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Daily Life in Ancient Rome

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Modern Life vs. Roman Life

This article on daily life in ancient Rome deals with several subjects within the concept of individual and social values.

Pete Maida's story titled Flowers for Anna encouraged me to think about present reality as opposed to the principle-oriented lifestyle of our Roman precursors. His meaningful story about an elderly man, called Tim sticking to the values by which he has lived his life, inspired me to pose the questions to myself 'Is our society the product of ages of subversion? Was the old world better in any way, and if so, how have we come to this present state?'

I did the research on Roman life and my article is loaded with findings that justify my initial fears about the sad fact that there is a huge contrast between how we scrape along in our daily lives and how we might want to live should we know the difference.

My model will be the era of ancient Rome picturing a heroic and sacred worldcharacterized by astrict ethos, love of discipline and of virile and dominating spiritual attitude towards life, all contributing to the birth of what I will call the Roman Spirit.

King Etzel

King Etzel

Roman Life by the Virtues of Honor and Discipline

Should those pursuing the common values of today's world meet face-to-face with the Romans of the heroic period, their contempt for the latter's discipline, honor, hierarchy, straightforwardness and anonymous and anti-exhibitionist virilitywould be tangible; and the Romans, they would avert their eyes from them.

My point here is best illustrated by an ancient heroic saga that contains a very characteristic episode,

A prince who have been invited to the court of King Etzel was warned that a trap was probably being set for him. That prince replied: "I will go anyway, and if that is true, that is too bad for King Etzel.

What he meant was that he could have lost his life, but Etzel would have lost his honor. Now what does this have to say to today's mentality by which one able to mislead and deceive others enjoys a higher standing?

Time Machine back to the Daily life in ancient Rome

Time Machine back to the Daily life in ancient Rome

Living up to the Virtues of Roman Life

The one thing that would immediately mark you out in early Roman society as one having just arrived from the future is a kind of suspicious character with chaotic inclinations, weaknesses, and false values.

In my opinion, we all oscillate between two poles representing the dominant features of Roman life and modern-day living. This gives us hope, because true values always have to be dredged from somewhere within. We just need to do a workout on them both on an individual and social level maturing an inner decision that would put us back on the right track.

We need a revolution! Did you know that originally the word 'revolution' did not mean a switch to a new system by way of an insurrection destroying everything in its wake, but rather a change in thinking and action that returns life to a path from which it strayed, a path of dignity, and righteousness.

The original Latin word 're volvere' refers to a motion that directs something back to the starting point, to its origin. How do we do this? It's crucial to fully grasp what I mean by the Roman Spirit.

Devotio in Roman Life

Devotio in Roman Life

Values of Ancient Roman Life

Let's take our time to unravel anything that we might find obscure. A group of typical dispositions characterized the Roman Spirit. Self-control, bold action, a concise speech, coherent conduct and a cold dominating attitude, exempt form personalism and vanity were not to be sacrificed for a compromise, because once one lost these they wouldn't be in any position to help any good cause or exhibit a good example, or so the Romans believed.

In Rome, Virtus in the sense of virile spirit and courage, fortitudo and constantia as spiritual strength, sapientia in the sense of thoughtful awareness, disciplina as love for law given to oneself and form given to one's action, fides as loyalty and faithfullness, dignitas and gravitas and solemnitas namely a moderate studied seriousness, religio and pietas and signifying an attitude of respect for divinity as a collective historical force were just the banal minutiae of ancient Roman life.

"Act deliberately but without grand gestures. Live with a sense of realism that is not materialism, but love for the essential. Live with the ideal of clarity, an inner equilibrium and a healthy suspicion for any confused form of mysticism. Develop a love for boundaries, a readiness to unite for the greater good as a free being without losing your identity."

These were the words of Flavius before he cast himself into the tumults of battle, in which he slew dozens of barbarians alone before he himself fell. He refilled his cohort with spirit and strength of will to win a battle that was seemingly already lost by an act called Devotio, an act by which the greatest Roman generals set an example of self-sacrifice for the greater good.

