What It Was Like To Live In Ancient Rome During Its Golden Age

What It Was Like To Live In Ancient Rome During Its Golden Age


The hottest place to live
from the second century BC through the second century AD
was, no doubt, ancient Rome. Though like any major
city, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it was insanely loud
streets and using something called a communal sponge
to wipe your bum with. Today, we’re looking at what
was life like in ancient Rome during the golden age. But before we dive into the
glamorous life of the Romans, be sure to click and
subscribe to never miss out on a weird history deep dive. As early as sixth
century BC, Rome began taking census
information to assist with the needs of the
growing population. The population of
Rome was generally believed to be in the
hundreds of thousands during the first century BC and
shooting up as high as 800,000 by the reign of Augustus and
hitting as many as a cool million during the
second century AD. Rome was a hodgepodge of free
men and women with varying degrees of wealth and
some not so free men and women who contributed to
the population frenzy that created a very crowded city
with not a lot of space to accommodate its people. Housing was extremely limited
with a population of this size, so the city developed
insula, or tenements. Insula consisted of
numerous apartments alongside businesses and shops
with large numbers of people living in close confines. They were several stories
high, poorly built, and home to a variety
of income levels both poor and only kind of poor. They were also susceptible
to being on fire, collapse, and aided in the
spread of disease. An alternative to the
ever appealing dorm room coffin-like insula was a single
family home known as the domus. The domus was appealing to
the wealthier Roman resident. And the richer the Roman,
the bigger the domus. Domus featured one or two
stories with reception, halls living rooms or atria,
several bedrooms, dining rooms, a kitchen, and bathroom adjoined
outdoor spaces for relaxing. Larger houses might contain
several bathrooms and even private baths. Doing your business
in private wasn’t a guarantee in ancient Rome. A domus was in Rome was
smaller than most houses in other cities due to
the tight topography and space of the city
during the Roman Empire. The locations of domus in Rome
are difficult to pin down, but it’s presumed
they were located outside the danger of
a rising Tiber River and close to places of
imperial importance. Domus could span an
entire city block. And unlike the poorly
constructed hobo shanties of the very safe sounding insula
were standalone structures that didn’t face crowded
Roman streets directly. As mentioned previously,
bathing and cleanliness of Rome were slightly less
conventional than what we’re used to in modern times. Everyone from slaves
to Roman emperors visited the public
baths in the city. Called thermae by
the first century BC, public baths included
hot and cold rooms with pools, steam rooms,
and dry heat rooms where people could clean
themselves, carry out business transactions, and socialize. The public bars were
coed until the practice of inter-gender
mingling in public baths was forbidden by
Emperor Hadrian, a frequent patron
of public baths himself in second century AD. Hadrian famously gave a veteran
he saw one of his own slaves to perform the duty. The honor of scraping
oil off a human body, normally done with a
strigil, belonged to servants for the wealthy people,
while poor trash people had to scrape the oil off
their own garbaged bodies. The number of baths in Rome
increased from first century BC through the fifth century
AD and got even more fancy with the addition of
fountains and gymnasias. By 400 AD, it is estimated
800 to 900 public baths were getting weird in Rome. Emperors such as Trajan,
Caracalla, and Diocletian gifted Rome elaborate baths that
could serve thousands of Romans at one time. Diocletian built the
largest, a structure with massive pools lined with
marble clad walls and granite columns. The task of washing
clothes in Rome fell to the fuller, who provided
an essential service to Romans since most didn’t wash
their own clothes. Without the benefits and later
internet hilarity of Tide Pods, fullers got creative in finding
ways to bleach linens and wool garments– urine. Both animal urine
and human urine contain the cleaning
agent ammonia. Pee would be diluted with
water thrown into a vat, and fullers would stop
around in the bucket like Lucille Ball
did with grapes, only not funny and very gross. By the late first
century AD urine became a valuable commodity. So much so Emperor
Vespasian put a tax on urine collected in public. This didn’t sit well with
Vespasian’s son, Titus, who didn’t think it was super
cool for his dad to collect taxes on public conveniences. Vespasian responded by
waving a piece of money from the first payment
to his sons nose and asked whether its
odor was offensive to him. When Titus said no, he replied,
yet it comes from urine. Ancient Rome had a
reputation for stellar street design for good reason. While most planned cities
had patterned streets, unplanned cities could
delve into chaos, even if roads were
generally well constructed. Roads linked areas through
the empire and Rome, including the via Appia, which
ran for more than 130 Roman miles across the
Italian peninsula. While Rome had paved streets
that allowed for drainage, the frequent use of chariots
and other wheeled vehicles caused a ruckus of
epic proportions. Julius Caesar himself
in the first century BC made it illegal
for wheely traffic to enter the downtown area
of Rome during the day. While the noise was reduced
during daytime hours, it only succeeded
in turning nighttime into a calamity of noise. Overcrowding and traffic both
contributed to constant racket in the streets that
made peaceful sleep damn near impossible. Ancient Rome with an elaborate
system of aqueducts and sewers had running water in their
homes and public places, making them pretty sophisticated
all things considered. The cloaca maxima,
or main sewer, collected water
from around the city and channeled it back
into the Tiber River. By the third century AD
they turned the open channel into a closed tunnel
that collected water from public baths and
latrines, and got the town’s sewage the hell out of Rome. Before iPhones, people used to
connect with one another face to face. And what better time
to have a conversation with a neighbor than when
you’re doing your business. At public latrines,
there were multiple holes for men and women to relieve
themselves with wild abandon, and wealthier Romans would
have latrines in their home with one or two holes. In public latrines, human
waste would dump out into the running water below. But with little ventilation
and communal sponges for toilet paper, the
