Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Florence Dupont

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Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Florence Dupont
This excerpt from Dupont’s book about the Roman republic gives us some valuable insight into how Roman social and political attitudes and values shaped Roman citizens’ behavior and institutions.

Use the questions below to guide your reading.

As you read also choose five significant quotations that you would like to discuss with the class.
Geometrical Equality

  • What was the census? Why was it so important?

  • What was the job of the censors?

  • How was the Roman voting system set up to favor the upper class? Why is that called “geometrical equality”?

Freedom or Death

  • What were the obligations of a freeborn citizen?

  • What was the highest aim of each citizen?

  • How did the notion of citizenship create strong community in Rome?

  • Why was freedom so important to Romans that they would prefer death to losing freedom?

  • Liberty gave Romans the right to work for power and honors. What does the article mean when it says, “Roman society, though based on divisions of class, was not a caste-based one.”?

The City or Death

  • Why was being a member of a group so critical to Romans?

  • What was the connection between cities and being “civilized”?’

  • How were Romans expected to behave in each of their many communities?

  • What does the author mean when she says, “Great souls demanded great challenges if they were to achieve great feats”?

  • Why did the Romans think only citizens had souls? Whom did that leave out?

The Gaze of Others

  • Where did the Romans look to determine their own worth? How do you think that would influence their behavior?

  • How did Romans define a “good man,” or an “evil man” ?

  • How did gossip, graffiti, and rumor affect the lives of citizens?

  • What does the author mean by saying, “Rome was a society of blame and praise.”?

  • What was the consequence of receiving praise for Romans? How did that affect their lives and the lives of their children?

The Obligations of Nobility

  • Why was life so “grueling” for men in the political class?

  • Why do you think the qualities demanded for war and political success were so similar?

  • What special burden fell on those with illustrious ancestors?

The Obligations of Nobility (continued)

  • If members of a senatorial class failed to live up to their ancestors and class expectations, what were the consequences for their family?

  • Explain the “life cycle” of a young man from the optimates class.

    • Youth

    • Age 30 (p. 15)

    • Old Age

  • What failings would be clear signs of mediocrity in a young man? Why do you think these issues were especially important to Romans?

  • What “special warfare” were young men expected to pursue when they weren’t actually at war? What Roman values were evident in these expectations?

Vertical Society

  • How did the ties of marriage and friendship supply a “vertical structure” to strengthen the horizontal bonds of the census?

  • Why did the Romans try to cultivate and multiple their vertical relationships? What social patterns resulted?


  • What special role did friendship play in supporting ambitious Romans in their difficult quest for power and glory?

  • Why was the desertion of friends a disaster for Romans? How do you think that might influence the quality of friendship among Romans?

  • What lessons are there in the cases of Camillus and Hortensius and Cato?


  • Explain the client-patron system and how it emphasized the virtue of loyalty

  • How did this system function to take care of citizens who were not cared for by the state? How did it both encourage and regulate violence?

The Two Traditional Parties

  • How did the vertical relationships of the client-patron system shape the political parties of the optimates and populares?

  • What was the platform of each party?

Rulers of the City

  • Why was political power (potestas) so critical to Romans?

  • How was that power manifested “in the gaze of others”?

  • Despite being a republic, how were Roman political figures influenced by the trappings and powers of kings?

  • Why was a politician’s “good image” so critical in determining what laws were passed?

  • How do you think that would govern individuals’ behavior?

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