The year is 20 B.C. and I live in the Roman Empire, actually I live in the city of Rome itself. The Roman Empire is the greatest power in the world. Although I have not traveled much I know that it is composed of the Italian peninsula, lands around the Mediterranean Sea, from the British Isles to North Africa and from Spain to the Persian Gulf. It has taken more than 700 years for Rome to establish such a large empire and fought many wars to do so. We are a republic, governed by a Senate which makes most of the decision’s like financial and foreign policies but until 509 B.C. we were governed by kings.
Our current Emperor is Augustus Caesar. My city was founded, as legend has it, by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus who were sons of the war god Mars. They were abandoned as infants near the bank of the Tiber River where they were later found by a female wolf and raised by her until some shepherds rescued them. Here the two boys grew up until one day Romulus killed his brother in an argument and then founded the city of Rome which is named after him.I was born in Rome and lived here my entire life. I have not traveled far from my home, only as far as a days walk. But some people I know have rented horses and gone on great journeys. Some have even ridden on the trading ships that cruise the seas. By trade I am a shoemaker like my father and his father before him. There are many craftsmen here in Rome. There are potters and metal workers and masons to name but a few.
I have a shop in town close to the other craftsmen. My shop has a small yard in the back and a counter in the front where it opens out onto the street. Many of my fellow craftsmen and shop owners live in apartments above their shops but I live in a separate apartment building not far from my work. Apartment buildings or insulae are all over. Mine is 5 stories and I am fortunate to have a balcony overlooking the busy street below. My building has shops and boutiques in it which is convenient for me when I need something, but I do have to share fountains and bathrooms and baths with the other apartment dwellers. Since I am not married yet this is not much of an inconvenience for me. Actually going to the public baths is something that I enjoy.
The baths near my apartment have a gymnasium, gardens, and a very nice reading room that I can take advantage of. It is a good time to meet people and socialize after a hard day. The men of course are separated from the women and some baths are reserved only for the elite. We do have a class system here. I belong to the social class called the humiliores or craftsmen and shop owners. There are many other classes from the wealthy Senators all the way down to the Slaves. All people here are not treated equally, those with money are protected by laws, those without have few rights. I am not fortunate enough to be wealthy and have to work for a living. My day starts very early. I may have a light meal of some kind of bread with water, around noon I will have a much heavier meal of fruit, meat, fish, and wine. After work I head to the baths to relax and then will have my dinner.
Fresh food is hard to get here depending on the season and where it comes from, so much of what I eat is pickled, dried, or salted and heavily seasoned with seasonings and herbs to help the flavor. Like everyone when I get up I have to decide what to ear to work. It really isn’t a terribly hard decision. People like me or plebeians wear a knee-length tunic made from a coarse dark material and it can be either short or long sleeved. I put a toga over my tunic which is like a shawl and wrapped around my body. If it’s cold I might decide to wear a cloak over my clothes. You can tell how important a man is by his toga. On my feet I wear sandals. Shoes are also an indicator of a persons position. Different colors mean different social positions. When my clothes are dirty I send them to people called “fullers” to clean them.Religion is very important to and just about everyone here.
Each day I devote time to pray to the many gods I believe in. There are many temples here in Rome. These are places where the gods live and only priests are actually allowed inside the temples. Mostly, I pray to the gods inside my home at my shrine or larium, every house has one. Sometimes I attend public prayer sessions or animal sacrifices. It is very important to keep the gods happy because they are very powerful. There are many religious festivals that I participate in throughout the year. My life is not all work, although sometimes it seems that way. We have many public holidays and celebrations to entertain us. I particularly like the circus and at intermission, gifts, surprises, and candy are thrown to the crowd.
I often go to the theater where I watch the mimes and pantomimes. At times I will take in the chariot races or gladiator fights. The arena can seat about 250,000 people, it is huge. When I tire of spectator events I enjoy viewing the many works of art that hang and are placed throughout the public places here. There are things from all over the world as well as statues, murals, and frescoes. Once in a while I may listen to the musicians play. Traveling musical groups are everywhere it seems.I work hard to earn a living but my life is better than many people here in Rome. One day I hope to marry and have children. They will be educated and learn to read and write. If the are girls they will probably marry early, maybe at 12 or 14 years of age! They will learn to use an abacus and learn both Greek and Latin as well as geography, music, and history. Schools here have strict discipline rules and children who do not follow them are whipped and beaten but I hope that this will not happen to my children.I have only one given you a brief glimpse into my world but I hope you have learned a little about life in Rome in 20 B.C.