LIFE IN ANCIENT ROME
By Helen K. Shaw
The Triumphal Arch
The emblem of Rome might well have been the triumphal arch, which was the symbol of the conqueror.
When a general who had been successful on an expedition returned to Rome, a day or more was set aside for celebrating his triumph. He wore a purple toga and drove a special chariot with four white horses through the flower-strewn streets to Capitoline Hill. Here a sacrifice was made to the gods, and afterwards there was a great feast. In the procession, which wound throughout the important streets of the city,came the city magistrates, flute-players and musicians, spoils of conquest, prisoners bound in chains, and soldiers
Later arches were built to commemorate civic as well as military deeds. Some were built with a single archway, others with three arches. They were decorated with reliefs. On the Arch of Titus (a single archway) were reliefs of the procession give him in recognition of his conquest of Palestine. The arch we see in the picture (a triple one) was erected to Constantine in recognition of his victory over Maxentius. There were arches built to many other emperors, Septimius Severus, Trajan, Caracalla.
The Roman Empire
The story of the once mighty Roman Empire is, in some ways, a strange one. It all started when little village, Rome, began conquering the people who lived in Italy. Naturally other powers resented this, especially Carthage, the proud and rich city that faced Rome from northern Africa. She jealous of Rome's growing trade. These two cities fought until Carthage was completely destroyed by the Romans. One by one the Roman legions conquered all the lands around the Mediterranean. Even Gaul (modern France) and Britain became provinces in Rome's great empire. It stretched north to the Rhine and Danube Rivers, east to the Euphrates River, and south to the burning sands of the Sahara Desert.
Besides being conquerors the Romans were skillful in developing a government. Since the Greeks were Rome's neighbors, the Romans copied some of their Democratic ideas. They called their city a republic, but a body of about 300 men called the senate really directed affairs. While the Roman citizens could vote and hold office, the senate ruled. This type of government seemed to be satisfactory until the Romans gained their empire. Then the senators became greedy and exploited the provinces into which the conquered lands had been divided. This was too bad, because the people lost faith in their government and turned to a dictator for help. Some men tried to reform the government. Then the Romans did a thing that would not have happened in the early days. They murdered these reformers. The Roman people had always respected the laws, but now rich people and poor people fought among themselves. The time was ripe for dictators, who gradually took the power away from the people. Finally one dictator became an emperor. Augustus was the first and one of the best emperors of the Roman empire. Christ was born during his reign. Most of the early emperors were good and wise rulers, so the people in the provinces were happier than they had been under the senate.
To Gaul and Spain, the less civilized provinces, the Romans brought many new ideas, and these people became like the Romans. They learned to speak Latin. The Romans had made good laws for themselves in the city of Rome; now they made laws for all the people in the Empire, so all lived in peace for a long time.
This Empire, the greatest that history had known did not last. It was overrun by the Germans, who lived north of the Rhine and the Danube. The people within the Empire could not teach them civilized ways of living quickly enough, so civilization sank very low. The Roman civilization before the invasion of the Germans had begun to decline. The people had lost their independence. They were no longer progressing to greater things.
The following pages will show you how the ancient Romans lived during the empire.
The City of Rome
According to the tradition Rome was founded in 753 B.C. Twin baby boys, cast adrift in the Tiber River, were supposed to have been rescued by a wolf. After these two grew to manhood, they quarreled, and Romulus slew Remus. Then he built a city between the surrounding seven hills and named it Roma.
After many years of conquest the Romans came to control all the lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Their city became as famous as Athens, Greece. The population grew to a million and a half people. Because the village of Rome had been a very unhealthful place, the Romans built sewers that drained it. Seven or more aqueducts brought fresh water to the city, where it was stored in reservoirs to be piped to homes and to many fountains. Five bridges crossed the Tiber. On the island in the Tiber was the temple of the god of healing. Along the banks were the wharves were the smaller boats were moored. The large boats from faraway places came to Ostia, the city at the mouth of Tiber River. There the products were unloaded to small boats that carried them to Rome. The grain that came from Egypt was stored in huge warehouses.
