The Senators

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					                                                     The Senators

Senators in the first century AD held much less power than their predecessors, although the Senate still had the right
to confer the title of emperor.

                                      This alone ensured that the Senate and its members remained relevant and

                                      The Roman Senate started life as an advisory council, filled entirely with
                                      patricians. In the last two centuries of the republic, however, it had become
                                      much more powerful and a major player in politics and government.

                                      Civil war

                                   Many senators had been killed in the civil war that brought Julius Caesar to
                                   power in 46 BC: as a result, the Senate was looking a little empty. Caesar
                                   increased the number of senators from around 600 to 900. This changed the
membership of the Senate considerably: many of the new faces were Equestrians or came from Italian towns – some
even came from Gaul.

This increase in the number of senators soon reversed itself and, during the first century, the Senate consisted of 600
men. Most were either sons of senators, or were elected quaestors (junior magistrates).

Climbing the ladder

Only Roman citizens aged 25 or over, with both military and administrative experience, could become quaestors, the
lowest rung on the government ladder. Potential candidates were nominated by the emperor and the elections were
merely a formality.

Once elected, an ambitious senator would progress through the different ranks of magistrates. These included the
quaestorship, the aedileship, the praetorship and, ultimately, the consulship and the position held at any one time
determined his senatorial rank.

Privileges of office

In addition to their political and judicial powers, senators had special privileges. They alone could hold the highest
official offices and judgeships in criminal and civil courts. In addition, senators enjoyed reserved seating at public
ceremonies and games, and they alone had the honor of wearing the ‗latus clavus‘ – the purple striped toga.

In 27 BC, Augustus claimed he had restored the republic. In truth, Rome was governed by a dynastic monarchy and
real power was held by the emperor. Augustus pretended that he valued the traditional republican institutions. He
understood that it was politically important to pay lip service to the Senate and ensure it kept some prestige.

New ruler, new rules

Augustus also began a new rule that senators had to have property worth 1,000,000 sesterces (Roman coins).
Senators were also not allowed to become directly involved in business – particularly shipping or government
contracts where there might be a conflict of interest. Given they were also unpaid, this meant that only a small
percentage of the population could afford to become deeply involved in politics.

During the empire, the senate was at the head of the government bureaucracy and was a law court. The emperor held
the title of Princeps Senatus, and could appoint new senators, summon and preside over Senate discussions, and
propose legislation.

The Senate therefore took its lead from the emperor and, in most important areas, was only an advisory body.
However, it still had the right to confer the title of emperor and this power alone meant that the Senate and its
members remained relevant and important, even during the worst years of the first century.
                                                       The Patricians

Sitting at the top of Roman society were the emperor and the patrician classes.

Although they enjoyed fabulous wealth, power and privilege, these perks came at a price. As Rome‘s leaders, they
couldn‘t avoid its dangerous power struggles.

Life of luxury

As absolute ruler of Rome and its enormous empire, the emperor and his family lived in suitable style. They stayed at
the best villas, ate the finest food and dressed in only the most magnificent clothes.

Life was luxurious, extravagant and indulgent – the emperor‘s family could spend their days enjoying their favorite
pastimes, like music, poetry, hunting and horse racing.

Palace intrigue

Still, it was not an easy life. Succession to the emperor was not strictly hereditary: the throne could pass to brothers,
stepsons or even favored courtiers and any heir had to be approved by the

As a result, royal palaces were constantly filled with political intrigue. Potential
heirs and their families always needed to be pushing their name, making their
claim and hustling for position.

They would have to keep an eye on their rivals for the throne – including
members of their own family – and would need to keep tabs on the many
political factions within the Senate. Ultimately, to secure the ultimate prize
would often require betrayal, backstabbing and even murder. It all made for a
very stressful life in which only the strongest and most determined could


Ranked just below the emperor and his relatives, the patrician families dominated Rome and its empire. The word
―patrician‖ comes from the Latin ―patres‖, meaning ―fathers‖, and these families provided the empire‘s political,
religious, and military leadership.

Most patricians were wealthy landowners from old families, but the class was open to a chosen few who had been
deliberately promoted by the emperor.

