Roman Families in early times



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Roman Families

IN EARLY TIMES: (600 BCE to about 1c CE) Before the Imperial Age, in very early Roman times, Everybody in one family lived in one home, including the great grandparents, grandparents, parents and kids.

The head of the family was the oldest male. He owned the property, and had total authority, the power of life and death, over every member of his household. Even when his children became adults, he was still the boss. But, he was also responsible for the actions of any member of his household. A women had no authority. Her job was to take care of the house and to have children.

DURING THE IMPERIAL AGE: (late 1c CE to about 500 CE): Things changed very rapidly towards the end of 1c AD. Although families still lived in one home, during the Imperial Age, women could own land, run businesses, free slaves, make wills, be heirs themselves, and get a job in some professions.

Old Age: The ancient Romans greatly respected and cared for their elderly.

Slaves: Wealthy ancient Romans had slaves. In some homes, slaves were treated like valued servants. In others, they were severely abused.

CLOTHING:  The very early Romans wore a toga. Togas fell out of style rather early. (The toga was inconvenient, and people felt the cold when they wore it.) To get anyone to wear them, even very early emperors had to legislate the wearing of togas by at least senators. The Romans switched to comfortable tunics, which looked like long tee-shirts.

Roman Women: Women enjoyed gazing at themselves in mirrors of highly polished metal (not glass). The ancient Roman women loved ornate necklaces, pins, earrings, bracelets and friendship rings. Pearls were favorites. Women often dyed their hair, usually golden-red. They used false hairpieces to make their hair thicker or longer. Sometimes, Roman women wore their hair up, in carefully arranged styles, held with jeweled hairpins. Sometimes they wore it down, curled in ringlets. Parasols were used, or women might carry fans made of peacock feathers, wood or stretched linen. Women's street shoes were made of leather, like a man's. In the house, most Romans (men and women) wore sandals. Women's sandals were brightly colored. Some were even decorated with pearls.

School:  The goal of education in ancient Rome was to be an effective speaker. The school day began before sunrise, as did all work in Rome. Kids brought candles to use until daybreak. There was a rest for lunch and the afternoon siesta, and then back to school until late afternoon.
The children studied reading, writing, and counting. They read scrolls and books. They wrote on boards covered with wax, and used pebbles to do math problems. They were taught Roman numerals, and recited lessons they had memorized. At age 12 or 13, the boys of the upper classes attended "grammar" school, where they studied Latin, Greek, grammar, and literature. At age 16, some boys went on to study public speaking at the rhetoric school, to prepare for a life as an orator. Did the kids of the poor go to school? At the poorer levels, no. School was not free.
Once they got dressed, adults might wander down to the Forum, to do their shopping and banking.

The Forum was the main marketplace and business center, where the ancient Romans went to do their banking, trading, shopping, and marketing. It was also a place for public speaking. The ancient Romans were great orators. They loved to talk (although not nearly as much as the ancient Greeks!) The job of their orators was not to argue, but to argue persuasively!  People thronging the Forum would stop and listen, then wander away to do their shopping, and perhaps leave a gift at a temple for one of their gods. The Forum was also used for festivals and religious ceremonies. It was a very busy place.

Next stop, the Baths!

The ancient Romans might hit the baths first, and then wander down to the Forum, although many did prefer to get their shopping done early. In all but the largest baths, there were separate hours for men and women. The women's time slot was apparently much shorter, so that women probably had to be more careful scheduling. Large baths had duplicate facilities.



The Public Baths were extremely popular. Roman women and men tried to visit the baths at least once every day. The baths had hot and cold pools, towels, slaves to wait on you, steam rooms, saunas, exercise rooms, and hair cutting salons. They had reading rooms and libraries, as among the freeborn, who had the right to frequent baths, the majority could read.  They even had stores, selling all kinds of things, and people who sold fast food. The baths were arranged rather like a very large mall, with bathing pools.

The baths were packed. The people loved them. At one time, there were as many as 900 public baths in ancient Rome. Small ones held about 300 people, and the big ones held 1500 people or more! Some Roman hospitals even had their own bathhouses. A trip to the bath was a very important part of ancient Roman daily life.

Could kids use the baths? No. Was there an admission charge to the baths? Yes. Could slaves use the baths? Properly, no. But the people who could, as a matter of course, brought their slave attendants with them.

When the kids got home from school, they played with their pets, their toys, and their friends.  

TOYS:  Balls, board games, hobbyhorses, kites, tiny models of people and animals. The ancient Romans played with hoops, with pieces of metal on them, like bells, to jingle and warn people in their way. Boys walked on stilts and played games with balls. They played tic-tac-toe, and a game called "knucklebones", which is a lot like jacks, only played with bones.

