A Day in the Life of a Roman Boy | Sabidius.com
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A Day in the Life of a Roman Boy

(N.B. This story is dedicated to Hector and Wilbur Metcalfe.)

Chapter 1. Lucius and Marcus wake up.

One summer morning, in the year 3 B.C., that is seven hundred and fifty years after the foundation of Rome, twelve year old Lucius awakes in his bedroom in a comfortable mansion in the High Street, which runs through the north-west of the city towards the famous Colline Gate. It is still dark, but Lucius has woken in response to a gentle nudge from the family servant Daedalus, who is carrying an oil-lamp. “Wake up, young master! It’s time to get ready for school.” Rubbing his eyes, Lucius jumps out of bed on to the floor. In the bunk below his is his younger brother, Marcus, aged seven, whom Daedalus is also trying to arouse. “Come on, both of you, “he says, “It’ll soon be light, and we mustn’t be late for school!” Marcus, too, scrambles out of bed, although a little less nimbly than his brother.

Chapter 2. Lucius’ family background.

The two boys are the latest offspring of the clan ‘Veturia’, and come from patrician stock. Patricians are descended from those noblemen who had advised the ancient kings of Rome, who had ruled the city until 510 B.C., when King Tarquin the Proud had been expelled and replaced by a republic, headed by by two annually elected consuls. To begin with only patricians could be elected consul, but in 367 B.C., after a long political struggle, candidates from the common people, known as the plebeians, became eligible for the consulship. However, for a number of years after that, the power of the old patrician families ensured that only patricians were elected. Eventually a law was passed which required that every year one of the two consuls had to be a plebeian. From then onwards the influence of the old patrician families began to decline, a process which was accelerated by the fact that many of them have died out. In the case of the clan ‘Veturia’, it has managed to survive, but only just, since Lucius’ father, Publius, and an elderly distant cousin of his, are the only two adult members of it left. Like most respectable freeborn Romans, Lucius has three names: ‘Lucius’ is his first name, the equivalent of our Christian name; his ‘clan’ name is ‘Veturius’; and his third, or ‘family’ name is ‘Philo’. So, Lucius full name is ‘Lucius Veturius Philo’.

Young Lucius is very proud indeed of his name and of his family, and the fact of its ancient, and noble, origin. A particular focus for his pride are the wax masks of his two consular ancestors, who held office as long ago as 222 and 206 B.C. respectively, which have been handed down within his family, and which are hanging on the wall of the family shrine in the ‘atrium’, or hall, of their house. The fact that both of these ancestors had the forename Lucius only increases his sense of pride in their achievements. Lucius is also extremely proud of his father, Publius, now aged thirty-eight, who has been a member of the Senate for eight years. His father, or ‘Pater’, as he calls him, gained his seat in the Senate by winning election to the important financial post of ‘quaestor’. He now attends Senate meetings regularly and has made a number of speeches, when the opportunity to do so has arisen. Furthermore, he is planning to put his name forward soon for the very significant post of ‘praetor’, and, if he is successful in this, he can then be considered for election to the consulship. Lucius is very confident that his father will become consul, which is the ambition of every Roman nobleman. For ‘Pater’ is a close associate of Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus, who is a keen promoter of the interests of patrician families, having become a patrician himself, when he was adopted by the great Julius Caesar in his will, which was published after his dreadful murder in 44 B.C.

Chapter 3. The boys get dressed.

But let us go back to that early morning in the summer of 3 B.C. Both Lucius and Marcus wash their hands in bowls of cold water and scrub their teeth with powdered pumice-stone. Then, they get dressed. First they put on a linen vest, and then a short-sleeved belted woollen tunic, which reaches down to their knees. Their legs are bare, but, since they are about to go out, they dispense with the sandals, or ‘soleae’, which they always wear within the house, and put on their outdoor leather walking-shoes. Lucius is particularly proud of his pair of leather shoes, which were given to him on his twelfth birthday, because they are marked with the peculiar crescent-shaped moon designs which only patricians are permitted to wear.

Finally, Daedalus comes back with a clean toga for Lucius – Marcus is still too young to wear one – and lays it on his bed. The toga is a large woollen garment, semi-circular in shape, about twelve feet long along its straight edge, and with a diameter of about five feet in Lucius’ case, although more in the case of an adult. As Lucius is a child, the straight edge is marked with a purple band, and he will continue to wear such a toga until he reaches the age of sixteen, when he will don the ‘all white’ toga of a man. Daedalus is there to help him, but actually Lucius is quite adept at putting his toga on: he drapes it around his body, then under his right-arm, and twice over his left shoulder, leaving a fold in front as a pocket and a loose end at the back. Nevertheless, Lucius finds the palaver involved in donning his toga rather annoying: “I do wish I didn’t have to put on this clumsy great toga; it’s so awkward to wear,” he moans. “Yes, but you’ve got to get used to wearing it every time you go outside,” says Daedalus. “The toga is the mark of the great Roman civilisation which rules the world, and one day you will be very proud you are wearing it.”

The boys’ final act before leaving their bedroom is to adjust the circular gold chain that each one is wearing around his neck. This is called a ‘bulla’, and it contains an amulet intended to bring good luck. Like other boys they received it on the ninth day after the day of their birth, when they were given their first name, and they will continue to wear it until they put on the manly toga.

Chapter 4. Lucius and his brother get ready to go to school.

The boys’ bedroom is a room in a floor on the first storey above the left-side of the house, overlooking the street. At the bottom of the stairs, as they come out into the atrium, the main hallway of the house, a slave brings them their breakfast on a tray. This is a light meal, consisting of bread, cheese, fruit and honey, with a cup of wine mixed with water. Sometimes they have to eat this on the way to school, but today there is time for them to eat it while sitting in chairs against the wall of the atrium. As they finish gulping down their meal, who should come to see them, but their mother, Foslia. Foslia is five foot six inches in height, quite tall for a Roman lady. She has long black hair, dazzling white skin, which she keeps like that by taking care to keep out of the sunlight, and splendidly dark brown eyes, which focus lovingly on the faces of her two sons.

