1. The Family
  2. Roman Names
  3. Marriage and Women
  4. Children and Education
  5. Slaves and Dependents
  6. The House and Furniture
  7. Dress and Ornaments
  8. Food and Meals
  9. Amusements
  10. Travel and Correspondence
  11. Sources of Income
  12. Farming and Country Life
  13. Town Life
  14. Funeral Customs
  15. The Roman Religion
  16. The Water Supply of Rome

The Private Life of the Romans
by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston
Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932)


Table of contents



REFERENCES: Friedländer, I, 98-206; Sandys, Companion, 202-208, 358-362; Blümner, 372-385, 589-656, and Technologie, throughout; Marquardt, 607-634; Jones, 316-337; Pauly-Wissowa, under collēgium; Harper’s under commerce, collēgium; Daremberg-Saglio, under collēgium, mercātūra; Smith, under mercātūra, collēgia, and other Latin words in the text of this book; Mau-Kelsey, 383-404; Fowler, Social Life, 24-134, 263-284; Dill, 100-195, 251-286; Abbott, The Common People, 205-234; Waltzing; Frank, An Economic History, 219-345; Rostovtzeff, 38-74, 75-100, 101-124; McDaniel, 106-140; Showerman, 137-147, 225-233, 234-250, 251-266; Davis; Charlesworth; Knapp, “Roman Business Life as Seen in Horace,” The Classical Journal, 3 (1907), 111-122.

Introduction (§403)

Careers of the Nobles (§404)

Agriculture (§405)

Political Office (§406)

The Law (§407)

The Army (§408)

Careers of the Equitēs (§409)

Business and Commerce (§410-412)

Professions and Trades (§413)

Physicians (§414-415)

The Soldiers (§416)

The Proletariat (§417)

Small Tradesmen (§418)

Free Laborers (§419)

Guilds (§420-422)

The Freedman (§423)

The “Civil Service” (§424)

The Roman’s Day (§425-426)

Hours of the Day (§427)

   403. It is evident from what has been said that abundant means were necessary to support the state in which every Roman of position lived. It will be of interest also to see how the great mass of the people made the scantier living with which they were forced to be content. For the sake of the inquiry it will be convenient, if not very accurate, to divide the people of Rome into the three great classes of nobles, knights, and commons into which political history has distributed them. The “nobles” during the Republic had come to be the descendants of those men who had held curule office. As the senate was composed of those men who had held the higher magistracies, the nobles and the senatorial families were practically the same, for the political influence of this group was so strong that it was very difficult for a “new man” (novus homō) to be elected to office. At the same time it must be remembered that for a long time there was no hard and fast line drawn between the classes; a noble might, if he pleased, associate himself with the knights, provided the noble possessed $20,000 which one must have to be a knight, and during the Republic any free-born citizen might aspire to the highest offices of the State, however poor in pocket or talent he might be. The drawing of definite lines that under the later Empire fixed citizens in hereditary castes began under Augustus, when he limited eligibility for the curule offices to those whose ancestors had held such offices. This regulation formed a hereditary nobility, to which additions were made at the emperor’s pleasure. The emperor also revised the lists of the knights, and so controlled admission to that Order.

   404. Careers of the Nobles. The nobles inherited certain of the aristocratic notions of the old patriciate. These limited their business activities and had much to do with the corruption of public life in the last century of the Republic. Men in their position were held to be above all manner of work, with the hands or with the head, for the sake of gain. Agriculture alone was free from debasing associations, as it has been in England until recent times, and statecraft and war were the only careers fit to engage the energies of these men. Even as statesmen and generals, too, they served their fellow citizens without material reward, for no salaries were drawn by the senators, no salaries attached to the magistracies or to positions of military command. This theory had worked well enough in the time before the Punic Wars, when every Roman was a farmer, when the farmer produced all that he needed for his simple wants, when he left his farm only to serve as a soldier in his young manhood or as a senator in his old age, and returned to his fields, like Cincinnatus, when his services were no longer required by his country. Under the aristocracy of later times, however, the theory subverted every aim that it was intended to secure.

