Daily Lives of Romans

Workshop 6-2: Daily Lives of Romans (download if you want this info in .doc format)


Like many ancient people, the early Romans lived by farming. But even though the land was fertile, life on a Roman farm was not easy.


Most early Romans worked small plots of land. They planted grains such as wheat and barley. They also grew beans, vegetables and fruit. Later they learned to grow olives and grapes. They also raised pigs, sheep, goats and chickens. They used oxen to pull their plows.
The members of a Roman farm family had to work very hard. They farmed the land with simple tools and fetched water from a well or nearby spring. The small amount of land on most farms had to produce enough food to feed the family. This meant that everyone had to be disciplined about his or her responsibilities.

Roman farm
A Roman farm.

The qualities of discipline, loyalty and hard work that these early farmers developed would help Rome succeed. They were the qualities that made Roman armies so successful.
Over time, some farmers grew richer than others. They bought more land and built large farms, or estates. A gap developed between small farmers and the owner of the estates. This gap would later produce divisions in Roman society, politics and government.


As Rome developed into a complex civilization, two classes arose. Inequalities between them would lead to conflict. This conflict, however, would eventually define Roman citizenship and the rights of citizens under Roman law.

Roman society

 The social classes in Ancient Rome.

• Patricians and Plebeians. The upper- class patricians were wealthy landowners who held all of the highest positions in government. The plebeians were mostly common farmers. Like all male Roman citizens, they could vote, but they could not hold important government positions. This would lead to conflict between them.
Early in the Republic, the plebeians threatened to stop serving in the army and paying taxes unless they were given a voice in the government. Since Rome was often at war with its neighbors in Italy, this threat was a serious danger to the Republic. To avoid civil war, in 451 B.C. the patricians allowed plebeian demands that Roman laws be collected and written down. These laws, known as the Twelve Tables, gave the common people some protection against unfair decisions by patrician judges.
By 287 B.C., plebeians and patricians had equal rights; they could become members of the Roman Senate and be part of the Assembly. Nevertheless, real power remained in the hands of an upper class composed of patricians and wealthy plebeians. These people held the highest and dominated the Senate.

• Slaves and Captivity. Slaves made up the lowest – and largest – class in society. Up to one- third of the population were slaves. Other became slaves because their parents were slaves. Slaves were found throughout Roman society. They worked in low- level clerical positions. However, slaves performed all jobs requiring physical labor. They worked in mines, on large estates, and as servants. Many suffered cruel treatment. Slave revolts were common, but none of them succeeded. Thousands of slaves died in these revolts. Unlike slaves in Greece, Roman slaves could buy their freedom or be freed by order of their masters. However, Roman slaves enjoyed few legal rights or protections and were dependant on the good will of their masters.

Question 1. How did most Roman people lived?
Question 2. What were some of the things that Romans cultivated and raised in their farms?
Question 3. Why did social inequalities in Rome arise?
Question 4. What were the three social classes that appeared in Rome? Explain how each of them lived.
Question 5. What are the Twelve Tables? Explain why were they created.


The head of the Roman family was the father. He owned all the property and had control over all the members of the household. The father’s power was limited, however, by public opinion and custom. Roman society disapproved of a father punishing his family without a good cause.
By 2 A.D., family discipline was much less harsh. Some parents became overly permissive with their children.

• Women. The change in family authority brought Roman women more freedom. Formerly, fathers had often arranged for their daughters to marry by the age of 12 or 13. A Roman woman thus went from obeying her father’s commands to obeying her husband’s. By the time of the empire, however, a father could no longer force his daughter to marry against her will. A woman could own property and keep her own money and property if divorced. She could also make business arrangements and write a will without her husband’s approval.
Roman women enjoyed greater freedom and respect than did upper- class women in Greece. Girls from noble Roman families had opportunities for education that were denied to the daughters of Greek nobles. Some women of prominent senatorial families acquired great political influence. Livia, the wife of emperor Augustus, often advised him on decisions. She continued to influence government during the reign of her son Tiberius. Still, no Roman woman could hold public office or vote.

Faniliy and Education

A Roman woman reading with her child.

• Education. Many of the Roman attitudes and values were learned at home. Fathers taught their sons the duties of citizenship, while mothers taught their daughters to manage a household. At home was also where girls might be taught Greek and Latin Literature as well as skills in music and dance.
A formal system of schooling for Roman boys developed, however, during the Republic. Young boys were taught reading, writing and arithmetic by special teachers. Older boys studied music, geometry, astronomy, literature and oratory – public speaking. As in Greece, public speaking and debating were essential skills in roman political life.

Question 6. What were the roles of each of the members of a Roman family?
Question 7. How does the situation of Roman women differ from those of Greece?
Question 8. What were some of the things that boys and girls in Rome learned?


Religious beliefs bound Roman society together. From the earliest times, the Romans worshiped hundreds of spirits. They believed that these spirits lived in everything around them, including rivers, woods, and fields. Roman families also believed that household gods protected them. They set up shrines in their homes to honor these gods.