Upholding the Roman Principle of Virtus

Upholding the Roman Principle of Virtus

Virtus, Virtue of Roman Life

A closer look at Virtus (Virtue)

This specific virtue carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth(perceived masculine strengths, which may indicate its derivation from vir, "man" as in virility).

Virtus was an often emphasized virtue of Roman Emperors, and was personified as a deity. Virtus could be divided into many qualities such as prudentia (prudence), iustitia (justice), temperantia (self-control), and fortitudo (courage). Possessing virtus meant that a person was a brave warrior but it could also mean that he was a good man.

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In ancient Rome, virtus did not have any sort of sexual connotation, aslo there was little place for virtus in family life. To see why, let's quote wikipedia,

"In the Roman world the oldest living patriarch of the family was called the pater familias and this title inferred that he was able to make all legal and binding decisions for the family; he also owned all the money, land, and other property. His wife, daughters, sons, and his sons’ family were all under his potestas.

The only time a son was seen as separate from his fathers control in the eyes of other Romans was when he assumed his public identity as a citizen. He could earn his virtus by serving in the military, and thus could only demonstrate their manliness outside of the family setting."

Finding Guidance is Easy

By no means do I suggest that all Roman men and women were like the ones described above. This would be ridiculous. This is rather an ideal that embodied within itself the best people, and leaders, of the time just like we are under the influence of the values of our time inflicted on us by the mass media.

Look to the people you respect and hold in high esteem,  look at how they live and act on a daily basis, because if only a certain social stratum can embody these qualities, it must still suffice. We don't have anything else any more.

Pay little attention to the leaders and politicians, because they can never attain such power over us as we have over ourselves when we look to the heroes and heroines of our own lives for guidance.

The Roman Empire at the Peak of its Power

The Roman Empire at the Peak of its Power

Qualities missing from Roman Life

Having looked at the qualities we might want to strive to attain in ourselves we also need to identify the ones we have to eliminate from our lives.

Modern man has somehow come to believe that appearing to be someone is just about enough to make our stand in the world. This ill-conceived notion in turn led to the obscureness and unreliability of human character. With their love for outward appearances and grand gestures modern man needs a stage not only for the sake of vanity and exhibitionism, but because even for noble and sincere deeds they draw their motivation from their concern to be noticed by others and make an impact on them.

We can see a split personality where one half plays a role and the other looks at this play from the perspective of a possible observer and examines if it makes the right impact. Actors should do this, but not common people.

Chuang Tzu, not a Roman, but we still like him.

Chuang Tzu, not a Roman, but we still like him.

Qualities of Roman Life

There is an ancient Roman proverb, which is the direct antithesis of our attitudes today. "Esse haberi non," that is, "to be and not to appear." Roman lifestyle was monumental and monolithic in contrast to our modern style, which is choreographic-theatrical and spectacular relating to and deriving from the French notion of grandeur and gloire.

Someone once described the race of Rome as sober, austere, active and free, endowed with a calm awareness of one's dignity; and based this description on the Roman features of having a sense of what one stands for and of what one's values are without feeling the necessity of any external reference or reassurance and so being completely devoid ofcheap showmanship.

However, this kind of spirit is not exclusively Roman, but can also be found in many sources around the world such as in the works left to us by Chinese taoist philosophers like Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu and Lao Tzu. Chuang Tzu wrote:

"In the age when nothing was missing from life on Earth, no one paid any attention to virtuous people and the talented did not rise above the others. Leaders were simply like the highest branches of trees and common men like deers in the woods.

They were considerate and righteous without consciously doing their duty. They loved each other without knowing this was love for one's half brethren. They did not deceive others and yet did not know they were trustworthy. They were honorable without having heard about good conscience.

They lived free, they gave and were given without knowing about generosity. So no one sings about their deeds."

First Signs of Degeneration

Another negative characteristic of the modern man is their tendency towards restless, undisciplined individualism. We can see the first results of the appearance of this trait most clearly in medieval Italy that degenerated intoparticularism, factions, struggles and rivalries.