A good education

Boys born into a patrician family would receive an extensive education, usually from a private tutor. This would focus
on the subjects a sophisticated noble would be expected to know, as well as some required for his future career.
Poetry and literature, history and geography, some mythology and important languages – like Greek – would all be

The Romans also considered lessons in public speaking and the law to be essential parts of a good education. Most
young patrician men would go on to careers in politics and government, for which these two subjects were crucial.
However, the patrician families were also expected to help continue the ancient priesthoods.

A privileged position

The patrician class enjoyed few privileges: its members were excused some military duties expected of other citizens,
and only patricians could become emperor. But this eligibility carried its own dangers: patricians could find themselves
becoming wrapped up in palace intrigue. If they ended up on the losing side, they could easily lose their home, their
lands and even their lives.

Apart from the plots and politics, however, members of both royal and patrician families faced little work or real
responsibility and were blessed with a relatively charmed life – certainly compared to the other inhabitants of Rome at
the time.
                                                   The Equestrians

                                      Ranking immediately below senators, equestrians became an important human
                                      resource, whose work underpinned the smooth running of the Roman Empire.

                                      As its name suggests, the equestrian class was originally composed of the
                                      Roman cavalry. In 218 BC, equestrians took on more commercial roles when Lex
                                      Claudia prevented Senators from becoming involved in trade or business.

                                      The business classes

                                      As a result, many in the equestrian class became wealthy businessmen. Many
                                      were tax collectors, bankers, miners and exporters, while others governed
                                      lucrative public contracts, such as those awarded to build roads or aqueducts.

The Emperor Augustus recognized the importance of the equestrians, reorganized them into a military class and
encouraged others to join. Now Roman citizens of any social level could become equestrians, as long as they were of
good reputation, in good health and owned at least 400,000 sesterces (Roman coins).

Running the empire

By using equestrians in responsible positions in government, Augustus founded the imperial civil service, which
equestrians would later head. Their business background made them particularly suited for positions in the financial
administration of the provinces. Over the following decades, the number of equestrians increased dramatically, until
there were thousands throughout the empire.

By the time of Claudius, equestrians could reasonably expect a good career. After serving in the army as an officer, a
potential equestrian might become a procurator – an agent of the emperor. He could then become a prefect, or
government administrator, at home or abroad. Prefects had responsibilities as varied as the fire brigade, grain supply,
and foreign provinces, such as Egypt.

Opportunity knocks

Equestrians could rise to the rank of senator. The senatorial class found it difficult to supply enough men of its own,
so they recruited from the equestrian class. Also, sons of senators were automatically classified as equestrians until
they had gained the necessary age, experience and office.

Because equestrians did not have to be Roman or Italian by birth, this opened up the ranks of senators to non-
Italians. When Vespasian increased the number of senators, the popularity of the equestrian class meant that the
Senate now included citizens born in provinces such as Gaul and Spain. It was a sign that talented men from all over
the empire could hold important office. Before long, the Emperor Trajan would be in power and, for the first time,
Rome would be ruled by a man born abroad.
                                                     The Plebeians

Rome‘s working class, the plebeians had little individual power. Grouped together, however, they became a Roman
mob and had to be handled carefully.

By the first century AD, plebeians comprised a formal class, which held its own
meetings, elected its own officials and kept its own records. The term plebeian
referred to all free Roman citizens who were not members of the patrician,
senatorial or equestrian classes.

Working class heroes

Plebeians were average working citizens of Rome – farmers, bakers, builders or
craftsmen – who worked hard to support their families and pay their taxes. Over
the course of this period, early forms of public welfare were established by Titus
and Trajan and, in difficult times, plebeians could ask Roman administrators for

We know much less about daily life for the lower classes, such as plebeians. Unlike the more privileged classes, most
plebeians could not write and therefore they could not record and preserve their experiences.

A glimpse of normal life

This is one reason why archeological sites like the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are so important: they preserve
the living spaces, shops, tools, and graffiti of the common people that would otherwise be lost to history.

Social climbing

Some plebeians, who were doing reasonably well, might try to save enough money to join the equestrian class. For
many, however, life was a daily struggle.

But although individual plebeians had little power, there were a lot of them. In bad times, or during political unrest,
there was always the risk of the Roman ‗mob‘ rioting or rebelling against the upper classes.

Bread and circuses

The Emperor Augustus was well aware of this risk and was keen to keep the poorest plebeians happy enough and
reasonably well fed so that they would not riot. He began the system of state bribery that the writer Juvenal described
as ‗bread and circuses‘.