The Romans liked statues,arches,colonnades, and magnificent buildings; and this city had many of them. (how many circuses and open-air theaters can you count in this picture?) The Colosseum was the huge amphitheater. The tiers of seats formed an oval so that everyone could get a view of the bloody gladiatorial combats that went on in the arena. Temples, baths, basilicas, parks, and gardens graced this city of conquerors.
Every available place on a building seemed to be decorated with statues and reliefs. The arch (not use by the Greeks) was very much in evidence. Tiers of arches supported the seats of circuses, theaters, and amphitheaters. Rows of them held up the roofs of the porches scattered about to shelter the Romans from rain and sun. A strong concrete was developed that was used as the framework of buildings. This was faced with beautiful marble. The outside walls were painted brilliant colors, and sometimes roof tops were gilded. Augustus boasted that he had found a city of brick and left one of marble. Nero was supposed to have burned part of Rome so he could rebuild it. Through the centuries Rome became an imposing city.
The Roman Forum
The most famous square of one of the world's greatest cities was the Roman Forum. In the early days of Rome's existence it was probably the marketplace between the two most important of the seven hills-Palatine and Capitoline. As the city grew, the Forum was surrounded by buildings and decorated with columns, statues, and arches. At one end was the golden milestone with the names of the important cities and distances from Rome on it. Near it was the rostra from which speeches were made.
The Forum was the center of Roman life. In the morning it was thronged with all classes of people, from nobleman being borne in their litters to ragged beggars. It was a hubbub of confusion and gossip, because everybody came to get the news. Large boards were put up that served as the Roman newspaper. Articles on foreign and domestic affairs, scandal and advertisements were posted there. Slaves made copies to take back to their mistresses. Afterwards these boards were kept in on of the buildings around the Forum called the (1) Tabularium (record office). Probably the Roman historians got some of their information here.
Some of the people went to the Basilica Julia (2) to hear the law cases. This building was of a rectangular shape with rows of columns on the inside supporting the galleries and the roof. People sat in the galleries. There were business and government offices in the Basilica Julia, too. This building with its center nave was the ancestor of our church.
Across from the Basilica Julia stood a temple built and named in honor of the god Janus. Our month January was named after him, because he was the guardian of "beginnings and endings." If the doors of the temple were open, it meant Rome was at war; if closed, she was at peace. The doors were shut only three times in Rome's history.
Not far from this temple was a small, circular building not shown in this picture. It was the temple Vesta. Here a sacred fire was kept burning, tended by the Vestal Virgins. They lived in a beautiful home near by. Looking down on the Forum from the Palatine Hill was the palace of the emperor. From it he had easy access to the Forum and could go quickly to the senate chamber to talk to the senators. Perched on the Capitoline Hill (4) were the temples of the most honored gods, Jupiter and Juno.
Not content with this Forum, as Rome grew in power and population, later emperors added to it. There were five fora annexed. They were adorned with beautiful buildings and statues, but none could rival in historical importance the ancient market that became the dignified Roman Forum.
Chariot Race in the Circus Maximus
The crowd was roaring as the chariots rounded the turn toward the finish of the last lap of the race. Which charioteer would win, the blue or the green? Were there to be no upsets, no one killed or hurt? The excitement of the crowd in the huge circus seated to its capacity of about 200,000 was intense, because the betting had been high. The Romans loved thrills at any price. Little did they care about the drivers of the chariots. These drivers were racing for their lives and for large sums of money that they might win. Straining to gain the inside position they held their teams of four horses to the course. In their belts they carried they carried knives to cut the reins in order to free themselves if their chariots should crash. There were no rules of fair play in those days. The drivers were dressed in the colors of the great syndicates they represented. The syndicates or organizations trained the horses and drivers in huge quarters. The drivers came from all over the Empire. Some were Moors from Africa and others dark eyed Spaniards. They were scorned by the Romans. No one who valued his reputation would be a charioteer. But let a driver win a great race, and he would be given such honor by the masses that even the emperor might be jealous. It was a reckless life, but there was a chance to snatch oneself from the dregs of society to short-lived triumph.