   405. Agriculture. The farm life that Cicero has described so eloquently and praised so enthusiastically in his Catō Maior would have scarcely been recognized by Cato himself and, long before Cicero wrote, had become a memory or a dream. The farmer no longer tilled his fields, even with the help of his slaves. The yeoman class had largely disappeared from Italy. Many small holdings had been absorbed in the vast estates of the wealthy landowners, and the aims and methods of farming had wholly changed. This is discussed elsewhere (§§ 146, 434), and it will be sufficient here to recall the fact that in Italy grain was no longer raised for the market, simply because the market could be supplied more cheaply from overseas. The grape and the olive had become the chief sources of wealth, and Sallust and Horace complained that for them less and less space was being left by the parks and pleasure grounds (§ 145). Still, the making of wine and oil under the direction of a careful steward (§ 148) must have been very profitable in Italy, and many of the nobles had plantations in the provinces as well, the revenues of which helped to maintain their state at Rome. Further, certain industries that naturally arose from the soil were considered proper enough for a senator, such as the development and management of stone quarries, brickyards, tile works, and potteries (§ 146).

   406. Political Office. During the Republic politics must have been profitable only for those who played the game to the end. No salaries were attached to the offices, and the indirect gains from one of the lower magistracies would hardly pay the expenses necessary to secure the next office in order. Spending great sums of money on the public games had been an obvious way to win popularity so long as the people voted at elections; it continued to be a heavy obligation even when under the Empire this right to vote was taken from the people. The gain came through positions in the provinces. The quaestorship might be spent in a province; the praetorship and consulship were sure to be followed by a year abroad. To honest men the places gave the opportunity to learn of profitable investments. A good governor was often selected by a community to look after its interests in the capital, and this meant an honorarium paid in the form of valuable presents from time to time. Cicero’s justice and moderation as quaestor in Sicily earned him a rich reward when he came to prosecute Verres for plundering that province, and when he was in charge of the grain supply during his aedileship. To corrupt officials the provinces were gold mines. Every sort of robbery and extortion was practiced, and the governor was expected to enrich not merely himself but also the cohors (§ 118) that had accompanied him. Catullus complains bitterly of the selfishness of Memmius, who prevented his staff from plundering a poor province. The story of Verres may be read in any history of Rome; it differs from that of many governors only in the fate that overtook the offender. Though in the Imperial period there were great reforms in the administration of the provinces, the salaries then paid the governors did not always save the provincials from extortion.

   407. The Law. Closely connected with the political career then, as now, was that of the law, at all periods the obvious way to prominence and political success, and the only way to such advancement for persons without family influence. There were no conditions imposed for practicing in the courts. Anyone could bring suit against anyone else on any charge that he pleased, and it was no uncommon thing for a young politician to use this license for the purpose of gaining prominence, even when he knew there were no grounds for the charges he brought. On the other hand, the lawyer had been forbidden by law to accept pay for his services. In olden times the client had of his right gone to his patron for legal advice (§ 179); the lawyer of later times was theoretically at the service of all who applied to him. Men of the highest character made it a point of honor to put their technical knowledge at the disposal of their fellow citizens. At the same time the statutes against fees were easily evaded. Grateful clients could not be prevented from making valuable presents, and it was a very common thing for generous legacies to be left to successful advocates. Cicero had no other source of addition to his income, so far as we know, but while he was never a rich man he owned a house on the Palatine (§ 221, note) and half a dozen countryseats (§ 448), lived well, and spent money lavishly on works of art that appealed to his tastes, and on books (§ 206). Finally the statutes against fees came to be so generally disregarded that the Emperor Claudius fixed the fees that might be asked. Corrupt judges (praetōrēs) could find other sources of income then as now, of course, but we hear more of this in relation to the jurors (iūdicēs) than in relation to the judges, probably because with a province before him the praetor did not think it worth his while to stoop to petty bribe-taking.

