Daily Life in the Roman Empire
Women's Rights: During
the Imperial Age (late 1c AD to about 500 AD): 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. The
ancient Romans tried to help their family grow through marriage,
adoption, and re-marriage. Adopted children had the same rights as any of the other
children, rights based on their sex and age. In addition to wives and children,
wealthy ancient Roman homes supported slaves.
Age: One thing did not change. The ancient Romans still 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, who would one day be honoring them at the Parentalia, the
festival of the dead.
The Forum: The Forum was still the center of each town. Shops surrounded the
Forum, as did temples. This is where all people went to do their daily shopping
and get the news. Although their role in government was greatly decreased, the
great orators of the Senate were still speaking in the Forum.
Public Baths: The baths were no longer only for the wealthy patrician men. Both plebeians and patricians, men and women, used the baths provided they could pay the admission price. Children were still not allowed. Slaves could only use the baths if they accompanied their masters. Most baths had separate hours for men and women. Some baths were so large that had duplicate facilities. People 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, hair cutting salons, reading rooms, libraries, stores selling all kinds of things, and people who sold fast food. 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 during the Roman Empire. Small ones held about 300 people, and the big ones held 1500 people or more! A trip to the bath was a very important part of daily life.
Lower classes: The lower class Romans (plebeians) might have a dinner of porridge made of vegetables, or, when they could afford it, fish, bread, olives, and wine, and meat on occasion. Since many of the lower classes were citizens, the ancient Romans had a program to help them, somewhat like a welfare program.
Upper classes: The upper class Romans (patricians) enjoyed fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, bread, and used honey to sweeten food. (Sugar was unknown). They had slaves to cook and clean. Slaves cut their food for them, as they didn't use forks or knives, but ate with their fingers. A wet towel was handy (or brought by slaves) to tidy up after a meal.
Early in the morning, people could stop at a bakery for a quick meal or to buy a pancake. Food was served at the baths, as well. If you had the money, you could dine out.
Religion: Religion was a very important part of daily life in the Empire
as it was during the Republic. Everyone had to worship the Roman gods. This was
law. If you did not worship Roman gods, you would be arrested, tortured and
possibly killed. You could worship any gods you wanted as long as you also
worshiped Roman gods. Temples grew more elaborate as Rome grew. The Romans used
concrete (an ancient Roman invention!) to build the dome of the Pantheon, a
temple dedicated to all the Roman gods, which even today is still one of the
largest single-span domes in the world.
For a while, under the Empire, Christians were hunted as criminals because
they refused to worship the Roman gods. But about half way through the Imperial
Age, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and became the first
Christian Roman emperor. People suddenly could no longer worship the ancient
gods, but had to worship only one god - the Christian god. Many people did not
want to give up their dieties. It made for a confusing time.
For a while, under the Empire, Christians were hunted as criminals because they refused to worship the Roman gods. But about half way through the Imperial Age, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and became the first Christian Roman emperor. People suddenly could no longer worship the ancient gods, but had to worship only one god - the Christian god. Many people did not want to give up their dieties. It made for a confusing time.
Spectacles: The Romans loved spectacles – huge events. Enormous buildings and arenas were constructed during the Empire with concrete (an ancient Roman invention!) to hold these events. Concrete was faced with stone to make it sturdy. There were state sponsored events – events paid for by the government – and events sponsored by the rich. Outdoor events were open to everyone. Open-air amphitheatre events had paid and free seating, which meant the poor could attend as well as the rich.
The Theatre: Ancient Romans went to the theatre to see a play or to listen to music. There were lots of theatres, mostly open-air. Even the small ones could seat 7,000 people. Roman playwrights did write some historical plays, but most were comedies. Roman comedies focused on domestic issues – boy meets girl, parents forbid marriage, clever slave comes up with something to save the day. Plays included lots of lively action, lots of physical activity, and of course, puns.
The Circus Maximus was another public entertainment center. 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 around the empire. But the Circus Maximus was the most well known. It was the height of success to race in the Maximus.
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 criminals to the lions. These were public executions of convicted criminals. To see criminals 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. Not all Romans loved the bloody sports in the Colosseum, but most did. The big draws were the battles between men. Gladiators were superstars. The crowd decided if losers lived or died. If you waved a handkerchief, he lived. Thumbs down he died. Majority rules. There were female gladiators, but they were not large in numbers.
The Campus: 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. Even such famous people as Augustus, Rome first emperor, 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.
If wealthy Romans stayed home at night, 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.
In the Beginning, Daily Life During the Roman Kingdom in the days of early Rome