Free grain and controlled food prices meant that plebeians could not starve, while free entertainment – such as
chariot races and gladiators in amphitheaters and the Circus Maximus – meant that they would not get bored and
restless. Bribery it may have been, but it often worked
                                                 Slaves & Freemen

Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its modern forms in that it was not based on race.

But like modern slavery, it was an abusive and degrading institution. Cruelty was commonplace.

A common practice

Slavery had a long history in the ancient world and was practiced in Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as Rome. Most
slaves during the Roman Empire were foreigners and, unlike in modern times, Roman slavery was not based on race.

                                     Slaves in Rome might include prisoners of war, sailors captured and sold by
                                     pirates, or slaves bought outside Roman territory. In hard times, it was not
                                     uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to raise money by selling their children
                                     into slavery.

                                     Life as a slave

                                     All slaves and their families were the property of their owners, who could sell or
                                     rent them out at any time. Their lives were harsh. Slaves were often whipped,
                                     branded or cruelly mistreated. Their owners could also kill them for any reason,
                                     and would face no punishment.

Although Romans accepted slavery as the norm, some people – like the poet and philosopher, Seneca – argued that
slaves should at least be treated fairly.

Essential labor

Slaves worked everywhere – in private households, in mines and factories, and on farms. They also worked for city
governments on engineering projects such as roads, aqueducts and buildings. As a result, they merged easily into the

In fact, slaves looked so similar to Roman citizens that the Senate once considered a plan to make them wear special
clothing so that they could be identified at a glance. The idea was rejected because the Senate feared that, if slaves
saw how many of them were working in Rome, they might be tempted to join forces and rebel.


Another difference between Roman slavery and its more modern variety was manumission – the ability of slaves to be
freed. Roman owners freed their slaves in considerable numbers: some freed them outright, while others allowed
them to buy their own freedom. The prospect of possible freedom through manumission encouraged most slaves to be
obedient and hard working.

Formal manumission was performed by a magistrate and gave freed men full Roman citizenship. The one exception
was that they were not allowed to hold office. However, the law gave any children born to freedmen, after formal
manumission, full rights of citizenship, including the right to hold office.

Informal manumission gave fewer rights. Slaves freed informally did not become citizens and any property or wealth
they accumulated reverted to their former owners when they died.

Free at last?

Once freed, former slaves could work in the same jobs as plebeians – as craftsmen, midwives or traders. Some even
became wealthy. However, Rome‘s rigid society attached importance to social status and even successful freedmen
usually found the stigma of slavery hard to overcome – the degradation lasted well beyond the slavery itself.

The Roman Army was one of the most successful in the history of the world and its soldiers were rightly feared for
their training, discipline and stamina. As a result, the army was a major player in Roman politics and maintaining its
loyalty was an essential task for any Emperor.

The Roman legions

The Roman Empire was created and controlled by its soldiers. At the core of the army were its legions, which were
without equal in their training, discipline and fighting ability.

By the time Augustus came to power, the army contained 60 legions. Each of these was divided into ten cohorts of up
to 480 men. The minimum term of service for a soldier during the first century AD was twenty years.

Weapons and armor

Each legionnaire (or 'miles') carried a short sword, called a gladius. This was his main weapon. He also carried a
'pilum' (javelin), a helmet, armor, shield and a pack with supplies. Soldiers were
rigorously trained to march long distances, fight in precise formations, and kill
expertly with all the weapons they carried.

The toughest postings for soldiers were those at the frontiers of the Roman
Empire, where legionnaires never had enough supplies, faced hostile local tribes
and had to endure tedious routines.

Writing home

At the northern limit of the Roman Empire was Britain. Soldiers and their
families found it to be a cold, remote, hostile place with little to do. Like soldiers
ever since, they spent much of their free time writing letters home, asking for news and warm clothing.

When they retired, every legionnaire was entitled to a plot of land to farm. Soldiers looked forward to this generous
reward for a lifetime of loyal service. Despite the hardships, many who had been posted to Britain settled there,
taking plots of land near remote Roman forts.


Rome was not always able to honor the important promise of land. In 14 AD, just after Tiberius had become emperor,
a mutiny broke out among legions in central Europe. Soldiers complained that Rome was not keeping to the spirit of
its promise.

The length of service, combined with the trials of military life, meant that soldiers developed deep camaraderie and
these complaints struck home with other soldiers. The mutiny gained momentum: some soldiers began showing their
scars; others looted and killed their officers.