“I do hope you slept well last night, my darling boys,” she says, “and I hope you have a good morning at school today.”

“Oh, Mater, you do look very nice this morning,” says little Marcus, and he is rewarded for this compliment by a loving kiss on the lips from Foslia.

“And thank you for reading us that exciting story last night before we went to sleep,” ventures Lucius. “I really do enjoy those stories about the Trojan War, and, although I like some of the Greeks, particularly that clever Ulysses, I do so admire the Trojan prince Hector for being so brave.”

“Yes, he was very brave, wasn’t he?” replies Foslia, “but he was also a very kind husband and father. Perhaps you will grow up to be just like him! Don’t forget that old belief of my family, the Foslii – we are patricians also – that we are descended from the Trojan royal family.”

“Oh, Mater, I do hope that’s true,” says Lucius with a big smile. He, too, receives a loving kiss from his mother, and then the two boys follow Daedalus down the narrow vestibule, and out through the front-door into the street. Bringing up the rear is another household servant, called Gildo, and he shuffles after them, carrying his young masters’ school books in two circular wooden boxes.

The two men accompanying them are very important in the lives of the two boys. Both of them are slaves, and therefore the personal property of their father. Daedalus, who is Greek, is their ‘pedagogue’ or tutor, and, ever since they outgrew the need for a nurse, he has been responsible for their education, both moral and linguistic. He speaks very good Greek, and thanks to his efforts Lucius has become bilingual in both Latin and Greek; indeed, he speaks Greek just as well as he speaks Latin. Marcus is still struggling a little with his Greek, but under Daedalus’ expert guidance he is making good progress. Gildo, the other of their two companions, is also a slave; however, unlike Daedalus, he is illiterate, and is responsible for more mundane physical tasks. He is called the boys’ ‘satchel-slave’, and has the job of carrying their books, their food, and indeed anything else they may need, to school with them.

Chapter 5. The journey to school.

Today, as they leave the house it is getting light, and therefore they do not need to take an oil-lamp with them, as they do in winter. They have in front of them a twenty minute walk, which will bring them to their schools, which are situated in Long Street, adjacent to the famous Roman ‘Forum’ or market-place. Marcus attends a primary, or elementary, school, which concentrates on the basics of education, reading, writing and arithmetic, while his elder brother Lucius is enrolled at a secondary, or grammar, school, which is a short distance further down the Long Street. This secondary school is concerned with teaching the poets, particularly the Greek poet Homer, who is Lucius’ favourite, although the recently published poems of the Latin authors, Virgil and Horace, are now becoming increasingly important too.

Today, Daedalus has decided to stay with Marcus in the primary school, where he will sit at the back of the class together with the pedagogues and servants of the other young pupils. So Lucius, followed by Gildo, walks on to the neighbouring secondary school, which he reaches in about two minutes’ time. The secondary school, like Marcus’ primary school, is located in a fairly substantial recess, covered by a thick linen awning, and it is only separated from the street by a long woollen veil or curtain. Lucius pushes through this, and sits down on a stool and takes his writing tablet and ‘stilus’ pen out of the wooden satchel which Gildo has now passed to him. Lucius has agreed that Gildo, who, being illiterate, finds the lessons terribly boring, can slip off for a while to go sight-seeing in the Forum, which, as Lucius knows perfectly well, probably means looking for a gladiatorial contest or a glass of strong wine.

Chapter 6. The search for Lydia.

Anyhow, Lucius is getting ready for the lesson to start, when suddenly he notices his friend Sextus coming through the curtain wall with a desperately anxious look on his tear-stained face. “O Lucius,” cries Sextus, “we’ve lost Lydia!” Now, Lydia is a chubby little black puppy – like most Roman canine pets, she is a bitch – and is a great favourite of Sextus, and, indeed, of all his family.

“Why, what’s happened to her?” asks Lucius.

“Well, when I left for school this morning, Lydia managed to escape from the house” – Sextus’ home is much nearer to the school than Lucius’s – “and started to follow me down the road. I smacked my hands together and said to her, ‘Go home, you naughty girl!’ and she scampered off in the right direction, but when Ordo joined me outside the school to give me my books – Ordo is the name of Sextus’ satchel-slave – he told me that Lydia had not returned, and that the whole household was in state of total uproar, due to their anxiety about her. I think she must have followed me after all, but now she’s nowhere to be seen.”

“Don’t worry, Sextus,” says Lucius reassuringly, “we’ll go and look for her!” So, Lucius gets up again, and, together with Sextus and Ordo, goes out into the street, and they walk up and down, searching for Lydia and calling out her name, and asking passers-by whether they’ve seen a little black puppy anywhere. They all shake their heads, until a certain female slave, who is carrying a flagon of water, which she has gathered from a nearby fountain, says, “Yes, I did see a little black dog – she probably was a puppy – sniffing around in that alley over there.” The three of them run into the alley, and crying out, “Lydia, Lydia, where are you?” they search for her with increasing desperation. “I think we must have lost her. Perhaps someone has stolen her. She’s so sweet after all !” groans Sextus. They are on the verge of giving up the search, when suddenly Lucius hears what seems to be a faint yelping sound. He can’t tell exactly where this sound is coming from, but he follows the direction of it, and then he espies a little uncovered drain at the side of the alley-way. He looks down into it, and about three feet below the ground he sees Lydia desperately kicking her little legs in the rain-water at the bottom of the drain.

“Here she is!” shouts out Lucius joyfully, and lying down flat on the ground, he stretches his hands down into the drain and pulls out little Lydia, soaked in rain-water as she is. After giving her a little pat, he hands her to Sextus. Lydia emits a small squeak of delight, and, despite the dirty water covering her, Sextus gives her a big kiss, and cuddles her close to his chest.