The boys played war-type games. They played war, and fought with wooden swords, quite fiercely. The game of "Troy" (lusus Troiae) was a team thing involving resisting a whole pack of kids outnumbering you, who'd try to drag you across a line.



The girls played with rags dolls and dolls of wax or clay. Some dolls even had jointed legs and arms. The girls played board and ball games, and even lifted weights.

The ancient Romans loved games. Horace tells of children building small houses, riding on hobbyhorses, and hitching mice to little carts. Kids from poor families had to work a great deal, but they still found a little time to play. Kids from wealthy families did not work or help around the house. They had slaves who did all the work for them, so they had lots of time to play.

PETS: Dogs were common and favorite pets. Many kinds of birds were pets including pigeons, ducks, quail, and geese. Monkey were known but they were not very common. Cats started to become pets around 1c CE.

In the evening, the ancient Romans might go to the theatre.

ENTERTAINMENT: The ancient Romans enjoyed many different kinds of entertainment. Most events were free, which meant poor people could attend as well as the rich. Plays were performed in large open air theaters. There were lots of theatres, and even the small ones could seat 7,000 people. Some events were scheduled during the day, some were scheduled at night. If wealthy Romans stayed home, they lit oil lamps, to enjoy the evening. The poor, unless they went out, went to bed as soon as it got dark as they couldn't afford to keep oil lamps burning.

The Colosseum was a huge public entertainment center. The Colosseum could seat 45,000 spectators! This is where the ancient Romans gathered to watch bloody combat between gladiators, and battles between men and wild animals. This is where they threw people to the lions! To see men being killed was very entertaining to the ancient Romans. On occasion, they flooded the Colosseum with water, to hold naval battles, where many competitors died!

The Circus Maximus was another public entertainment center, and was just a single, specific facility in Rome. The Maximus was used mostly for chariot racing. It could seat 250,000 people! (That's a quarter of a million people!) There were other circuses in ancient Rome.

Roman Games (Field & Track) In the city, there was a place called the Campus. This was the old drill ground for soldiers. It was a large section of plain near the Tiber River. Over time, the Campus became ancient Rome's field and track playground. Even such famous people as Caesar and Augustus exercised on the Campus. Young men, all over Rome, gathered at the Campus to play and exercise. On the Campus, men participated in foot racing, jumping, archery, wrestling and boxing. After a bout of exercise, they might jump in the Tiber River for a swim, or wander off to the Baths, to relax.

Drinking: Drinking wine was part of daily life. In very early days, women were not allowed to drink wine. Their husband might kiss them on the mouth to see if they had been drinking. It sounds sweet, but if a husband believed his wife had been drinking, she could be severely beaten. During the Empire, women could drink wine! Life was very different during the Empire than it was in the days of early Rome.

Roman Weddings

Engagement: An engagement period before the wedding was considered good manners, but it wasn't a legal requirement. An engagement ring was usual, when affordable. This ring was worn on the third finger of the left hand, as it is today, because the ancient Romans believed that a nerve ran from this finger directly to the heart!

Dowries: A woman brought into her marriage what goods her family could supply, or goods she could supply herself. The bride's family might provide slaves, clothing, jewels, furniture. These belongings became the property of her husband.

Wedding Preparations: Over her tunic wedding dress, the bride worn a flame colored veil. The veil was topped with a wreath of flowers, which the bride had to gather herself.

The Wedding Ceremony: Only the three acts of expressing consent were necessary. Everything else varied. The actual ceremony was held usually at the bride's father house, with guests present.

After the words of consent, the bride and groom sat on stools, facing the alter. An offering was made to the god Jupiter, which usually consisted of cake. Once the priest had made the offering, this cake was eaten by the bride and groom. Then followed congratulations by the guests.



Wedding Dinner: After the actual wedding ceremony, there was usually a dinner at the bride's house or possibly the groom's. Dinner was ended by passing out pieces of wedding cake, as it often is today.

Bridal Procession: After the dinner party, the bride was escorted to her husband's house. This ceremony was essential to the validity of the marriage, so it could not be omitted. On the way, nuts were thrown, rather like we throw rice today.

Arrival at her new home: In front of the open door, the bride once more recited the consent chant. Then the bride was carried over the threshold by her new husband, and the doors were closed against the general crowd. In the fireplace, wood was laid ready for a fire. The bride lit this wood with her "marriage" torch, a special torch that had been carried in front of her during the procession. The torch was then blown out, and tossed among the guests, who scrambled for it, like a bride's flower bouquet is today.


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