smelling situation in Rome sounds less than desirable. In lieu of doing fun things
like watching Netflix until bedtime at 8 PM,
Romans had all sorts of ways to spend
their leisure time and keep themselves entertained. The Colosseum, which
we did a video on, hosted gladiator combat for
an exciting but bloody way to pass the time. Rome was home to theaters of
varying sizes that were often modeled after Greek
buildings with tiered seating and awnings to block out
the weather conditions. Smaller theaters existed
during this time period but were mostly for
musical performances, with larger theaters being
reserved for stage productions. Not everyone thought it
was OK to have fun though. Roman satirist, Juvenal,
made the petty observation that the citizens of Rome only
cared about bread and circuses, losing sight of their
role in politics in exchange for food and fun– an inalienable human
right that is still practiced today by most people. Before it became a big deal
for wealthy B-list celebrities to buy their children’s
way into fancy colleges, the Romans were
trailblazing the premise of wealthier people
receiving a better education than their poorer counterparts. There were no public
schools in Rome, and kids receive most of
their basic instruction from their parents before
being sent to a teacher or tutor to finish the job. The father would
teach his son how to read and write and
do physical manly stuff, while the women were tasked with
training their daughters on how to get married. Lesson plans from
teachers and tutors were determined by the amount of
money parents were contributing to their education. Wealthy Romans snatched
up the best tutors or employed literate
trained slaves to educate their children. Other occasions saw the
rich kids sent off to school with a pedagogue in tow. Somebody who carried the
young student’s books escorted them to
classes and made sure the children
behave themselves. Poorer Romans, meanwhile,
could skip formal education altogether and go
into the family trade. Education was also
based on gender, with male s studying logic,
literature, and philosophy. And the women were taught how to
read, and write, and that’s it. Women didn’t need a
lot of formal education in Rome because women
weren’t expected to do a lot. The role of a woman
in Rome was determined by her social status, wealth,
location, and the auspices of her male guardian, be it
her father, husband, brother, or even her son. They had very few legal
rights, couldn’t even vote, and were prohibited
from entering politics by holding public office. They could, however, own
property and work outside of the home as a wet
nurse, a midwife, an agricultural laborer,
or in the marketplace. Women on the lower
end of financial luck and social nobodies
were relegated to being mothers and providers. While the job opportunities
for women were sparse, they could produce crafts
or other artisan goods for the home. And while women did
provide assistance to the working men in
the family businesses, women who were not
crafty or educated may have turned to prostitution. Wealthy women had
fewer responsibilities in domestic chores,
which left them with more time for
leisurely activities like checking out a
matinee gladiator show or just having
lunch with the gals. One last option for
women during this time was the life of a priestess. Vestal virgins, for example,
dedicated their lives to Vesta, the goddess
of the hearth, by committing to 30
years of chastity. Ancient Rome loved
their religions. There were temples to gos
within the Roman pantheon throughout this city
that acted as links between human existence
and divine presence. The Temple of Mars
Ultor was built to honor Augustus and
his military success with the assistance
of Mars himself. Temples honoring
Venus and Jupiter served as political
and religious centers with Jupiter going through
several restorations in the firs centuries, due to
its importance within the Roman state religion. Household gods, called “pane,”
oversaw the kitchen and home, making it a safe
and abundant space. Other house gods, lares,
where ancestral spirits who were worshipped all day every
day with additional offerings sprinkled throughout
the year to keep things copacetic with the
ancestral spirit community. Both lares and pane were
tethered to the family and moved along with them if
they should relocate homes. The presence of pane and
lares in everyday life brought cult worship of
gods like Backus and Isis. The most important
cult, however, was the cult we met along
the way, the imperial cult. Many emperors were
worshipped as deities, which strengthen their
ties to the Roman pantheon and earned them a coveted
spot amongst the pane and lares in the daily worship
cycle of a Roman citizen. With the establishment of
tribunals in the fifth century BC, the plebian
class earned a voice within the Roman
political system. The wealthy class maintain
control of the Roman senate. But with increasing
pressure from farmers, servicemen, and a growing
population of immigrants, the concept of
citizen was expanded through the second century BC. Tribunes like Tiberius
and Gaius Gracchus demonstrated the role citizens
could play in their government. In addition to their second
century BC agrarian reforms, they called for all
of Rome’s allies in Italy to become citizens. This never came into
fruition, however, as Roman citizens feared
what the outcome would mean for their own livelihoods. Gaining citizenship in Rome
did come with the right to exercise your civic
duty to go to the polls and cast your vote. Citizens would also
register for the census every five years, reporting
possessions, property, and current number of
human beings in the family. All the Roman
government insisted back as a citizen of Rome was loyalty
and service to the state. The male head of the
house was in charge of everything from
business matters to property exchanges
to arranging marriages for their daughters. The father of the family
controlled every aspect of their child’s life, even
selling them into servitude, disowning them, or
straight up murdering them depending on the circumstances. The paterfamilias did
consult with the lady of the house or
the materfamilias, who was most likely his wife,
but not in all circumstances. When a daughter was married
off, the authority over her was transitioned from the
father to the husband. If a man had no son, he could
adopt one, many times choosing to take in a nephew or
distant family relative to serve as his heir. The male head of a household
also led the family in faith, serving a religious
role by overseeing the rites practiced
to lares, pane, and other deities
worshipped in the home. So what do you think? When in Rome, let us know
in the comments below. And while you’re at it, check
out some of these other videos from our weird history. [MUSIC PLAYING]