“We’ve got to take her home!” says Sextus. “I know we’ll be late for the lesson, but we really can’t lose her again!” So, Sextus and Lucius, followed by Ordo, who, just like the two boys, has a big beam on his face, run down the road to Sextus’ family home which is about five to ten minutes away. When they get there, joy is unbounded. Sextus’ mother and his little sister let out cries of delight, as do a number of the household slaves, with whom Lydia is a great favourite too. “Oh, Mater!” says Sextus to his mother, “Lucius found Lydia! She had fallen down a horrible drain-hole, and, if it hadn’t been for him, I think she would have drowned.”

“Thank you so much, Lucius!” says Sextus’ mother. “I can’t tell you how grateful we all are to you. We’re all so very fond of little Lydia, and we’ll really have to make sure she doesn’t manage to escape again. Perhaps you would like to come round to lunch here some day next week, so we can give our thanks to you properly. I’ll send Ordo down to your villa with a written invitation, and, if your mother agrees, you can bring that nice little brother of yours with you – Marcus, that’s his name, isn’t it? I’ll make sure we have some lovely baked bread, followed by fruit pudding. I know lunch is normally supposed to be rather a light meal, but I think we can make an exception on this occasion, as we’re all so delighted little Lydia is safe – thanks to you! But now you must go back to school, mustn’t you?”

Chapter 7. Lucius and Sextus are punished for their lateness.

So, Lucius and Sextus, still followed by Ordo, walk hurriedly back to the secondary school in Long Street.They slip in quietly through the curtain, and go straight to their stools, hoping that their absence won’t be noticed, but their hopes are in vain. For the lesson is in full swing. The ‘grammaticus’, or grammar teacher, a grey-haired old gentleman named Florus’ is seated on a big throne-like armchair on a raised stage, or dais, from which he looks down on his thirty or so pupils below, who are sitting on their stools.”Lucius, Sextus, why are you so late?” barks Florus. “You know I won’t tolerate lateness in any of my pupils.”

“It, it’s really all my f-fault,” stammered poor Sextus in reply. “I lost one of my favourite possessions” – he didn’t dare mention the puppy directly, because he was afraid Florus would be antagonised by any reference to a dog – , “and Lucius helped me find it.”

“I don’t care if you lost the crown jewels. That’s still no excuse to be so late for my lessons. Your fathers haven’t paid me my fees, so that boys like you can wander in whenever you feel like it. No, I’m now going to teach you a jolly good lesson! Both of you, come up here and stand before me on the dais!” So, poor Lucius and Sextus have to stand on the dais with their backs to the rest of the class. Then ‘Flogger’ Florus – he had been given this nickname due to his fondness for thrashing his pupils – gives first Sextus, and then Lucius, three hard strokes on the tops of their backs with a whippy ply-wood cane. Sextus lets out a cry after each stroke, and comes down off the stage with tears coursing down his cheeks. Lucius is made of sterner stuff, however, and grits his teeth together to avoid making any sound, and, although the tears do start to well up in his eyes after he receives his second stroke, he just manages to get back to his stool without any tears flowing.

“Well, let that be a lesson to the both of you!” shouts out ‘Flogger’ Florus. “And may the rest of you see what will happen to you, if you are ever late for my lessons! Now, after this unavoidable interruption, let us get on with the lesson!”

So, Lucius and Sextus, despite the soreness of their backs, try to compose themselves, and prepare to resume their studies. Meanwhile, at the back of the class, Sextus’ satchel-bearer, Ordo, clenches his fists together in his suppressed rage at the fierce treatment of his young master, and staring hard at Florus, he whispers to himself under his breath, “How I hate that horrible man! I’d like to kill him, if I could!”

Chapter 8. The end of the lesson.

So, the lesson continues. Fortunately for Lucius the subject of the lesson is a passage from Book VI of Homer’s ‘Iliad’, his favourite book of poetry. This passage features Lucius’ hero, Hector, picking up and kissing his infant son Astyanax, who is initially frightened by his father’s fearsome helmet, and then praying to Zeus to make his son a valiant warrior. The passage itself portrays a cheerful scene that demonstrates the happy family life of Hector, together with his wife Andromache, and their son, but it also contains an undercurrent of deep sadness, as we all know that Hector is soon to be slain by Achilles, little Astyanax is to be hurled to his death from the walls of Troy, and his mother is to become a slave at the hands of her Greek captors.

Returning to the progress of the lesson, Florus reads out the passage aloud, and explains the main difficulties of grammar and vocabulary in it, and then each boy in turn has to read out some sentences, and then explain their grammatical structure. Eventually, it is Lucius’ turn to perform. “Now, Lucius, “says Florus, “it is your turn to ‘construe’ ” – this is a term that means to both ‘read’ and ‘translate’. Lucius is an outstanding pupil, and loves Homer’s poetry. He reads a whole paragraph of Greek without error, translates it into Latin, and then answers Florus’ questions about the structure of the sentences, what are their subjects, objects and main verbs, etc., and he does this so well that by the end of the lesson he is fully restored to his teacher’s favour. Poor Sextus, however, is less fortunate, and, when he makes a slip-up in the pronunciation of the piece he is reading, he receives another stroke of the cane on the palm of his hand from ‘Flogger’ Florus as a punishment for his supposed carelessness.

At midday the lesson ends, and the boys prepare to go home for their lunch. “I’m sorry I caused you so much trouble, Lucius, and I do hope those strokes of the cane aren’t still hurting you too much!” says Sextus with a worried look on his face.

