Life of a Roman

Ancient Rome grew from a Kingdom to a republic, and finally to a vast and powerful empire. For those who lived and worked in the empire, social class played a role in the type of life they lead--with society being largely divided between the patricians and plebeians.

Patricians were rich and often held political office, while plebeians represented the much larger working class and poorer members of Roman society. Later in the Roman Empire, distinctions between plebeian and patrician changed and plebeians were able to obtain wealth and political status.

While most early patricians lived in villas and townhouses featuring central courtyards, lower and middle class Romans rented apartments in buildings called insulae. These buildings featured three or four stories, with poor families often having to share a room in the top floors. It was not uncommon for insulaes to be badly built and collapse or catch on fire. As bathrooms were rarely present in plebeian households, a pot had to be used, then the waste would be poured out onto the street below.

The diet of a Roman family depended on their wealth. Poorer families ate simple foods like cereals and bread. When they could afford it cheese, vegetables, raisins, and meats were consumed. Those with more money could afford to eat three course meals with a variety of items including rabbit, fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, olives, and eggs. Honey, fruits, and vinegar were often used in the cooking process, with honey commonly being added to breads and baked pastries. In all families, dinner was the main meal of the day and wine was a cheap commodity consumed at every meal.

Children of poorer families if they attended school only did so for a few years to learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The Roman society had no public education system, students were taught in private schools, and a fee had to be paid. Educated slaves could also be given the task of overseeing a child's instruction.

After mastering the basics, girls would be required to obtain further instruction at home on the skills needed to run a household as all women where expected to know how to weave and sew cloth. Secondary schools were available for boys to learn additional subjects and become skilled orators, a highly prized political skill. The wealthiest families could afford to send their children to Athens to complete their education.

Romans worshipped many different gods, gods were seen as spirits and rituals were needed to keep them satisfied and get the gods to bless them. Apollo was the god of the Sun, Mars the god of war, and Diane the goddess of the moon. Many other gods were worshipped, with gods borrowed from Greek mythology and other gods incorporated into their beliefs after conquering a new land. During the time of the emperor Constantine, Christianity became the official state religion.

Roman families were often large, consisting of a husband, wife, their unmarried children, adult sons and their families, as well as slaves. The father was the head of the family and held complete authority over everyone in his household. Under Roman law, the father had the right to decide if a child should live or die after birth, he also arranged marriages for his children and had the right to divorce his wife if she failed to conceive or did not provide a male heir. In the patrician families, girls might be married as early as 13 or 14. Regardless of social class, most women were married in their teens or early twenties.

In earlier Roman society women were under the complete control of their husbands. A woman's primary job was to run her household and be virtuous. Even rich women with a large group of slaves to do the household chores were expected to supervise them and had few other duties. With changes in society, women gained more rights including the ability to run a business and inherit property. Women who worked as barmaids, actresses, and prostitutes were a part of society but frowned upon.

At least a quarter of the population of ancient Rome where slaves gained through war and trade, slaves had no right to marry and were given no legal protections and owners had the right to torture or sexually abuse their slaves. Some slaves were able to purchase their freedom with payment and slaves could be set free by their owners. It was not uncommon for a slave to runaway.

A number of Roman buildings were important to maintaining their way of life and highlighted their advanced technological skills. Aquaducts were built to supply a constant source of water, roads where improved, bridges were created that are still in use, and sanitary conditions were improved by the creation of indoor plumbing systems.

Other Roman buildings were used for entertainment. Bathhouses were used for socializing, exercising, and offered games for the entertainment of Roman citizens. One of the most well known sources of entertainment was the amphitheatre, a large building where crowds of citizens would watch animals or gladiators fight to the death. Gladiator battles featured two prisoners who would be forced to fight while the crowd looked on.

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