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Living in Luxury in Ancient Rome

Updated on December 10, 2014
Life of Luxury
Life of Luxury | Source

Ancient Roman Life was Fabulous for the Rich

How satisfying it must have been to live in Ancient Rome in the first few centuries of our era. But only if you were rich! For a rich Roman was fabulously wealthy, as is to be expected in an imperialist society based on slavery.

Sumptuous homes, imported fabrics, great works of art, excellent entertainment, the finest of food imported from all over the Empire and that very essence of wealth - time.on your hands.

Some of the many luxuries enjoyed by well-to-do Ancient Romans were theatre-going, gym workouts and delicious dining in beautiful surroundings. People haven't changed in a couple of thousand years.

Born into the purple

Clothes were as important a part of ancient Roman daily life as they are for the people of Rome today

Ancient Roman clothing was a symbol of status and power and no other colour more clearly represented prestige than purple. Only the most expensive dyes were used to produce purple and so it became synonymous with wealth and power.

The dyes used for multicoloured tunics were made out of purple shellfish (with colours ranging from deep orange to a black purple) and was said to have left a faint odour that made the wearer "smell of money".

The purple dye from Murex
The purple dye from Murex | Source

The Power of Purple

It took some 12,000 Murex shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure purple dye. Legend tells us that Hercules discovered the dye when his dog munched on some snails along the Levantine coast and ended up with a purple mouth.

Most of the clothing fabric was of wool, with some linen imported from Egypt and, later in the Empire, silks or "serica" imported from far-off China. A convincing Wild silk was woven on the Greek Island of Cos. These were extremely light, transparent fabrics in gorgeous hues.

You would have to be fabulously rich to wear these clothes!

The Women's World

The Culture of Beauty

Elegance, finery, and beautiful clothes are women's badges, in these they find joy and take pride, this is the women's world. (Livy)

Hairstyles, jewellery, cosmetics, skin-care and clothing were of great interest to Roman women. There's nothing unusual in trying to look your best, but the matrons of Rome spent inordinant amounts of time on self pampering.

Portraits of Ancient Roman Women

Ancient Roman Cosmetics - From the History Channel

Ancient Roman style Jewellery

The Ancient Romans understood the allure of lovely jewellery

Roman Remains in Bath

The Healing Springs at Aquae Sulis

Minerva, the "Goddess of a thousand works", was worshipped throughout Italy. As Minerva Medica, she was the Goddess of Medicine while in the city of Rome itself, she was honoured as the Goddess of War.

Minerva's worship was also taken out to the empire - in Britain, she was said to be Sulis, the local Goddess of Wisdom. She was the patron of the healing springs at Bath.

Bathing was a serious matter
Bathing was a serious matter | Source

The Serious Matter of Bathing

Taking a bath was a serious matter. First, there was the cold bath (the frigidarium), then the warm bath (the tepidarium) and the hot bath (the caldarium). One of the public baths at Pompeii contains two warm baths, two hot baths, a large exercise area and a plunge pool.

A Roman would spend time in each one during a session at the baths before moving on to the exercise area (the palaestra), the swimming pool and the gymnasium.

Rich Romans. naturally, would have private baths installed behind the high walls of their homes, but a trip to the public baths, accompanied by slaves toting oils, unguents, hair rinses, mouth wash and skin creams was a social event. Friends would meet up for gossip and a great deal of networking was carried out in the relaxed atmosphere

Ancient Romans loved Colour

Romans loved colour and used it extensively in their homes and on themselves.

We're used to thinking of Ancient Rome in terms of white - like the senator's togas and classical statues, but both statues and buildings were painted in bright colours. As colourful as the clothes, apart from the senatorial uniform.

A Day at the Races

Polydorus, the Popular Charioteer

Polydorus, a chariot driver from the Reds, and his lead horse, Compressor, are immortalised on a tile mosaic as if they were Heroes of the State.

Chariot racing was the most popular sport in Rome, and the best drivers (agitatores) from the teams of Red, Blue, Green and White enjoyed the same adulation that celebrity film stars receive today.

The upper classes had the best seats in the Circus Maximus (the Big Oval) where they could cheer on their favourites and, while nibbling on dried figs and imported dates, could place discreet private bets on the outcome of the races.