“Don’t worry about it,” replies Lucius. “It was all worthwhile to save your little Lydia, and, when you get home and see her again, I’m sure you’ll cheer up and forget what happened here this morning. And I’m certainly looking forward to coming round to your house with Marcus next week, and having that lovely lunch your mother has so kindly promised us.” The two friends exchange hugs, and then Lucius, accompanied by Gildo, who has by now returned from his sight-seeing trip around the Forum, goes down the road to the primary school, where Marcus and Daedalus are waiting for them. Gildo is aghast when he is told by Ordo about what happened earlier, but, on Lucius’ instruction, he agrees not to tell Daedalus anything about it.

Chapter 9. Lucius and his brother return home for lunch.

Lucius, his shoulders still smarting a little from the pain of the caning, and Marcus walk home together with Daedalus and Gildo, and join their mother for a light middle meal in the garden at the back of their house in a court which is called the ‘peristyle’. This lunch, or ‘prandium’ consists of cold meat, vegetables, unleavened bread and watered wine. During this snack, they are joined by their father, who has spent much of the morning, advising the many ‘clients’ of his who have come to see him to ask for his advice and support. “Lucius, don’t forget that you are coming to the public baths with me this afternoon. First, however, I think we should go to the Field of Mars and play ball.”

“Oh, yes, Pater,” replies Lucius, “I haven’t forgotten that we are going bathing later, and I’d love to go with you to the Field of Mars first.”

“I’d like to go too,” pipes up little Marcus.

“No, I’m afraid you’re still too young, little man,” says Publius. “But one day, when you’re about ten, you will be able to join us.” For a moment Marcus looks sad, but soon he is engrossed in his favourite pastime, in which a team of six white mice are dragging along a little wooden chariot, which Gildo, who is very skilled with his hands, has made for him.

“Go, go,” shouts out Marcus, “you’ve got to win the race!” and the mice scuttle busily across the floor with their chariot in tow.

“Hush!” says his mother. “Don’t make such a noise, Marcus! You’ll disturb some of our servants, who are having their siesta. Indeed, I rather think it’s time for my siesta.” And so Foslia gets up and goes to her bedroom, a large room, adjoining the atrium at the front of the house, which she shares with her husband.

Chapter 10. Lucius and his father take their exercise on the Field of Mars.

While his mother goes for her afternoon nap, Lucius and his father remove their togas, put on fresh tunics and leave the house. They walk down the High Street in a southerly direction, and go out through the City walls by means of the small western gate. Going in a westerly direction, they cross a major north-south road, known as the Via Flaminia, and come to the field of Mars, situated between the City Walls and the River Tiber. Traditionally, it was the place where the Roman army used to parade before marching out to war, and where Roman soldiers used to practice their military skills. Hence it was called the Field of Mars, who is the Roman god of war. This plain used to be completely open, but now its eastern part has become the site of a number of magnificent new buildings. Firstly, they come to the Saepta Julia, a big rectangular edifice, coated with marble, with colonnades on its western and eastern sides. What is the purpose of this big building, Pater,” says Lucius, “and why are there so many people coming in and out of it?”

“It’s a voting enclosure, Lucius,” says Publius, “and it’s the place where Roman citizens come to cast their votes when elections are being held, or laws are being passed. It was originally planned by the great Julius Caesar – that’s why its called ‘Julia’ – and it was finished and dedicated for use a little over twenty-five years ago by Marcus Agrippa, the Emperor’s chief lieutenant and expected successor, although he sadly died about nine years ago. But, since the Emperor Augustus has taken over, elections and other votes are less important than they used to be, and so this splendid building can be used for other purposes, such as gladiatorial contests, for instance. And the reason why there are so many people here today is because Augustus has used it to exhibit an exciting wild beast which he has had specially imported from Africa recently. It’s called a rhinoceros, which means ‘horn-nose’, and it’s a massive creature, not as big as an elephant perhaps, but even fiercer and more powerful! The sight of it is very exciting, which explains why so many people have come to see it.”

“Can we take a look at it?” asks Lucius, “and what’s going to happen to it in the end?”

“We haven’t got time to look at the rhinoceros today, says his father, “but I’ll try to arrange for us all to make a visit to see it soon. I’m sure your mother and Marcus would like to see it too! As for its future, I’m not sure what the Emperor has in mind. My fear is that it will be made to fight other wild beasts, such as lions or leopards. Personally, I hate bloody spectacles of that sort, but there are many people who will pay large sums of money to watch such things, and this may persuade those around Augustus to suggest this to him.”

“Perhaps you should raise this in the Senate, Pater, and suggest that such contests between animals should be banned,” says Lucius.

“Yes, Lucius, I’d certainly like to do just that, but, unfortunately watching animals fighting each other has become so popular with the public that anyone wanting to become praetor, as I do, would probably be wise not to express a contrary view too publicly.”

As Lucius ponders the implications of Publius’ remark, they both walk on past the nearby Pantheon, the temple to all the gods, also built by Agrippa and completed a few years after the Saepta Julia. Looking northwards they can see the Horologium, a tall solar clock, or sundial, erected only a few years before, in 10 B.C., and immediately to its right they can see the beautiful Altar of Augustan Peace, built to celebrate the peace which Augustus has brought to the whole Roman empire after so many years of terrible civil strife. The Horologium has been designed, so that on the day of the Emperor’s birthday in August the pointed shadow thrown by the sun will point straight to the front entrance of the Altar of Peace. Having passed just to the north of the Pantheon, they come to the western part of the Field of Mars, free of buildings as it still is. Leading down to the River Tiber, in which many people still swim after exerting themselves, is the sandy grassland on which the citizens of Rome traditionally take exercise.