100 Comments

  1. It was noisy, filthy, and smelly .. also overcrowded, riotous, and prone to food shortages. Not the general idea pushed by the renaissance or 'modern' scholars. But then, who wants facts that spoil a nice fancy ..?

  2. Why does nobody listen to me??? Gladiator combat wasn’t really a bloodsport . It was just entertains and kind of like a circus. However peasants died every once in a while

  3. Not only do I like the website Weird History, but these videos are some of my favs.
    Maybe the next one could be about some badass woman of ancient times.
    Like Queen Boudica or Grace O'Malley.

  4. Modern people have difficulties with imagining how live was in Roman times, which was above all a PATRIARCHAL, MACHO, CLASSSOCIETY, WITH SLAVES AND STRICT RULES. Every morning slaves walked from their living blocks over a road to the palaces of Ostia. Along the road did stand CROSSES WITH CRUCIFIED SLAVES on it. So, one must conclude that there was a part of the city which was perfectly clean, people behaving civilized and there were INSULAE highly populated and chaotic…… BE OF ONE THING SURE: WELL EDUCATED WOMEN WERE NOT GRANTED TO SHIT TOGETHER WITH MEN……..

  5. THIS, my friends, is what an actual patriarchy looks like. Unlike today… Would a true patriarchy let a woman like Kathleen Kennedy ruin Star Wars?

    I think not.

  6. Fun fact: the toilet sponge idea doesn't actually have any evidence behind it. The only written references either don't state it's use or allude to it being used like a toilet brush, not toilet paper. As far as I can tell it started because of the suicidal gladiator story told by Seneca, who doesn't reference it's use but a historian discussing Seneca claimed that was it's use in a book and the story just stuck.

    Its kind of ridiculous if you think about it. That sponge would have been a biological weapon.

  7. I think the video should compare ROme less with 20th-21st century life, and more with life in medieval and early modern eras.

    Using public latrines sounds bad.

    Everybody shitting in chamber pots and throwing it away at the street is WORSE.

  8. Yea and now tell us how it was to live in any other place on the Planet because Rome WAS the cleanest place on Earth in those times. The person who made this video seems to have a bias against Rome and only presents the negative to mythical EXTREMES while never giving any positive understanding of the Creation and advancement of Western Civilization that Rome accomplished.

