roman culture - Western Civilization Homepage

by N.S. Gill
In ancient Rome, all women were under an adult male guardian. That guardian was the oldest male in the household
be it a father, grandfather, husband, uncle, or even oldest male child.
Women were the center of the household. The wife of the guardian was responsible for taking care of the home
and family. The wife of the guardian was also responsible for teaching all the younger women how to cook, sew, be
good wives and run a household.
Were women citizens?
That's a really good question. There is not a very clear answer. In ancient Rome, women fell into their own
category. There were three classes of women - full citizen, foreign (alien) and slave. Women, whether they were a
"full citizen" or not, could not vote or hold office. For hundreds of years, women could not own property, inherit
goods, sign a contract, work outside the home, or run a business. They could not defend themselves in court. They
had no rights. A woman was under the full authority of her husband's head of his family (oldest male) and had no
legal say in much of anything. So, although women might be given the title of full citizen, they did not have the
rights of a full citizen. The title was mostly for the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage in ancient Rome
was to produce citizens. If a Roman citizen (male) wanted his children to automatically be Roman citizens
themselves, he had to marry the daughter of two Roman citizens. There were other ways for his children to
become citizens, but that was the easiest.
Things changed somewhat after Rome became an empire. Women gained the right to conduct business. They could
own land, free slaves and even get a paid job. While they were still considered under the guardianship of a father
or husband, they had many more rights than previously. But they still could not vote or hold office.
Entertainment in Rome was varied and everywhere. There were plays in open air theaters. There were festivals,
both religious festivals and festivals put on by rich Romans. There were chariot races and gladiatorial
contests. There were sports contests. And they were all free.
Romans were also very social. They visited friends, relatives and neighbors. They met in the baths. They might
hold a dinner party for friends and important people. If you were rich, you might stay up all night at a party, lit by
oil lamps. The poor couldn't afford the oil for the lamps so they usually went to bed when it got dark.
Holidays & Festivals
To honor their gods the Romans gave festivals. There were so many gods that it seemed like there was a festival
almost every night. In the course of these festivals some customs have come down through the ages that we still
use today. For example:
We celebrate Valentine's Day. The Romans had a festival called Lupercalia that honored Venus the Goddess of
Love. Venus had a son Cupid who went around spreading love between couples. It was considered lucky to get
married or engaged during Lupercalia. For a short time, the Romans even tried to match make on this day by having
young people pull names out of a hat to become their husband or wife.
Some scholars credit the Romans with inventing the May Day pole. Like many other ancient people, the Romans
celebrated the beginning of summer on May 1st or May day.
Like most ancient people, the Romans celebrated the middle of winter. They saw this as the beginning of a new
cycle of growth. The middle of winter meant that soon spring would be here and things would start to grow
again. Around the 25th of December, the Romans gave gifts and decorated their homes with greenery. Sound
Daily Life
Life in the country was much slower paced than in the city. But Romans still were Romans. They played the same
type games, their houses were designed the same way, the baths were still a daily event, the gods had to
worshipped. Life was slower but it was still Roman life.
Rich Roman citizens went to their country homes to escape from the bustle of Rome. They were able to relax and
enjoy things like hunting and riding that they were unable to do in the city. There was still a busy social scene
visiting neighbors and enjoying the local festivals, but it was not as hectic as Rome itself.
Actual farmers in the country worked much harder. Like farmers everywhere, they worked seven days a week. But
Roman farmers were still Romans and they too enjoyed visiting neighbors, going to market on market day, and
Roman Families
For Romans, family was the most important thing. The whole family would all live together in one house or
apartment. The family included all unmarried sons and daughters, as well as married sons and their wives. Married
daughters went to live with their husband's family.
The family was ruled by the paterfamilias. (Also spelled pater familias) This was always the oldest male in the
family. Father, grandfather, uncle, oldest brother, whoever was the oldest male was the absolute ruler of the
family. The paterfamilias owned all the family's property and had the power of life and death over every family
member. The paterfamilias was also responsible for teaching all the younger males both academics and trades, but
also how to act in society.
The paterfamilias was responsible for all the actions of the family. If someone in the family got in trouble, the
paterfamilias had to pay the consequences. The paterfamilias could exile members of the family, beat them, sell
them into slavery, even kill them with no threat of reprisal.
The paterfamilias was expected to treat his family with fairness and compassion and if he did not, that person
would be shunned by the rest of Rome.
Roman Art
The ancient Romans were practical people. They wanted their art and architecture to be as practical and useful as
possible. They also wanted it to be beautiful, but only if it was practical. So a great deal of their art was used in
the construction of the architecture they built - in their buildings, baths, temples, road signs, and homes. Concrete
is a ancient Roman invention. They used concrete in structures to make them strong. They placed designs into the
concrete area, if any, that was visible.
They were also realists. When the ancient Romans created statues, they tried to make the statues look like the
subject or model. If the subject had a big nose, the ancient Roman artist would give the statue a big nose. (The
ancient Greeks would never have done that. The Greeks loved beauty for beauty's sake. The ancient Romans loved
beauty that was practical.)
The Romans are famous for their mosaics, which were made of bits and pieces of colored ceramic tile. Their artists
put these pieces together in breathtaking beautiful ways. But the tiles were also practical. Mosaics were used on
floors and walls and hallways and entry ways to not only beautify but to strengthen. They were also easy to wash.
Very little of Roman art was created simply for beauty's sake. Nearly all their art had a practical purpose, such as
honoring their gods.
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