As he walks along beside his father, Lucius looks around with great interest at the various activities which are in progress around them. Some athletic-looking youths are training in preparation for joining the army at the age of eighteen: they are running, jumping, riding horses, driving chariots and wrestling. Others are fencing with wooden staves, or tilting at posts. Then, there are those throwing the discuss, and weight-lifters, and men exercising with dumb-bells. But it is the ball-games that most interest Lucius and excite his attention. The most spectacular of these is a game, like net-ball, involving two teams of seven-a-side and which makes use of a small hard ball. This game is called ‘harpastum’, and today such a game is going on, watched by a number of cheering spectators. At the same time, a little further off and nearer to the Tiber, a number of middle-aged and elderly men are playing with larger and lighter leather balls. One of these balls, called a ‘paganica’ is stuffed with feathers, and another, called a ‘follis’, is inflated with air. Then, they see three men, standing in a triangle, and throwing three ‘follis’ balls to one another in quick succession. One of these three men recognises Publius, and knows what a distinguished senator he is.

“If you, Veturius, and your son – I take it that good-looking young man is your son – are looking to play a game, why don’t you come and join us?” Publius happily accepts this kind offer on behalf of them both – Lucius looks keen enough too – , and, with the help of two other gentlemen who are standing nearby, they form a circle of six, with the seventh person in the middle. The six men in the circle take it in turns to throw a ‘follis’ at the one in the middle. After each round the one in the middle exchanges his position with one of those in the circle, until all seven players have been tested in succession. They then repeat the process for a second time. The winner is the person who drops the ball the least times. Needless to say, Publius, who catches all twelve balls directed at him, is the winner. Lucius also does well, only dropping the ball twice.

At the end of their game, Publius thanks the other contestants for giving him and Lucius such a pleasant time, and then turns to his son and says, “Well, I think it’s time we went to the baths, and I think we can make use of the Baths of Agrippa, which are just over there to the south of the Pantheon.” So, retracing their footsteps back to the eastern side of the Field of Mars, they begin to make their way to the baths. However, as they are walking past a crowd of ball-players, mostly young men, they notice that an elderly gentleman, who appears to be struggling somewhat in his movements, has become the object of laughter and jeers from a number of the young men. The elderly man, probably about seventy years old, is taking part in another game with a ‘follis’ ball, called ‘palla’. This involves throwing the ball backwards and forwards over a piece of netting, with three players on each side. The old man, who was clearly suffering from a slight limp, had dropped the ball on a number of occasions, and, as Publius and Lucius approach the group of people playing and the spectators surrounding them, he slips and falls forward flat on his face. As he was slowly getting back on his feet with the help of one of his fellow-players, he was greeted by yells of laughter and some quite unpleasant sneering from a number of the spectators. “Oh no, granddad, not again! You’re really much too old and clumsy to be playing this game. Surely you must see that your day is done, you silly old fool!” cried out one spectator, a youngish man of around twenty-five, and a number of rude and derogatory comments from some of the other spectators followed this.

Then, a thunderous look comes over Publius’ face, for he has just recognised the old ball-player as a fellow-senator called Aufidius, and before the game of ‘palla’ can be restarted, Publius walks right into the middle of the group, and says with a very stern expression on his face, “Show some respect, will you! Don’t you know who you’re talking to? This is Gaius Aufidius. He’s not only a very distinguished former tribune of the people, who did a lot to help a number of fellow-citizens, people just like you, whom the law had mistreated, but as a young man he saved the life of a fellow-soldier and was awarded the civic crown, our country’s greatest honour, because of his gallantry. And yet you young men are laughing and sneering at him, when you should be applauding him for his courage and determination in playing at all at his advanced age, and, despite that limp of his, which he acquired as a honourable wound in battle while fighting for his country. Shame on you all!”

When Publius finishes his reproof, Lucius notices that the crowd has now gone quiet and that the faces of many of the young men are displaying some very uncomfortable looks. “Thank you very much for standing up for me, Veturius, ” says Aufidius. “But I’m afraid these young men are probably right. Perhaps, I should retire from the field at last. But, despite my age, I do so enjoy playing ‘palla’.”

“I think you should go on playing for as long as you like, Aufidius,” replies Publius, “and I do hope I can still play ball-games, if I ever reach your age.” Then, Publius shakes hands with Aufidius, and he and Lucius continue their walk to the Baths of Agrippa, while Aufidius and his friends resume their game, and some of the spectators begin to shuffle off with looks of embarrassment on their faces.

Chapter 11. Lucius and his father visit the baths.

“Well then, Lucius,” says his father, “we’ll soon arrive at the Baths. Do you know they are actually the very first public baths to be built in our city? Our great emperor, Augustus, has vowed to change Rome from a city of brick into a city of marble, and in doing this he certainly received a great deal of help from good old Agrippa, may God bless his soul! We’ve gone past the Saepta Julia and the Pantheon, for the construction of which he was responsible, but he also built these lovely public Baths, which are now available to every Roman citizen.”

When they get to the Baths, Lucius’ father pays the entrance fee for both of them, a nominal charge of a ‘quadrans’ each. A ‘quadrans’ is Rome’s smallest copper coin, worth a farthing or even less. Then. Lucius follows Publius into the ‘tepidarium’, or ‘warm room’, where they undress and hand over their clothes to the attendant, who knows Publius quite well. “Good afternoon, sir!” says the attendant. “Is this your son?”

“Yes,” replies Publius. “He’s my elder son, and his name is Lucius. He has learned to swim, but this is his first visit to these splendid baths.”

“I do hope you enjoy yourself, young sir,” says the attendant with an encouraging smile, “and that you don’t find the changes in temperature too much of a shock.” Feeling very excited, Lucius follows his father into the ‘caldarium’, or ‘very hot room’, and they jump into a hot bath, where, despite the other bathers – for the pool is quite crowded – they have a good time, splashing about and swimming one or two lengths. After about ten minutes they climb out, and sit on a bench, while they perspire heavily in the hot air circulating upwards, coming from the coal-fire, or ‘hypocaust’ burning under the floor. They sit there sweating, and get so hot that they have to ask an attendant to pour cold water over them to cool them down. After about twenty minutes, Publius says, “I bet you’re feeling very hot now, Lucius. Let’s go and have our cold plunge!”

