The society of the ancient Romans has often been consitered the base for our modern society.When one thinks of the Roman society, pictures of grand villa's and of senators wearing Toga's come to mind.Also, Roman society is often associated with great feasts, brothels and extravagence among the rich.There is more to Rome ,however, then these symbols and the Classical Roman society is one with a complicated history that spans the history of the ancient city and involves the family,the home, education and much more.
The Roman House
The earliest Roman home was of a very simple design.This home consisted of an Atrium with an opening in the middle of the roof in which rain water fell into a special basin that was located in the floor beneath, called the impluvium.For early Romans,this atrium was the living quarters and they cooked and ate their meals there and slept there .The atrium was also the place where all indoor work was done and where the daily offerings to the gods were made.In these early homes,there was only one door and the hearth was usually opposite it.The hearth was where the family kept their personal belongings as well and was where the woman did all her chores like sewing and weaving.
As time went on this atrium became insufficient as the standard of living was raised. As more luxuries were introduced,the Romans desired bigger houses and more rooms were introduced to be used for sleeping ,cooking and lounging.These rooms opened up around the original Atrium and between two of these rooms there was a narrow passage called the vestibulium.In larger houses there was usually an open space on each side of the atrium which usually held busts of dead family members if the family was of nobel standing.
Beyond the atrium was the Tabilnum which was usually seperated from the atrium by a curtain.It was here that the head of the house stored the chest with the family valuables.To secure privacy in the Tabilnum,the master could close the curtains but usually they were left open which resulted in a better view of the house.The tabilnum then opened up into a courtyard called the peristyle.The dining room ,or triclinium, usually opened out of the peristyle and the kitchen was beyond it.
The main plan of a Roman home remained pretty much the same during the late republic and throughout the empire.The type of home a person owned varied among classes but all houses ,big or small,had the atrium at the center.With the addition of the peristyle,it became the center of all daily family life within the household whereas the atrium was used to entertain guests of a more important nature.Many large houses had two peristyles which had a number of smaller rooms that branched off of them which could include libraries and a private temple to the gods.
The Romans took great pride in the interior of their house and ,as a result, the residences of many noblemen were filled with extravagent works of art and very fine deteal.The pillars in the atrium were usually made of marble and it was lined with statues and other magnificant works of art.Also,the walls were painted or panneled with marble.The peristyle was equally as extravagant.It usually had a beautiful fountain which was surrounded with a magnificant garden full of plants and flowers.As an added bonus,some houses even had a furnace in which hot air was circulated through the house by means of floor pipes.
The average Roman did not like to have his rooms filled with furniture and they were usually kept pretty bare.The main pieces of furniture that were present in a Roman house were chests,couches ,chairs, tables and lamps.These few pieces of furniture were usually of very high craftmanship and were very beautiful.
A roman of upper class would usually have more than one estate.Most upperclass Romans had both a city estate and a country estate and the more wealthier had many of both.
The homes of the lower classes were much lesss extravagant than those of the upper classes.The poorer Romans usually lived inapartment type buildings called insulaes.These insulae were usually small, cramped and had temperatures that changed with the climate.As well,the insulae was very unsafe and flimsy and ,as a result,they usually collapsed and/or caught on fire.
Male Dress - For the Roman man, the Toga was the most common and characteristic dress.The Toga was a long ,white robe that was made out of wool and covered the entire body down to the feet.This garment was a very dignified and graceful when it was put on correctly.Under the Toga, a tunic was worn.It was the custom that when he was in public the Roman man must wear the toga and whenever he was working or at his country villa, the tunic would suffice.The ordinary citizen wore only a white Toga but more prominent men like senators wore a white Toga with a purple border and the Toga of a victorious general was pure purple. The Toga had to be worn on all special occasions like when the Roman married and when he preformed his political duties.
The Toga was very difficult to put on as it had no pins or fastenings to keep it in place.It was the job of a specially trained slave to adjust it's folds and see that the garment was put on correctly.The Toga was an oblong piece of cloth wit rounded corners which made it have the appearance of an oval when spread out.The garment was then folded lenthwise but not fully in the middle which made one fold wider than the other.One end of the Toga was then thrown over the left sholdier so one third of the material hung down in front with the longer piece hanging down the back.The back part was then brought forward under the right sholdier and again thrown over the left with the loose ends hanging diown the back.
The Roman man wore sandals and sometimes shoes and his head was usually kept bare.The average Roman male rarely ever wore jewelry and usualy only wore a signet ring.For a Roman man to wear more jewelry was consitered bad taste.
The Roman boy wore a special modified toga that had a purple hem auntil he reached manhood and was given the duties and privliages of citizenship.Upon becomming a man ,the Roman male would be given the Toga of adulthood.