A serious army mutiny spelled potential disaster for any emperor, whose power, both at home and abroad, was based
on his control of the army.

Enter Germanicus

Tiberius sent Germanicus, his nephew, to deal with this problem before it got even worse. It was a good choice:
Germanicus was a popular, charismatic general whom the soldiers respected as one of their own. His son, Caligula,
had been born in an army camp and was a mascot to the Roman legions.

At first, the arrival of Germanicus and his family appeared to be a big mistake. Fearing further violence, he sent his
wife and son away. Ashamed, the soldiers begged her to return. The mutiny was all but over. It had taught an
important lesson - that the loyalty of the army was essential for the empire to exist, but that loyalty could not be
taken for granted.

Keeping the army on side

As future Emperors would discover, while soldiers were loyal to their emperor, this loyalty was nothing compared to
the loyalty felt by many legions to their commanders. Holding the monopoly on force that underpinned empire and
emperor, the army was always politically important. A discontented army was a powerful enemy and a popular
commander was a potential threat.

Defined by the men in their lives, women in ancient Rome were valued mainly as wives and mothers.
Although some were allowed more freedom than others, there was always a limit, even for the daughter
of an emperor.

Not much information exists about Roman women in the first century. Women were not allowed to be active in
politics, so nobody wrote about them. Neither were they taught how to write, so they could not tell their own stories.

Legal rights

We do know a little, however. Unlike society in ancient Egypt, Rome did not regard women as equal to men before the
law. They received only a basic education, if any at all, and were subject to the authority of a man. Traditionally, this
was their father before marriage. At that point, authority switched to their husband, who also had the legal rights over
their children.

However, by the first century AD women had much more freedom to manage their own business and financial affairs.
Unless she had married "in manu" (in her husband‘s control, which conferred the bride and all her property onto the
groom and his family) a woman could own, inherit and dispose of property.

Traditionally, these women, who had married "sine manu" (meaning she was without her husband‘s control but still
under the control of her pater familias), had been obliged to keep a guardian, or ´tutela,´ until they died. By the time
of Augustus, however, women with three children (and freedwomen with four) became legally independent, a status
known as "sui iuris."

A woman’s work

In reality, the degree of freedom a woman enjoyed depended largely on her wealth and social status. A few women
ran their own businesses – one woman was a lamp-maker – or had careers as midwives, hairdressers or doctors, but
these were rare.

On the other hand, female slaves were common and filled a huge variety of roles, from ladies‘ maids to farm workers,
and even gladiators.

Wealthy widows, subject to no man‘s authority, were independent. Other wealthy women chose to become
priestesses, of which the most important were the Vestal Virgins.

Influence, not power

However wealthy they were, because they could not vote or stand for office, women had no formal role in public life.
In reality, wives or close relatives of prominent men could have political influence behind the scenes and exert real,
albeit informal, power.

In public, though, women were expected to play their traditional role in the household. They were responsible for
spinning and weaving yarn and making clothes. These were usually made from wool or linen, although wealthy
women (whose servants made their clothes) often dressed in expensive, imported fabrics, like Chinese silk or Indian

Women were expected to be the dignified wife and the good mother and, while these rules could be bent, they
couldn‘t be broken.

The trouble with Julia
Julia was daughter to Emperor Augustus and was renowned as a clever, vivacious woman with a sharp tongue.
                                   However, Augustus was traditional and insisted that Julia spin and weave like
                                   plebeian women, to demonstrate her wifely virtues.

                                      This was unfortunate, because wifely virtues were not her strength. In fact, Julia
                                      had a series of lovers and many people knew this.

                                      Augustus, who was socially very conservative, was furious. He denounced her in
                                      public and banished her for the rest of her life. There were limits – even for an
                                      emperor‘s daughter.
                                                      Family Life

Ancient Rome was a man‘s world. In politics, society and the family, men held both the power and the purse-strings –
they even decided whether a baby would live or die.

Families were dominated by men. At the head of Roman family life was the oldest living male, called the
"paterfamilias," or "father of the family." He looked after the family's business affairs and property and could perform
religious rites on their behalf.

Absolute power

The paterfamilias had absolute rule over his household and children. If they angered him, he had the legal right to
disown his children, sell them into slavery or even kill them.