• Religious influences. Besides Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and keeper of fire, the most important gods were Jupiter, the god of the sky, and Mars, the god of war. As theyRoman gods came into contact with other cultures, the Roman accepted new gods. From other Italian peoples, for example they adopted the worship of Diana, a goddess of hunting and of forests. As they became more familiar with the culture of Greece, educated Romans began to identify their gods with those of the Greeks. They identified Zeus with Jupiter, Ares with Mars, and Hera with Juno. The Romans also borrowed much from Greek mythology and many entirely new gods from the Greeks.

Drawing of some of the Roman gods. 

Religion and Public Life. As in Ancient Egypt, religion and government were linked in Rome. Priests were government officials, and the emperor was the head of the church. Roman gods were also symbols of the state. Romans were expected to honor these gods in public ceremonies.
Over time, even the emperor himself became a god. At first, the Romans only worshiped emperors after death. But eventually, they honored living rulers as gods. Loyalty to the emperor became the same as loyalty to the gods.

• Christianism. During the period known as Pax Romana, another religion slowly emerged in the Roman Empire, the pratice of a religion known as Christianity. The early followers of this new faith would encounter much brutality and persecution for their beliefs. But their religion would endure and spread throughout the empire, and eventually become one of the dominant faiths of the world.

Question 9. What religious beliefs did Romans hold?
Question 10. What influences helped form Roman religion?
Question 11. How was religion in Rome linked with government?
Question 12. Which important religion, still used today, emerged during the Pax Romana?


At the height of the Roman empire, the city of Rome had nearly 1 million people. Other Roman cities, such as Alexandria in Egypt, were also large. However, Rome was the center of the empire. People from all over the empire moved to Rome. This mix of people produced a lively blend of ideas and customs.Model of the city of Ancient Rome

Model of the ancient city of Rome.

The crowded city. The number of people also created some problems. Rome was crowded, dirty and noisy. Much of the city was unemployed and poor. These people lived in large, torn down apartment buildings. They had small rooms with no running water or toilets. They often dropped their trash out the windows, sometimes injuring people walking in the streets below. Fire was also a constant danger. These problems were common in other Roman cities as well.

A Roman apartment
Model of a Roman apartment.

Poor Romans also had little to eat. Typical foods were bread, olives and fruit. But the government provided free grain to keep people happy and avoid public unrest.
By contrast, wealthy Romans enjoyed a life of luxury. They lived in large, comfortable homes in the countryside. They spent large sums of money on gardens, slaves, and other luxuries. They also spent their time going to the theatre and enjoying themselves. They also held fancy dinner parties. These meals featured fine foods like dates, oysters and hams. They also included unusual dishes like salted jellyfish, roast parrot and boiled flamingo tongue.

Structures of the City. The Romans came up with a number of practical solutions toRoman aqueduct some of their urban problems. They built sewer and plumbing systems to improve sanitation. They also built aqueducts to carry fresh water from springs, streams, and lakes into towns. The water traveled through a system of channels and pipes. Most of these were underground. However, some were supported on high arched bridges. Many of these aqueduct bridges survive and are still used today.

A Roman aqueduct.

Public baths were another important part of city life. Most towns and even most Roman forts had public bathhouses. Romans of all social classes visited the baths to bathe and socialize.

Roman bathhouse
Drawing of a Roman bathhouse.

Entertainment and games.The Romans enjoyed many types of entertainment and games. They liked the theatre, particularly comedies and satires. Mimes, jugglers, dancers, acrobats and clowns were all popular.

The Colosseum
Drawing of the Colosseum

The Romans, both rich and poor, also loved violent sports and games. Roman politicians paid for such spectacles to win the voter’s approval and to pacify the unemployed. They built huge amphitheatres – outdoor arenas – to house these events. The Circus Maximus, Rome’s oldest arena, could seat about 200.000 people. The smaller Colosseum, which held about 50.000 people, was sometimes flooded for mock naval battles.
One of the most popular forms of entertainment was Chariot racing. The drivers in chariot races might be trained slaves or daring Roman nobles. Many people came to see their favorite teams compete.
Roman crowds also loved contests between Gladiators. These were fighters – usually slaves or condemned criminals – armed with swords and spears. If no one was killed in the fight, the crowd might choose either death or freedom for the loser. Even more brutal were the contests with animals. Tigers fought elephants, or people were sent into the arena with lions or wild bulls. Much of Rome’s trade with Africa was devoted to buying animals for these shows.

Christians and the Colosseum

Many Christinas, among other people, were taken into the arena                                                                                                                                                                                                       

with lions and other animals.

Question 13. What was life like for rich and poor people in Rome?
Question 14. What were some of the problems that Roman cities had? Explain how did the Roman government tried to solve those problems.
Question 15. What were some of the forms of entertainment and games that Romans enjoyed? Explain why did Roman politicians were interested in paying for those spectacles.

~ by HistoryRocks.com on October 21, 2007.

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