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  • Daily life in Ancient Rome


    Family had had a very solid social position since the beginnings of Rome. The Roman familia was organised as a patriarchy - it means that the whole authority rested in father’s hands. The usual family consisted of: father, mother, single daughters and those, who were married but still lived with their parents and siblings, unmarried and married sons with their wives and children, and slaves. Father’s authority ranged over all members of family; in remote past he could even decide about children's life and death (if he found neonate child illegitimate, he could not accept it and order to ditch it). It is interesting that the son, even if he was married or came of age, was unable to have own estate. He couldn’t inherit and own till the time when the father died. In relation to the slaves pater’s authority was absolute: he could sell, kill, leave or set them free.

    There were two sorts of marriage in Rome: in manum, when a woman wasn’t incident to pater’s authority and depends only on her husband, and sine conventione in manum – women was still subject to her father, lived with her parents and siblings, and kept the succession right.

    The age border needed to contract marriage was very low – girls had to be just 12 and boys 14 (in fact, this border, especially for boys, was much higher).

    During the engagement ceremony, which took place before the wedding, a groom handed a coin or an iron ring to his future wife. The marriage ceremony was usually the same. In witnesses’ presence groom and bride gave hands to each other, and assented to marriage, then gods were asked for blessing. When the first star appeared on the sky, bride left the feast and made for her new house. After her husband, who was waiting on the doorstep, had given water and fire to her, she had to say famous words: Ubi tu Gaius, ibi ego Gaia.

    The births of the children were the most important events in family’s life. After a child had been born, it was brought and put in front of the father. If he picked it up, it symbolised that he had found it legitimate. A child was named when it was 10 days old. At first Roman names consisted of 2 parts, then, in the times of the Republic and later, of 3: name, kind of surname and „alias”. There were few names in ancient Rome, so Romans replaced them with acronyms (Marcus –M., Quintus – Qu.).

    Children upbringing and the youth

    Both boys and girls started their education when they were 7 years old. A personal teacher, who usually was an educated slave, taught wealthier children; those, whose parents couldn’t afford private lessons, attended school. Finally organised education system consisted of three levels. During the first stage, a teacher called litterator, taught how to read and write, at the same time calculator explained simple arithmetic. Roman children had to learn multiplication operations by heart, so it was common that they repeated them aloud after their teacher. The next stage included lessons given by gramaticus. That teacher had to have great knowledge from Greek and Roman literature, history and grammar. The third level involved rhetorical educating. Students were acquainted with the elocution rules and gave fictional speeches. Rich Romans’ sons completed their education in Athens or on Rhodes Island, where they attend philosophers’ lectures or rehearsed pronunciation.

    Roman houses

    Roman streets were filled with the crowds of people making their way to work, school, or just walking, even in the early morning. The poor lived in dilapidated cottages or rented rooms and flats in tenement houses. These narrow and high tenements were built in a quick and dirty way, and they often collapsed or became destroyed by fire. Storeys of such buildings stuck out toward the street, that’s why Cicero said about the Rome as about “a city hung in air on houses’ storeys”. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that poorer citizens avoid staying in their own homes and spend their time in the city, which offered a lot of entertainment to them.

    Wealthy Romans couldn’t complain about their houses - they lived in luxury villas, surrounded by vast gardens and ponds. Roman houses consisted of three parts: a front one and a middle, which was covered with tiles and of a peristyle. There were lots of columns, flowers, pictures and a fountain in it. Under a peristyle there was a cellar. Atrium was a kind of a presentable lounge, “family life” concentrated in peristyle and nearby rooms. Slaves lived close to the atrium.


    A tunic was the most important part of Roman clothing. It was a kind of a long, white shirt, composed of two cotton pieces; without sleeves or with the short ones. Till III century AD wearing a tunic with long sleeves was perceived as a symbol of effeminacy. A tunic that was too long and reached ankles was also unsuitable for men. Also, Roman tunics varied in details depending an office that was held by their owners.

    Tunics were worn only in house, if Roman wanted to go out, he had to put a toga on.

    Toga was a piece of cotton material that was about 3 metres wide and approximately 6-7 metres long. It was very difficult to compose toga appropriately, so there were ‘special’ slaves who had to deal with it.

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    Ancient Romans ate three meals during the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner that was eaten late in the afternoon. Breakfast consisted of cheese, fruit, bread, milk or wine. Lunch wasn’t served. Romans usually ate leftovers from the yesterday meals. This meal contained meal dishes, fish, fruit, cheese and wine. The most important and generous was dinner. Romans used to eat it lying on sofas and a lots of slaves had to serve them. Dinner consisted of different sorts of meat, fish with vegetables, snacks, fresh or dried fruit and wine. Ancient Romans didn’t care the tidiness during the mealtime, for example they unscrupulously threw rests of the food on the floor.


    Rich Romans spent their spare time on feasts. This activity was treated almost like a sort of sport. Public lectures and literary sets were very popular. Sports and circus games also provided great amusement to thousands of Roman. A lot of time was spent in terms, which were in fact a cultural centre of a city.

    Roman entertainment is totally different than the entertainment we see today. Modern society has things like debit card and credit card processing to buy them things that they can't afford at the time. In Roman times, you didn't see this type of thing, you needed the funds to get what you wanted or what you wanted to do.

    Near the entrance to the terms there was a man called capsarius, who had to preserve visitor’s property such as money, jewellery and documents. Usually terms had three parts: a room with an arched ceiling and pools with cold water, a small heating room and a room where people could have a cold bath. Besides “simple” baths Romans had a possibility to go to a special room and have a vapour bath. Within term area there were also courts and playing fields, restaurants and porticoes, where visitors could rest and discuss with other people.

    Everybody could go to the terms and have a bath, even the poorest, because there were no entrance fees or they were very low. Women also visited terms, but after numerous scandals they had to do not at the same time as men did.

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