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6-08-2015, 15:09


People living in ancient Rome fell into one of
several categories. These categories included
full citizens; various levels of partial citizens without
the right to vote; noncitizens; slaves; and freedmen.
Most of the population consisted of noncitizens. As
Rome spread, more people were given the privilege of
citizenship. Women and children could hold the status
of citizenship, but they were not allowed to vote.

Male Roman citizens could own property, vote, and serve in the army as a
legionnaire or an officer, and they were protected by Roman law. Women had
fewer privileges than men. As time passed, Roman women were granted the
right to own property and conduct business in their own name if they gave
birth to at least three legitimate children. However, they were not allowed to
vote and could not hold public office.
Slaves were considered property and not entitled to any of the rights or
protections of Roman law. Masters had the right to beat or kill any slave for
any reason. Some masters treated slaves cruelly, but not all masters did so.

Rather, many masters endeavored to take care of
their investment. Sometimes, slaves became like
a member of the master’s family. A master could
grant a slave freedom. It was common for a master
to free slaves for performing exemplary service or
to leave instructions that slaves be freed upon his
death. These slaves were known as freedmen. They
became Roman citizens and were free to participate
in Roman society, but they could not hold political
office. And if a former owner was still alive, a freed
slave owed him a certain number of service days
per year.

Slaves played an important role in Rome’s success. They provided free
labor, which allowed wealthy patricians to profit from their large farming
villas. For most of the empire’s existence, Rome had access to a seemingly
endless supply of slaves. Conquered lands provided more land area and
resources for Rome, including people who could be taken into slavery.
Rome’s army sent many people from defeated lands to Rome to serve as farm
laborers and house workers. The Romans forced slaves to work in mines and
to build a variety of structures, including bridges, roads, and monuments.


The oldest living male was the head of the Roman household. The
paterfamilias, literally “father of the family,” had absolute power over his
family. He ran the family’s business affairs and owned the family’s property.
His sons could not own property until he died, regardless of their age. Adult
sons with their own families had no way of making their own money until
their father died. They also had no legal power over their own children
until his death. Instead, they relied upon the paterfamilias for a peculium,
or allowance.
Families valued boys, wanting sons to carry on the family line. Many still
loved and welcomed daughters. However, some families mourned the birth
of a daughter. The paterfamilias had the right to disown or sell into slavery
children who displeased him, and he could legally kill his own children for
angering him. The paterfamilias also determined the fate of newborns in the
family. Newborns were placed on the ground. If the paterfamilias picked up
the baby, the family accepted the child. If he chose not to keep the baby—
usually because it was deformed, because it was a girl, or because the
paterfamilias felt he could not support any more children—the family left the
child outside, usually to be picked up by a passerby and raised as a slave.

The oldest woman in a family was the materfamilias, “mother of the
family.” She had no legal power in the family, but she had considerable
influence. The materfamilias ran the household and supported her husband’s
career. She was expected to conduct herself with dignity and grace.

The Julian Calendar

By order of Julius Caesar, the Romans devised a
calendar—the Julian calendar—with 365 and a quarter
days divided into 12 months and weeks with seven
days. Before its creation, people throughout the
region used hundreds of dating systems. The month
of July was named in honor of Caesar, and it was
given 31 days to signify the month’s importance.
Saturday derives its name from Saturn, the god
of fertility and planting. January is named after
Janus, the god of new beginnings. August gets its
name from Emperor Augustus. August was also
changed to 31 days, by taking a day from February.
The Julian calendar lasted until 1580 CE, when
it was discovered that the calendar was ten days
off because the 365.25 days per year was just
slightly longer—by 11 minutes and 14 seconds—
than the solar year. Over the years, this added up,
resulting in the ten-day difference. In 1582, Pope
Gregory XIII corrected the calendar, ushering in
the era of the Gregorian calendar. However, the
months, days of the week, and basic structure of the
calendar remained intact and are still used today.


Often, girls married as young as 12 years old. Typically, the husband was in
his mid-20s. Marriages were arranged for political benefit—often, the couple
did not meet prior to the wedding.
Ancient Rome had two principal kinds of marriage during the years of
the republic. If a man married a woman cum manu, “with the hand,” he had
complete legal power over her and her possessions. If a man married a
woman sine manu, “without the hand,” his father-in-law maintained power
over his wife and her property. Regardless of which type of marriage a
woman was in, she was unable to carry out business in her name. Gradually,
the position of women shifted. Fearing the upper-class population was
beginning to dwindle, Augustus encouraged childbirth and rewarded women
for having at least three children with ius trium liberorum, “the right of
three.” This law granted mothers with three or more children the right to
conduct business for themselves.
Divorce was common, especially among patricians. A divorced woman
returned to her father’s care. She was able to remarry unless she had been
unfaithful to her husband.


Mothers educated children at home until they were six or seven years old.
Boys and some girls would then attend a private school or continue studying
at home either under the guidance of their mother or with a tutor, if the
family was able to afford one, until approximately age 11. Well-educated
Greek slaves taught children in wealthy homes. Students learned reading,
writing, and mathematics. Patrician children continued their education
from ages 11 to approximately 14, learning Latin and Greek grammar and
literature, music, astronomy, and mathematics. For most students, education
ended at approximately age 14. Some went on to higher education, studying
public speaking and debate, philosophy, and history. This would prepare
them for a future in the Roman Senate.
When not studying, Roman children played a variety of games. Ball
games were popular as well as marbles and an early form of jacks that used
sheep knucklebones. Dolls were a favorite pastime, too. Girls had dolls made
of ivory and bone, and boys played with gladiator and soldier dolls.