   408. The Army. The spoils of war went nominally into the treasury of the State. Practically they passed first through the hands of the commanding general, who kept what he pleased for himself, his staff (§ 118), and his soldiers, and sent the rest to Rome. The opportunities were magnificent, and the Roman general understood how to use them all. Some of them were legitimate enough according to the usages of the time: the plunder of the towns and cities that were taken, the ransom exacted from those that were spared, the sale of captives as slaves (§ 134). Entirely illegitimate, of course, were the fortunes made by furnishing supplies to the army at extravagant prices or diverting these supplies to private uses. The reconstruction of the conquered territory brought in returns equally rich; it is safe to say that the Aedui paid Caesar well for the supremacy in central Gaul that he assured them after his defeat of the Helvetii. The civil wars that cost the best blood of Italy made the victors immensely rich. Besides the looting of the public treasury, the estates of men in the opposing party were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder. The proceeds went nominally to the treasury of the new government, but the proceeds were infinitesimal in comparison with the profits. After Sulla had established himself in Rome, the names of friends and foes alike were put on the proscription lists, and if powerful influence was not exerted in their behalf they lost lives and fortunes. For such influence they had to pay dearly. One example may be cited. The estate of one Roscius of Ameria, valued at $300,000, was bid in for one hundred dollars by Lucius Chrysogonus, a freedman of Sulla, because no one dared bid against the creature of the dictator. The settling of the soldiers on grants of land made good business for the three commissioners who superintended the distribution of the land. The grants were always of farms owned and occupied by adherents of the beaten party, and the bribe came from both sides.

   409. Careers of the Equitēs. The name of knight (eques) had lost its original significance long before the time of Cicero. FIG. 271: PORTRAIT BUST OF L. CAECILIUS JUCUNDUS, A POMPEIAN BANKER. Now in the Museo Nazionale, NaplesThe equitēs had become the class of capitalists who found in financial transactions the excitement and the profit that the nobles found in politics and war. Under the Empire certain important administrative posts were turned over to the equitēs, and there came to be a regular equestrian cursus honōrum, but the equitēs continued to be on the whole the business class. It was the immense scale of their operations that relieved them from the stigma that attached to working for gain just as in modern times the wholesale dealer may have a social position entirely beyond the hopes of the small retailer. From early times their syndicates had financed and carried on great public works of all sorts, bidding for the contracts let by the magistrates. Though “big business” never exerted the power at Rome attributed to it in modern times, in the later years of the Republic the equitēs as a body exerted considerable political influence, holding in fact the balance of power between the senatorial and the democratic parties. As a rule they exerted this influence only so far as was necessary to secure legislation favorable to them as a class, and to insure as governors for the provinces men that would not look too closely into their transactions there. For in the provinces the knights as well as the nobles found their best opportunities. Their chief business in the provinces was collecting the revenues on a contract basis. For this purpose syndicates were formed, which paid into the public treasury a lump sum fixed by the senate, and reimbursed themselves by collecting what they could from the province. While the system lasted, the profits were far beyond all reason, and the word “publican” became a synonym for “sinner.” Besides farming the revenues, the equitēs “financed” provinces and allied states, advancing money to meet the ordinary or extraordinary expenses. Sulla levied a contribution of 20,000 talents (about $20,000,000) in Asia. The money was advanced by a syndicate of Roman capitalists, and they had collected the amount six times over, when Sulla interfered, for fear that there would be nothing left for him in case of future needs. More than one pretender was set upon a puppet throne in the East in order to secure the payment of sums previously lent to him by the capitalists. The operations of the equitēs as individuals were only less extensive and less profitable. The grain in the provinces, the wool, and the products of mines and factories could be moved only with the money advanced by them. They ventured also to engage in commercial enterprises abroad that were barred against them at home, doing the buying and selling themselves, not merely supplying the money to others. They lent money to individuals, too, though at Rome money-lending was discreditable. The usual rate of interest was twelve per cent, but Marcus Brutus was lending money at forty-eight per cent in Cilicia, and trying to collect compound interest, too, when Cicero went there as governor in 51 B.C., and he expected Cicero to enforce his demands for him.