Only the paterfamilias could own property: whatever their age, until their father died, his sons only received an
allowance, or peliculum, to manage their own households.

Sons were important, because Romans put a lot of value on continuing the family name. If a father had no sons then
he could adopt one – often a nephew – to make sure that the family line would not die out.


Roman women usually married in their early teenage years, while men waited until they were in their mid-twenties.
As a result, the materfamilias (mother of the family) was usually much younger than her husband.

As was common in Roman society, while men had the formal power, women exerted influence behind the scenes. It
was accepted that the materfamilias was in charge of managing the household. In the upper classes, she was also
expected to assist her husband‘s career by behaving with modesty, grace and dignity.

Baby love?

The influence of women only went so far. The paterfamilias had the right to decide whether to keep newborn babies.
After birth, the midwife placed babies on the ground: only if the paterfamilias picked it up was the baby formally
accepted into the family.

If the decision went the other way, the baby was exposed – deliberately abandoned outside. This usually happened to
deformed babies, or when the father did not think that the family could support another child. Babies were exposed in
specific places and it was assumed that an abandoned baby would be picked up and taken a slave.

Infant mortality

Even babies accepted into the household by the paterfamilias had a rocky start in life. Around 25 percent of babies in
the first century AD did not survive their first year and up to half of all children would die before the age of 10.

As a result, the Roman state gave legal rewards to women who had successfully given birth. After three live babies (or
four children for former slaves), women were recognized as legally independent. For most women, only at this stage
could they choose to shrug off male control and take responsibility for their own lives.
                                                       Home Life

Despite Rome‘s glorious architecture, only the richest citizens enjoyed the good life – most lived in dangerous,
cramped and smelly housing. Despite these differences, almost all citizens carefully observed the same rituals at
dinner time – the rituals that made them Roman. The ancient Rome that remains today is one of fabulous marble
buildings, built with superb skill to enormous scale. It is impressive now – it would have been even more impressive
2,000 years ago. Sitting next to the grandeur of imperial Rome, however, would
have been the tiny, rickety homes of normal people, whose lives were far less
fabulous. In truth, daily life in Rome would have been far more like that in
modern day Cairo or Delhi than Paris or London.

Most citizens living in Rome and other cities were housed in "insulae." These
were small, street-front shops and workshops, whose owners lived above and
behind the working area. Several insulae would surround an open courtyard and
would, together, form one city block.

The insulae were usually badly built and few had any running water, sanitation
or heating. Constructed from wood and brick, they were dangerously vulnerable to fire or collapse.

Lifestyles of the rich and famous
Life was very different for the upper classes. Wealthier Romans – including those who lived in the countryside – lived
in a domus. This was a house built around an unroofed courtyard, or atrium.

The atrium acted as the reception and living area, while the house around it contained the kitchen, lavatory,
bedrooms (cubuculi) and dining room, or triclinium. The rooms and furnishings would reflect the wealth of the family
and, for some, would be incredibly luxurious. The wealthiest Romans might have a private bath or library, while
others kept two homes – one in the city, the other in the clean air and quiet surroundings of the countryside.

Dinner time
Although they led very different lives, citizens generally observed the same mealtime rituals, whatever their wealth or
rank. Breakfast and lunch were usually light meals, often eaten with colleagues or friends in the noisy cafes and
taverns that lined Rome‘s streets.

Dinner was a different matter altogether and was taken very seriously. The triclinium, or dining room, held three
couches, arranged around a square table.

Finger food
Wealthy Romans might have several dining rooms so they could entertain more guests – or they might eat outside in
warm weather.

Diners would lie on their sides – leaning on their left elbows – facing the table. Their servants or slaves would serve
the food from the empty fourth side of the table. Diners would then eat the food with their fingers or, if necessary,
with a small knife.

Wealthy families would usually have three courses. The appetizers, or gustatio, would include eggs, shellfish or
vegetables. The entrees, called prima mensa, would usually be cooked vegetables and meat. The dessert, or mensa
secunda, would be sweet dishes, such as fruit or pastry.

Dinner parties
Dinners became fancier affairs when guests were invited. These dinner parties would involve many elaborate courses.
Hosts would put on enormous, extravagant meals to impress their guests, often seeking out novelty dishes like ostrich
or flamingo. There would often be entertainment between each course, with a literary performance after dinner.
Guests were seated according to their status – the best seat was on the middle couch, to the immediate right of the
host. The status-conscious Romans would examine seating plans carefully to discover their rank relative to the other

Bread and porridge

For most Romans, however, dinner was much simpler. The poorest families would usually only eat porridge and bread,
buying meat and vegetables only when they had enough money.

