Ancient Civilizations: The Roman Way of Life

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13089

Cheering as the army marches home after a great victory, enjoying the baths, watching a chariot race or gladiator contest, then reclining at a sumptuous feast - a day in the life of an ancient Roman!

categories

World

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

A chariot race was an exciting event for the ancient Romans. Watch this video clip from the movie Ben Hur to get a taste of the excitement!

Ben Hur 1959 Chariot race from X Time Goes By:

Life in the ancient Roman empire was full of luxury, ease, and entertainment for the ruling class but filled with hard work and danger for the rest of the people.

In the first Related Lesson of our Ancient Civilizations: Rome series, found in the right-hand sidebar, we talked about how Rome built an empire. In the second lesson, we dealt with how they ruled it.

In this third lesson, you'll learn more details about the daily life of the Romans. What did they eat? What did they wear? How did they spend their time?

Social Classes

As in most ancient civilizations, a person's daily life in Rome depended on their position in society. Click on the orange circles next to each position in the social pyramid to learn more information.

Rome was also patriarchal, meaning that it was ruled by men. Only a man could hold a public office, such as senator. Fathers were supposed to have absolute authority over their families, though many women helped make decisions about running the household and raising the children.

Print The Roman Way of Life by Social Class found under Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar. As you read about daily life in Ancient Rome, complete the chart noting the differences for each social class. 

  • Do you think there are similiar social classes today where you live?

Clothing and Jewelry

The clothes that a Roman wore reflected his or her social standing. Only patrician men wore togas, the large pieces of cloth draped over the shoulder for which Romans are famous. The color of a man's toga depended on his office. For example, only the emperor could wear a purple toga, and only senators could wear togas with a broad stripe on the edge. Women of all classes wore a long tunic (like a dress), while patrician women wore a little fancier dress called a stola. Children wore shorter tunics than men or women, and everyone wore leather sandals.

ancient Roman man and woman

Wealthy women would wear jewelry, while the men would usually only wear rings. Children wore pendants called bullas. These were good luck charms given to them shortly after their birth and worn until they were grown up.

bust of a child with a bulla

Image by Carlo Raso, via Flickr, was released into the public domain.

School and Work

Around ages 7 to 9, children would either go to school or go to work. Families who could afford it would pay a tutor to come and teach their children in their homes. Others would send them to a school set up by a schoolmaster in the town.

Those who went to school would learn to read and write in Latin and Greek. They would memorize and recite poetry and study math, history, philosophy, and public speaking.

Students would write on wax tablets, scratching into the wax with one end of a stylus (a pointed stick). The other end of the stylus was flat so they could smooth over the wax again, erasing what they wrote, and reuse it.

Roman wax tablet

Poorer children would not go to school. Instead, they would learn a trade so they could go to work.

  • What kind of work do you think they might learn?

Lower-class children would either learn the work their father did or be apprenticed to another kind of worker. They could become blacksmiths, bakers, or butchers or work in laundries or on farms, among many other occupations.

Entertainment

The Romans had many ways of entertaining themselves! Here are just a few examples:

  1. The Baths

Roman bath house

You might not think that taking a bath is very entertaining, but the baths were for more than just getting clean. They provided a chance to exercise, socialize, and relax. They did not cost much to enter, so most Romans went to the baths very often.

There were many different areas in the bath houses. First, there was a large area for exercise where people played ball games, lifted weights, wrestled, or ran around a track. They would get all sweaty, and then go get cleaned up.

They did not use soap. Rather, they were rubbed down with olive oil. Next, they scraped themselves clean with a curved instrument. Then, they would go into the steam room, or hot bath, and finally to the cold pool.

At each stage of the baths, there would be socializing with friends and discussing the events of the day.

Watch this tour of the Roman baths using Minecraft. The video is in Latin, which was the primary language in Rome, but there are English subtitles.

Roman Baths - Latin - Minecraft from Divus Magister Craft:

 

  1. The Chariot Races

charioteer

As you saw in the opening video, chariot racing was an exciting and dangerous sport. Four teams in different colors (red, green, blue, and white) would race around a track. At the Circus Maximus (Latin for "biggest circle") in Rome, the teams would do seven laps going about four miles altogether. The Circus Maximus was the biggest arena in the empire. It could hold up to 150,000 people!

The Charioteers were mostly slaves. If they won, they could get rich and buy their freedom; so, of course, they wanted to win very badly!

  1. The Games

gladiators

The Romans built many amphitheaters (open-air theaters) throughout the empire. The largest and most famous was the Colosseum in Rome.

Colosseum

This is where most of the Romans came for entertainment, although the entertainment was bloody and cruel. The Games began with battles involving wild animals such as lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses. These either fought each other, gladiators, or criminals.

Then, gladiators would fight each other. These men were either slaves or criminals. They had to fight to survive, and most only survived a few battles. Those who were more successful could become famous and be treated like celebrities.

The Colosseum could also be flooded to stage naval battles, complete with crocodiles to eat those unlucky enough to fall into the water!

Food

emperor lounging and eating grapes

Wealthy Romans are well-known for their love of food and feasting!

They would lay on couches with the food on nearby tables. They would eat three courses:

  • First were appetizers such as olives and eggs.
  • Next were boiled or roasted meats such as pork, chicken, or venison (deer).
  • Finally, there was a dessert of fruits, dates, and cakes.
  • And there was always plenty of wine.

Poor people would eat a porridge made from wheat. They might also eat barley, beans, or lentils.

Now that you know what the Romans ate, wore, and did for schooling, work, and entertainment, head over to the Got It? section, where you'll research what kind of homes they lived in!

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