The oldest form of entertainment for the Romans was the circus, and the chariot race was the favorite of the games. These circuses were free. Politicians wishing to make themselves popular put them on. The Roman circus was semi-circular at one end with tiers of seats stretching down the sides to the other end where there were stalls for the horses and chariots. At the semi-circular end was the triumphal gate through which the victor left after the race. In Latin, the Romans' language, arena means sand. Running length wise through the arena was the spina, a low wall like structure decorated with statues and columns. The race was usually seven times around the arena. Between eight and twelve chariots were allowed in a race, and there were from then to twenty-four races scheduled for one day.
This brutal sport that fascinated the people was a pawn for men seeking to become the heads of the government. These men bought the votes of the poor by giving them free bread and free circuses. The number of holidays grew to 135 a year. The Romans' goal in life became personal pleasure and gain instead of pride in their work and their country's greatness. This, which was not sensed by the Romans, proved to be one of the important causes of their downfall.
It was a hot afternoon in dirty, dusty Roma. It must have been after two by the sundial, for many men were at the baths exercising, bathing, and swimming. Some preferred the hot baths, others the warm or cold, while others enjoyed them all. How refreshed and relaxed the Roman gentleman felt after his daily visit to the baths - a real preparation for the banquet to which he would go after he finished. At the baths he would meet his friends, gossip, talk politics, make dates. He could get a bite to eat from the food hawkers that were always there. Then baths were lively places.
Bathing in the early days of the Republic had been a matter of cleanliness and later during the Empire had became a pleasure second only to the banquet. Exercising to the Roman was merely a means of keeping his body healthy and of training himself for war. Rather than having many gymnasiums like the Greeks, both exercising rooms and bathing rooms were brought together in one building called the baths. Here the Roman spent several hours of each day.
These baths were large and lavishly decorated on the inside. Beautifully colored marble and tile formed the walls and floors. Statues, fountains, and paintings met one's eyes at every turn. Elaborate baths had many rooms, but the essential ones were those for exercising, the warm bath, the hot bath, the sweat room, the cold bath, and the dressing room. There might be, in addition, massage, drying, lounging, and reading rooms with luxurious halls and courts. Charcoal furnaces warmed the air which was forced into the hollow tiles of the floor and into hollow halls. Steaming streams of water, piped from great boilers, poured into the hot baths. In the room for exercising the Roman played many kinds of ball games including bowling. After he had made himself accustomed to heat in the warm bath, steamed himself in the hot bath, and topped off with a cold plunge, a slave would scrape off the dirt from his skin, massage and perfume him with sweet-smelling oils. The hours spent daily in these softening hot baths were a great change from the weekly bath of the sturdy Roman of the earlier days.
The huge bathhouses were like club-rooms. They were both government and privately owned and were open to the public. Women visited them in the morning and in some cases had special rooms. Everyone could use the baths, rich or poor. A sum so small was charged that almost everyone could afford them. Women paid twice as much as men, and children nothing. Some baths were donated to the city by the emperor or a rich citizen. There were at one time more than 800 baths in Rome. Every town of any size in Italy or the provinces had at least one bathhouse.
Banquet-food and meals
After the Roman had visited the baths, he was borne in a litter by his slaves to his friend's house where he had been invited to dinner, the main meal of the day. It was just four when he arrived, the appointed hour. He crossed the threshold with his right foot forward to insure good luck and was greeted by his host. Soon he was ushered into the dining room where three couches, each seating three people, surrounded three sides of a beautifully carved table. The couches were covered with soft cushions, place conveniently, for the diners to recline on as they ate.
A slave removed the Roman's sandals and another came with water and towels with which to wash. When all had taken their places, slaves brought in tempting appetizers on silver platters. Then followed the main part of the dinner. There were fish, meats, and vegetables tastily prepared by the cook-a slave imported from the East. After this course slaves brought in water and towels for the guests to use, because Romans ate with their fingers. Slave used knives and forks in carving. The third part of the dinner was the dessert, which consisted of pastries and fruits. Honey and poppy seed was a favorite dessert. In fact, honey was the only sweetening used. Olive oil was used in place of butter. During the meal wine was served. The wine was mixed with water in silver bowls. Only the coarser type of Roman drank to excess after the dinner. Toward the end of the Empire, however, excessive drinking became more and more frequent.