So, up they get, and go to the ‘frigidarium’, or ‘cold room’, where there is another swimming pool, this time full of cold water, into which they jump. At first, this cold water comes as quite a shock to Lucius, and he lets out a little cry. “Oh, Pater, it’s really freezing, isn’t it?” “So it is,” says his father, “but you’ll soon get used to it, and it’ll certainly wash away all that sweat that we got in the ‘very hot room’.” Soon, Lucius, becoming acclimatised to the cold water, starts to enjoy himself again, but they don’t stay in this pool for very long. Getting out, they return to the ‘warm room’, where they had got undressed.

“Now,” says Publius, “comes the most important part of our visit to these baths; we’re going to get our ‘rub-down’! Lucius looks round to the opposite corner of the room, where he sees a number of raised couches, on which there are gentlemen of all shapes and sizes, lying on their backs or stomachs, while the attendants or masseurs, standing over them, are anointing them with olive-oil, which they then proceed to rub well into the men’s bodies, pounding and pummelling away at them. As soon as one of the couches becomes available, Lucius jumps on to it and lies flat on his stomach. His masseur is a big black man, a slave like the other bath attendants. “Well, helloo dair, young gen’leman! Your father tells me this is your first visit to these baths. I think you’re gonna enjoy this massage.” He then pours olive-oil on to Lucius’ back, and rubs this well into his flesh, firstly on his back and hind-legs, and then, after he has turned over, his chest, stomach and thighs. For Lucius, a young lad with no surplus flesh, this is quite a pleasant experience, but some other of the attendants’ customers are finding it much less comfortable. Lying on the couch next to Lucius is a rather portly gentleman, who lets out a number of moans and groans as his masseur rubs hard at the deposits of fat all over his body.

After about ten minutes, Lucius’ initial massage comes to an end, and his attendant picks up a metal scraper, called a ‘strigil’. “Now, you must lie very still, young master,” says he, “so the strigil doesn’t cut you!” The black attendant then proceeds to scrape his front and back in order to remove any surplus oil, sweat or dust. At the end of this process, Lucius receives a final ‘rub-down’ with a towel and then returns to the other end of the ‘warm room’, where his clothes have been stored. There, he joins his father, and they put on their clothes once more. Lucius is relieved that his father hasn’t noticed the red marks on his back, inflicted by ‘Flogger’ Florus earlier in the day.

After Publius has generously tipped the two masseurs who have been working on them, he and Lucius are preparing to leave the changing area, when suddenly they hear a loud commotion coming from the adjoining corridor. Publius looks out, cautiously, and sees a rather scruffily dressed man with long tousled hair running down the corridor towards him, while grasping in one hand what appears to be a kind of leather bag. Behind him, Publius hears some loud shouts: “Fur!” “Furcifer!” – words meaning ‘Thief’, and ‘Rogue destined for the gallows’ – and “Stop thief! That man’s stolen my purse!” Such is the hue and cry following the footsteps of this unkempt looking man! As the man approaches the spot where he is standing, Lucius’ father quickly takes a step back into the entrance to the changing area, and then, as the would-be fugitive runs past him, he suddenly sticks out his foot. The thief trips up over it, and goes flying head over heels on to his face. The purse too falls to the floor, and coins, both silver and copper, spill out of it in all directions. Before he can get up, the thief is jumped upon by the man whose purse he has stolen and two or three bath attendants responsible for security, and is hauled off to the city gaol to face justice.

Lucius is somewhat shaken by this nasty incident, but is full of admiration for his father’s quick-thinking, which has certainly led to the thief’s downfall. Publius is thanked profusely by the owner of the stolen purse and by the chief security guard, and then he and Lucius leave the Baths of Agrippa for their journey home. Despite the alarming incident at the end of their visit, Lucius has really enjoyed his first experience of the public baths, and he walks home with his father, feeling full of vigour and glowing with health.

Chapter 12. Lucius prepares for his first dinner party.

When Lucius and his father get back to their house on the High Street, Lucius, with an admiring look on his face, tells his mother how his father had stopped those insolent young men from jeering at that gallant old ball-player on the Field of Mars, and the clever manner in which he had brought about the downfall of the fleeing thief in the Baths of Agrippa. Foslia congratulates her husband on his actions, and tells Lucius to be sure to follow his father’s good example in his future life. Then, she turns to Lucius and says, “You know we’re having a dinner-party this evening, don’t you?”

“Yes,” replies Lucius, “but who’s coming to it?”

“Well, we’re holding the party to celebrate the engagement of your cousin Aemilia to her fiancé, young Aulus Papirius Carbo. Aemilia’s mother, your aunt, Foslia Major” – Roman women do not have first names like the men do, and are only differentiated by quantitative adjectives such as Major and Minor – “is coming of course, together with her husband, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, who, because he is an ex-consul, will have the seat of honour at the banquet. Also present will be young Papirius’ father, Gaius, and his second wife, Vera – poor Aulus’ mother died shortly after he was born.”

Lucius carefully counted up the number of guests his mother had said were invited. The usual number of people attending a dinner party like this is nine, but, including herself and her husband, Foslia had only listed eight people. “But, Mater, including Pater and yourself, you’ve only mentioned eight people. Who’s going to be the ninth person?”

“A very good-looking young man, called Lucius Veturius Philo, provided that he behaves well, and takes himself off to bed when the plates are cleared.”

“Oh Mater, Pater, can I really come to the feast?” cries Lucius, who is really thrilled at the prospect of attending his first dinner party. “Oh, how exciting!”

“I’m glad you’re so pleased,” says Foslia, “and I know your cousin Aemilia will be very glad that you’re there. You’re certainly a great favourite of hers, you know! But now you must go upstairs and get dressed for the party, which will be starting in about twenty minutes.” So Lucius runs happily upstairs, and dons a smart blue tunic, which has been laid out for him to wear.