Most of Rome’s population lived in a domus or insula. A domus was a house
built around a central courtyard with a pool used for collecting rainwater. An
insula was a rented apartment built in a tenement block. As Rome grew, more
and more insulae were made cheaply of wood and masonry and built taller
and taller to house more people. Droves of Romans crowded into cramped
quarters with narrow alleyways. Fire and collapse were a constant threat.
Common people did not cook in their homes but in the streets. Residents
had to fetch water from public fountains.

By the 300s CE, almost 1 million people, not counting slaves, filled
44,000 insulae and 1,800 domus in the city of Rome.1 Men held jobs as bath
attendants, butchers, fishmongers, fruit sellers, or shopkeepers. Plebeian
women worked these same jobs or labored as midwives or dressmakers.
Life was less crowded in the country. Wealthy landowners lived in
villas. These large houses had many rooms. In addition to typical Roman
furnishings, such as tables, beds, and crockery, villas also had small
decorative tables, chests, and candelabras. Intricate mosaics or frescoes
provided decoration. The front door opened into an atrium, which had an
open ceiling and a pool in the middle of the floor. Many slaves lived with
the family to help run the household. They bathed and dressed the family
members, cared for the children, worked the land, and cooked.
Plebeian country dwellers had modest homes or lived in poverty. They
farmed the fields, tending their own small parcel of land or working for
wealthy landowners. They did not have lavish furnishings, and children
were expected to help farm. Gardening was common. Romans often grew
vegetables. The very wealthy kept exotic plants as well.


The wealthy had a diverse diet and plenty of rich foods. The main meal of
the day, called cena, began in the afternoon and lasted for several hours.
Guests often attended these dinner parties. Participants ate up to seven
courses, usually while lounging on cushioned couches. Meals often included
fish, poultry, and meat. Sweeter offerings included fruit and cakes. Wine was
always served during the different courses.
Hosts used expensive dinnerware and serving pieces made of gold, glass,
and bronze to impress guests. Slaves provided entertainment in a variety of
forms, including dance, musical performances, acrobatics, or juggling.
Working-class Romans did not enjoy such an extravagant diet. Their
consumption of red meat was limited, and the majority of their food
consisted of bread and porridge made from barley or millet rather than
wheat, which was expensive. They also ate vegetables, seafood, and a
fermented fish sauce called garum. As the population swelled, the state
began distributing free grain to its citizens, which
became a vital source of nutrition for the urban poor.

Bathhouses and Toilets

Few homes in ancient Rome had a bath, so Romans
bathed in large public bathhouses. Every town or
city had a bathhouse for the locals. More than a
place to wash, Roman baths were a place to relax
and socialize. Romans—rich and poor, old and
young—mingled at bathhouses. Women attended
in the morning. Men bathed in the afternoon or
evening. The bathhouse had water of different
temperatures. Several furnaces—up to 50—
provided hot water and steam to some baths.
Large changing rooms provided a place for patrons
to undress and leave their clothing on shelves.
Bathers could then go to an exercise room. Boxing and
wrestling were popular for men. Next, bathers entered
a room similar to a steam room and covered their
bodies with scented olive oil. Slaves used a hooked
metal tool called a strigil to scrape off the oil, dirt, and
sweat and performed massages. The last step in the
lengthy Roman bath was a plunge into cold water.
People also shared toilets. Communal
open-air toilets allowed people to sit side by
side on marble seats. Running water under the
bench of seats washed away the waste.


Fashion was just as important as food to the
patricians. Both men and women wore a tunic.
Aristocratic men wore a toga. This semi-circular
piece of fabric was large, measuring up to 18 feet
(6 m) long and 6 feet (2 m) wide.2 Wealthy women
covered their tunics with a palla, draping and
wrapping the piece of rectangular-shaped fabric like
a toga. Slaves would tightly wrap the palla, making it
difficult for their mistress to use her arms and hands.

This style was a status symbol, indicating she did not have to work with her
hands and had slaves to work for her and dress her.
Wealthy Roman women had an ornatrix, or hairdresser. This slave would
apply cosmetics and arrange the hair in intricate styles. Early cosmetics
included chalk or lead foundation to lighten the skin, soot eyeliner, and
wine for coloring lips and cheeks. Some of the more lavish hairstyles over
the centuries involved high piles of curls atop the head. Beginning in the
first century BCE, wigs made from blonde hair taken from female German
slaves and black wigs made from hair from India became fashionable and
highly prized. Patrician women completed their dress with several pieces of
precious gemstone jewelry.
Working class and poorer Romans typically wore tunics made of
whatever fabric was available. Often, their clothing was darker and duller
in color.


For enjoyment, Romans liked to visit the amphitheater. There, gladiators
fought, sometimes to the death, as crowds cheered. The emperor hosted
gladiatorial games, which were expensive. He also decided if a gladiator, who
was usually a slave or a criminal, would live or die at the end of a battle if he
or she had not been killed during the fight. Gladiators—men and sometimes
women—fought each other using swords, spears, nets, and tridents. They
had varying types of armor. Sometimes, the gladiators also had to fight wild
animals such as leopards, bears, tigers, and lions. The Colosseum, Rome’s
largest amphitheater, could seat more than 50,000 spectators, who gladly
packed themselves into its rows to watch the show.4
Chariot races were popular, too. Charioteers would race on a circus. The
most famous of these tracks, the Circus Maximus in the city of Rome, could
hold 250,000 people.5 Chariots would race the length of the track, which was
2,000 feet (610 m), turn around posts at the end, and race back.6 Races were
typically seven laps. Winners received palm branches, which symbolized
victory, and prize money.