If you lived in ancient Rome ...: what was life like for kids in ancient Rome? JS travels back in time to find out.
Our visit begins in the heart of Rome, in the year 80 A.D. Emperor Titus, who is known as a generous leader, rules over the land. It is morning, but the streets are already crowded and noisy, as people make their way to work and school. Many walk, but some are carried by slaves. Two of four men balance poles on their shoulders as they ferry people sitting on curtained couches. At one corner, women shop for fruits at the market, while soldiers in leather armor share a laugh.
From School to a Trade
Marcus is a plebeian, a member of Rome's working class. He lives with his parents in a small apartment in the city. As Marcus takes his seat at school, he tells himself that he will not misbehave today. Yesterday, he got whipped for not paying attention.
Marcus studies hard to master reading, writing, and arithmetic. His lessons are in Latin, the language of Rome. His parents must work hard to send him to a privately run school, since the government does not pay for education in Rome.
In a few months, the wealthy kids in class will go on to higher education, but not Marcus. He must help support his family, so he will learn a trade.
Marcus will become a stonemason, like his father. He will learn to cut and decorate large stones used to construct buildings and bridges. It takes a lot of skill to chisel each stone the right way, so Marcus will have to train for several years. He won't have much time to play chess of marbles like other kids his age. But the work he does will help create the architecture for which Rome wilt become famous.
A Traditional Banquet
A few miles outside the city, Lucia finishes Latin lessons with her home tutor. Lucia is excited about the banquet her parents will host this evening.
Lucia is an aristocrat. She and her family live in a huge stone mansion. Her father is a Senator, and he often throws parties to entertain fellow politicians.
At the party, Lucia will wear a simple, loose-fitting dress over her tunic. (Roman tunics were long woolen of linen clothing that resembled today's short-sleeve T-shirts.) As the banquet hour approaches, she straightens one of the three couches that are set up around a long table for guests to lounge on.
Soon, the guests begin to arrive. They also wear formal clothing over their tunics. The men wear white woolen togas. (These were the equivalent of today's suit.) Lucia smiles and compliments the women on their beautiful dresses, jewelry, and crowns.
Slaves come from the kitchen with food arrayed on silver platters. Lucia chooses a little bit of almost everything from the buffet: eggs, olives, grapes, mushrooms, cheese, nuts, snails, and pork. She decides to pass on the flamingo meat.
Everyone eats with their hands or with spoons. (Forks were invented a few centuries later.) They drink wine mixed with water that one of the slaves has brought in from the public fountain. Some of the guests excuse themselves so they can go throw up their food to make room for more. No one finds this disgusting or upsetting, because it's normal behavior for wealthy Romans.
On religious holidays, Marcus and his family join the lively crowds attending public games. Marcus loves to see the chariot races, the most popular form of Roman entertainment. Last month, he crammed into the Circus Maximus with nearly 300,000 other people. (In ancient Rome, a circus was a large circular arena used for races and other sporting contests.)
Marcus cheered with the crowd as the chariots, each pulled by four horses, raced around the track. Until he lost his voice, he rooted for green, his favorite team's color.
In a few days, Marcus and his father will attend a gladiator fight at the Colosseum, in honor of the god Jupiter. Sometimes two gladiators fight to the death. At other times, the Emperor or a Senator decides the fate of the gladiators.
After the games, animals are often sent into the arena. Marcus remembers seeing a lion and a bear chained to each other. The two animals pulled on the chains as far as they could go, swatting at each other with their sharp claws. The lion finally sank his teeth into the bear. Marcus covered his eyes as blood squirted from the bear's nose. But, along with the crowd, he screamed for more.
Like many Romans, Lucia's family has a shrine to the gods in their home. Lucia worships the gods every day by offering them incense, wine, and food. Romans pray to different gods for different things.
Lucia prays to Venus for love, and to Mars for success in war. She does this so her brother, who is in the Roman army, may one day return victorious. Whenever something goes wrong in her life, like last week when she hurt her knee, Lucia believes that the gods are angry with her. She is hoping that this week the gods will favor her and help her get good grades on the exams given by her tutor.
Lucia's mother is very superstitious. She believes that owls are a sign of upcoming disaster, and bees a symbol of good luck.
The belief in gods will change over the next two centuries as Christianity and monotheism are introduced to Rome, then later spread throughout the empire by the Emperor Constantine (312 to 337 A.D.). The regions of Rome will begin to break away, many forming their own countries.
With that, life as Lucia and Marcus know it will disappear. Barbarian tribes will attack the borders of the empire, which will crumble around the year 476. After 1,200 years of rule, the Roman Empire will finally come to an end.
Words to Know
* aristocrat: a member of the ruling class.
* monotheism: the belief in only one God.
Think About It
1. Was anything about Roman life similar to the world you live in today? Explain.
2. Not everyone in Roman times loved the public gladiator matches. In the 1st century A.D., a philosopher named Seneca the Younger wrote: "There is nothing more harmful to one's character than going to these shows.... When I come home from one, I find that I am greedier and more aggressive.... I am more cruel." Are there movies or sports events today that evoke the same response from you? Explain.
Students should be able to:
* recognize differences and similarities between their own lives and those of kids living in Rome nearly two millennia ago.
* be able to describe how wealthy and working-class Romans lived.
Most gladiatorial contests did not end in death. When a gladiator fell to the ground, incapable of fighting anymore, the crowd would yell either mitte (Let him go!) or iugula (Kill him!). Most scholars believe that thumbs turned sideways meant iugula. Thumbs in, or pressed against the forefinger, meant mitte. People also waved handkerchiefs to signify mercy. There is no evidence of a thumbs-down gesture. (Only in the sword-and-sandal epics of Hollywood does that mean death.)
* Critical Thinking
MAKING INFERENCES: Which pastimes of ancient Rome would be frowned upon today, and why? (Animal and gladiator fights would certainly be looked down on, or even outlawed. Such practices are considered cruel by modern society. Other answers likely.)
COMPARING AND CONTRASTING: The work of ancient Rome's stonemasons survive in that city's buildings and monuments more than 2,000 years later. Could anything made today last that long? Explain. (Answers will vary.)
WORD UP! Much of what we say and how we say it today comes down to us from ancient Rome. The English, French, and Spanish languages are deeply rooted in Latin. Have students find everyday words with Latin roots, then compare lists.
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Culture/Time, continuity, and change: The daily lives of ancient Romans had striking similarities to and differences from ours.
* Connolly, Peter, Ancient Rome (Oxford University Press, USA, 2001). Grades 4-7.
* Watkins, Richard Ross, Gladiator (Houghton Mifflin, 1997). Grades 6-9.
* Ancient Rome/Kidipede historyforkids.org/learn/romans
* Video: Trajan's Market history.com/media.do?id=rome_trajan_marketbroadband&action=clip
* Write the letter of the correct answer on the line before each question.
--16. Which of the following was not part of the Roman empire?
--17. Stonemasons were part of which level of Roman society?
--18. In ancient Rome, what was a circus?
A. curtained couches on poles
B. circular sporting arena
C. circular tent for acrobats
D. shrine to the gods
19. Which of the following would have been abnormal at a Roman aristocrat's dinner party?
A. eating with one's hands
B. lounging on a couch
C. throwing up
D. using a knife and fork
--20. What was the name of the Roman Emperor who helped spread Christianity through the empire?
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|Title Annotation:||World History|
|Date:||Jan 22, 2007|
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