Daily Life in the Ancient Roman Republic
PATER FAMILIAS: As it was
in early Rome, 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. That could be the father, the
grandfather, or perhaps even an uncle. The head of the family was called the
Each family had slightly different customs and rules,
because the head of the family had the power to decide what those rules were for
his family. 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. He could order a kid or a grown-up out of his
house, but if they committed a crime, he might be punished for something they
WOMEN: A woman had no authority. Her job was to take
care of the house and to have children. Divorce was
unknown. You married for life. It was important for a woman to choose her
husband well, if she was allowed a choice.
OLD AGE: The ancient Romans greatly respected and
cared for their elderly. When the older members of a family became too tired for
other activities, they could always play with their grandchildren and great
grandchildren, all of who had all been born under their roof, and would one day
be honoring them at the Parentalia, the festival of the dead.
ROMAN HOUSES: The upper class Romans (patricians)
lived very comfortably. Their homes were single-family homes, which in ancient
Rome meant the great grandparents, grandparents, parents, and kids of one family
lived in a home together. Homes were made, quite often, of brick with red tile
roofs, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard, the atrium. The windows
and balconies faced the courtyard, not the street, to keep homes safe from
burglars. There were painting on the walls and beautiful mosaics on the floor.
There was very little furniture, and no carpeting. Wealthy Romans might have a
house with a front door, bedrooms, an office, a kitchen, a dining room, a
garden, a temple, a toilet, a private bath, and an atrium – the center of home
SLAVES: Wealthy ancient Romans had slaves. In some
homes, slaves were treated like valued servants. In others, they were severely
abused. Slaves kept the furnaces burning in the bath houses, cooked meals in
smoking chimneys in the kitchens, cleaned, sewed, and did the household and
garden labor for wealthy Romans. Intelligent and gifted slaves also tutored the
kids (those kids who studied their subjects at home), kept the accounts, and
sometimes ran vast farm estates or commercial departments of their masters'
FOOD: During the Republic, Romans ate mostly
vegetables and dined very simply. Meals were prepared by the mother or by
female slaves under her direction. A table was set up in the atrium of the
house. The father, mother, and children sat on stools around the table. Often
the kids waited on their parents.
Table knives and forks were unknown, but the Romans had
spoons like ours today. Before food was served, it was cut into finger food, and
eaten by using your fingers or a spoon. In the last two centuries of the
Republic, this simple style of living changed a bit. A separate dining room was
designed. In place of benches or stools, there were dining couches.
FASHION: The very early Romans wore a toga. It
looked like a white sheet 9 yards long. Togas were arranged very carefully, in a
stylish way. Togas fell out of style rather early. The Romans switched to cotton
tunics in the summer and warm wool tunics in the winter.
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.
KIDS: Kids from wealthy families did not work or
help around the house. The rich had slaves who did all the work for them, so they
had lots of time to play. Their games included 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.
PETS: Dogs were common and favorite pets. Cats were not kept as pets under the Republic. They did keep several kinds of birds as pets, though, including pigeons, ducks, quail, and geese.