Roman marriage was monogamous. Both parties involved must have been citizens or granted the right of

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Roman marriage was monogamous.  Both parties involved must have been citizens or granted the right of conubium (the right to wed).  The minimal legal age was 12 for females and 14 for males, but in reality most of the time people were slightly older.

In early Rome a formal betrothal (sponsalia) was made prior to the wedding.  Some children were betrothed by their fathers.  Until 455 BC, patricians could not wed plebeians, and a free person could not wed a former slave. Later, Augustus legalized that practice as well, except for the senators.

Roman marriage was private, resting on the consent of the two partners.  Two people simply lived together with hopes for a lasting union.  In fact, while there was a ceremony, there was no prescribed formula or contract, except maybe for the dowry.  The wedding ceremony itself held no legal value but to indicate a marriage.  The law was primarily concerned with the legitimacy of children, however, and therefore a marriage needed to be made known.   Even the dowry was a moral - not legal - indication of the union. 

In Early Rome a woman passed into her husbands control and marriage was in manu mariti.  However, by the end of the republic, a woman usually remained in her father's power as long as she lived, not integrating into her husband's family.  During the empire, marriage become unpopular and birth rates fell, so Augustus granted special privileges to parents of three or more children.

Confarratio was the oldest and most sacred form of marriage. It was limited to certain priesthoods, and at the ceremony the Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus were present.  A grain cake also had some significance.  However, the vast majority of marriage rituals occurred in June and did include special customs, such as sacrifices and wedding feasts.

There was no ban or social stigma on divorce, except that only the husband could divorce the wife for adultery - not vice versa. It was also acceptable to divorce someone because of infertility.  By the late republic, anyone could divorce without giving a reason, so long as he or she shouted "I divorce you!" three times at his or her spouse and there was a witness present.

Food and Drink

For the majority of persons dining in Ancient Rome, meals were centered around corn (grain), oil and wine, and, for the wealthy, different types of exotic foods.   Cereals were the staple food, originally in the form of husked wheat (far) being made into porridge (puls), but later naked wheat (frumentum) was made into bread.  Bread was the single most often eaten food in Ancient Rome, and was sometimes sweetened with honey or cheese and eaten along with sausage, domestic fowl, game, eggs, cheese, fish, or shellfish.

Fish and oysters were especially popular; meat, particularly pork, was in high demand as well.  Elsewhere in Rome, delicacies, such as snails or dormice, were specially bred.  A variety of cakes, pastries, and tarts was baked commercially and at home, often sweetened with honey.  Vegetables, such as cabbage, parsnips, lettuce, asparagus, onion, garlic, marrows, radishes, lentils, beans, and beats was imported.  Fruits and nuts were also available to the consumer, as was a variety of strongly flavored sauces, spices, and herbs, which became very popular in Roman cuisine. 

Romans loved wine, but they drank it watered down, spiced, and heated.  Undiluted wine was considered to be barbaric, and wine concentrate diluted with water was also common. Pasca was probably popular among the lower classes.  It was a drink made from watering down acetum, low quality wine similar to vinegar.  Beer and mead were most commonly drunk in the northern provinces.  Milk, typically from sheep or goats, was considered to be barbaric and was therefore reserved for making cheese or medicines.


Bread, cakes, and pastries were cooked commercially and at home in Ancient Rome. A circular domed oven was used mainly for bread and pastries.  Most food was cooked over an open hearth, either by means of cauldrons suspended from chains or cooking vessels set on gridirons.  Cooking was done in the kitchen, where smoke could escape out a small hole in the ceiling our through a wall vent.  Cooking was also done outside and for those living in tenements, communal ovens may have been available. Food was often prepared with a mix of fruit, honey, and vinegar, to obtain a sweet-sour flavor, and most meat was broiled.  Preservation of foods was difficult, and so popular foods, such as fish and shellfish, were probably shipped live to their destination.  Some foods, however, such as meat and fish, could be preserved after a tedious process of pickling, drying, smoking, and salting.  Food poisoning was probably a commonplace affair.


For the poor, meals consisted of porridge or bread with meat and vegetables, if available.  For the wealthy, the meal was divided into three courses (ab ovo usque ad mala - from egg to apples).  The 1st was an appetizer made of simply eggs, fish, shellfish, and raw vegetables known as gustatio or promulsis.  The main course, prima mensa, consisted of cooked vegetables and meats, based on what the family could afford, and was followed by a desert (secunda mensa) of fruit and / or sweet pastries.

The Romans sat upright to eat, but the wealth often reclined on couches at diner parties, or ate outside in gardens, with the weather permitting.  For the poor, tableware probably consisted of coarse pottery, but for those willing to spend a slightly prettier penny, tableware could be purchased in fine pottery, glass, bronze, silver, gold, and pewter.

Food was eaten with the fingers and cut with knives crafted from antler, wood, or bronze with an iron blade.  Bronze, silver, and bone spoons existed for eggs and liquids.  These spoons had pointed handles that could be used to extract shellfish and snails from their shells.



