Living in Luxury in Ancient Rome
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 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 cosmetic cream unearthed in 2003
The remarkable preservation of the white cream in a tin canister could offer unique insights into 2000-year-old rituals
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.
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.
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?
© 2009 Susanna Duffy