Female Dress - The Roman female wore three articles of clothing,the tunic,the stola and the palla.The tunic that a Roman woman wore was quite similar to that worn by a man except that it usually had shorter sleeves and it came down only too the knee.The stola was a longer outer tunic with short sleeves an a hem at the bottom.The stola was usually open from the woman's sholdier to the waste and was fastened on the sholdier by broaches.The palla was the female equivalent of the toga and it was worn outdoors.
Like the Roman man,the Roman woman wore slippers which were usually decorated heavilly and very elaborate.As well, Roman females were very fond of jewelry and she wore rings broaches necklaces and earrings.
The ancient Romans are remembered for their great love of festivities and holidays.It is easy to see the love and excitment that these people had for their holidays seeing that more than 100 days of the Roman calander were devoted to nothing else but holidays and that on special occasions that amount could be increased with the proclamation of even more holidays.It is a known fact that the emperor Gaius had more than 200 days of the year devoted to holidays alone! Usually people of all classes and both genders could take advantage of these great entertainment spectacles,including the slaves.
When one thinks of Roman entertainment, savage Gladitorial fights ,in the arena, and chariot races, in the circus, come to mind.The circus and the arena have always been consitered the epitome of the Roman culture and in them spectators could see everything from chariot races to mock sea battles to man versus beast and man versus man.Since the times of the kings ,the circus games have played a big part in the daily life of the Romans.The origions of the chariot races in the circuses seem to be of a religious nature.The people believed that the god's would be pleased by the spectacles that were provided.These special games were held every September in the Circus maximus,the oldest public entertainment facilty in Rome.
Later, as the Romans conquored new territories and peoples, a new form of entertainment came into being.The Romans started the custom of bringing captured peoples of conquored territories to Rome to fight each other to the death.These people were most often trained as special fighters called Gladitators whose duty it was to fight in the arena for the joy of the Roman citizens.The gladiators who fought well earned the respect and admiration of the people and were usually granted their freedom and those who were weak paid the highest possible price in the theatre,a humilliating death.Later on the gladitorial fights began to include condemned prisioners.
In the time of the late republic and throughout empire these spectacles were more widely celebrated than ever before.It had become customary for dictators,emperors and other people in high places to hold great public events in order to gain the love and support of the people.Upon the building of the Flavian Ampitheatre ,or Collosseum,gladiatorial, fights reached new heights.This massive arena could seat an impressive 80 thousand people and was divided into different sections for the different classes.First came the emperor's box which held a place of honour followed by the Vestal Virgins and the senators.The females and the slaves were usually near the back.
Another different type of Roman relaxation was the bath house,or Thermae.Roman's of all classes attended the bath because it was consitered in bad taste for no one not to and every town had some sort of bath within it's walls.As well as bathing,people could also enjoy massages,delicious food and ,in some cases,they could read while at the bath.Rome has a number of famous baths ,most notable of these are the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian.
Greek Influence on Roman Society
Roman society borrowed heavilly from that of the Greeks.Before Rome was founded ,there were a number of Greek colonies in Sicily and Southern Italy.As a result of this close contact with the Greeks,the early Romans picked up a great amount of ideas of the Greek language and way of education.In many higher class Roman homes ,the children grew up with a vast knowledge of the Greek language for practical puroposes but soon grew to love such great works of Greek literature like the Illiad and The Odyssey.
Also,the Romans brought many Greek ornaments and decorations like busts and other statues from Greece to Rome because of their admiration for the culture.The Romans copied these works of art in large numbers and incorporated it into their own forms of art.The Romans copied the Classical Greek form of architecture as well and their building styles are almost exactly the same.
The Life of the Roman Male
The father ,or Paterfamilias,was the supreme master of the Roman home and he had complete and utter control over all people within his family.He had so much authority that he could decide,at any moment,if someone should die!Roman tradition dictated that ,upon the birth of a child,it would be placed at the foot of the paterfamilias who had the power of life or death over the infant.If the paterfamilias believed that the child was his he picked it up and it would be raised as a Roman citizen if ,however,the child was not picked up and was left on the floor,it was consitered an outcast and usually abandoned.
Upon being recognized as a Roman citizen,the first major step for the Roman male was the giving of the name.The name was a very important part of Roman society and Roman males had three names,the praenomen,the nomen and the cognoman.The male's nomen was very much like the modern surname except it is placed in the middle of the three names.The cognoman was at the end of the name and represented the branch of the gens from which he belonged.The praenomen was at the beginning of the name and it was his personal name which was given to him ,during a festival,nine days after birth.It was during this festival that the father hung a special locket ,or bulla, around the boy's neck which he would wear until he became a man.