   410. Business and Commerce. Roman commerce covered all known lands and seas, though Italy had little export trade. Pliny the Elder tells us that the trade with India and China took from Rome $5,000,000 yearly. The West sent more raw materials than the East, and fewer finished articles. Bankers (argentāriī) united money-changing with money-lending. Money-changing was very necessary in a city into which came all the coins of the known world; money-lending was never looked upon as entirely respectable for a Roman, but there can be no doubt that many a Roman of the highest respectability drew large profits from this business, carried on discreetly in the name of a freedman. The bankers took deposits, paid interest, and made payments on written orders. They helped their clients to find investments, and through their foreign connections could supply letters of credit to travelers.

   411. The wholesale trade was to a large extent in the hands of the capitalists (equitēs); the retail business was conducted chiefly by freedmen and foreigners. The supplying of food to the city must have given employment to thousands, but the producer seems to have dealt directly with the retailer, as a rule, and there were few middlemen. The clothing trade has been mentioned already (§ 271). No factory system seems to have developed there. The spinning and weaving were probably done at home by women who may have contracted for the disposition of their work with the large dealers, the fullers, perhaps, as the cloth had to go through their hands for finishing (§ 271). There are not many traces of a regular factory system, but something of the sort seems to have been developed in iron at Puteoli, in fine copper and bronze work at Capua, perhaps also in silverware and in glass, and at Rome in brick and tile.

   412. Building operations were carried on to an immense scale and at an immense cost. Public buildings and many of the important private buildings were erected by contract. There can be little doubt that the letting of the contracts for the public buildings was made very profitable for the officer who had it to do, but it must be admitted on the other hand that the building was well done. Crassus seems to have done a sort of salvage business. When buildings seemed certain to be destroyed by fire, he would buy their contents at a nominal sum, and then fight the flames with gangs of slaves that he had trained for the purpose. The slave trade itself, though disreputable, was very considerable, and large fortunes were amassed in it (§ 139). The heavy work of ordinary laborers was performed almost entirely by slaves (§ 143), and much work was then done by hand that is now done by machinery. The book business has been mentioned (§ 400).

   413. Professions and Trades. The professions and trades, between which the Romans made no distinction, in the last years of the Republic were practically given over to the lībertīnī (§ 175) and to foreigners. Of these something has been said already. Some occupations were considered unsuitable for a gentleman. Undertakers and auctioneers were disqualified for office by Caesar. Architecture was considered respectable. Cicero put it on a level with medicine.1 Teachers were poorly paid and were usually looked upon with contempt (§ 121). Vespasian first endowed professorships in the liberal arts. The place of the modern newspaper was taken by letters written as a business by persons who collected all the news, scandal, and gossip of the city, had it copied by slaves, and sent it to persons away from the city who did not wish to trouble their friends (§ 379) and who were willing to pay for the news.

   414. Physicians. Some physicians were well paid in the Imperial period, if we may judge by those attached to the court. Two of these left a joint estate of $1,000,000, and another received from the Emperor Claudius a yearly stipend of $25,000. In knowledge and skill in both medicine and surgery they do not seem to have been much behind the practitioners of two centuries ago. Surgery seems to have developed in early times chiefly in connection with the necessary treatment of wounds in warfare. Medicine, apart from religious rites to gods of health or disease, must have been limited for a long period to such household remedies and charms as Cato describes in his work on farming.