About eight o'clock the guests usually went home, because everyone arose at daybreak. The banquet took the place of dances, concerts, or shows in the evening, which were impossible because of poor lighting. Olive oil was as used as fuel for the lamps and did not illuminate the rooms well enough. Consequently the mid-afternoon dinner was a most enjoyable social function. For breakfast the Roman had just bread with salt or wine and perhaps some cheese. Lunch, at eleven o'clock, consisted of leftovers from the day before and perhaps a salad.
The food of the Roman was not much different from ours. His vegetables were peas, beans, lentils, carrots, radishes, turnips, lettuce, asparagus, onions, beets, cucumbers, and garlic. Potatoes and tomatoes were not known. Fruits were apples,pears, quinces, grapes, plums, peaches, and apricots. He had all kinds of nuts and seasonings for his food. Meat was not so plentiful. He had pork, mutton, occasionally beef, plenty of fish and fowl. He had all the dairy products we have. However, when some of the rich Romans during the Empire ran riot over food and made gluttons of themselves, many rare kinds of dishes were served at their costly banquets. This was a great change from the early days when a Roman ate to live instead of living to eat.
Roman Villas and Homes
Everyone who could afford it went to the sea or country during the summer months, for Rome was stifling then. Some of the wealthy Romans built beautiful villas along the shores of the blue Mediterranean. These country palaces were different from the Roman town houses in several ways. Instead of the rooms being built around a central, open court, there broad porches built on the outside overlooking the scenery. Many windows let in the fresh air. The most exquisite marbles and furniture decorated these homes. The main articles were the chair, couch, and table made of the finest materials. Clothing and valuables were stored in stout chests. There were bedrooms, bathrooms, dining rooms, and kitchens. Some bedrooms were placed to get the sunlight and roar of the surf; others were located far from any noise and confusion. The walls were painted in gay colors. Mosaics brightened the floors. Elegant hangings took the place of doors between rooms. The Villa was for luxurious living.
The Romans loved nature and seemed happiest when they were out under the sunny Italian sky. Sometimes colonnaded walks projected into the sea. Extensive gardens with shaded walks surrounded these gorgeous estates. Many statues, some Greek, showed the Roman to be an appreciative art collector. There were fish ponds and hunting preserves. Farther away from the villa were the fields where the lowest of the slaves worked in chain gangs. Noble Romans sometimes owned several villas such as these.
Other country homes, where the owner worked his small farm himself, were much simpler. However, these were becoming fewer, and eventually the farm lands were controlled by the wealthy. The farmers either became slaves or tenants on rich estates. This became a great evil that weakened Roman Society.
Back in the city the wealthy owned beautiful homes, too. The outside was plain with few and small windows that had shutter but no glass panes. The house was directly on the street. First came the entrance or vestibule where the clients would sit awaiting the master of the house. He would receive them in the atrium into which the vestibule led. Past these rooms was the open court where the members of the household lived. Around this were the other rooms. The owner often rented the rooms that were on the street to shopkeepers.
Far more people lived in apartments and tenements than in houses. Five or six stories in height they, too, surrounded an open court. There were slums. However, the poor did have the advantage of a mild climate, and they could sit in parks and public gardens. This society in which there were foul slums and magnificent villas was a great change from the early Republic in which each stanch Roman owned his modest home.
Articles in a Roman Household
The Roman woman used many ornaments and cosmetics and probably had a dressing table filled with little jars that held rouge, lip coloring, eye shadow, and perfumes. There were floral and spicy odors which both men and women used lavishly. Pins with jeweled heads held the woman's hair in place, and she primped before small bronze or silver mirrors. These had beautifully carved backs and handles.