Education of the Roman Male
For his early years,a Roman boy was raised at home by his mother until he was old enough to attend school or be taught by his father.In the early days of the cities history,a Roman male was generally taught all he needed to know by his father but that changed after the famous Punic Wars with Carthage.During this series of wars,Rome had been exposed to many different cultures outside of Italy,most namely Greece, and so from then on all Roman males were usually taught by Greek slaves because of their language, art and great knowledge of literature which the Romans all valued greatly.
Most Roman males did learn everything they needed to know from slaves or their parents.At home the Roman male learned discipline, honour and respect for the law.Roman boys were expected to accompany their father on trips to the Forum when a great Orrator was to speak so to hear the words of some of the great Romans of the time.Also,a Roman boy was expected to greet guests with his father.
Most Roman boys of the late republic and early empire attended school.There are three kinds of school that were present in the ancient Roman society,the Elementary school,the Grammar School and the school of Rhetoric.In the elementary school,the Roman male usually learned the basics of reading and writing as well as some arithmatic.The Roman student had to be very precise as great emphases was placed on the correct pronuncuation of words.
After the Roman student mastered the basics he would then attend the Grammar school.At the grammar school, the chief topic of study was literature with an emphases on Greek poetry,namely works of Homer.The study of this literature required knowledge of Greek so it was a strong part of the curriclum.The teachers at Grammar schools were almost always Greek slaves or possibly the rare freedman who knew the literature well.
The final school that a Roman male would attend is called the School of Rhetoric or speaking.It was in these schools that the Greek influence was strong and prose ,with a great emphases on Oratory,was the subject studied here.The main goal of the School of Rhetoric was to help the Roman male learn to say the right things in public.To help gain the skills necesssary of a good public speakerthe students were always given speaches to prepare in different subjects and then debated with other students with these speaches.
The Romans also believed that good physical attributes were a big part of the life of a Roman man.To strengthen physical growth,Roman males were taught gymnastics.They also went to the Campus Martius and the Tiber river where they swam,jumped and practiced their skills of combat.It was hoped that ,with all this physical training,the Roman boys would grow and be able to handle any physical hardships and be able to fight.
Life of the Roman Female
Compared to the status of the female sex in other cultures,the Roman woman enjoyed a certain honour and respect within society even though she had no political rights as a person.Roman tradition stated that all women should be treated with honour and respect. As Roman men were consitered the masters of their house,the Roman female was consitered the mistress of the house and was expected to rule it wisely in the absence of the man. Most Roman females did many of the tasks that were usually done by the male due to increased absence of due to politics and war.Also,REoman women were responsible for the education of both the girls and young boys in the household.
Between the Roman woman and her Greek counterpart there are many notable and fundamental differences.Unlike the Athenian woman,the Roman matron took an active interest in the affairs of the state and the household.Also,the Roman woman had a great degree of personal freedom when compared to her Greek counterpart.The Roman woman was free to enter and leave her house and travel along the streets and she was also allowed to attend the public baths and the Games at the arena whereas the Greek woman spent most of her time indoors.
During the early history of Rome, the woman lived a busy life.As a rule,Roman women did not go to school and were taught anything they would need from their mother.The time for a woman's learning was usually very short as she was married by the age of fifteen and started having children soon after.
Slavery in Ancient Rome
The ancient Romans were notorious for their keeping of slaves and everyone,including the people of the lower classes,had at least one slave.These slaves were used for all important tasks like farming,hard labour and housekeeping.Slaves also made up many of the Gladiators and Chariot Racer's in the arena.Also,slaves were used in the Roman warships ,or Gallies, in which they were usually responsible for rowing the ship.It is often believed that Galley slaves had the hardest conditions because they were forced to row constantly and at high speeds.Galley slaves almost always went down with the ship when it sank because they were tied to it.
Slaves were aquired by the Romans through many different means.Most slaves were aquired after great millitary victories or after being conquored.Also,people who owed other people money but could not pay it were made slaves until their debt was payed.Slavery was also a punishment for criminals.
Freed slaves are known as freedmen and they were generally looked down upon by the Roman populace. Freedmen were usually house slaves before their liberation and ,as a result, they were quite well educated. Some Emperors relied heavilly on their freedmen advisors in their making of descisions and even sent them as diplomats.Holding freedmen in such high power was generally discouraged as much as possible in ancient Rome and the Romans disliked it.
Near the end of the Western Roman Empire slavery became more widespread and they were used for almost every task and service.What resulted with this overuse of slaves was great unemployment for the working class of Rome and a descintigration of the Roman economy. Increased slavery is often consitered one of the causes of the fall of the Western Empire.