After he has put this on, and brushed his hair, Lucius comes down again into the atrium, which he crosses, and then hurries into the dining room, or ‘triclinium’, at the back of the house. This is adjacent to the peristyle, where the garden is, and beside it is the kitchen or ‘culina’, although there is no direct access from the kitchen to the dining room in order that any unpleasant smells should be avoided. It’s about quarter past four in the afternoon. In Roman households, dinner or ‘cena’, which is the main meal of the day, often begins as early as three o’clock, but today’s banquet is scheduled to begin at about 4.30 p.m. “What are we having for dinner this evening, Gordianus?” Lucius asks their head steward, who is arranging the flowers on the ‘mensa’, the square table in the middle of the room, surrounded by the three couches which have been set out in the traditional manner, with one couch facing three of the tables’ four sides, and one side being left free for the servants to lay down the food. “I do hope we’re having something nice!” adds Lucius.

“Here is our menu for tonight, young master,” says Gordianus, who as head steward is responsible for the work of all the male slaves in the household, and he reads out the details of the three courses which the chef, a slave, who cost a large sum of money to purchase, has noted down on a piece of papyrus:

‘1. First course (or hors d’oeuvre’): Eggs, garum (i.e. a strong fish pickle), olives, radishes, lettuce, leeks.

2. Main course: Roast kid, pheasant, ham, meat balls, a fish (lamprey and turbot), with the following vegetables ; sprouts, asparagus, olives, mushrooms and truffles, together with appropriate sauces.

3. Dessert: apples, pears, grapes, figs, strawberries, walnuts and almonds.’

“I hope you approve, Master Lucius,” says Gordianus. “Castor, our chef, is used to preparing even more elaborate meals than this, but your father has made it clear that, as this is only an informal family meal, the food, although good, must be relatively simple.”

Then, the visitors begin to arrive, and a footman announces their names, as they come down the vestibule into the atrium. Lucius’ cousin, Aemilia, is only a year and a half older than Lucius, and proudly shows him her new engagement ring, made of gold, worn on the third finger of her left hand, which Aulus Papirius has given her as a token of their betrothal. Aulus, himself, is a handsome young man of twenty-four, and has already distinguished himself as a junior army officer on the staff of a Roman general in Spain. Aemilia is evidently in awe of her fiancé, and gazes at him with a look of adoration, while Lucius is delighted to meet his cousin’s future husband, and thinks she has done very well to win him.

When his aunt Foslia Major and her famous husband, the consular Scaurus, enter the atrium, the guests are ushered into the dining room, where Gordianus escorts them to their places. Facing the ‘mensa’, the square table in the middle of the room, is the ‘Central Couch’, and the right hand of its three places is reserved for Aemilia’s father, Scaurus, with Aemilia herself in the middle of this couch, next to her father, and her fiancé, Aulus Papirius, in the place on her left. The couch to the left of the ‘mensa’ is the ‘Low Couch’, on which are placed, in order, Aulus’ step-mother Vera, the hostess, Lucius’ mother Foslia Minor, and at the end, Aulus’ father, Gaius Papirius. To the right of the ‘mensa’ is the ‘Low Couch’, on which are placed in descending order, the host, Lucius’ father Publius, sitting next to Scaurus, the guest of honour, then Lucius’ aunt Foslia Major, and, finally, Lucius himself in the bottom place, facing Aulus’ father on the opposite couch. The three couches are made of wood engraved with ivory, and each one is covered by a mattress and some brightly coloured coverlets, with a cushion for each table guest. Each of the four adult male participants ‘reclines’ in the traditional manner, lying on their left sides and leaning on their left elbows. The ladies, however, are permitted to sit on their cushions, as is Lucius, as he is still too young to recline at table, and needs more time to practise this way of eating. He does, however, slip off his sandals like the other guests, and, then, looking very smart in his blue tunic, he takes his place beside his aunt and waits for the food to be brought in.

Chapter 13. Lucius enjoys the dinner party.

Lucius certainly finds most of the food very good. Perhaps he doesn’t really enjoy the garum, or fish-pickle, very much, popular as it is with most of the other guests because of its very strong taste, but he does enjoy the roast kid, the pheasant, and the ham. Slices of all of these are brought to him on a silver plate by an attendant, who has been specially assigned to look after him, after they have been carefully carved at a side-table by an expert carver called Andron. He only has a little of the lamprey, as he is rather wary of fish, but he really likes the asparagus and the mushrooms, especially the latter as they are served in a really delicious sauce. After the first course, or hors d’oeuvre, is served, the attendants bring round cups of so-called ‘honey-wine’, and no other wine is served during the meal itself. At some Roman banquets wine is served in large quantities throughout the meal, but, in accordance with Publius’ instructions, only this moderate honey-wine is made available at this stage of the dinner, and Lucius’ mother has ensured that in his case it is diluted with plenty of water.

During the meal, Lucius is careful to remember his manners, and only to speak when he is spoken to; but he does chat happily to his aunt, the elder Foslia, who is sitting next to him. When she asks what sort of day he has had, he tells how he found Sextus’ puppy in a drain, and how much he enjoyed playing ball in the Field of Mars and then going to the Baths of Agrippa afterwards. His aunt listens with interest, particularly when he tells her about his father’s courage in standing up to those young men who were teasing poor old Aufidius so cruelly, and how he also managed to up-end the flying thief in the corridor of the bath house.