   415. The first foreign surgeon, a Greek, came to Rome in 219 B.C. Physicians and surgeons were as a rule slaves, freedmen, or foreigners, especially Greeks. FIG. 276: PORTRAIT OF THE WIFE OF HATERIUS. Grave relief in the Museo Laterano, RomeThe great number of Greek medical terms in use today testifies to Greek influence in the history of medicine. Caesar gave citizenship to Greek physicians who settled in Rome, and Augustus granted them certain privileges. The great houses were apt to have carefully trained physicians among their own slaves. We can judge of ancient medical and surgical methods from books on the subject that have come down to us, such as those of Celsus, a Roman who wrote in the first century of our era, and Galen, the great Greek physician who came to Rome in the reign of Hadrian. Surgical instruments, too, have been found at Pompeii and elsewhere. Galen says that by his time surgery (chīrurgia) and medicine (medicīna) had been carefully distinguished. There were oculists, dentists; and other specialists, and occasionally women physicians. In the second century of our era many cities had regularly salaried medical officers for the treatment of the poor, and gave them rooms for offices. By Trajan’s time there were regular army doctors attached to the legions, as there probably had been before, though we know little of them. There were no medical schools. Physicians took pupils, and let them go with them on their rounds. Martial complains of the many cold hands that felt his pulse when a doctor called with a train of pupils.

   416. The Soldiers. The free-born citizens of Rome below the nobles and the knights may be roughly divided into two classes, the soldiers and the proletariat. The civil wars had driven them from their farms or had unfitted them for the work of farming, and the pride of race or the competition of slave labor had closed against them the other avenues of industry, numerous as these must have been in the world’s capital. The best of these free-born citizens turned to the army, which had ceased to be composed of citizen-soldiers, called out to meet a special emergency for a single campaign, and disbanded at its close. From the time of the reorganization by Marius, at the beginning of the first century before our era, this was what we should call a regular army, the soldiers enlisting for a term of twenty years, receiving stated pay and certain privileges after an honorable discharge. In time of peace—when there was peace—they were employed on public works (§ 385). The pay was small, perhaps forty or fifty dollars a year with rations in Caesar’s time, but this was as much as a laborer could earn by the hardest kind of toil, and the soldier had the glory of war to set over against the stigma of work, and hopes of presents from his commander and the privilege of occasional pillage and plunder. After he had completed his time, he might, if he chose, return to Rome, but many had formed connections in the communities where their posts were fixed and preferred to make their homes there on free grants of land, an important instrument in spreading Roman civilization.

   417. The Proletariat. In addition to the idle and the profligate attracted to Rome by the free grain and by the other allurements that bring a like element into our cities now, large numbers of the industrious and the frugal had been forced into the city by the loss of their property during the civil wars and the failure to find employment elsewhere. No exact estimate of the number of these unemployed people can be given, but it is known that before Caesar’s time it had passed the mark of 300,000. Relief was occasionally given by the establishing of colonies on the frontiers—in this manner Caesar put as many as 80,000 in the way of earning their living again, short as was his administration of affairs at Rome—but it was the least harmful element that was willing to emigrate. The dregs were left behind. Aside from beggary and petty crimes the only source of income for such persons was the sale of their votes; this made them a real menace to the Republic. Under the Empire their political influence was lost, and the State found it necessary to make distributions of money occasionally to relieve their want. Some of them played client to the upstart rich (§ 181), but most of them were content to be fed by the State and amused by the shows and games (§ 322).

