modest accommodations; sometimes people had to sleep in the same bed with a stranger (ick!). Of course today, a guest can choose between a charming bed and breakfast, a large hotel chain, a budget motel and dozens of other innkeeping options. Thankfully, the innkeeper reputation has improved somewhat.
During the old kingdom in ancient Egypt (3000 B.C.E.), there were no official judges, but cases were tried before priests and scribes. But by the middle kingdom (around 1500 B.C.E.), there were official judges, and a judgeship was typically passed down from father to son. The cases a judge might oversee were the same as today: murder, robbery, property ownership and so on. People often tried to bribe the judges or sway their opinion through flattery in order to avoid harsh sentences. And judges were often dishonest or abused power when it served their needs, namely when society wasn't running so smoothly. But if a judge was caught in a misdeed, the punishment could be severe. During one era in Egypt, convicted judges had their noses cut off [source: Reshafim].
In the Middle Ages, dishonesty continued to plague the judiciary. Judges often were paid off by litigants, even if the judges were members of the clergy [source: Helmholz]. Today's judges are either appointed officials or elected by the people. Although generally only a bachelor's degree and some related experience is required to be a judge, most judges are lawyers. But the job market for judges is rather flat, because every new judgeship position in the U.S. must be authorized and approved by the state or federal legislature [sources: Learn, Bureau of Labor Statistics]. And they still get accused of dishonesty sometimes.
Call them seers, astrologers, psychics, mediums or clairvoyants. Whatever term you use for people who work to discern the future, know that this occupation has been around since the dawn of recorded history.
In the ancient world, psychics were often members of the royal court or regularly consulted by the rulers before making decisions both large and small — what crops to plant, which officials to hire, which battles to wage. But while royal psychics were much-heralded, their position was also risky. If they recommended a battle that the empire subsequently lost, for example, they might be fired, jailed or even killed [sources: Hathaway, Guiley].
Since the work of a psychic involved communicating with an entity in another world, the profession was condemned by the monotheistic religions that later emerged: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Texts that are central to these religions viewed psychics as evil, since only God is supposed to know the future. In 785, the Catholic Church outlawed the use of sorcerers in settling disputes [source: Guiley].
Today there are signs advertising psychic readings in innumerable towns around the globe. Some people view such psychics simply as entertainers with no real power, while others see them as charlatans taking money from gullible people. Still others take them seriously. Studies on whether psychic powers exist are inconclusive. Yet some professional psychics have been used by police departments and other crime-solving groups with apparent success [sources: Radford].
A Rudyard Kipling short story "On the City Wall" gets the credit for calling prostitution the world's oldest profession. If it's not really the oldest occupation, it's pretty close to it. Prostitution involves having sexual intercourse with someone in exchange for some kind of payment (money, food, clothing), and it's been around for millennia.
In ancient times, prostitution was often performed within a sacred context, as part of a religious ceremony or for a sacred purpose. In Sumerian and Babylonian cultures (2400 B.C.E. and beyond) having sex with a temple prostitute was one way to gain favor from a fertility god.
In ancient Rome, prostitution was not part of religion. Slaves were often forced to work as prostitutes, as were orphaned children. In ancient Greece, male prostitutes were common, and were mainly adolescent boys. Slave boys typically worked in Athens' male brothels [sources: New World Encyclopedia].
In 2012, there were roughly 42 million prostitutes in the world, three-quarters of them between the ages of 13 and 25, and 80 percent female. Now, as in ancient times, most prostitutes work in this field against their will, and human trafficking is a huge human rights issue [sources: ProCon, Lubin].
Presumably, the first tussles between humans were mostly unorganized, spontaneous skirmishes. But at some point, people thought to organize a group of talented fighters from their midst in order to protect themselves and/or for aggression. These were the first armies, filled with the world's first soldiers.
Military historians trace these early fighters to Sumer, which first existed around 4000 B.C.E. One of the oldest urban civilizations on Earth, the city-state was located in what is today Iraq. The first recorded war was from 2525 B.C.E. and was about two cities in Sumer fighting over possession of the region of Guendena (sound familiar?) The Sumerians, who fought constantly over 2,000 years, also invented the helmet, the chariot and the sickle sword (a sword with a crescent-shaped blade) among other military gear [sources: The Air University, Swirk]].
From there, soldiers spread to every corner of the world. Some of the more notable forces over time were the Mongol Army, 1 million strong, which conquered most of Eurasia starting in 1206; the Roman Army, which similarly corralled the Western world; and the Ottoman Army, which subjugated people in the Middle East, Balkans and North Africa for 500 years, until the 19th century [source: Keck and Pillalamarri]. With nearly every nation on Earth in possession of an army, "soldier" is almost assuredly a profession that is here to stay.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, built 4,500 years ago, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Comprising some 2 million blocks of limestone, it's the largest and most accurately built stone monument in the world. Around the same time, over in England, talented people constructed Stonehenge [sources: Boissoneault, UNESCO]. Both of these are the work of ancient, skilled stonemasons.
Stonemasons transform hunks of stone or rock into geometric shapes that can be used to create structures or art — everything from buildings and statues to temples and fountains. For centuries the craft remained largely the same. Practitioners would use a mallet, chisel and metal straight edge to create a flat surface in the stone or rock. It wasn't until the 20th century that things changed a bit. Engines enabled enormous stones to be moved and placed with ease, while power saws helped stonemasons cut the rocks more rapidly and precisely [source: Salisbury Cathedral].
Today, there are several types of stonemasons. Some may split sheet rock in quarries, while others carve designs in gravestones or build houses and walls [source: Sokanu].
Many of us living today have no experience with a professional tailor, as we purchase mass-produced clothing or, possibly, sew our own. Yet tailors are everywhere, as they have been for ages. Tailors design, cut, fit and sew clothing.
Tailors can be found in the earliest societies. In ancient Rome, for example, tailors belonged to trade guilds, which means tailoring must have been a substantial industry. Slaves were also trained as tailors. While the garments worn back then were rather simple — think togas and tunics — the way you dressed indicated your status, thus skilled tailors were valuable [source: Roman Empire]. One ancient drawing showed a tailor selling goods from sample cards. Tailors also cleaned and pressed togas for customers — a common task in a dirty city where people wore white flowing robes.
Today, tailors (also called dressmakers, custom sewers and seamstresses) might have their own business, or work in a retail shop or boutique, for a clothing manufacturer or for fashion designers and patternmakers. Although no specific degree is required, professional tailors must be skilled in sewing, patternmaking and fashion design.
HowStuffWorks finds out all about mermaid classes and how to become a professional mermaid.
Author's Note: 10 Job Titles That Have Been Around for 2,000 Years
It seems like everything constantly changes today. The minute I learn one form of social media, for example, it's obsolete. As soon as I replaced my albums with CDs, streaming became the thing. And don't even mention trying to figure out how to operate a TV. So it was refreshing to realize there are so many jobs out there that have been around for millennia. And that will likely be around for many more centuries to come. Sometimes "old" is good.
More Great Links
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