Daily Life in the Ancient Roman Republic
The plebeian group (nicknamed plebs) included everyone in ancient Rome from well-to-do tradesmen all the way down to the very poor, everyone except for the patricians, the nobility.
The family was structured in the
same way as it was in patrician families. Everybody in one family lived under
one roof. Women had no authority
except in the home. Old age was honored. The head of the family was the oldest
male. That could be the father, the grandfather, or perhaps even an uncle. He
was called the pater familias. In poor families, the head of the house
might decide to put a sick baby out to die or to sell grown-ups in his family
into slavery, because there wasn't enough food to feed everyone. That was his
right. In ancient Rome, this was not a crime. The poor, unless they went out,
went to bed as soon as it got dark. They could not afford to keep oil lamps
burning. The poor worked constantly.
For wealthy plebs, life was very
similar to that of the patricians. Well-to-do tradesmen and their families lived
in homes with an atrium. They had slaves who did the work. They dressed the same
as the patricians. However, a wealthy plebeian family and a wealthy patrician
family did not meet socially. Although in 445 BC, new law was written that said
it was no longer illegal for plebs and patricians to marry.
Many plebs (plebeians) lived in apartment
houses, called flats, above or behind their shops. Even fairly well to do
tradesmen might chose to live in an apartment-building compound over their
store, with perhaps renters on the upper stories. Their own apartments might be
quite roomy, sanitary and pleasant, occasionally with running water. But others
were not that nice.
In the poorer apartment houses, an
entire family (grandparents, parents, children) might all be crowded into one
room, without running water. They had to haul their water in from public
facilities. Fire was a very real threat because people were cooking meals in
crowded quarters, and many of the flats were made of wood. They did not have
toilets. They had to use public latrines (toilets).
The lower class Romans (plebeians) might have a breakfast of bread, dry
or dipped in wine, and water. Sometimes olives, cheese, or raisins were
sprinkled on the bread.