An average Roman housewife normally left her home only to go shopping, to go to the baths, or, if she wanted, to visit her friends and relatives.  From time to time she joined the public festivities if her husband were to take her to banquets.

Dancing and singing were though to be unsuitable in Rome - the Greeks, on the other side, used to do these things very often in great revelry.  The poet Horaz said that dancing was the first step to prostitution. This attitude, however, eventually changed, and during imperial times boys and girls went to dance classes.

A woman did not count as someone in politics.  She could not vote or be a witness in court - unless she was a vestal.   A woman was also unable to possess her own things.  As a girl, she was dependent on her father, as a married woman, to her husband, and as a widow, to a tutor.

Divorce was in the early part of the Empire impossible, even if her husband dated another woman.  Husbands in Rome reserved the right to murder both adulterating wives and their lovers if they discovered the infidelity under the law itself.  Later, however, women were allowed to divorce - without even having to give a reason.


There was some knowledge of contraception in Rome, and abortion was known to be practiced for unwanted pregnancies.  The act was only sometimes a crime (e.g., if the father was being denied an heir).

Birth was a relatively public undertaking, occurring at home with a midwife, usually not a doctor, and several female relatives in attendance.   There were no males present.  The mother gave birth in a special chair in an upright position. A nine day ceremony of lustratio was held and the baby given a name

The father reserved the right to deny that the child be reared - one way of eliminating family numbers, as inheritances were legally divided equally (girls received a dowry).  Other reasons for denying a child could include poverty.  A posthumous child could not be denied this right, as the child technically belonged to the deceased father.  Newborns could be killed or sold.   Deformed children were exposed or killed.

Early in the republic it was the father who taught their sons how to read, write, and use weapons.  Boys accompanied them to religious ceremonies, public occasions (the Senate, if the father was a member).  At the age of 16, the sons of nobility were given political apprenticeship under a public figure, while at 17 they spent the year campaigning with the army, a system which endured during the empire for some families.

Beginning in the 3rd century BC, a Roman system of education developed which was different from the current Greek system, although most teachers remained Greek slaves or freedmen, known as a litterator or ludi magister.  With his teacher a child studied Greek and Latin literature to produce effective speaking habits. The primary level of education, from ages 7-11, involved teaching boys and girls reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes Greek, taught by a paidagogus.  Secondary education was reserved for boys only, ages 12-15, and was based on the teaching of literary subjects in Latin and Greek by a grammaticus as a general introduction into rhetoric.  From the 1st century BC contemporary poets, such as Virgil, were also taught. From the 2nd century BC, rhetoric was taught to young males over the age of 16 by Greek teachers, but a Latin style eventually took over and rhetoric declined under the empire.  However, rhetoric still remained the staple of education and continued to influence literature.


Chariot racing was Rome's oldest and most popular pastime, dating back to at least the Roman monarchy. Greek chariot races were held in hippodromes in the east, but in the west they were held in circuses.  Other events eventually infiltrated the circus games (ludi circenses), such as Greek athletics and wrestling, but chariot racing remained the popular favorite.  As a sport, it was highly expensive, but organized into a highly profitable business.  There were four chariot facing factions, the blues, greens, whites, and reds, the colors of which were worn by respective charioteers during races.  If successful, a charioteer could become rich and famous throughout Rome.  Images of charioteers survive in sculpture, mosaic, and molded glassware, sometimes even with inscribed names.  The factions rivaled greatly, sometimes leading to violence among supporters.  In general, however, the greens and blues were the favorites.

The 1st circus was the Circus Maximus, supposedly built during the monarchy.  Later circuses were often confused with Greek stadia, which were later adapted to the Roman world by their own right, but were only approximately one-half the size of the typical circus (180-200 meters in length, 30 meters wide, with only two turning posts and no spina).   Circuses remained common in the west and stadia common in the Hellenistic east in the tradition of the Greek games.

Several different types of shows all took place in the arena of an Amphitheater.  The word arena comes from the Latin for "sand," which was placed on the Amphitheater floor to soak up spilled blood. Amphitheaters were most commonly used for gladiatorial matches which had been adapted from Etruscan funeral rites (munera).   By the last 1st century BC, however, the games had lost their ritualistic significance.

Gladiators came from various lots of life.   Originally, there were gladiatorial schools, but these came under state control in the 1st century BC to avoid them becoming private armies.  The majority of gladiators were either condemned criminals (damnati), slaves, prisoners of war, or volunteers who signed up to do shows for a fee.  There were four main types of gladiator:

  • Murmillo:  Fought with a helmet adorned by a fish crest, an oblong shield, and a sword.  He usually fought a retiaritus.

  • Retiaritus:  A lightly armed gladiator with a net, brandishing either a trident or a dagger.

  • Samnite:  Utilized a sword, visor and helmet, and an oblong shield.