Considering the splendour of Italian Renaissance we still cannot help but realize that here the author, rather than their work, is at center stage. But it doesn't stop there. Even lower we find a brand new type, who is always critical and ready to uphold an opposite thesis regardless of the subject itself in order to make a show of himself, to appear very smart in finding ways to get around an obstacle and in eluding a law.

Even lower there is the shrewd maliciousness, that is, the ability to fool others at any time one wants, which modern man considers an equivalent of intelligence, instead of a betrayal of one's own dignity.

The Roman Spirit, on the other hand, embodies a different attitude, which is best expressed by the proverb, "Pobrepalabras pero in obras largo" meaning "Poor of words but rich in deeds." or Moltke's characterization, "Talk little, do much and be more than you appear to be."

Temperament, We like to talk about it as a good thing.

Temperament, We like to talk about it as a good thing.

More Signs of Degeneration

A few more characteristics of modern man that I think are negative are

  • an explosive and changeable temperament, which owes its temporal highs and lows to circumstances, causing us to once appear as cheerful, enthusiastic and optimistic individuals and the next feel a sudden onslaught of psychological lows, helplessness and inner insecurities, anxiety about solitude that in turn force us to return to exteriority, noisy social interaction and passionateness, as opposed to a kind of inner equilibrium and a sense of measure;
  • sentimentality as opposed to true feelings;
  • the insincere show-off style of self-expression as opposed to simplicity and sincerity;
  • the turning of sex and women into an obsession as opposed to assigning to them their rightful place in life.

The Way Out

Unless we find the inspiration to take our lives in our own hands, the key roles will always be played by political myths as a galvanizing idea-force. Therefore we need to look to the heroes of everyday life who can take us down new pathways or rather towards a revolutionary way of life transcended by these ancient principles as they set a positive example.

In ancient Rome life, thought had no value within itself, but action was sacred, because it was the manifestation of the Roman Spirit.

Here at Hubpages, I do find a shelter where I encounter only kindness of heart. So thanks for exhibiting a way more positive attitude than that which I sometimes experience in other areas of my life.

Thanks for reading, folks. It was fun preaching before the masses. :)


Michael Graves on November 03, 2011:

Hey, Haunty! Voted up, I really liked the way that you put Roman culture and moral norms into proper perspective, along with some contrast with our own modern societies. However, regarding your commentary on the modern penchant for appearance over substance, I would like to add that, sometimes, this habit also causes other problems, because if one wears a mental and emotional mask for long enough, they may find themselves unable to doff it again. Great hub, I look forward to reading more.

RichERich1175 on February 22, 2011:

I am a former history teacher and invariable a history buff. I love antiquity, especially Ancient Rome. In my leisure time, I read Livy, Plutarch, Tacitus, Caesar, other other great Roman Historians. I found your article captivating and insightful and cannot wait to read other blogs of yours. Fabulous work indeed!!

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on February 15, 2011:

I studied Roman and Greek History in college, so do know a little about this. My main interest has always been the decline and what lessons we can learn from it. Since history is a repeating process, we can predict he future with a fair amount of certainty. Sparticus is a series on the Encore channel and is well done. It is not for the faint hearted and borders on x rating. You have been warned. RJ

AskAshlie3433 from WEST VIRGINIA on February 06, 2011:

I have always been interested in history. Very good hub, well, great I mean. Your a very good writer.

SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on September 06, 2010:

Just trying to get through the article, will bookmark and try again later. Got to it through frogdropping.

the wahdad from on August 02, 2010:

Seutonius The 12 Caesars exposes the Romans for the all too humans that they were, just like us really. And its popularity shows that gossip was as popular then as it is now.

You do not mention perhaps the greatest Roman of them all, Marcus Aurelius -

"The hour for your departure draws near; if you will forget all else and pay sole regard to the helmsman of your soul and the divine spark within you - if you will but exchange your fear of having to end your life some day for a fear of failing even to begin it on nature's true principals - you can yet become a man, worthy of the universe that gave you birth, instead of a stranger in your own homeland, bewildered by each day's happenings as though by wonders unlooked for, and ever hanging upon this one or the next."

privateye2500 from Canada, USA, London on June 30, 2010:

NO! I am NOT the same person I was 5 years ago. Yes, I have the same body (more or less)...but that's where the buck stops.

