When studying ancient Rome, it is useful to pay particular attention to the first and second century A.D., a time when Roman wealth and influence reached its height. Historians are lucky that this generation of the Empire has bestowed us with the most comprehensive of records detailing Roman life.
Daily Life In Ancient Rome by the great French historian, Jérôme Carcopino, is a fascinating reconstruction of this era. Below I’ve written about the note-worthy sections of his classic history book.
The Splendor of the Urbs
Trajan’s forum – peerless in grandeur as a display of wealth and military success – was an open administrative, commercial and civic center built in 106-112 AD by legendary architect Apollodorus of Damascus. The genius in the creation of the triumphal arch, Trajan’s column , the markets and the immense porticos left Romans of the later empire feeling impotent before the achievements of their ancestors.
Society and Social Classes
During the first and second century of the ancient Roman Empire, there was a confusion of social values. The families of the patricians and the senators were wearing thin. So, there was an urgent need for new blood drawn from the humbler strata to revivify the aristocracy.
Of course, drawing this new blood from the second-rate masses eventually exposed the Roman fatherland to great dangers and contamination. What a deadly paradox it was – for men of honest concern for the health of their government to delegate it’s administration to men fit for little more than slavery.
As always happens when born slaves break chains and seize the levers of power, the middle class vanished, leaving no bourgeois buffer between a small plutocracy and the plebs too poor to survive without municipal doles. Under the insults of this degenerate system, wealth was not gained through toil or ingenuity, but only by paying favor to the emperor.
During this time in the life of the Roman Empire, first came material comfort, and a loosening of standards in the spheres of social behavior and childrearing shortly followed. Sons were allowed to administer their own property without being deprived of their paternal inheritance.
Not content to simply lessen the old severity, parents entertained their children’s every expensive whim. This, of course, led to a generation of useless idlers. This gradual eroding of parental authority continued on course. Finally, all remnants of parental authority disappeared with the parental right to oppose a match desired by their children.
Feminism In Ancient Rome
Daily Life In Ancient Rome is yet more proof positive of the link between decadence and leftism. During the epoch in which we study, women came and went from the husband’s home of their own free will and had an “independence” equal if not greater than modern feminists.
Feminism is not a novelty of modernity. Juvenal, 2nd century poet, depicts a series of scenes which show women quitting their embroidery, their reading, their song and lyre, to put their enthusiasm into an attempt to rival men, if not outclass them in every sphere. This abandonment of feminine responsibility reaped sterile marriages among the Roman people.
Carcopino comments on the destructive consequences of this ancient women’s liberation movement. He writes, “By copying men too closely the Roman women succeeded more rapidly in emulating their vices than in acquiring their strength.” He continues, “…the looseness of their morals tended to dissolve family ties. ‘She lives with him as if she were only a neighbor'”.
Education and Religion
During more austere times, every parent was his child’s teacher. During our era of study, primary schooling was a serious part of public life. Like all institutions of government education, the teachers of the primary Roman schools were abusive, ill-intentioned halfwits. Our author remarks that, sadly, these schools corrupted and stupefied the students they were meant to instruct. This process rarely awoke any feeling of beauty or knowledge.
I think that this evocative excerpt from the “Primary Education” section of the book sums up the scholastic situation well, “Instead of happy memories, serious and fruitful ideas, any sort of intellectual curiosity vital to later life, school children carried away the gloomy recollection punctuated by savage punishments.”
The anti-intellectualism that plagues our contemporary scientists and professors was rife during this period of ancient Rome as well. Romans could find little value in research and study for enjoyment’s sake. They were too focused on turning an immediate profit. They simply lifted ideas from old books without feeling the need to expand on or even verify the propositions.
Roman scholars, like the academics (as they’re called) today, ignored the most pressing issues of the day – or flat out denied the existence of such issues. Instead, they spent their time mentally masturbating about hairbrained theories and abstractions.
Tell me that these passages do not bring to mind our our exact situation in the modern world: “In short, they systematically confused artifice with art, and originality with the negation of nature; the more we reflect on their methods, the more it seems clear that they were incapable of turning out anything but parrots or third-rate play actors.“
“Seneca disapproved of teaching methods which do not prepare men for life, but only pupils for school“.
“A morbid passion for the unusual and the extraordinary made common sense seem a defect..”.
1800 years later, human nature – try as it might – has changed very little. It really is uncanny.
The theme of this post seems to be an acknowledgement that the 20th and 21st century Western world is more than a little resembling of the 1st and 2nd century of ancient Rome.
Much like the citizens of the 20th century in the West, the behavior of the people in ancient Rome was still guided by a history of religious morality, but the spirit of the word of God had left their consciences. In every strata of society the irreligious were equally prey to superstition and taboo as were their pious counterparts that they despised. Sound familiar?
Literature of the 2nd century was beyond perverted. Writers did not aim for beauty, but immediate acclaim and success. The link between literature and life was severed. Storytelling became little more than shallow word play. The most hideous of hacks believed in their own literary vocation.
Leisure and Recreation
Ancient Romans enjoyed much more leisure time than us busy moderns. For every day of work, Romans were allowed a day of leisure!