What daily life was like in ancient Rome

What was daily life like for the ancient Romans? Although more developed than many people in the contemporary world, it was not a lifestyle that many people would have liked to live in today. The vast majority of Romans were poor (or slaves) and their lives were hard and grueling.

Most movies about Romans show only selected parts of elite life and not the ordinary life of the normal Roman citizen (except for the 2005 HBO series “Rome“).

Their houses – The Island

Most Romans lived in the island – it was either some kind of apartment building or a city block. Insulae was home to most of Rome’s urban citizens. Rome grew to have a massive population of around 800,000 to 1 million people and therefore the insulae were designed to cope with a denser population.

  • Roman population: Up to 1 million people
  • Isolated: A type of Roman building or city building

Most of the people who lived in these buildings were ordinary middle-class or lower-class people (called plebs). Only the wealthiest of the upper middle class (called the equines) would not live in the island. The elite lived in what was called a “house” or large single-family residence.

These two types of housing were intermingled in the city and not separated into distinct neighborhoods.

  • Running water: There was no running water in the Island

On the ground floor were shops and businesses and people lived above. The owners were often wealthy Romans and Senators. Residents who lived on the insula paid rent to their landlords. Sometimes these buildings were in poor condition and collapsed. Once Cicero wrote that his buildings were so bad that not only the tenants but also the mice had moved out.

  • Fires: The fires were a big problem for the insula

There has even been evidence of an early form of fire insurance on these buildings with court cases accusing owners of burying theirs island in order to obtain payment for the insurance. It seems that insurance fraud is as old as insurance itself.

Related: Rome’s Colosseum Could Return To Its Former Glory With Retractable Flooring

Working day and relaxing afternoon

While the conditions left a lot to be desired, the day’s work for the average Roman wasn’t so bad. They got up at dawn and went to work. Maybe they’d have a quick breakfast at a Thermopolium on the way.

  • Thermopolis: A kind of fast food / street restaurant
  • Work: From dawn to afternoon

They would then work until the afternoon and then be free to relax for the rest of the day. They often went to a public bar or to the public baths. Roman bars had both outdoor space for those who wanted to take out and indoor space for those who wanted to dine.

  • Favorite drink: Honey Sweet Mulled Wine

Roman baths and gymnasiums

The Roman baths were one of the characteristics of the Roman world. It was the place where the Romans could relax, clean up and maybe pick up a prostitute (this was very normal in the Roman world). One of the largest bath complexes was so large that it could have accommodated some 1,600 bathers.

  • The largest baths: Could accommodate up to 1,600 swimmers
  • Beach resorts: Could include a library, gym, restaurant and even a brothel

The largest of the beach resorts could have a library, gym, restaurant, and maybe even a brothel. These places were often richly decorated and adorned with many stunning statues – they were a welcome break from the dark little rooms of the insula.

One of the best places to see ancient Roman baths today is in Bath, England (which lives up to the hype). Although not all of the current structure is Romans.

Related: Here are some of the best-preserved Roman roads to explore

Public toilets

At home, people mostly used chamber pots. But there were also many public toilets that citizens could use and these were often preferred as they normally had running water to flush waste away. Many of these ancient Roman toilets can be seen in ruins around ancient cities today.

However, they also used a common sponge on a stick for cleaning. If one person had worms, others were also susceptible to worms. It was also communal where everyone would sit (very) close to many other strangers with no privacy whatsoever.

  • Public toilets : There were (very) public toilets in Rome

There were also pots placed around the city to prevent men from urinating in the street. The urine would then be used to clean clothes – the ammonia in urine made it good for washing clothes. Want to take your clothes to the old Roman laundry?

  • Urine: Used to wash clothes

Next: This ancient aqueduct is the most impressive and best-preserved Roman ruin


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