  9. Sorry but the communal sponge myth has been busted, the communal sponge was the romans toilet brush not to wipe hundreds of shitty asses with , a society with running water & flushing indoor toilets would know about spreading disease via sharing ass wipe.

  10. Except when you lived in Rome when emperors like Tiberius, Domitian, Caligula, Nero, Commodus ruled, a real shit hole of a place.

  11. The man was the head of the family. The woman married, took care of the home and children. The children were under the mother and both were under the father. This is the keystone for civilization.

  12. I don't know about you lot, but I loved Rome back then.

    Must rush, birthday bash today, I have to blow out 2000 candles.
    👍

  13. 6:50 It's worth noting that this diagram shows a Greek theater (Roman theaters used the Greek archetype as a model, but changed a number of details, as noted). As the Romans conquered the Greek cities to the south and east, they simply utilized the existing theaters and later modified them to suit Roman norms. The Theater of Epidaurus is the best remaining Greek theater to retain its original layout and is easy to find on google if you wish to take a look. Thought everyone might like to know.

  14. Instructive, though the narration moves so fast that I can't absorb much useful information. Slow down!

    Also, what are these "pa-nay" that are worshipped in the home? The phrase referring to the household deities and ancestors is "Lares and Penates (pen-AH-tayss). Some screwy mixup?

  15. Notice that there is almost no mention of the horrible life that existed in the slave community.
    Slaves made up about 1/3 of the population of Rome and the quality of life for the average slave was vile.

  16. A popular trick for Rome's delinquent youth was to enter a public latrine with a wodge of straw soaked in oil, choose one of the holes at the upstream end of the under-seat drain, set the straw alight and let it drift downstream towards the other users.

  17. Let me tell you woman in Rome twisted their mans to the point where it was bassicly a norm even if they didn't vote they could still twist their mans into voting for them

  18. Hey, I have a request. I am from the netherlands. In our country 1600-1700 , called “the golden century” It was a verry rich period for the netherlands. I am curious How that time was like outside the netherlands. I dont here much about it. I hope you make a video about it, Thanks !

  19. By the time the arena of death (the Roman Colosseum) was built in 80AD, the Roman Empire was already in free fall to extinction!

  20. Roman Golden Age: Women had less education and few opportunities.

    Today: Women have a lot of freedom but choose to not marry and be alone and unhappy instead of having a family and pursuing a career later on in life.

  21. Rome's golden age is probably similar to living in modern day DC. Great if you're connected to power, unaffordable if you're not. Like Rome, the modern empire looks certain to descend, but the current power mongers have the ability to bring the whole of humanity down with it

  22. history is written by the victor and the victor always lies, so all of history is a lie. Roman buildings are in countries that never even had Romans in them according to mainstream history.

  23. If you think about it, the modern era is pretty recent, only starting around the 1600s. A good majority of human history consists of us living in kingdoms and villages as farmers/hunters/gatherers and using swords/spears/shields/bows and arrows. It’s pretty crazy realizing that.

  24. Roman and Egyptian history are my favorites. But I just found rome to be more exciting. Maybe because it was so decadent and over the top.

  25. Everyone has to pee. Why would someone buy someone elses pee? I would just use me and my families pee. The more people. The more pee. If your always saving your pee. You should always have enough. Anyone agree?

  26. LoL, women couldnt even vote? How many people vote Today? Most dont vote now bc they think that it doesnt matter, why would it be such a big deal for women back then? , they had more important things to worry about . women held the family unit together by taking care of all the domestic duties which was as important as the man's duties bring in the money . I love how today's politics are non- chelan like slipped into every historical lesson ..it didnt matter what men voted either…

  27. The sponge stick was most likely used to clean around the toilet before use..sharing a shit stick would have caused public health issues….

  28. 1:18 "Poorly built"
    Shows one still partially standing after 2000 years.
    Even the best built of our apartment buildings today will be long gone after even a few hundred years.

  29. I'm a woman, so any question about whether or not it would be better to live in any point in history before the 19th century, the answer is no. For obvious reasons..

  30. Hmmm….. the domus were free-standing? Not according to most of the examples found around the Roman Empire. By-and-large, they seemed to have been built side-to-side just like every building in a crowded city.

  31. The sponge on a stick was for cleaning the toilet not wiping their butts, they'd likely injure themselves if they did it that way.

  32. What a self serving,unjust,convoluted society Rome was,I would have ran the other direction,transformed myself back to paleolithic times and joined a small band of hunter gathers than to put up with a civilization of corruption and greed,2500 yrs later I still dream

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