Haunty (author) from Hungary on April 18, 2010:


I have just read your forum topic re meaningful discussions of religious matters. I changed my mind, so I no longer think you're one of the trolls.

If any of my points need clarification, I would gladly clarify them.

Thank you for letting me know what you think.

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on April 17, 2010:

Thanks for preaching before the masses, Haunty! This is an excellent hub that I've bookmarked so I can come back and read it again. There are a lot of things (at least 4) to actually meditate upon from your presentation of Virtus that probably each take a different set of skills to attain to a reasonable degree. Like My Digest posted above, I also had to read twice to take in all that was presented.

Haunty (author) from Hungary on April 02, 2010:

lol earnest, it should be. Some claim to be doing it, but I not entirely convinced.

Thank you for reading. :)

earnestshub from Melbourne Australia on April 01, 2010:

Great hub Haunty! Thank you for the link frogdropping

A walk down the Isle of the supermarket will divulge our modern madness. Who needs such choice?

Our marketing reflects our focus on individuality on the outside and a lack of it within.

Imagine if morality was applied to marketing?

My Digest on January 29, 2010:

I had to slowly read this digest it all in. Do I have a roman spirit within me? I will ponder upon that before I sleep :)

avangend from St. Louis, MO on December 19, 2009:

Virtue, indeed, is certainly an admirable concept in today's world. But that's about it. Virtuous conduct too often falls well short of reality, and a sort of existential (and self-centered) angst has replaced those inherent, "Roman" cultural values. What you said about the "author, rather than the work" being at center stage was dead-on. There is not a striving for unified success, but for individual, capitalistic triumph. Adam Smith perhaps described more than the economy with his theories.

Excellent hub, I enjoyed it very much!

Hawkeyedubai from Dubai on December 08, 2009:

Very interesting and informative.lots to think about. keep up the good work as it must be inspireing to first time bloggers like me who are trying to find their way around.

many thanks

Haunty (author) from Hungary on December 06, 2009:

This is how I would like to be. And as time progresses I'm getting closer and closer to 'whatever needs to be done...'

Thank you, Kari. It's so good to see you! :D

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 06, 2009:

I really, really enjoyed this! We do need a "revolution" these days. The path to the "Roman spirit" just may be the path we need. :D

Barbara C from Andalucia, Spain on November 04, 2009:

A very interesting and thought provoking read - I've book-marked it to read in more depth a little later :)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on October 04, 2009:

Thanks That. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

I have some experience with corrupt governments myself.

Tath from georgia on October 04, 2009:

I enjoyed this very much. MY daughter (18 and in college ....finally ) loves history and her fav is ancient Roam.The battles ,how they ruled ,what they stood for and why they fell(as most do eventually) The more pepole that are under one rule distorts the orginal values of the people I think. More minds start the era of different ideals on living.The more power the governing group gets the more corupt it becomes and the orginal values are set aside for most that are governing and only applied to the ones they goveren.We should learn from the past but we are seemed to be doomed to repeat the same mistakes forever. Ty frogdroppings for the link . I realy injoyed this piece Haunty and I found your writing just perfect for me(I love the detailed way you explained).

Haunty (author) from Hungary on September 21, 2009:

Sure thing, loua. Thanks.

loua from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet on September 21, 2009:

Ancient Rome is one setting for the aspects of thought as is everywhere. The greater good is still a theme for the ethics of will in the here and now, it is the positive aspect of temperament in opposition to the negative aspect of usury... The leveling beam of thought polarity balances precariously on the fulcrum of passion, feelings and awareness in all ages.

I like the question; and the answer is, "we do this day live as the Romans with their limited value system".

You mentioned that," In ancient Rome, thought had no value within itself, but action was sacred, because it was the manifestation of the Roman Spirit." ~ I, still this day its the same, for thought is not a science as it should be; So it be known that worth is thought~wealth value...

