Recently I got some question from high school class about daily life in Ancient Rome. There were many interesting and creative questions. Questions that never would have crossed my mind. Some of those question I'll present and answer here in this post. Enjoy!
1. Was there a lot of human trafficking?
Yes, slavery was widespread and the norm, as in almost all ancient civilizations. In the Roman Empire this was no different. There were four "types" of slaves or ways to become a slave. First, there was debt slavery at the beginning of the Roman Empire, which meant that even Roman citizens could sell their freedom to reduce their debts. This form of slavery was abolished in the 2nd century BC. The second and probably best known was the acquisition of slaves by conquests and wars. By that prisoners of war were sold as slaves. But even in times of peace and despite being away from the war zone, you could become a victim of slavery. This hit mainly traders and other travelers who were captured by pirates and then sold as slaves. Finally, there was the fourth way: to be born a slave. Children of slaves automatically got the status of their parents and were called Vernae. Some historians estimate that about 15-25% of the Roman population were slaves.
2. Did Romans have pets?
Definitely! Romans had pets like dogs and cats. Aside from those they also had horses, cows, sheep etc.
3. Did Romans have compassion for animals?
Rather not. According to historians it is estimated, that more than one hundred thousand animals were killed in the Colosseum in Rome alone. This happened, as well as the gladiatorial fighting, for the entertainment of the masses. In some cases, "intact" animals were killed after a game anyway, since they were no longer needed and fresh goods were already on their way. Exotic animals such as lions, panthers, crocodiles, hippopotamuses and elephants were brought from Africa, bears from Northern and Central Europe and North Africa, tigers from the East, etc. Some species were threatened with extinction in certain regions. Only after Christianity became the state religion the slaughter of these animals was banned.
4. Was religion important?
According to religious scholars, the polytheistic faith of the Romans was an orthopraxic religion. This form means to "getting it right". That means that men give so that the gods give something back. Cults, of which there were many, did not care if people believed in it, but that the cult was done right. It was like a kind of contract between humans and gods, where gods offer humans support and help against cult worship. This is in contrast to Christianity, which is an Orthodox religion. Here faith is the focus. On the principle: believe correctly. With the introduction of Christianity as a state religion, cults and the old faith were called pagan and soon banned.
5. Did Romans have clubs?
Romans wouldn't know what a club is. But of course Romans knew how celebrate already! After all, the rich Roman class is known for its decadence. The patricians could afford pompous festivities with all the amenities of dancers and musicians. But that does not mean that the lower classes did not celebrate. They could meet in taverns and enjoy their wine in community.
6. Did drinks contain sugar already exist?
By itself, there were no sugary drinks. However, there was sweet food such as fruits. Food and drinks were sweetened mostly with honey. Thus, the Romans already had a forerunner for the mulled wine known to us, which was prepared warm from wine, sweetened with honey, saffron and other ingredients.
7. Did Romans use drugs?
Definitely! Probably the most popular drug was wine. Romans also used opium, especially poppy and sometimes toadstools.
8. Were poor people able to drink/afford wine?
Yes, you have to add that wine was one of the only true drinks in ancient times, because the water did not have very good quality. There were different types of wine (red, yellow, orange, etc.), which were mixed with water. Even slaves were entitled to wine!
9. Was there a death penalty?
Definitely! Like slavery, the death penalty was an important part of Roman society. Depending on the nature of the crime and the social status, there were different types of execution. From beheadings to the crucifixion.
10. Did Romans have Make-Up?
Care and beauty have been documented since the beginning of civilization. Beauty customs of the Egyptians, Greeks and Roman women were written down. Make-up was common in all layers of the Roman society. There were already forerunners of eyeshadow, mascara and lipstick. Since fair skin was regarded as the ideal of beauty, women put lime-white or white lead in the form of powder on their face and skin. Not to be recommended, my children!