   418. Small Tradesmen. Little is to be found in literature about the small tradesman or the free laborer. FIG. 278: A SHOEMAKER. A grave relief in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, RomeFrom the excavations at Pompeii, however, we may form some idea of the shops and the business done in them. It has been said already that the street sides of residences might be rows of small shops, most of which were not connected with the house within (§§ 193, 208, 209). Such a shop was usually a small room with a counter across the front, closed with heavy shutters at night. The goods sold over the counter were often made directly behind it. The shoemaker (sūtor) had his workbench and his case of lasts (fōrmae), and made, sold, and repaired shoes. Some masonry counters have holes for several kettles, where the hot food prepared in the shop was kept for sale. In one case change was found lying on the counter as it was left in alarm at the time of the eruption. Locksmiths, goldsmiths, and other craftsmen had the necessary equipment and sold their own goods. There were also retail shops where goods were sold that were produced elsewhere on a larger scale, as the red glazed Arretine ware (§ 307) from Arretium and Puteoli, the copper and bronze utensils from Capua, and so on. FIG. 279: THE TOMB OF A WHOLESALE BAKER. This tomb is outside the Porta Maggiore at RomeThe shopkeeper might work alone in his small room by day and sleep there at night. The plan of the house of Pansa (§ 208) shows that there were also larger establishments of several rooms, as the bakery, for instance, which, as usual, included mills for grinding the grain (§ 283, Fig. 166), because there were no separate mills. Some shops have stairways leading to a room or two in the floor above, where the family, we may suppose, lived over the shop. Shoppers drifted along the street from counter to counter, buying, bargaining, or “just looking.” Martial describes a dandy in the fashionable shopping district at Rome going from one shop to another. He demands that the covers be taken off expensive table-tops and that their ivory legs be brought down for his inspection, he criticizes objects of art and has certain ones laid aside, and, leaving at last for luncheon, buys two cups for a penny and carries them home himself!

FIG. 280
From a bas-relief in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

   419. Free Laborers. Literature has little to say about the free laborer. Inscriptions, particularly those that deal with the guilds (§ 420), tell us more. In spite of the increase of slave labor (§ 131) and the decrease of the native Italian stock (§ 129), there continued to be free laborers working in many lines, their numbers constantly swelled by the manumission of slaves (§ 175). They worked at many trades, at heavy labor, in the cities, and even on the farms (§ 434). They were not always as well off as many of the slaves or freedmen, as they were dependent on their own efforts and the labor market and were without owner or patron on whom they might fall back. It is difficult to learn anything about wages, but they cannot have been high. The free distribution of grain helped the poor citizen at Rome, and vegetables, fruits, and cheese made the rest of his diet. He could nearly always afford a little cheap wine to mix with water (§ 298). If he married, his wife helped by spinning or weaving (§ 411). He lived in a cheap tenement, and in that mild climate there was no fuel problem. His dress was a rough tunic (§ 268); if shoes were worn they were wooden shoes or cheap sandals. The public games gave him amusement on the holidays, and the baths were cheap, when not free (§ 373). The guild gave him his social life (§ 422), and decent burial was provided by membership in guild or burial society (§ 475).

   420. Guilds. The trades were early organized at Rome into guilds (collēgia), but the original purpose of the guilds seems to have been to hand down and perfect the technique of the crafts; at least there was no obstacle in the way of the workmen who did not belong to the guilds, and there were no such things as patents or special privileges in the way of work. Eight of these guilds were older than history, those of the tanners, cobblers, carpenters, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, potters, dyers, and, oddly enough, the flute-blowers. They all traced their organization to Numa. Numerous others were formed as knowledge of the arts advanced or the division of labor proceeded. Special parts of the city seem to have been appropriated by special classes of workmen, as in our cities, like businesses are apt to be carried on in the same neighborhood; Cicero speaks of a street of the scythe-makers. The use of guilds and clubs for political purposes in the later years of the Republic led to the suppression of most of them, and from that time the formation of new ones was carefully limited.2 There seems however to have been no restriction on the formation of the burial societies described in Chapter XIV.

   421. Most of our information in regard to the guilds comes from inscriptions of the Imperial age. These organizations differed from both the medieval guilds and the modern trades-unions. There was no system of apprenticeship, and the members did not use their organizations to make demands for better wages or working conditions. As the necessity for competition with slave labor made such demands useless, there were no strikes. The guilds became largely social organizations for men engaged in the same line of work. The drift to specialization shows in the guilds, for, whereas in early times there had been only the guild of the cobblers (sūtōrēs), there came to be guilds of those who made each kind of shoe, the calceolāriī, the soleāriī, and so on through the list (§§ 250-251).