In harmony with these luxurious articles were the various utensils of the kitchen and dishes for the dining room. These were made of bronze, glass, silver, and even gold. Bottles and wine glasses were of white, green, and blue glass. Sometimes they were of striped colors. The bronze pots and pans of many shapes and size rival those of a modern kitchen. Roman pottery was copied from, but inferior the the Greek. Scenes of the myths were often shown on the lovely silver and gold dishes.
Every Roman household even through poor boasted a few books. These were sheets of papyrus rolled into scrolls, which were handwritten in black ink. Margins were decorated in red ink or with illustrations. These scrolls were kept in round holders resembling a basket, the titles being fastened to the outside of the scrolls. Usually these scrolls were from eight to ten inches wide and several feet long. Instead of turning pages when he read the Roman unwound his scroll.
For ordinary writing of messages or taking notes wax tablets were used. A slab of wood was covered with wax. Two or three wax-covered leaves were fastened together. The Roman wrote with a stylus that had a sharp point on one end and a blunt surface on the other for smoothing out the wax if a mistake was made. When the message was written, a cord was wrapped around the wax tablets. Where the knot of the cord was tied, some hot wax was dropped. Into this soft wax the Roman pressed his signet ring. This was his signature. Letters were delivered in and around Rome by slaves. If a letter was to be sent far away, it might be taken by a friend or his slave who happened to be going to the desired place.
Such noise and clattering as there must have been in the early morning in Rome. The city awoke at dawn. Shopkeepers raised their shutters that had been securely fastened during the night. What a variety of shops there were-food and vegetable shops, butcher shops, wine shops, barber shops, tanners' shops, weavers' shops, restaurants. Tradesmen in the same business seemed to have their shops on certain streets. In many cases articles were manufactured and sold in the same place. Slaves did the work in the back of the shop, while the master sold the articles up in front. A sign hanging outside told what the shopkeeper sold. The sign of the shop shown in the picture shows two men carrying a wine jar. The shopkeepers spread their wares on counters that extended into the street, much to the disgust of some Romans. Everything the shop had to offer was displayed. Some shops were the lower rooms of houses and faced out on the street. The shopkeeper either lived in the back of his place or in a little cell above it. These were the poorer and more numerous shops.
The streets that were lined by the small shops were very narrow and dirty. They were paved with blocks of lava and edged with sidewalks about a foot or more high. Between the sidewalks were stepping stones, so people could cross the street more easily, especially when it rained. Up from the sidewalks rose the walls of homes and apartments as high as seventy feet, which was the limit set by the emperor.
Besides buyers in the streets there was always a throng of people running to and fro on errands. There were people carrying jars from the fountains along the streets. The tenements of Rome did not have running water, but there were many fountains from which the poor were supplied with fresh water from the near-by hills. Great aqueducts brought this water to the city. There were frequent shrines at the corners where people would place bits of food in offerings to the gods. People of many different races crowded the streets, Gauls from the North, Syrians from the East.
At night this teeming life of the streets died down. Even though there were policemen, it was not safe to be on the streets after dark. There was no street lighting, so the Roman made use of the daylight and retired early.
In Rome there were many bakeries where grain was ground into flour and baked into bread. The grain (usually wheat) was poured into the top of the mill. Round and round, endlessly, a poor slave turned the mill. The grain was crushed between two millstones, and the flour fell down into a trough in the stone slab upon which the mill rested. When the flour had been sifted, it was mixed with water, salt, and yeast, and was molded into thin, round loaves that were divided into sections. Huge ovens made of brick and concrete were heated by charcoal fires to a high temperature. Surrounding the ovens were empty chambers designed to hold the heat in the baking ovens. After the fire had been raked out, the bread was placed in the ovens to bake. Near the oven was a container for water with which the baker moistened the bread.
In the front of the bakery was a shop where the baked goods were sold to the customer. In addition to bread, there were rolls and cakes filled with fruit and sweetened with honey.
In the early days the Roman women had baked their own bread, but in the days of the Empire this was done in the bakeries. The millers ground the grain that the government gave the poor Roman citizens on the dole. Later, bread baked in government bakeries was handed out.
