The Strangest Jobs in History
You won't believe some of the jobs on this list.
Many of us have to contend with strange aspects of our jobs at least once in a while. Whether it’s an offbeat request from a manager or an oddball favor asked by a colleague, it’s very likely that we’ve been exposed to out-of-left-field strangeness at our place of work. We can be thankful that much of our employed life isn’t shrouded in the abnormal, or at least what we consider to be so.
Years ago, however, there were a host of jobs and even careers that would seem insane to our modern sensibilities.
Here are just a few:
Entertaining is never an easy business. One of the toughest gigs ever in the field has to be funeral clown. During the Roman times people believed that the spirits of the recently-departed were restless and could be most effectively placated by a living person acting like him or her. Fresh Roman ghosts would also, society felt, be satisfied if their mourners were sufficiently entertained during their burial. Funeral clown was a competitive position, with the best performers going on to work the death ceremonies of emperors.
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For the average Roman, that job probably wasn’t anywhere near as desirable as that of an orgy planner. Although such occasions seem as if they wouldn’t need much planning at all – meet, drink and copulate – they could actually be quite lavish and complicated, involving the arrangement of meals and entertainment throughout the life of the party for the, er, physically active revelers. Still, for many it was quite a rewarding job in terms of salary and, in particular, the perks often associated with the position.
Not to be outdone, the ancient Greeks had several unusual jobs for their diligent citizenry. Inventors of the Olympic Games, the society was very athletic… but not everyone was a sports person. For those with little talent for running or wrestling but the desire to be involved with the lifestyle, there was the position of gymnasiarch. The lucky holder of this job got to oil down the athletes before a contest, then afterwards scrape it off, along with the accumulated dirt and other substances. Gymnasiarchs were also responsible for cleaning the facilities where athletic events took place. Believe it or not, this was a very highly-regarded profession that held significant power and influence.
A profession common to many empires and monarchies throughout history was the physical yet delicate position of litter carrier. “Litter” in this respect means a small carriage used to carry a sitting or lying monarch (or other notable). A strong body and steady hands were required for this job, as a dropped king or queen could lead to awful repercussions for the litter carrier responsible for the mistake.
Fast-forward several hundred years to the dirt and grime of 19th century London, specifically the banks of the city’s Thames River. There you would have found a desperate young freelancer called a mudlark. This wonderfully evocative word described a person who would trawl the thick mud of the river banks when the tide went out, looking for valuables to sell. Modern-day office employees who complain of a hard slog through their work day have nothing on these guys.
There are many more odd positions from old times and ancient places. We don’t have the space to talk about knockers-up, whipping boys, fullers, and that old royal necessity, the groom of the stool. We have to get back to work now, grateful and happy that our jobs aren’t quite as strange as some of the trades our forebears used to ply.