   422. The guild gave the poor man his best opportunity for social life, and offered to the freedman and occasionally the slave the right to hold office and manage affairs therein that was denied to him outside. Its organization was based on that of the towns (§ 456); the guilds had their magistrates, decurions, and plebs. When there was a distribution of money, the members shared in proportion to their rank in the guild. Each guild had a patron, or patrons, chosen for reputed wealth and generosity. The members of a guild had their regular times and places for meetings of business and festivity, and if prosperous or blessed with a generous patron might own their own hall (schola). They filled their treasuries by means of initiation fees, dues, and fines. On the great holidays they marched in processions with their banners. Each guild had its patron deity and common religious rites. Even when a guild was not organized as a funerary association, it often maintained a common burial ground.

   423. The Freedman. The process of manumission and the relation of patron to freedman have been described (§ 175). It is impossible to estimate the number of freedmen at any given period of Roman history, but the practice of manumission had grown general enough to cause alarm by the end of the Republic, and Augustus limited it in some degree by legislation. In certain respects the effects of manumission were good. The prospect served to make the slave ambitious and industrious. The practice greatly increased the number of the free laboring class. On the other hand, as the slaves came from all parts of the world (§ 136), a constantly increasing cosmopolitan population was thus added to the native citizen-body, which had been impoverished and weakened by the civil wars. The Greeks and Orientals, clever and industrious, were particularly successful in adapting themselves to the conditions of their slavery and in working their way to freedom. The large Oriental admixture changed the character of the free population in many respects, and for the worse, as the new citizens thus added did not have the same political traditions as the native Italians, and had no knowledge and understanding of Roman institutions. The freedmen filled the ranks of many of the trades and professions (§ 413), particularly those despised by the freeborn. Some were highly trained and educated (§ 143); many were masters of a craft or trade learned in slavery (§ 144). A great many became wealthy, and, though many such were often generous and highly useful citizens in their communities, the self-made man, vulgar, purse-proud, and ostentatious, was a ready subject for the satirists. Petronius, who died in Nero’s reign, has left us in “Trimalchio’s Dinner” a brilliant sketch of the wealthy and vulgar freedmen. In any case neither the freedman nor his son could attain true social equality with the free citizen. The freedmen reached their greatest wealth and power as officials in the Imperial household in the first century, holding important administrative offices that later were transferred to the equestrian order.

   424. The “Civil Service.” The free persons employed in the offices of the various magistrates were mostly lībertīnī. They were paid by the State, and, though appointed nominally for a year only, they seem to have held their places practically during good behavior. This was largely due to the shortness of the term of the regular magistrates and the rarity of re-election. Having no experience themselves in conducting their offices, the magistrates would have all the greater need of thoroughly trained and experienced assistants. The highest class of these officials formed an ōrdō, the scrībae, whose name gives no adequate notion of the extent and importance of their duties. All that is now done by cabinet officers, secretaries, department heads, bureau chiefs, auditors, comptrollers, recorders, and accountants, down to the work of the ordinary clerks and copyists, was done by these “scribes.” Below them came others almost equally necessary but not equally respected, the lictors, messengers, etc. These civil servants had special places at the theater and the circus. The positions seem to have been in great demand, as such places are now in France, for example. Horace is said to have been a clerk in the treasury department.

   425. The Roman’s Day.3 The way in which a Roman spent his day depended, of course, upon his position and business, and varied greatly with individuals and with the particular day. The ordinary routine of a man of the higher class, the man of whom we read most frequently in Roman literature, was something like this. He rose at a very early hour—he began his day before sunrise, because it ended so early. After a simple breakfast (§ 302) he devoted such time at home as was necessary to his private business, looking over accounts, consulting with his managers, giving directions, etc. Cicero and Pliny the Elder found these early hours the best for their literary work. Horace tells of lawyers giving free advice at three in the morning. After his private business was dispatched, the man took his place in the ātrium (§ 198) for the salūtātiō (§ 182), when his clients came to pay their respects, perhaps to ask for the help or advice that he was bound to furnish them (§ 179). All this business of the early morning might have to be dispensed with, however, if the man was asked to a wedding (§ 79), or to be present at the naming of a child (§ 97), or to witness the coming of age (§ 128) of the son of a friend, for all these semi-public functions took place in the early morning. But after them or after the levee the man went to the Forum, attended by his clients and carried in his litter (§ 151) with his nōmenclātor (§ 151) at his elbow. The business of the courts and of the senate began about the third hour, and might continue until the ninth or tenth; that of the senate was bound to stop at sunset. Except on extraordinary occasions all business was pretty sure to be over before eleven o’clock, and at this time the lunch was taken (§ 302).