  • Thracian:  Combated with a curved scimitar and round shield. 

Various other weapons, women, and sometimes even dwarves were used in the games.  Special types of "wild animal matches" (venationes) were introduced in the 2nd Century BC and became very popular.  Such bouts included men on foot and on horseback, known as beastiarii, who were usually either criminals, prisoners of war, or trained and paid fighters.   Beastiarii fought exotic animals, which eventually led to an extensive trade market. 
Originally, wild animal matches took place on the morning of the games, the public executions were held at midday, and then the gladiatorial matches.  Over time, however, these three divisions became blurred, and often many fights would take place at once, giving the appearance of a battle.
Other spectacles included mock naval battles (naumachiae), known to take place on artificial lakes, as well as animal performances, accompanied by music. 

The amphitheater itself is a Roman, not Greek contrivance. The very first gladiatorial and wild beast contests were held in open areas, such as the forum or circus.  


Men’s Apparel

Roman fashions did not change much over the centuries, but they did vary regionally.  The toga was the formal garment of a male citizen, originally worn alone but later donned draped over a tunic.  It was an expensive, fine piece of fabric of heavy white wool.  It required frequent cleaning.  It was roughly semi-circular, approximately 18 feet wide and 7 feet deep.  It was draped in a complicated manner over a body.  Several emperors had to issue decrees ordering its use on public occasions.

The oldest representations of togas date toward the later republic and show the toga exigua, a short, simple version of the garment.  Toward the end of the republic, the design became more complex, incorporating the sinus (drapes falling from the left shoulder to the right thigh, utilized as a pocket or brought up over the right shoulder as a sling) and the umbo (a projecting mass of folds in front of the body able to pulled up over the head to form a hood.

Different types of togas were worn by people of different social rank:

  • Toga Praetexta:   Characterized by a purple stripe, worn by curule magistrates as well as boys until the age of 15 or 16. 

  • Toga Virilis:  The plain toga of a typical citizen.  Worn by boys after age 15 or 16.

  • Toga Picta:  A crimson toga embroidered with gold, donned by victorious generals in triumphal processions and the emperors.

  • Toga  Candida:   A toga given a shiny, glossy look by rubbing it with chalk, worn by people running for public office.

  • Toga Pulla:  Made of natural black wool and worn in funerals.

Senatorial togas had a large purple stripe (latus clavus).  Equestrians wore a toga with a narrow purple stripe (clavus angustus). The basic garment of a Roman male, however, was the short-sleeved tunic, worn tied around the waist with a belt.   It was normally worn indoors, as well as by slaves and children.  Long tunics with sleeves were considered effeminate.  Extra tunics were worn in colder weather.   Senators and equestrians wore tunics with broad and narrow purple stripes, respectively, running from shoulderr to hip on both sides.  Tunics worn by charioteers were dyed the color of their faction. The dalmatic (dalmatica) was originally a short-sleeved or sleeveless tunic, but by the empire it had long sleeves.   It was made of wool, linen, or silk, and worn by people in high position and later as an ecclesiastical garment. Some calvarymen and soldiers wore trousers, but in general it was thought that long woolen trousers (braca) were uncouth, worn by barbarians outside the empire. Capes and cloaks are also known to exist, made from either wool or leather, sometimes with hoods, such as the palla, lacerna, paenula, caracallus, cucullus, sagnum, and byrrus. Beards were fashionable in early Rome, but did not become popular again until the time of Hadrian. 
Women’s Apparel

Women originally wore togas like the men, but later this practice was confined to prostitutes and women of ill repute.  Therefore, women wore tunics.  Married women wore a stola over the tunic, a long, full dress gathered up by a high belt with a colored border around the neck.  It could also gathered at the shoulder with a brooch, and was considered the main outergarment of a Roman woman. Wealthy women wore clothes of rich colors and fine materials, such as muslin and silks.  Some areas also saw women wearing close fitting bonnets and hair nets.  Women also wore a palla, a long shawl made of woolen goods for outdoor wear. As fair as their hair goes hair could be dyed golden red or black.  The hairdresser could skillfully use a curling iron for ringlets and crude scissors.  She could also use oils and tonics to hurry growth and add both softness and luster.  In the late 1st century and early 2nd century high-piled hairstyles of curls and plaits became popular.  By the mid 2nd century, less elaborate plaits and waives were adapted.  Hair was usually styled at home by slaves.  Dyes were used, and blond hair was fashionable.  Black hair wigs were imported from India and blond ones from Germany.

In terms of makeup, a woman's face powder was a mixture of powdered chalk and white lead.  Rouge for cheeks and lips were achier or the lees of wine.  Eyebrows and eyelashes were blackened with ashes or powdered antimony, and teeth glistened with enamel.   A lady chose her jewels, a diadem of precious stones for the hair, earrings, at least one necklace, rings for her fingers, bracelets for her wrists, and circlets for her ankles.  

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