Of the million and a half people who lived Rome about two thirds were freemen and one third were slaves. Slaves were brought to Rome from the conquered Provinces in droves, during the days of the Empire. They were to the Romans what machines are to the modern world. Slavery was a cruel system, and it had a debasing effect on the Romans.
Of the freemen there was a small class of elite and rich who held important government offices and received government contracts for roads, army supplies, rights to work lands of the state, and to collect taxes. Below this class was a middle class of fairly well-to-do business and professional men who managed and carried on the work of the city. Beneath this middle class was the rabble, made up of discharged soldiers, political hangers-on, and farmers and their families who had been ruined by slave competition. Below these three classes was the large class of Roman slaves.
Roman clothing was quite different from ours. The men and boys did not wear trousers and coats, but tunics and togas. In fact, wearing trousers marked one as a barbarian. The tunic was worn indoors and was like a long, woolen shirt. In cold weather two or three tunics were worn. When the Roman went to the Forum, circus, or theater, he wore the toga over his tunic. The toga was worn with great pride, for the right to wear it was an exclusive privilege of the Roman citizen. Like a shawl it was draped first over the left shoulder, brought around the back under the right arm, and thrown back over the left shoulder. Togas were made of wool and the usual color was white. High officers in the Roman government wore a broad purple stripe on their togas, and noblemen could have a purple stripe down the front and back of their tunics. If men were running for office, they would have their togas bleached white (candidati), thus our word candidate.
Poor Romans wore their togas even though they were moth-eaten. One who was not a Roman probably wore a tunic and a cloak with a hood made out of very coarse wool or leather. Hats were worn only by workingmen. They were made of felt and had brims.
No person would appear in public barefoot. Sandals and shoes were worn with no stockings, the sandals indoors and the shoes outdoors.
The women's clothing was much like men's. They, too, wore a tunic, but as an undergarment. Over this was the stola, which would correspond to a modern women's dress. It was long, had slit sleeves, and was fastened by beautiful pins and broaches. On the bottom was a colored and embroidered flounce. Around the neck there was a border, usually of a different color. Above the waist a belt was worn so that the stola could could be pulled up and bloused over it. Only married women could wear the stola. When women went out, they wore the palla for a wrap. This was draped around them like the toga. Wealthy women had different ones of many colors. Besides wool, silk and linen materials were used, but these were more expensive. Much of this cloth was imported, although in the early days it had been made by the women of the household.
Every self-respecting Roman was proud of his personal appearance and looked dignified and graceful in his long, white robe.
The theater provided one of the Roman's favorite amusements but was not as popular as the gladiatorial combats or circuses. Although copied form the Greek open-air theater, the Roman theater differed in some details. In the Greek theater the tiers of seats formed three quarters of a circle, and the audience looked down upon a circular space, called the orchestra, where the choruses sang and danced. The stage of the Greek theater was a very low platform. The Roman stage was considerably higher than the Greek, and the orchestra formed only a half circle. Some of this space was taken up by seats for the senators. The first few rows of seats were reserved for the wealthy class, and sections of the rest for young boys, women, and soldiers. The tiers of seats, too, formed a semicircle. At the top of the tiers of seats was a promenade for the spectators. On hot days bright-colored awnings were stretched over the seats, and often perfumes were sprayed in the air. One Roman theater seated as many as 40,000 people.
There were several entrances with stairways constructed beneath the seats. At entrance such as we see in the picture opened at each end of semicircle of seats. Above one of these entrances was the emperor's box. Instead of building the seats of the theater on the side of a hill as the Greeks did, the Romans built theirs on level ground. The seats rested on a framework. The early theaters were of wood and the later ones of stone with marble and gilt decorating the inside.
