Roman Daily Life
Daily life in Ancient Rome often began with a light breakfast. Bread and water (or wine) would be served at home, or a wheat pancake could have been purchased on the way to work or school. Sometimes meat, fish, fruit, and other items may have been served, but not each day.
Men and boys wore togas and then later tunics, which were slightly larger than a shirt typically worn today. Women and girls also wore tunics; however, these reached their ankles and tied near the waist.
While many girls stayed home with their mothers to take care of the home, some girls were allowed to attend schools with the boys. Schools often consisted of only one room and might have resembled a small Roman shop, like a bakery.
Schoolmasters (or teachers) were often strict, especially those who followed the words of Aristotle, who once said, “Young people are not playing when they are learning.” Education was taken very seriously in these schoolhouses. Students studied many of the same subjects learned in school today.
In school, math was difficult, as six Roman letters (I, V, X, L, C, and M) were used to create all numbers. Students also learned how to speak, how to write, how to tell time, how to use and count money, and other lessons designed to help them in everyday life. Weights and measurements, history, philosophy, and public speaking were also taught, among other subjects.
While the kids were in school and the mothers and daughters tended to the household chores, the fathers spent a few hours working each day. Below are some of the typical jobs:
- Selling and trading goods
- Making clothing
Some became doctors, lawyers, writers, or teachers. Many others joined the military, which provided a decent salary for a man supporting a family. Unlike today, though, most men worked six hours or fewer each day, usually stopping around mid-day.
After work and school ended each day, most men and boys headed to the baths, which required only a very small fee to enter. Here people gathered, not only to wash, but also to sit and talk among friends. The bathhouses usually included gardens, gymnasiums, libraries, and other forms of recreation. A typical cold bath resembled something like a swimming pool, while other rooms were available for hot baths.
After spending some time at the baths, most would head home for their biggest meal of the day, eaten somewhere between our lunch time and dinner time. This meal usually consisted of wheatmeal porridge. When hosting a dinner party or celebrating a special occasion, though, a Roman dinner could consist of as many as six or seven courses. In addition to salads, eggs, garden vegetables, and fresh breads, a variety of Mediterranean seafood would have been available, including: mackerel, mullets, eels, and oysters.
Meat dishes consisted of lambs, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and even peacocks, among others. For dessert, they ate fruit and honey-sweetened cakes.
Romans valued their leisure time. Following dinner, adults and children were able to pursue other interests, such as music, art, dancing, reading, and sports. Many attended plays, while others enjoyed chariot races. There were many options for entertainment. Gladiator fights, for example, always drew large crowds.
Many Romans spent their time in gardens and fields, assuring their families of fresh foods. Children helped and would often use this time to learn about both family and Roman history from their parents.
Religion was a big part of daily Roman life. Although some families did not visit temples often, many had small shrines in the home dedicated to specific gods and goddesses. Like the Greeks, early Romans believed the gods and goddesses lived on top of Mount Olympus. Families would pray to these gods to ask for protection and guidance.
At night, Romans used lamps that burned olive oil. Most families could afford to burn just one lamp, which provided only a fraction of the light from one of our electric bulbs.
Most Romans went to bed early, leaving them able to rise easily in the morning to begin a new day.