11. When did women have to marry?
Generally, girls married very early, sometimes even below the legally allowed age. The matrimony for girls was 12 years, while for the boy it was 14 years. Often times the spouse was much older than the young bride. A minimum of 10 years age difference was the norm. It was not until a second or third marriage that spouses approached more in age.
12. Why was homosexuality/bisexuality valued so much?
At the beginning of the Roman Empire (7th-5th century BC), homosexuality was actually very frowned upon. It has been considered something foreign, Hellenic (Greek). Only from the 3rd century BC homosexual relationships were tolerated under certain circumstances. Important here was that the Roman citizen always had to take the active role! A relationship between a slave and his master was therefore possible and tolerated.
13. Was homosexuality punished?
There are some known cases where people were punished for it. Such as the case of a father who killed his son because he is said to have had a relationship with another Roman citizen.
14. Did Romans use contraception?
Romans definitely tried to prevent pregency! In addition to the known anal intercourse, the coitus Interruptus (the withdrawal of the penis before ejaculation) was practiced. Please do not do that! Another "method" was that the woman hopped up and down after intercourse to get the sperm out of her body. In addition, amulets and incantations were used. Sponges were also put into the vagina to prevent conception. Again I like to point out: Please do not copy, our modern contraceptive methods are more efficient and safer! But if you want to learn more about contraception in antiquity, then read on!
15. Was there a lot of incest? Was it punished?
Generally, incest was punished and was a serious crime. Children from incestuous connections were not recognized by the state and were not entitled to inherit. But what was considered as incest? For example, the marriage to an uncle was legalized by Emperor Claudius (see picture) and was abolished only over 100 years later and punished with death. Following connections were considered to be incest:
//Siblings /Adoptive-Siblings /Step-Siblings
//Daughter-in-Law / Son-in-Law
//Child and parent
16. Was mythology pornography for Romans?
No, I would not consider that. There were some perverted stories, but the Romans had an obsession with pornographic images anyway. However, mostly normal people were pictured on it. But maybe there were some people being turned on by those stories.
17. Were women able to enter a political office?
Women could only exercise power indirectly, including politically. There were some empresses, daughters of emperors, sisters of emperors, etc., who had a considerable influence on political affairs. However, there was never an official political office for women except the First Lady.
18. Did Romans have Burn-Outs?
We do not know it. Perhaps. Psychology and mental illnesses have only really been recognized for 100 years. Did they already exist before? Certainly. But people with mental illnesses were dismissed as crazy. So yes, it could be highly possible that people with Burn-Outs lived in Ancient Rome.
19. Did a fire brigade already exist?
In fact, there was a fire department. In addition to police duties, they had to extinguish fires, of course, because again and again fire broke out in cities, which could spread quickly. Buckets, hammers, sponges, blankets and even syringes were used and water pressure pumps made from steel pipes to contain fire.
20. What clothes did the Romans wear? Did designer clothes already exist?
The toga is pretty famous being worn by Romans, but in reality it was only worn by Romans with a public office to distinguish themselves from ordinary citizens and slaves. The common man wore a tunic of wool and a linen shirt. They were worn with belts, for this was a good custom. Beside the belt one also wore coats, trousers and shoes. You could dye fabrics and also buy more exotic fabrics, if you could afford it. There was no such thing as branded clothing.
21. How did communication work? Especially over long distances
Well, there letters were certainly used, made of papyrus in some cases, which were sent to communicate over long distances. Or you sent a messenger, typically slaves. As the public post office was not able to be used by private persons. In a city/town itself, you simply went to your friend's home or sent a slave and you made an appointment for fixed dates. If someone was not there, you could always leave a message. It sometimes happened that news took years to arrive.
22. Which religion did the Romans practice?
As I said before, Romans were polytheistic. At the beginning. They took over the gods and goddesses of the Greeks and gave them new names. Zeus became Jupiter, Hera Juno, Athena Minerva, etc. Christianity did become state religion in the 4th century, whereby Christians existed long before. However, those were persecuted for a long time and cruelly executed.