The Daily Lives of the Ancient Romans

Ancient Rome is often remembered for its ambitious buildings and powerful Emperors. But what about the people of Rome? Do they not deserve a say in history?

Whilst people often get wrapped up in the expansion of Rome, its emperors, buildings, economic power, people tend to overlook the unsung heroes of this ancient civilisation – the people of Rome. These citizens lived a fairly normal life of labour, food and relaxation, but they also contributed to the expansion of the Empire.

The ancient people of Rome had concrete customs and set social traditions within their society. But these also depended on class, gender, or trade, one roman citizen could lead a completely different life to another. To gain an idea of what life would have been like thousands of years ago, have a read through on what we found out about life in Ancient Rome. For all its glory, is this a civilisation you’d like to be apart of.

The Rich Citizens of Ancient Rome

As with all societies, wealthy citizens had a far better life overall. Living in beautifully decorated houses located away from the city’s smell and noise, Rome’s rich enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle. Doing no hard labour but rather social or financial requirements with free time a common occurrence. They spoilt themselves with luxurious clothes, perfumes, decorations, and habits. Having either servants or slaves catering to their every need. For dinner, they would hold exclusive dinner parties, serving up expensive and exotic dishes as well as endless jugs of wine.

The Poor Citizens of Ancient Rome

The poor citizens of Rome had no such luck in the indulgent lifestyle but rather worked themselves into the ground. Space was a luxury they could not afford, and so many Roman citizens (not all of them poor, but not rich either) would reside in apartments blocks or insulae throughout the city. Unfortunately, most of these insulae were overcrowded and extremely dangerous resulting in tenants living in fear of fires, floods from the Tiber River or complete collapse from trying to hold too many people at once. Families stressed about food and money constantly, with newborn babies being abandoned to the streets when times were tough.

The Lives of Rome’s Children

Education depended completely on the family’s wealth. Roman Schools were only for boys who came from rich families, with full-time tutors teaching some children at home instead. The only time girls were allowed to be taught was only if they came from a very wealthy family, and in this case, they were never allowed in actual schools but only to taught by a tutor. Lessons in reading, math, writing, and debate were all very common. If you were not wealthy, rather than the school you would help the family’s business, whether it was on a farm, at a shop, or around the market.

Women in Ancient Rome

The family was a fundamental social unit to Ancient Rome. And what’s essential for a family? A man and a woman. At the very beginning of Ancient Rome, the family was very much centred on the concept of paterfamilias – the male head of the household. The male or father figure had power over all family members. He could sell a daughter into slavery if he thought he had too many, he could disown a child for being disfigured, he could do whatever he liked really. Gradually, over time however, this all-powerful rule lessened, although not completely. This did not change the power of the woman however; whose domain was the home. The wife ran the household, educated the children and saw to her husband’s needs. Not much when you consider women’s rights today.

Food in Ancient Rome

Everyone has to eat, but like most other things in Ancient Rome, how and what you ate depended on your economic status. Meals were not usually consumed until late afternoon between 4 – 6pm, with only small snacks being had during noon and morning time. This snack was most often bread, a supplement which was consumed by rich and poor alike. Where the wealthy enjoyed their meals relaxing on pillows with slaves passing them their food, which consisted of meats and imported spices, the poor ate rancid cereal or gruel. Some of the extremely poor or homeless had to wait for the monthly allotment of grain before they could eat! All citizens had to buy their food fresh, as refrigerators of course, weren’t invented so there was no way to keep the food cold.

The Mandatory Daily Activities

Regardless of your age, social status, and gender, all Roman’s citizens visited the public baths in the afternoon after a long day of work. This was essentially their free time, as people caught up with friends, gossiped, and relaxed in the large bath pools. Most baths were free of charge and included a tepidarium (relaxation room), a caldarium (hot room) and a frigidarium (cooling room). Building a public bath was an easy way for Emperors to gain favour with the people. This might be why there were over 800 baths in Rome by 400 CE. To the Roman people, the baths made them feel superior to the rest of the world, as it was a traditional Roman custom that connected practical chores with a social atmosphere.

In their Free Time

Although the majority of the time citizens were too busy with work to enjoy free time, there were many activities the Romans enjoyed. Playing board games was a common thing, using counters and dice on work breaks or after work. Richer citizens enjoyed hunting, doing it both for fun and for food. But by far the most popular activity was the public events at the amphitheatres. Shows to see the chariot races or gladiators let citizens forget their troubles and hard lives, bringing the rich and poor together. Sadly a lot of the time women weren’t allowed in these events, regardless of their wealth.

To bring the lives of Rome’s Ancient civilians to life book onto our Colosseum & Ancient Rome Tour for your next trip!

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