Although the menu varied according to the family income, dinnertime was an integral part of being a Roman. As a
result, most families, rich or poor, observed the same traditions, day after day.

An integral part of daily life in ancient Rome, the baths gave citizens of all classes the chance to mingle, gossip and
relax. They were viewed as fundamental to Roman civilization and an obvious example of Rome‘s superiority to the
rest of the world.

Every day, Romans would finish work around the middle of the afternoon and make their way to the baths. Men of all
social classes mixed freely together. Old, young, rich and poor would share the daily ritual of the baths.

A symbol of Rome

This ritual was so entrenched in daily life that, to many citizens, it was nothing less than a symbol of Rome itself. To
Romans, the baths proved that they were cleaner – and therefore better – than
inhabitants of other countries.

As the Roman Empire spread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East,
the baths followed, bringing daily civilization to millions of people.

Inside the Thermae

Most bath complexes were Thermae. These large, friendly places included
outdoor areas for exercise and sports. There were also food stands and
attendants who offered every sort of service.

Inside the Thermae were the actual baths, a series of heated rooms and pools. Many were carefully situated to make
the most of the heat of the sun. They were also built to strict specifications, so that their ‗hypocaust heating‘ would
work properly.

This system used water, heated in fiery furnaces under the raised floors of the baths. The resulting steam was
channeled through special chambers under the floors and in the walls. This mechanism was very efficient – so much
so that unless bath floors were very thick, they would be too hot to walk on.

The ritual of the baths

When at the baths, Romans would visit the different rooms in a specific order. They would start at the Apodyterium,
or dressing room, where they would undress and leave their clothing, which would be watched over by a servant or

They would then visit the Palaestra, or Gymnasium, where they could exercise and where they would have their body
oiled before the baths themselves. Next up was the Frigidarium, or cold room, which contained a cold plunge bath,
before they visited the Tepidarium, or warm room, to recover.

The final room was the Caldarium, a steamy hot room which might also have a hot plunge bath, or labrum. After all
this, the oil would be scraped off their skin by a servant, using a special tool called a strigil. They would then visit the
same rooms in the opposite order, ending up at the Apodyterium where, the afternoon‘s activities over, they would
get dressed and head home, before visiting again with their fellow Romans the following day.
                                           Weddings, Marriages & Divorce

Unlike the romantic weddings of today, marriage in ancient Rome was an arrangement between two families. Like
much of Roman society, it was highly structured but also logical and, in some ways, even modern.

Marriage in Roman times was often not at all romantic. Rather, it was an agreement between families. Men would
usually marry in their mid-twenties, while women married while they were still in their early teens. As they reached
these ages, their parents would consult with friends to find suitable partners that could improve the family‘s wealth or

Governed by law

For this reason, there were specific laws governing marriage. A proper Roman marriage could not take place unless
bride and groom were Roman citizens, or had been granted special permission, called ―conubium.‖

At one point in Roman history, freed slaves had been forbidden to marry citizens. This restriction was relaxed by
Emperor Augustus who passed a reform in 18 BC called the lex Julia so that, by the first century, freed slaves were
only prohibited from marrying senators.

Augustus insisted on other restrictions on marriage. Citizens were not allowed to marry prostitutes or actresses and
provincial officials were not allowed to marry the local women. Soldiers were only allowed to marry in certain
                                        circumstances and marriages to close relatives were forbidden. Finally, unfaithful
                                        wives divorced by their husbands could not remarry [expert].

                                      Sealed with a kiss

                                      Assuming that a proposed wedding satisfied these demands, the process itself
                                      was simple. The prospective bride and groom were committed to marry each
                                      other at the betrothal, a formal ceremony between the two families. Gifts would
                                      be exchanged and the dowry agreed. A written agreement would be signed and
                                      the deal sealed with a kiss.

