How do you create a fictional story out of an historical period? What do you need to know about the people, the places, the events? What’s the better inspiration: historical scholarship or popular knowledge? A writer’s guide to Ancient Rome serves as inspiration and a guide to the Roman population, economy, laws, leisure, and religion for the author, student, general reader seeking an introduction to what made the Romans tick. The Guide considers trends and themes from roughly 200 BCE to 200 CE with the occasional foray into the antecedents and legacy on either side of the period. Each chapter explicates its main themes with examples from the original sources. Throughout are suggestions for resources to mine for the subject at hand and particular bits affected by scholarly debate and changing interpretation based on new discoveries or reinterpretation of written and material remains. It’s up to you whether or not you will produce a work of careful verisimilitude or anachronistic silliness (or one of the flavours in between). That’s your call as creator. This little guide is but a brief survey of a vast quantity of resources, sources, and scholarship on the Classical world that is available for reflection, evaluation, interpretation, and creativity. It is intended to open doors for further reading and consideration as you construct your own Roman world – it’s a welcome mat inviting you in to listen to the stories of the Romans and to contribute tales of your own.
The author’s introduction includes a general introduction to the period, that is, the era from the middle to later Republic (roughly the late fourth, early third, centuries BCE) through to the end of the Pax Romana (the end of the second century CE). The main regions covered will be the western regions of the Empire, although there will be discussion of Rome’s involvement with the Greek East, and how Greek culture came to play an important influence in Roman culture; Rome’s involvement with Egypt will also be included, especially as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony’s adventures with Cleopatra are popular topics with authors and screenwriters. The introduction discusses which aspects of Roman culture are discussed in subsequent chapters.
This chapter looks at the general character of the Roman people with an eye to following the life cycle of the Romans from birth to death; it takes in aspects of their social status and traditional values. It kicks off with the smallest basic unit of Roman society, the family, and looks at how the Roman family and household were organised, and the importance of the paterfamilias and his authority as well as the importance of the patron–client relationship. There are discussion of sex, contraception, birth, and childhood; there is also discussion of courtship, marriage, and care for the elderly as well as funeral and death rituals. Traditional Roman values are discussed, such as virtus, dignitas, nobilitas, and auctoritas as well as the customs of ancestor worship, consensus, and deference. These values were found throughout Roman society and they are how the Romans defined themselves against outsiders from the Greeks to the Carthaginians to the so-called barbarians on the borders of their empire.
This chapter discusses fashion and clothing in the Roman Empire across the different social classes: men from the poorest rank to Senatorial class, slaves, and freedmen. Women’s fashions are more complicated as they changed more (especially in the imperial period), so there will be a discussion of clothing styles, hair styles, and jewellery of free women, slaves, and prostitutes. Sumptuary laws are also discussed. How clothing was made, what the fabrics were, particular accessories that are indicators of status and age are discussed. Food and drink were also indicative of social class and rank; this chapter considers the basic foodstuffs from the humblest table to the extravagances of dinner parties and festive occasions. Typical menus for meals across the classes are discussed including the typical sorts of meats, vegetables, and beverages one could expect in everyday meals, table manners and customs in the different social classes.
This chapter starts with a general introduction to the topic of civic space and rural life in the Roman Empire; the discussion includes the sources available for the writer. It is stressed that Roman literature on rural life, especially, tends to be greatly idealised by contemporary authors who viewed the life of a ‘gentleman farmer’ as a virtuous ideal. The Roman aristocrat based his wealth on how much land he owned – the contrast between the ideal Roman country estate and Pliny the Younger’s drudgery as a landlord would make a good case study. The chapter looks at life in the City of Rome as well as provincial towns which emulated what they knew of the centre. It discusses street conditions and layout, types of buildings, styles of architecture, and construction materials. Issues of safety and the dangers of city living are discussed – crime, fire, etc. There is also a discussion of the types of housing found in the city – imperial and aristocratic palaces on the one hand, and the life of an apartment (insula) dweller on the other.
The legal system or government covered in the Roman era is twofold: the Republic in the earlier period (509–27 BCE) and the Principate or Empire in the later (27 BCE – 235 CE). The first section of this chapter discusses the set-up of Republican government – the main magistrates, Senate, assembly and their roles and functions. Key players exemplify significant moments in Republican history (for example, the Gracchi Brothers, Pompey, Julius Caesar). The civils wars and transition to the Empire will be discussed briefly with the conflict between Antony and Octavian. Octavian/Augustus’s transformation of the Republic into single-man rule are discussed as he re-created Roman political institutions – the magistrates, Senate, and assembly remained, but there were no more elections; the role of the mob in politics in both eras is discussed here. The main dynasties or imperial divisions and their characteristics are discussed. Roman law is discussed in brief, including foreign policy and treatment of allies and conquered states.
This chapter discusses how Rome was overall an agrarian economy and the effects of slavery on small farms and peasant farmers, especially with the growth in size from the Republic to the Empire. It also looks at the main problems in the Roman economy: inflation, which the Romans did not understand, and how the Romans coped with runaway prices. Industry (or lack thereof) is covered; how Rome was not a consumer economy despite the great drain of the City itself in its demands for luxury goods. It also considers the role of the army in the Roman economy – as a means of economic expansion, but also as one of the driving forces behind the army (keeping it fed and paid).
The introduction includes source materials, secondary scholarship and a discussion of Fellini’s ‘signposts’ by which one recognises that the story, film, or game takes place in Ancient Rome, as games and entertainment are the usual signposts for Roman culture in modern media (and the ones subject to most misinterpretation drawing on Victorian rather than ancient sources). This chapter discusses Roman theatre, art and decoration, literature and writing, music and musicians, dinner parties and sport.
This chapter has a general introduction on topics covered, including the state cults and the imperial cult; family religion (such as the role of the paterfamilias and ancestor worship). It also introduces mystery cults, Rome and Judaism, Rome and Christianity. There is also a brief discussion of philosophy and Roman ethical values. The chapter also discusses useful primary sources and current trends of scholarship on religion in the Empire.
The chapter lists and discusses accessible contemporary sources that include not only the key historians (Suetonius, Livy, Tacitus, Ammianus, etc.) but also contemporary collections of miscellany such as Pliny the Elder, Aulus Gellius, Aelian, Cornelius Nepos, and so forth; a selection of sourcebooks on various topics (Lewis and Reinholt on diverse topics, Lefkowitz and Fant on women, Gardner on women and the law, Wiedemann on slavery, and others; printed secondary sources (general texts, key studies, recent research) arranged by subject; online resources and databases.