Apart from conversation, the guests are entertained during the dinner, firstly by a professional singer, who accompanies his song with a lyre, and then by Lucius’ pedagogue Daedalus, who reads a passage from Book VI of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, a book which Lucius likes almost as much as the ‘Iliad’. This reading tells how the shipwrecked and semi-naked Ulysses wakes up on the beach on the island of Scheria (now known as Corfu), and is encouraged by the beautiful princess Nausicaa to come out of hiding and accompany her back to the palace of her father, Alcinoüs, King of the Phaeacians. Lucius loves this story, which he has heard Daedalus read many times before, and which he himself has now learned to recite. “Do you know, I think Aemilia is just as pretty as Nausicaa must have been!” says Lucius to her mother, who is sitting beside him, and his aunt smiles proudly at this suggestion.

The dinner-party is a great success, and the guests talk happily to one another in the midst of so much delightful food. However, towards the end of the main course, and after Daedalus has finished his reading, Aulus Papirius’ father Gaius, suddenly gets up, and, after a choked apology, rushes from the dining room holding his somewhat chubby belly, while his wife Vera and Aulus look on with rather awkward looks on their faces. Before this happens, Lucius had noticed that Gaius, who was reclining on the couch immediately opposite him, seemed to be eating a great deal, and gulping his mouthfuls rather too quickly. When Gaius has left the dining room, Lucius turns to his aunt and says, “What’s the matter with Aulus’ pater? I do hope he’s all right!”

“Oh, don’t worry, Lucius!” replies Foslia Major. “He’s only going to the ‘vomitorium’. She is quite right. In common with a number of Roman men, Gaius takes emetic tablets, designed to make him vomit, so that he can eat and drink as much as he likes, be sick in the vomitorium, and then come back and eat and drink still more. After he has left the dining room, Gaius is assisted by the chief steward Gordianus into a small room adjoining the peristyle, from where, having vomited once or twice, and, having drunk a little water, which Gordianus helpfully gives him, he returns to the dining room. “I feel much better now,” says Gaius, smiling happily. “Roll on the dessert!”

Sure enough, when the dessert is brought in and placed on the ‘mensa’, Gaius tucks in readily, together with everyone else. Lucius particularly enjoys the pears, which are served together with some lovely cream. But when the fruit is taken away by the attendants, and a big ‘crater’ or mixing-bowl of red wine is put on the table, Lucius feels sad, as he realises that the drinking phase of the dinner is about to begin, and that he will therefore have to say farewell to the guests and withdraw to his bedroom. But his pretty cousin Aemilia, supported by her father Scaurus, asks that Lucius should be permitted to stay for long enough to drink to the good health of the betrothed. Much to his delight, his parents agree, which means that he can stay at the table for half an hour longer.

As he is the host, Publius assumes the role of ‘master of ceremonies’, and decides that the wine will be diluted by three measures of water to everyone of wine, and he also decides the maximum number of cups that each person can drink. This he limits to five, although in Lucius’ case it is only two. Each guest proposes a toast to the health of the engaged couple; Lucius’ turn come last. He stands up, and says, “Good health to you Aemilia! Good health to you too, Aulus!” and drains his cup in one draught in the prescribed manner. Then, at his mother’s behest, he calls for his sandals and asks for permission to retire. After saying good night to his parents and all the guests and giving Aemilia a polite little kiss, he leaves the dining room and goes upstairs. The party, however, is scheduled to last for another hour at least.

Chaper 14. Lucius goes to bed.

It is now beginning to get dark, and Daedalus meets Lucius in the atrium, and, giving him an oil-lamp, tells him to go to bed quietly and not to disturb Marcus who is already asleep. So, Lucius goes upstairs and takes his clothes off quickly, and puts on his night attire. Then, blowing out the lamp, he climbs quietly up on to his bunk above the sleeping Marcus. Despite the noise coming from the street below – in Rome nights are noisy because of the constant movement of horses and carts, which are banned from the streets during the day, and have to be used at night to make deliveries – , he quickly falls asleep, tired out no doubt by all the exciting things he has experienced during the day that has just passed.

He is not disturbed at all by the departure of the guests, but at about midnight he is awoken by a loud shouting noise in the street immediately beneath his window. “Help! Help! I’m being attacked!” is the voice of a late-night traveller, who is being assaulted by a footpad, who is probably after his money. “Help, Vigiles! Over here!” cries the traveller. The Vigiles are the firemen, recently recruited by the Emperor Augustus to extinguish fires and to prevent robberies such as this one. Luckily for the traveller, a number of Vigiles do appear on the scene quickly in response to his cry for help, and the footpad runs off hurriedly. But before peace can be restored, Lucius sees and hears a window opening in the top floor of the block of tenement flats opposite their house, and an angry citizen, indignant at being woken up by all this noise, cries out, “Cave faeces! (Beware the dregs!)”, and then empties a basin or chamber-pot full of slops on to the head of anyone unfortunate enough to be standing directly underneath. Lucius listens with interest to the cries of disgust and the scuffling sounds which follow the splash caused by the landing of these slops, but then he also hears anxious noises coming from the bunk beneath him, It seems that the noise has woken Marcus up as well.

“Oh, Lucius!” says Marcus. “Are you really there! I hardly saw you at at all yesterday, and I really did miss you. And now all these horrid noises are making me very upset!”

Lucius thinks for a moment. Then, he realises that, despite all the exciting things that happened to him yesterday and the pleasure of attending Aemilia’s engagement party, he, too, has missed his brother very much. “Well, then,” says Lucius, “why don’t you climb up on to my bunk, Marcus, and I’ll give you a cuddle!” Quick as a flash, Marcus joins his brother on the top bunk, and, after a few moments, both boys, with their arms around one another, are sound asleep again.

APPENDIX: CREDITS.

In the composition of the above story, use has been made of the following works about Roman life and society:

J.P.V.D. Balsdon: Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome (London,) 1969.
Jerome Carcopino: Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Paris,) 1939.
Humfrey Grose-Hodge: Roman Panorama (Cambridge,) 1946.
E.C. Kennedy and G.W. White: S.P.Q.R. The History and Social Life of Ancient Rome (London,) 1944.

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