                                      The date of the wedding itself would be chosen carefully: some dates were seen
as better than others. In general, June was the most popular month, although weddings took place throughout the

Wedding traditions

Unlike today, marriage had no legal force of its own but was rather a personal agreement between the bride and
groom. As a result, the wedding itself was a mere formality to prove that the couple intended to live together, known
as ―affectio maritalis.‖

On the wedding day, the groom would lead a procession to his bride's family home, where the bride would be escorted
by her bridesmaids to meet her future husband. She would be wearing a tunica recta — a white woven tunic — belted
with an elaborate "Knot of Hercules.‖ She would have carefully arranged hair and would be wearing an orange
wedding veil and orange shoes. After the marriage contract had been signed, there would be an enormous feast. The
day ended with a noisy procession to the couple's new home, where the bride was carried over threshold so she
wouldn't trip — an especially bad omen.


Roman divorce was as simple as marriage. Just as marriage was only a declaration of intent to live together, divorce
was just a declaration of a couple‘s intent not to live together. All that the law required was that they declare their
wish to divorce before seven witnesses.

Because marriages could be ended so easily, divorce was common, particularly in the upper classes. When she
divorced, a wife could expect to receive her dowry back in full and would then return to patria potestas – the
protection of her father. If she had been independent before her wedding, she would regain her independence upon

Under the lex Julia, a wife found guilty of adultery in a special court – known as the ―quaestio‖ – might sacrifice the
return of half her dowry. However, the law did not recognize adultery by husbands. Roman society was very much a
man‘s world.

Apart from the gods, who were glorified by the state, every Roman household worshipped spirits.

They believed that spirits protected the family, home and even the trees and rivers. These spirits were worshipped

Early Roman religion

The religion of ancient Rome dated back many centuries and over time it grew increasingly diverse. As different
                                     cultures settled in what would later become Italy, each brought their own gods
                                     and forms of worship. This made the religion of ancient Rome polytheistic, in
                                     that they worshipped many gods. They also worshipped spirits.

                                        Spirits of the rivers and trees

                                        Rivers, trees, fields and buildings each had their own spirit, or numen.
                                        Worshipping more than one numen, or numina, was a part of early Roman

                                        Household spirits

Every Roman household also had its own protective spirits. For instance, Vesta was the goddess of the fireplace. Even
food cupboards had their own spirits, called penates.

Family spirits

Families also had a protective spirit, called a lar. Each family had a larium, or shrine, to this spirit, often kept in the
atrium or courtyard. The head of the family – the paterfamilias – was responsible for making regular sacrifices to
honor the family‘s spirit and make sure that it continued to watch over them.

Dinnertime offerings

Families also asked for the blessings of the spirits before any special family event. A portion of every meal was thrown
into the fire as an offering. Household slaves were also expected to worship the same spirits as their owners.

Like most of the ancient world, Romans believed that spirits gathered around crossroads. It was therefore common to
find a small shrine, or compita, set up wherever paths or roads met. These would have four altars to honor the spirits
in each direction.

Festival of the Crossroads

This practice was honored in the Festival of the Crossroads, called the Compitalia. On this feast day, families would
hang woolen dolls and balls at the nearest compita. Each doll represented a member of the family, while each ball
represented a slave.

It isn‘t clear why they did this. Perhaps they hoped that the spirits would spare each person represented by the
woolen offerings, or maybe they believed that the power of the spirits would strengthen each person represented

In any case, spirit worship was just one part of Roman religion. The Roman state had its own gods and, like the
spirits, these were the product of diverse cultures and ancient beliefs.
                                                      Roman Gods

Aside from the spirits, worshipped privately at home, the Romans had a large number of public gods.

Many gods were believed to have taken part in the founding of Rome. All were consulted and honored to make sure
that the actions of the state met with divine approval.

Roman religion was split in two: privately, families and households worshipped specific, individual spirits. Publicly, the
Roman state honored many gods, all of which were believed to have human characteristics.

Blended gods

Over the centuries, the movement of large numbers of people meant that gods from a variety of cultures, including
Etruscan and Greek, merged together. As a result, Roman gods were a blend of deities, with close similarities to the
gods worshipped by the ancient Greeks.

In particular, the twelve greatest gods and goddesses in the Roman state religion – called the di consentes –
paralleled the gods of Greek mythology. Although they kept Latin names and images, the links between Roman and
Greek gods gradually came together to form one divine family that ruled over other gods, as well as mortals.

The big three

The three most important gods were Jupiter (protector of the state), Juno (protector of women) and Minerva (goddess
of craft and wisdom). Other major gods included Mars (god of war), Mercury (god of trade and messenger of the
gods) and Bacchus (god of grapes and wine production).

