Ancient Rome was one of the most influential civilizations in human history. It gave architecture, science and military equipment to all European nations that followed. Their language, Latin, was used to write scientific texts in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. There are still Roman roads intact today. This report examines the daily lives of the inspirational, expansionist and in some cases infamous Roman people.
The quality of a Roman’s housing depended on their income and social status.
Lower class Romans had to live in insulae, meaning “islands”, unstable, closely-packed, flammable apartments situated on lower ground. Insulae had up to six stories with a store typically occupying the bottom floor. The bottom two stories were made of stone, but the rest were made of wood and clay. Insulae often caught fire or collapsed. Their high flammability led to the forming of seven squads of vigiles, firefighters and street patrollers.
Wealthy Romans, on the other hand, lived in townhouses and country villas, often owning one of each. Villas were built around Atria, halls with holes in the roofs and pools to catch rainwater. Doors on the walls lead to the kitchens, diningrooms, livingrooms and bedrooms. Despite their size, villas contained little furniture. They also had peristyles, gardens of statues and shrubs at the back.
Households had personal gods known as lares. Most Romans gave offerings of wine, cakes and incense to their lares.
Cuisine in ancient rome varied greatly on social status. Middle and lower class Romans could only afford bread, eggs,porridge and vegetables. Those Romans who lived in the hazardous tenements called insulae were banned from cooking in their homes, so they bought cooked fish, soup, pies and sausages from shops and stalls. A popular sauce with the middle and lower class Romans was liquamen, which was strained from sun-dried, salted fish guts and often used to cover the stench of spoiled meat.
Wealthy Romans, on the other hand, ate exotic dishes for ornate silverware and held massive dinner parties. These affluent diners ate reclined on couches, propping themselves up with their left elbows and grabbing food with their right hands. At an average Roman banquet, salad and oysters were appetizers, game birds, venison, hare, ham and fish were the main course, honeycakes and fruit were dessert. Spoons and knives were rarely used at such banquets. Watered down wine was consumed by most classes.
While some bizarre delicacies eaten by the rich came from the far corners of he empire, most of the food in Rome came from farms and bakeries within Italy.
In ancient Rome, the key purpose of clothing was to reflect the wearers status. Because of this, what a Roman wore depended greatly on their social class. Ancient Roman men typically wore tunics, but would wear togas on special occasions. Wealthy men’s tunics were of more expensive materials were long to indicate that the wearer did not do manual labour. Meanwhile, lower and middle class Romans wore shorter, more practical tunics of plainer materials.
Wealthy women wore ankle length under tunics with colourful embroidered dresses called stolas made of cotton, wool or silk on top. For those women, pale skin was a sign of wealth, since it indicated that they did not have to work outside. Creams made from flour, chalk and lead were used by women to whiten their skin. Both men and women wore jewelry. Wealthy people wore gold and silver rings necklaces and bracelets, while middle class Romans could only afford bronze ones.
Like in the present, both Roman boys and girls went to early school, called elementary school like today.
In ancient Roman elementary schools boys and girls from wealthy families learned basic Latin literacy and mathematics. At eleven or twelve , wealthy girls were pulled out of school and taught how to run a household by their mothers. Wealthy boys, however, continued their schooling past elementary and were taught speechmaking, horse riding and basic armed combat. On the other hand, middle and lower class children were often illiterate and started work at a young age. Also, in the days of the Roman republic, boys were taught by their fathers or tutors. Children under ten could become priests of Isis or Vesta, but for the most part, boy aristocrats were prepared for military service or public office and girls of the nobility were prepared for marriage.
In ancient Rome, the citizens of the empire worshipped a variety of gods form a variety of regions.
There were twelve Roman state gods, which were obviously based off of the Greek gods and often had little differences from them apart from name. The state gods were:
Jupiter, king of the gods,
Juno, queen of the gods and protector of women,
Minerva, goddess of the arts and knowledge,
Venus, goddess of love, beauty and fertility,
Apollo, god of the sun, light and music,
Mars, god of war,
Bacchus, god of wine and fertility,
Ceres, goddess of grain and agriculture,
Vesta, goddess of the hearth,
Neptune, god of the sea,
Pluto, god of the underworld
and Vulcan, god of fire and volcanoes.
Each noble household also had guardian gods known as lares.
Some foreign gods were also “imported” into ancient Rome. From Asia Minor came Cybele, goddess of fertility, healing and nature, from Persia came the soldiers’ god, Mithras, whose cults were male-exclusive and from Egypt came Isis, goddess of wheat, barley and the earth.
Ancient Rome was home to many forms of entertainment, all of which were violent.
The Romans held plays and games in semicircular stone ampitheatres. Theatre going was a popular pastime in ancient Rome. Roman theatre goers preferred fast-paced, low-brow comedic plays with lots of spectacle and special effects, but little scenery. All roles in Roman theatre were taken by male actors. Music and songs accompanied performances. Actors wore special wigs, clothing and masks to indicate what kind of character they were playing. Sometimes, criminals would be cast as characters who were killed and were killed on stage.
The Circus Maximus, where ancient Roman chariot races were held, was the biggest stadium of its day, able to hold up to 250 000 people at once. The chariot races were popular with all social classes. Chariots were divided into red, white, blue and green teams, with three chariots on each team. Each race was composed of seven 1.5 km laps. Though light and maneuverable, chariots were easily overturned and often crashed during high speed turns. Cheating was also common, adding to the danger.
In the Colosseum, bloody gladiator fights, mock sea battles called naumachia and public executions took place. The Colosseum was the largest ampitheatre in the Roman empire, with 80 entrances and seating for up to 50 000 people. The most common and popular Colosseum attractions were gladiator fights. Gladiators, slaves, criminals and prisoners trained to fight, fought each other with a variety of armour and weapon types. If the losing gladiator entertained the spectators, he was spared, but if he didn’t the winner killed him. Other attractions included gladiators fighting exotic animals from across the empire, criminals being thrown to starved lions and even sea battles known as naumachia in which the colosseum would be flooded and boats would be placed in.
In my opinion, ancient Rome was one of the worst places to live in all of human history.
Unless you were rich, chances are, you wouldn’t live to see 50. In Ancient Rome , people of all classes died at what we could consider a young age. Poor Romans might be killed by disease, get run over by an ox and cart, caught in a burning or collapsing insula or killed as a gladiator in the colosseum. Wealthy Romans might die in battle while in the army , get killed by resentful slaves or a assassinated by a political rival.
And the conditions while alive were nearly as awful. Poor people had to live in unstable, flammable insulae packed together in a crowded breeding ground for disease. Men were forced to serve in an army where discipline was brutally enforced, and some men even cut off their right thumbs to avoid serving (cutting off their thumbs stopped them from being able to hold a sword.)
Romans were entertained with bloody gladiatorial combat, public executions and dangerous chariot races. Despite having better living conditions, wealthy Romans were battered by peer pressure and oppressed by a predatory society. The peoples conquered by Rome were treated poorly and any attempts to resist conquest would be brutally crushed.
These are some of the many reasons why I consider ancient Rome a terrible place to live.
Roman state gods
Mason, C. and Stroud, J. Life and Times in Ancient Rome. Boston, Massachusetts: Kingfisher Publishing, 2007.
Roberts, Paul. The Ancient Romans: Their Lives And Their World. Los Angeles, California: Getty Publications, 2009.
Mack, L. and Nicholson, S. Ancient Rome. New York, New York: DK Publishing, 2008.
Laidlaw, Jill. Roman City Guidebook. St. Catharines, Ontario: Crabtree Publishing, 2011.