Daily Life in Ancient Rome V


An average Roman housewife normally left her home only to go shopping, to go to the baths, or, if she wanted, to visit her friends and relatives. From time to time she joined the public festivities if her husband were to take her to banquets.

Dancing and singing were though to be unsuitable in Rome - the Greeks, on the other side, used to do these things very often in great revelry. The poet Horaz said that dancing was the first step to prostitution, and it were in fact especially prostitutes her danced for others. This attitude, however, eventually changed, and during imperial times boys and girls went to dance classes.

A woman did not count as someone in politics. She could not vote or be a witness in court - unless she was a vestal. A women was also unable to possess her own things. As a girl, she was dependent on her father, as a married woman, to her husband, and as a widow, to a tutor.

Divorce was in the early part of the Empire impossible, even if her husband dated another woman. Husbands in Rome reserved the right to murder both adulterating wives and their lovers if they discovered the infidelity under the law itself. Later, however, women were allowed to divorce - without even having to give a reason.


There was some knowledge of contraception in Rome, and abortion was known to be practiced for unwanted pregnancies. The act was only sometimes a crime (e.g., if the father was being denied an heir).

Birth was a relatively public undertaking, occurring at home with a midwife, usually not a doctor, and several female relatives in attendance. There were no males present. The mother gave birth in a special chair in an upright position.

After nine days a ceremony of lustratio was held and the baby given a name. Wet nurses (nutrices) were commonly employed in all classes.

The father reserved the right to deny that the child be reared - one way of eliminating family numbers, as inheritances were legally divided equally (girls received a dowry). Other reasons for denying a child could include poverty. A posthumous child could not be denied this right, as the child technically belonged to the deceased father. Newborns could be killed or sold. Deformed children were exposed or killed.

Children legally belonged to the father, even after a divorce. An orphan was said to have lost only his father, not his mother, and sometimes went to live with a tutor rather than his widowed mother. Illegitimates took another's name and had no rights.

Adoptio was not the humane adoption of orphaned children, although that was occasionally the case with infertility. More often it was the transferring of a son from one pater familias to another. As such, the son lost all rights in reference to his old family. Usually this was a political procedure, especially when there was a lack of male descendants. Females rarely adopted and could not legally adopt by themselves. In addition, a person with pater familias could put himself willingly under another's power, known as adrogatio. Many patricians did this with plebeian families in order to be eligible to run for the tribunal.

Early in the republic it was the father who taught their sons how to read, write, and use weapons. Boys accompanied them to religious ceremonies, public occasions (the Senate, if the father was a member). At the age of 16, the sons of nobility were given political apprenticeship under a public figure, while at 17 they spent the year campaigning with the army, a system which endured during the empire for some families.

Beginning in the 3rd century BC, a roman system of education developed which was different from the current Greek system, although most teachers remained Greek slaves or freedmen, known as a litterator or ludi magister. With his teacher a child studied Greek and Latin literature to produce effective speaking habits.

The primary level of education, from ages 7-11, involved teaching boys and girls reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes Greek, taught by a paidagogus. Secondary education was reserved for boys only, ages 12-15, and was based on the teaching of literary subjects in Latin and Greek by a grammaticus as a general introduction into rhetoric. From the 1st century BC contemporary poets, such as Virgil, were also taught.

From the 2nd century BC, rhetoric was taught to young males over the age of 16 by Greek teachers, but a Latin style eventually took over and rhetoric declined under the empire. However, rhetoric still remained the staple of education and continued to influence literature.

Rhetoric schools were set up under the empire in major cities. Famous teachers of the time period included St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and Ausonius.


Wealth and resources were divided unequally during the empire, with relatively little social mobility. The large labor force consisted of slaves and poorly paid freedmen nearly indistinguishable from slaves. Debt landsmen and peasants tied down to the land were also not technically considered slaves. In the Roman world, slaves and their children were the property of the owner, sold and rented out by dealers and exchanged between individuals.

Slaves had always been used in Rome, but there was a sharp increase in their numbers after the 2nd century BC. Slaves could be obtained as prisoners of war or through trade outside of Roman territory. Parents also had the right to sell their children as slaves to pay off debts.

Homebred slaves eventually outnumbered those who had been free before and were enslaved. Therefore, slaves became expensive and unprofitable to use in unskilled labor, and he was eventually replaced by free labor in mines and other industry. Indeed, slaves were employed in almost every form of skilled and unskilled labor, and performed the "overwhelming" amount of work on mining, manufacture, and private labor. The state owned slaves too, for the purpose of maintaining public works such as roads and aqueducts, but was limited by the practice of contracting out public enterprises.

The agricultural labor force was far more complex, with farming estates worked wholly by slaves as well as those owned by peasants or leased out to tenants.

Treatment of slaves greatly varied. Harsh treatment was usually restrained, as he doing the punishing had to keep in mind he was damaging his own "investment." Treatment was typically more brutal in agriculture, mining, and factories, where slaves might work seven days weekly without holiday. Evidence exists to indicate that slaves were worked in chain gangs and locked away at night, particularly in Southern Italy and Sicily. Slaves were usually branded or wore inscribed metal collars, lessening the chance of escape. A large number of slaves, however, worked as doctors, architects, and teachers, amassing large fortunes.

Slaves became free men (liberati) if their emancipation was granted by their master or if they could raise up enough money to buy their freedom themselves. Formal freeing also granted a Roman citizenship and took place before a magistrate. Clients were freedmen owing legally binding services to a patron, and freedmen became clients automatically. Freedmen were not eligible for office, but their children - also citizens - were.

The more informal act of manumission did not grant citizenship, and the former slaves property returned to the owner after death. Manumission was relatively frequent, so efficient labor was practiced to gain freedom.

Most slave revolts occurred during the republic, and three great ones, in particular, towards the end: two in Sicily (135-132 BC) and that of Sparticus (73-71 BC). During imperial times slaves were apparently not apt to violent acts against owners or rebellion.


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