After a long and tiring day of betting and eating, the upper crust would be carried home in canopied litters to discuss, over dinner in the garden, the race results and to philosophise on the rewards and hazards of the race-course as a metaphor for life.

Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day (Traveling on 5)
Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day (Traveling on 5)

Do you have a Time Machine to take you to Ancient Rome? If so, here's the travel guide for you.

No Time machine? Better carry this guide next to your modern guide - you'll be able to see the ancient and modern side by side


Life in Ancient Rome - A Virtual Tour

The Reality of Rome - virtually speaking.

A lovely tour through the ancient city

How about you?

What would you do if you were a wealthy Ancient Roman?

See results

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

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    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      The caveat here is that I would have to be wealthy, knowing myself, I'd be a slave somewhere doing the toiling........

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 4 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Living in luxury during any age has got to be a plus ;) It would be great to be able to time travel back for a few weeks just to experience it first hand, though.

    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 4 years ago from Cyprus

      Sometimes I wish I lived in Ancient Rome, but I'd have to be rich to really enjoy it there. And yep, I would have done all the things you mentioned in your poll!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Didn't they also attend gladiator training and the games itself? Being an ancient Roman woman would be a life of luxury and divinity. Even though it was a self-centered lifestyle, no one could just ignore the temptation of such fine living. Great information, I especially love the makeup video and the Minerva in Silver part.

      In the shows Spartacus and Rome, with the city and the wealthy, it's like candy for me. It's all so beautiful and the clothing looks incredible!

    • WebMarketingPro profile image

      WebMarketingPro 5 years ago

      Gosh, I just voted and missed the "all of the above" option. Can I change my vote?

      Great lens! Thanks!

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      Those Romans had it made..

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Am just reading Iggulden's Emperor series and ancient Roman life is fascinating. It's luxurious and pathetic at the same time. Reminds me of the lifestyle of some very rich people in some parts of the world. I would have enjoyed this, too.

    • profile image

      johnny6toes 5 years ago

      Excellent read. I have always fantasized about living a life of importance for a day as part of any notable ancient civilization, Rome included.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      It would have been oh so wonderful to be affluent in ancient Rome (being of the lower slave class though would definitely have been not quite as much fun). You have certainly taught me a great deal, now I know where the saying to smell like money has come from, and also why purple is often considered the color of royalty. You truly do have a wealth of knowledge in your lenses.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @Science-Fiction-Fan: more likely plastered

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      hi i am so board

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 6 years ago

      It would so fun to live that life for a day.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Certainly an opulent lifestyle! Envious perhaps!? :)

    • profile image

      CanAnybodySing 6 years ago

      Oh how the times have changed... ;)

    • Srena44 profile image

      Srena44 6 years ago

      great lens

    • Valdacious profile image

      Valdacious 6 years ago

      Really interesting lens! Thanks!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      This is quite fascinating. I think i would have loved the baths... wonder if women had the same priveledgtes as men with regard to those?

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Somewhere i read that The average Roman family consisted of father, mother, children,married sons, their family, and slaves. If you didn't get married by the age of 15-16, you were punished.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I love reading about the Romans and this is no exception. What a life rich Romans had although it could be dangerous too - all that intrigue and plotting. I love the way you make them more real with the details of their lives. Blessed by an April Fools Day travelling Angel.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      What a life... they really do seem to have invented la dolce vita. I listened to the Roman music while viewing this, which added to the atmosphere. Very interesting and blessed by a time-travelling History angel.

    • profile image

      MisTikkal 6 years ago

      Whoo hoo pass me my silks but only after that luxury bath and massage thanks :)

      Sent the poll onto FB

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Thoroughly enjoyed this lens, thank you! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Fascinating look into the life of the wealthy in ancient Rome - as you said in the beginning- times haven't changed that much.

    • profile image

      scar4 7 years ago

      So precious to see the luxury of ancient Rome. Then a sentence hit my head" Everything happens in haste just like floating clouds", leave it here.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      We are so lucky that we can still see some of "ANcient Rome" today, it is a city I would love to visit. However, I do actually live very close to an Ancient Roman city where evidence of their occupation is still turned up on a regualr basis.

