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*When did they get married? Both parties had to be adults, and they
could not marry more than one person at a time. For the first 500 years in
Rome, divorce was unknown. So, a great deal of care was taken
selecting a marriage partner. Probably the groom had to be at least 14
years old, and the bride had to be at least 12 years old. The bride and
groom could not be closed related. In general, marriage was forbidden
between relatives four times removed, and between anyone connected
by marriage. Thus, in ancient Rome, if you happened to fall in love with
your fourth cousin, or your sister's husband's brother, too bad!
*Consent: Consent to the marriage had to be shown. Consent was very
important and consisted of three steps. First, consent had to be shown in
public prior to the wedding ceremony. One way to show consent was for
the future bride and groom to appear in public holding hands! Consent
was shown again during the wedding ceremony, and once again at the
door of her new home, before she entered. More on consent below!
*Engagement: An engagement period before the wedding was
considered good manners, but it wasn't a legal requirement. An
engagement ring was usual, when affordable. This ring was worn on the
third finger of the left hand, as it is today, because the ancient Romans
believed that a nerve ran from this finger directly to the heart!
*Dowries: A woman brought into her marriage what goods her family
could supply, or goods she could supply herself. The bride's family might
provide slaves, clothing, jewels, furniture. These belongings became the
property of her husband.
*Wedding Preparations: On the night before her wedding day, the
bride-to-be gave her bulla (her birth locket) to her father, and gave her
toys away to her family. She tried on her wedding dress, which was
straight tunic, woven in one piece, which had to be long enough to reach
her feet. On the morning of her wedding day, the bride was dressed by
her mother. The most important part of her wedding dress was a belt,
tied around her waist in the "knot of Hercules". (Hercules was the
guardian of wedded life.) Only the husband could untie this knot. Over
her tunic wedding dress, the bride worn a flame colored veil. The veil
was topped with a wreath of flowers, which the bride had to gather
*The Wedding Ceremony: Only the three acts of expressing consent
were necessary. Everything else varied. The actual ceremony was held
usually at the bride's father house, with guests present.
*There had to be witnesses to the ceremony to make it legal, typically at
least ten witnesses. The bride and groom would stand before a priest,
hold hands. The bride had agreed to the wedding by appearing in public
holding hands with her future husband. Once again, the bride had to
consent to the marriage during the wedding ceremony, this time by
saying words of consent in public. These words were a chant, and were
the same words for all brides and grooms. The bride would say: "Quando
tu Gaius, ego Gaia." (When-and where-you are Gaius, I then-and
there-am Gaia.) This chant may have been chosen for the lucky meaning
of the name.
*After the words of consent, the bride and groom sat on stools, facing the
alter. An offering was made to the god Jupiter, which usually consisted of
cake. Once the priest had made the offering, this cake was eaten by the
bride and groom. Then followed congratulations by the guests.
*Wedding Dinner: After the actual wedding ceremony, there was usually
a dinner at the bride's house or possibly the groom's. Dinner was ended
by passing out pieces of wedding cake, as it often is today.
*Bridal Procession: After the dinner party, the bride was escorted to her
husband's house. This ceremony was essential to the validity of the
marriage, so it could not be omitted. Anyone could join the procession,
and many people did, just for fun. In the evening, torchbearers and flute
players appear at the bride's father's house. The mother held her
daughter, and the groom took his bride with a pretend show of force from
her mother's arms. Then, everyone and anyone paraded over to the
groom's house. On the way, nuts were thrown, rather like we throw rice
*Arrival at her new home: In front of the open door, the bride once more
recited the consent chant. Then the bride was carried over the
threshold by her new husband, and the doors were closed against the
general crowd. Invited guests, however, could enter. In the fireplace,
wood was laid ready for a fire. The bride lit this wood with her "marriage"
torch, a special torch that had been carried in front of her during the
procession. The torch was then blown out, and tossed among the guests,
who scrambled for it, like a bride's flower bouquet is today.
*Roman government, was famous for power and law.
*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, schoolboys, on the run, often stopped at a bakery for a
quick meal, or to buy a pancake to eat on their way to school.
*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. In 1c CE, it became the custom to
distribute bread daily to the unemployed. Workmen, on their way to work,
grabbed some bread, and ate it on the way.
*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' firms.
*The ancient Romans might hit the baths first, and then wander down to
the Forum, although many did prefer to get their shopping done early. In
all but the largest baths, there were separate hours for men and women.
The women's time slot was apparently much shorter, so that women
probably had to be more careful scheduling. Large baths had duplicate
*The Public Baths were extremely popular. Roman women and men
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, and hair cutting salons. They had reading rooms and libraries, as
among the freeborn, who had the right to frequent baths, the majority
could read. They even had stores, selling all kinds of things, and people
who sold fast food. The 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 in ancient Rome. Small ones held
about 300 people, and the big ones held 1500 people or more! Some
Roman hospitals even had their own bathhouses. A trip to the bath was
a very important part of ancient Roman daily life.
*Could kids use the baths? No. Was there an admission charge to the
baths? Yes. Could slaves use the baths? Properly, no. But the people
who could, as a matter of course, brought their slave attendants with
*Roman Games (Field & Track) 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. Over time, the Campus became ancient
Rome's field and track playground. Even such famous people as Caesar
and Augustus 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. After
a bout of exercise, they might jump in the Tiber River for a swim, or
wander off to the Baths, to relax.
All over Rome, men practiced riding, fencing, wrestling, throwing, and
swimming. In the country, men went hunting and fishing. At home, men
played ball before dinner, which were games of throwing and catching. A
popular game was to throw a ball as high as they could, and then catch it
before it hit the ground. Women did not join in these games.