Enjoyed the piece thoroughly...

Thanks, lou...

Haunty (author) from Hungary on July 10, 2009:

Thanks you, Tiger.

Amanda Davey from Canterbury, Kent, UK on July 09, 2009:

Thank you Frogdropping for pointing me towards this hub from your profile page.

Haunty: fantastic, thought provoking read. I'm off to explore more of your hubs and to join your fan club:)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on June 17, 2009:

Hi Dolores! I think the problem is that our leaders hold up the wrong values and we follow them blindly. I don't know if they do this because of some wicked plot they are involved in (and this would mean they are stupid) or because they can't transcend this facade themselves. However, there is nothing new in what I wrote about in this hub. It's the same as right vs. left in politics, nurture vs. nature in psychology, Olympian spirit vs. Titanic lust in mythology, King vs. Pope in religion and so on and so on.

Thanks for commenting.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 16, 2009:

Haunty, it's going to take me awhile to digeest this amzaing and informational hub. And making me think about us today, the facade we seem to live behind, and the artificialtiy of our leadership - it's all fake!

Haunty (author) from Hungary on June 05, 2009:

Lisa - I do agree with you. Thanks for the comment.

lbtrader - Thanks.

Dynamics - Aristides de Sousa Mendes, frogdropping's hub.

Sandria Green-Stewart from Toronto, Canada on June 01, 2009:

Thanks frogdroppin for your link to Hauty. Hauty, thanks for writing that "Unless we find the inspiration to take our lives in our own hands the key roles will always be played by political myths as a galvanizing idea-force. Therefore we need to look to the heroes of everyday life who can take us down new pathways or rather towards a revolutionary way of life transcended by these ancient principles as they set a positive example."

It is for that very reason, (which I could not articulate so well) that I am studying history, especially of the colonial and post colonial era. I need the inspiration from a real hero, perhaps I'll find a heroine too...

lbtrader from Canada on May 30, 2009:

If i only got one thing out of this hub it was the part about fooling people through cheap really thought this one out Haunty. It's worth another read on another day.

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on May 27, 2009:

Haunty, this a well written and thoughtful Hub; and I appreciated the good read.  I can see what you are saying; but based (I'll admit) on only having read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman of the Roman Empire", I have to say I see it as terrible time when life was viewed as far more "disposable" than it is today.  Some of the things people of those days were able to accomplish were amazing, but I can't help but view it as a terrible time in which to live.

Writers have always written about values.   More people may have written back then, and they may have had less "other stuff" to write about - which may explain why it could appear that there was so much writing and talk about values.  I wonder if the complications of our more "advanced" society has meant less time and attention spent by the most thoughtful among us, writing about values.  Whether this "guessing" is accurate or not, I don't know.

Like you, I have my "issues" with a lot of what goes on in society today, but the Roman leaders didn't have to worry that if they showed up on television, wearing the wrong shirt, they'd alienate a bunch of people who thought they looked too one-way-or-another.  Belief in honor and values is often underneath what can look superficial, so I don't think even the superficial-appearing stuff necessarily indicates things are as "bleak" as they may appear.  Also, there are people who do seem to embrace some of those Roman ways of doing things, and it hasn't necessarily been a positive force in today's world.

I think you've made a lot good points, and I agree that genuine values are most often seen in ordinary people around us.    Still, I'm not sure values are as much missing from society in general as they are not spoken/written about quite as much as they need to be.  Sometimes, too, a lot of the silliness and superficiality we see around us is a sign that we are at least a peaceful enough, and "advanced" enough, society to have such a luxury.

Like you, I have my "issues" with a lot of what goes on in society today, but the Roman leaders didn't have to worry that if they showed up on television, wearing the wrong shirt, they'd alienate a bunch of people who thought they looked too one-way-or-another. Belief in honor and values is often underneath what can look superficial, so I don't think even the superficial-appearing stuff necessarily indicates things are as "bleak" as they may appear. Also, there are people who do seem to embrace some of those Roman ways of doing things, and it hasn't necessarily been a positive force in today's world.