      A fascinating lens Susanna :)

    • profile image

      glenanail 7 years ago

      haha im on a roll i think i will read all of your lenses im have a kick for the roman times

    • polly72 lm profile image

      polly72 lm 7 years ago

      Ah to be rich with luxury the romanic way

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Who would pass up being carried home in a litter? Wonderful coverage of a fascinating time and people!

    • ICanCook profile image

      ICanCook 7 years ago

      My favorite part of living in Ancient Rome would be to have people bath and dress me.

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 7 years ago

      Just had to add this link to my Latin Words and Sayings lens. Your ancient Rome lenses are so cool.

    • jolielaide75 profile image

      jolielaide75 7 years ago

      Great lens! Ancient Roman living was decadent and intriguing. Thanks for shedding light on it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Stunning lens on ancient Roman luxury, I wonder if any of us were among the ancient Romans enjoying the wealth and power and how much it will take to recreate the grandeur today.

    • LilliputStation profile image

      LilliputStation 7 years ago

      Another great lens! I'm lensrolling you on my Ancient History Lessons page. Thanks for making life easier for homeschooling moms.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I find this time period fascinating. I learned a little bit of Roman history when I was Israel, particularly when I was standing on top of Masada, looking down at the still-visible outlines of the old Roman camps. But that was hardly representative of the lifestyle you describe here. If I could travel back in time (temporarily that is) and be invisible too, this is one period I'd choose to see.

    • profile image

      whatsreal12 7 years ago

      Who knew? You've given me an education... thank you!

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 7 years ago from Cheshire UK

      I have no idea how I have managed to miss this lens which is amazing about a city and culture that I adore! Blessed by a passing Squid Angel :-)

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 7 years ago from USA

      What a beautiful Lens! However, we wouldn't have you here, if you lived in ancient Rome! All of the marvelous things you have written - would not have existed. We'd rather have you here...

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 7 years ago

      That was such an interesting era. Great job on your lens.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 7 years ago from California

      I really need to make some new chitons. Though my garb is hopelessly anachronistic; I tend to wear more Greek than Roman, carry an Etruscan lyre, and then I wear combat boots! (I found a shoemaker who makes caligae).

      (One of my early, lousy attempts at peplos over chiton:

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      What a trip! And I am impressed by the quality of those portraits of roman women!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      A fascinating glimpse into the lives of wealthy Romans.

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 7 years ago

      The music is really cool! When I went looking for ancient Roman music a few years ago, I couldn't find any. I'm so glad somebody's got it up on the Web.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      You would have to be very rich of course - what a life!

    • natnickeep lm profile image

      natnickeep lm 8 years ago

      Very interesting lens! I loved it. A bit of history on beauty and ancient Rome at the same time. Nice work!!

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 8 years ago

      I've been to Rome and stood in the Coliseum. It was a very moving experience after studying ancient Rome in school.

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 8 years ago

      I guess it wasn't that much different than today. I've been to Rome, love the history. I don't know that there is a period of history I would actually want to live in, but wow, to be able to time travel and spend just a bit of time here and there would be fantastic. Guess this lens is the virtual equivalent!

    • partyjulie profile image

      partyjulie 8 years ago

      What an amazing lens!!! So beautiful and interesting!!! 5*!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      This is a fascinating topic, even to someone like me who isn't a huge history buff. I really enjoyed this ... although I don't know that I'd have been too happy living in ancient Rome; I don't think women did much hiking or backpacking then. Did they? It would have been a drag in a skirt.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      Indeed, this is a great lens! I'm fond of history so, your lens can only please to me! Please tell us more about living in the ancient Rome as a wealthy person :D



    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 8 years ago

      Lovely pictures and great information. It must have been a hard life for them in those day haha.

      Poor slaves though. 5* and fav

    • profile image

      Light-in-me 8 years ago

      Very interesting, I love Ancient Rome, I like this idea, kind of like lifestyles of the rich and famous. Ancient lifestyles of the rich and famous sounds like a great niche topic.

      Take care,


    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      Ancient Rome is quite interesting. Thanks for the peek into the lives of the ancient rich and famous! Blessed!