*ENTERTAINMENT: The ancient Romans enjoyed many different kinds
of entertainment. Most events were free, which meant poor people could
attend as well as the rich. Plays were performed in large open air
theaters. There were lots of theatres, and even the small ones could seat
7,000 people. Some events were scheduled during the day, some were
scheduled at night. If wealthy Romans stayed home, 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.
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 people
to the lions! To see men 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!
The Circus Maximus was another public entertainment center, and was
just a single, specific facility in Rome. 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 in ancient Rome.
*The Social Class and Public Display!
If freed people have children, their free born children
becomes full citizens. That’s the only way to be free. But they could
become citizens if their former masters were citizens and they had been
formally manumitted.
Senatorial class (senatores): The basis for this class was
political. It included all men who served in the Senate, and by extension
their families. This class was dominated by the nobles (nobiles), families
whose ancestors included at least one consul (earlier the qualification
had been a curule magistracy, i.e. curule aedile and up). The first man in
his family to be elected consul, thus qualifying his family for noble status,
was called a “new man” (novus homo). Senators had to prove that they
had property worth at least 1,000,000 sesterces; there was no salary
attached to service in the Senate, and senators were prohibited from
engaging personally in nonagricultural business, trade or public
contracts. Men of the senatorial class wore the tunic with broad stripes
Equestrian class (equites): The basis for this class was
economic. A man could be formally enrolled in the equestrian order if he
could prove that he possessed a stable minimum amount of wealth
(property worth at least 400,000 sesterces); by extension his family
members were also considered equestrians. However, if an equestrian
was elected to a magistracy and entered the Senate, he moved up to the
senatorial class; this was not particularly easy or frequent. Equestrians
were primarily involved in the types of business prohibited to senators.
Equestrians wore the tunic with narrow stripes (angusti clavi).
Women: Although membership in these classes was dominated by the
same families over many generations, the classes themselves were
defined according to male activities rather than birth. Women's place in
these classes was therefore somewhat problematic. However, there
came to be a customary acceptance that women belonged to the social
class of their fathers and then of their husbands, although the women
had no special dress that distinguished their status. This female
participation in social status began to crystallize and formalize under
Augustus, who explicitly included the daughters, granddaughters, and
great-granddaughters of senators in his law prohibiting members of the
senatorial class from contracting legal marriages with freedpeople.
Belonging to one of these upper classes had many significant
consequences for Romans besides prestige, for social class determined
one's economic and political opportunities, as well as legal rights,
benefits and penalties. Rome had nothing comparable to our middle
class; the gulf between these two upper classes and the much larger
lower classes was immense. However, as long as one was a freeborn
Roman citizen there was at least a slight possibility of moving into the
equestrian class through the acquisition of wealth. Entry into the
senatorial class, even for wealthy equestrians, was extremely difficult,
since for centuries a small number of elite families had monopolized this
Lower Classes
Commons (plebs or vulgus): all other freeborn Roman citizens.
The special mark of dress for citizen males was the toga. All Roman
citizens had conubium, the right to contract a legal marriage with another
Roman citizen and beget legitimate children who were themselves
Roman citizens.
Latins (Latini): freeborn residents of Italy (until 89 BCE, when they
were all granted full citizenship) and of certain other Roman
municipalities who had some legal rights but were not full Roman
citizens. Former slaves who had been informally freed by Roman
citizens were a special category, “Junian Latins.”
Foreigners (peregrini): all other freeborn men and women who
lived in Roman territories. In 212 CE most freeborn people living within
the Roman empire were granted Roman citizenship.
Freedpeople (liberti or libertini): men and women who had been
slaves but had bought their freedom or been manumitted. They were not
fully free because they had various restrictions on their rights and owed
certain duties to their former masters, who now became their patrons,
but they could become citizens if their former masters were citizens and
they had been formally manumitted; they were not, however, eligible for
public office. This was the one class it was not possible to leave, though
the class encompassed only one generation. The next generation, their
freeborn children, became full citizens (i.e., members of the commons,
though there was a social stigma attached to being a freedman's son)
and could even become equestrians if rich enough. Freedpeople had low
social status, and most were probably fairly poor, but it was possible for
them to achieve some success in a trade, and a few might even become
wealthy. They had no special distinction of dress, though their names
indicated their status as freedpeople.
Slaves (servi): system of chattel slavery where human beings
were born into slavery or sold into slavery through war or piracy. Slaves
were the property of their owners by law, but by custom some slaves
(especially urban, domestic slaves) might be allowed their own savings
(peculium) with which they might later buy their freedom, or their masters
could manumit them, so some mobility into the previous class was
possible. . Roman slavery was not racially based, and slaves had no
special distinction of dress, though slaves who had run away were
sometimes made to wear metal collars with inscriptions such as the
following: “I have run away. Capture me. When you have returned me to
my master, Zoninus, you will receive a reward.”
Women: Since the lower classes were not defined by male
activities, there was no problem with including women; female and male
children were automatically members of the social class of their parents
(except for freedpeople, since only one generation could be “freed”). If
the parents were Roman citizens and had contracted a legal Roman
marriage, the children followed the social status of their father (i.e., they
were Roman citizens). However, in the case of Latins, foreigners, and
slaves, children took the social status of their mother, even if their father
was a freeborn Roman citizen.
The ancient Romans invented more games than any other culture.
Birthday celebrations were always big deals. Birthdays were
celebrated as festivals, with gifts from friends and family and neighbors!