   426. Then came the midday siesta (merīdiātiō, § 302), so general that the streets were as deserted as at midnight; one of the Roman writers fixes upon this as the proper time for a ghost story. Of course there were no sessions of the courts or meetings of the senate on the public holidays; on such days the hours generally given to business might be spent at the theater or the circus or other games. As a matter of fact some Romans of the better class rather avoided these shows, unless they were officially connected with them, and many of them devoted the holidays to visiting their country estates. After the siesta, which lasted for an hour or more, the Roman was ready for his regular athletic exercise and bath, either in the Campus (§ 317), and the Tiber (§ 317) or in one of the public bathing establishments (§ 365). The bath proper (§ 367) was followed by the lounge (§ 377), or perhaps by a promenade in the court, which gave a chance for a chat with a friend, or an opportunity to hear the latest news, to consult business associates, in short to talk over any of the things that men now discuss at their clubs. After this came the great event of the day, the dinner (§ 303), at one’s own house or at that of a friend, followed immediately by retirement for the night. Even on the days spent in the country this program would not be materially changed, and the Roman took with him into the provinces, so far as possible, the customs of his home life.

   427. Hours of the Day. The daylight itself was divided into twelve hours (hōrae); each was one-twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset and varied therefore in length with the season of the year. The length of the day and hour at Rome at different times of the year is shown in the following table:

Month and
Length of
Length of
Month and
Length of
Length of
Dec. 23 8° 54' 44' 30" June 25 15° 6' 1° 15' 30"
Feb. 6 9° 50' 49' 10" Aug. 10 14° 10' 1° 10' 50"
March 23 12° 00' 1° 00' 00" Sept. 25 12° 00' 1° 00' 00"
May 9 14° 10' 1° 10' 50" Nov. 9 9° 50' 49' 10"

   428. Taking the days of June 25 and December 23 as respectively the longest and shortest of the year, the following table gives the conclusion of each hour for summer and winter:

Sunrise 4° 27' 00" 7° 33' 00" Sunrise 4° 27' 00" 7° 33' 00"
1st Hour 5° 42' 30" 8° 17' 30" 7th Hour 1° 15' 30" 12° 44' 30"
2nd Hour 6° 58' 00" 9° 2' 00" 8th Hour 2° 31' 00" 1° 29' 00"
3rd Hour 8° 13' 30" 9° 46' 30" 9th Hour 3° 46' 30" 2° 13' 00
4th Hour 9° 29' 00" 10° 31' 00" 10th Hour 5° 2' 00" 2° 58' 00"
5th Hour 10° 44' 30" 11° 15' 30" 11th Hour 6° 17' 30" 3° 42' 30"
6th Hour 12° 00' 00" 12° 00' 00" 12th Hour 7° 33' 00" 4° 27' 00"

In the same way the hours may be calculated for any given day, if the length of the day and the hour of sunrise are known, but for all practical purposes the old couplet will serve:

                    The English hour you may fix,
                    If to the Latin you add six.

When the Latin hour is above six it will be more convenient to subtract than to add.

FIG. 285

1 For a most important passage relating to the Roman attitude toward trade and business see Cicero, De Officiis, I, 150-151.

2 Government opposition to Christianity was due in large part to the fear that Christian organizations were, or might become, political in character.

3 An interesting detailed account is found in The Classical Weekly, XVII (1923), 91-95, “The Daily Life of a Roman Gentleman in the First Century A, D.,” by J. W.


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