In our more complex society, I do think values could use some more publicity; but I still believe the world has come a long way toward being a much better place than it ever has in the past.

Haunty on May 27, 2009:

Thanks, frogdropping! It's pretty comforting to here that. Do whatever you think appropriate. :)

Andria on May 27, 2009:

Haunty - this is so well thought out, written and presented it deserves far more 'air time' than it's getting. I know you may be the unassuming kind but still - it's a bloody great article.

At the very least - I'm going to link it to my profile page. I get so many hits on that - maybe a few more will lcome ookit.

Or maybe I should just do a hub about my favourite articles.


AJHargrove from USA on May 26, 2009:

I'm not sure I would really love living in Ancient Rome. If values like that were the norm, I'd reconsider that stance, but I think it's more of an ideal state. There was still plenty of dishonesty, etc. in Rome. Not to mention, I love the Internet. (I know, priorities.) ;)

James A Watkins from Chicago on May 25, 2009:

This Hub is incredible. You spoke the truth with clarity and I agree with you 100%. I am glad I found this Hub. Bravissimo!

Haunty (author) from Hungary on May 25, 2009:

I mean, you're right about what you said, not your thinking. :)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on May 25, 2009:

You're right. Thanks for reading it. I hate to preach about morals. I think, my obsession with history and research made me write this. I'd like to believe in a better world and do something for it.

As the buddhists say: although enlightenment is unattainable, we vow to attain it. :)

Btw, you remind me of a very good friend. :)

Andria on May 25, 2009:

Haunty - forgot. Read through all this earlier. I think we've forgotten to look to those above us - the elder folk - and instead, we perpetually look ahead. But to what? What's to come? We simply don't know. We forget to examine our past, learn from our triumphs and mistakes. And - many years ago, money, whilst still holding a strange allure, a certain power, it didn't have quite the same force or impulsion as it has now. Gone are the days when the good old conquering of kingdoms was a demonstration of your individual prowess huh?! But then - that's no bad thing either hmmm? And - we've become a race obsessed with 'things'. Objects are our new Gods. Not our morals, our faith. Not our capacity for extending thought and care beyond the few we can reach around us. Ahhhh ... we've become fascinated with our personal desires, with more more more ...

And ... I'll shut up :) I don't know where that came from. Just thinking out aloud. Not even sure it's relevant Haunty. Just thoughts. And mine are chaotic at the best of times ;)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on May 22, 2009:

Oh well, I should've known it's him. Or no, probably not.... I don't know... This guy is a mystery to me, which I can't wait to unravel. Can't wait. :)

Andria on May 22, 2009:

Haunty - its *whispers ___________________* shhhhhh! No telling ;)

I will likely load him tomorrow. Probably disappear in the numbers but hey ho. I hope not because the guys life was incredible. I want people to know about him.

And I like that you like my Portugal hubs. I thoroughly enjoy writing them. It's possibly a history thing as much as anything else. I know enough about the UK - as does much of the rest of the world. But so many don't know anything about Portugal - let alone it's colourful history.

Better go back to work :)

Haunty (author) from Hungary on May 22, 2009:

Probably I wasn't in the perfect mood when I was writin this. Thanks anyway. :)

Don't read it if you're struggling. I myself has huge amounts of hubs bookmarked for later.

Your hubs on Portugal and the people who made it are very exciting. May I ask who the man is or is it still a secret? :)

Andria on May 22, 2009:

Oh and yes, forgot to say that I'm researching/scribbling about an incredibly interesting man. I'm unfortunately finding it difficult to do the writing bit because he had to be up there with the great givers to mankind and I keep lagging up reading more about him.

Andria on May 22, 2009:

Haunty - just so you know: I've started reading this but it's a bit like the History of Mr Polly - you gotta think and muse whilst reading. Bookmarked and will comment - even if it's not hugely enlightening - when I've finished it properly :)

Still rated up though - tis not your fault I have to take a coffee break!

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