The tragedies that the Greeks loved so well did not appeal to the Romans. Most of their plays were comedies which were like our comic operas. They loved spectacles that displayed armies and animals. The actors who were slaves or freedmen were not held in high esteem. Actors wore masks indicating the type of character they were impersonating. There was no need for fine facial expression, since the audience was too far away to see it. If the play was tragic, the actors wore thick-soled shoes to give them height; if it was comedy, they wore slippers. Make-up and wigs were used, too. The afternoon;s entertainment, which lasted about three hours, often included pantomimes in which dancers led by an expert actor would try to show by gesture and dancing parts of some great play. Musicians played the lyre, lute, and cymbals to lend atmosphere to the pantomimes.
These plays and farces were usually coarse and vulgar. The Romans did not seem to have the finer instincts and love of beauty that the Greeks possessed.
Less than 150 years ago travel in our country was not as comfortable or as fast as it was in the Roman Empire. Along the Appian Way, which went south from Rome, passed all sorts of people and vehicles. There were peddlers on donkeys with their wares, and poor people tramping along the footpaths beside the road. At intervals there were seats for the weary. Milestones marked off the distance from Rome and told how far it was to other cities. Great men were carried in litters if they were not going far. The slaves that bore these were large and powerful men, chosen for their size appearance. They were often fitted out in gorgeous trappings to display the wealth of their owner. Sometimes a dozen or more slaves would bring up the rear. When the rich people traveled any distance they usually went in four-wheeled carriages drawn by four or more horses. The whole family might go with their friends and a large group of slaves. A man alone of moderate means would ride horseback or in a small two-wheeled carriage accompanied by one slave. No great speed was made except by the government carriers. Since there were no transportation companies, people had to hire carriages and horses if they did not own them.
The roads, built by the soldiers to move supplies and armies quickly were used as much for trade and travel. Through valley and marsh and over the hills they went, straight and strong as the Romans could make them. Concrete formed the base of the road, over which paving blocks were tightly fitted. Never before had men built such fine roads or so many of them.
In contrast, the inns in even large towns were dirty and unpleasant. Travelers were housed in rooms next to their horses. Usually these places were part inn and part wine shop. Consequently most people planned their trips so that they would stay with friends or stop at their own country estates. Some even slept in their carriages and took their own food rather than stay in the inns.
The Pantheon and Roman Religion
One of Rome's remarkable buildings was the Pantheon. Although built before Christ, it is still standing and is used as a Catholic Church today. Its unusual feature is the large concrete dome that crowns it. This was east in one solid piece with an opening in the top to let in light. This was one of the earliest buildings to have a large dome for a roof. There were seven recesses in the wall of the main room, in which statues of gods were placed. The walls were nineteen feet thick. The front of the Pantheon was copied from a Greek temple. There were eight columns, behind which there was a brass door. Above the columns were tow gables and many statues. This was an imposing temple built to Venus, Mars, and other gods. The word Pantheon meant temple of all the gods.
The Romans in early times had had gods of their own such as Saturn, god of seed time and harvest, and Janus. The Lares and Penates were Roman household gods. Some Roman gods were identified with the Greek gods, such as Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Mars, the war god, was a favorite. To Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, was erected a small round temple in which a sacred fire was kept ever burning. Vestal Virgins tended this fire and spent many years of their lives under strict supervision. However, they received great honors among the Romans.
The Romans seldom made an important decision without first consulting the gods. Animals were sacrificed to see if the gods were favorable. The flight and action of birds was thought to be very meaningful. There were various groups of priests to look after religious ceremonies. The Romans' religion was like a business contract. They showed the gods respect, but thought the gods should grant them their wishes in return.
It was the common people who believed in these gods. The more cultured adopted either the Stoic or Epicurean philosophy of the Greeks. The Stoics' attitude was to meet life bravely whatever it happened to be. The Epicurean idea was to get the most enjoyment from day to day.
When Rome conquered the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean world, many oriental beliefs were introduced. People worshipped Mithras, the god of the Persians, Isis from Egypt, Magna Mater, the great mother. Christianity was another oriental religion that spread very rapidly, because it offered people a hope of life after death. During the Empire, emperor worship grew up, especially in the eastern countries. Worshiping the emperor was like showing loyalty to one's country. Since the Christians would worship only their own god, they were persecuted. In spite of this Christianity was the religion that eventually won out in the western world.