Romans also believed that many of their gods had played an active part in the foundation of Rome. Venus was
believed to be the mother of Aeneas, who according to legend had founded Rome, making her the divine mother of
the Roman people. Similarly, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Divine rule

Aeneas and Romulus themselves were believed to have been made gods after their deaths and the family of Augustus
traced their roots back to these divine ancestors. As a result, the fact that Julius Caesar and his descendants were
made into gods after they died was not just a way of honoring their achievements in power, it was also simple
recognition of the fact that they belonged to a divine family.

Over time, the same divinity was extended to wives and children. The whole imperial family came to be seen as gods
and was often commemorated with temples and coins.

New religions spread

As the Empire expanded, it took control of new countries that had their own cultures and their own gods. In Egypt,
Isis was a goddess of fertility; she was also a mother and a symbol of death and rebirth. She therefore combined the
duties of several Roman goddesses, including Cybele, Aphrodite and Demeter.

The trade and travel that was integral to the Roman Empire made it easy for the worship of gods to spread abroad
and Isis came to be worshipped across the Empire. In the same way, the Persian god Mithras was popular with the
Roman legions – many of whose soldiers had served in Persia – and shrines to him have been found in Britain, Syria,
and across North Africa. Such was the effect of a multicultural Empire that spanned continents and countries.

Roman worship was divided into the public and the private. Families would honor their household spirits while Rome
had colleges of official priests to ensure that its actions met with divine approval.

Roman religion involved cult worship. Approval from the gods did not depend on a person‘s behavior, but on accurate
observance of religious rituals. Each god needed an image – usually a statue or relief in stone or bronze – and an altar
or temple at which to offer prayers and sacrifices.

Quid pro quo

Requests and prayers were presented to gods as a trade: if the god did what was requested (the nuncupatio), then
the worshipper promised to do a particular thing in return (the solutio). This trade was binding. To persuade the gods
to favor the requests, a worshipper might make offerings of food or wine, or would carry out a ritual sacrifice of an
animal before eating it.

The Romans believed that their gods or spirits were actively involved in their daily lives. As a result, sacred meals
were held in their name during certain religious festivals. It was believed that the god actually took part in the meal: a
place was set for him at the table, invitations were issued in his name, and a portion of the food served was set aside
for him to enjoy.

Public worship

The public side of religion was more organized and more formal than the private. At home, the paterfamilias – head of
the family – performed religious rituals for the household. Beyond the home, gods were worshipped by the state,
which employed colleges of highly trained priests and priestesses.

Roman priests

The two most important colleges for priests were the augures and the collegium pontificum. Augures were priests who
had been elected for life. Only they had the authority to read and interpret signs from the gods.

Although they could not predict the future, augures would discover whether the gods were happy with a particular
plan, such as a battle. To do this, they would watch natural phenomena, such as lightning or birds in flight. Specialists
(called haruspices) were also employed to read the entrails of sacrificed animals.

Collegium pontificum

The collegium pontificum had four branches. The pontifices were by far the most important priests and controlled
state religion. During the time of Julius Caesar, there were 16 of these priests, half of which were patrician, with the
other half plebeian.

The pontifices determined festival dates, assisted the emperor in his religious duties, and determined which days were
legal for conducting business. They were headed by the pontifex maximus (chief priest) who, from Augustus onwards,
was always the emperor.

The king of sacred things

The rex sacrorum, meaning ―king of sacred things‖ was a patrician appointed for life and was barred from holding any
other public office. Along with his wife, the regina sacrorum, he performed sacrifices on behalf of the state.

The flamines were minor priests and had responsibility to a particular god. Although there were originally just 15
flamines, over time more were added to serve emperors who had been deified.

The vestal virgins

Finally, the vestal virgins lived at the Temple of Vesta in Rome. Vesta was the native Roman goddess of the fireplace
and the six virgins tended the sacred fire, baked sacred salt cakes (mola salsa) and oversaw the care of sacred
objects in the temple.

Young girls from some of Rome‘s best families were chosen to be virgins by the pontifex maximus. Starting between
the ages of six and ten, they had to serve for 30 years, but most continued to help out even after they had left. They
were also expected to remain virgins and faced a severe penalty if it was discovered they had had sex – they were
buried alive.