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 important. 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 Senate. 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 survive. Patricians 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 taught. 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 help. 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 population. 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. Manumission 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. Soldiers 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. Mutiny 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. Women 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 cotton. 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. Materfamilias 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. Insulae 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 guests. 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. Baths 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 slave. 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 class. 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 year. 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. Divorce 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 divorce. 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. Mythology 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 regularly. 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 culture. 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 there. 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. Worship 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.