Leisure, Recreation, and Daily Life: Documentary Sources

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Leisure, Recreation, and Daily Life: Documentary Sources

Note: The following list includes archaeological monuments.

Baths of Caracalla—huge Imperial bath complex at Rome dedicated in 216 C.E. The impressive remains are sufficient to indicate the monumental luxury of bathing as a leisure activity during the Roman Empire.

Catullus (Gaius Valerius Catullus) circa 84-circa 54 B.C.E.; Carmina (Poems or Songs). Poems written in a variety of lyric meters on a variety of themes. In addition to his well-known love poetry, Catullus’s subjects are often contemporary political and private figures whose behavior and customs he mocks.

Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) 106-43 B.C.E.; Epistulae ad Atticum (Letters to Atticus). Letters to and from Cicero’s friend Atticus, discussing current events and personal concerns.

Cicero, Epistulae ad familiares (Letters to Friends). Letters to a variety of friends and acquaintances discussing current events and personal concerns. Cicero’s extensive corpus of letters is one of the greatest resources documenting the final years of the Roman Republic. Much is said about politics in addition to culture and society.

Corpus inscriptionum latinarum (Corpus of Latin Inscriptions). This collection of Latin inscriptions encompasses the entire Roman world. Inscriptions are found on many different types of monuments including public buildings, triumphal arches, and graves, and cover many different themes. Some inscriptions record items of interest in the daily lives of Romans including such things as vacancy notices for rental apartments.

Flavian Amphitheater (also known as the Colosseum)—Amphitheater at Rome dedicated in 80 C.E. The remains are possibly the most impressive of all monuments from Roman antiquity. It is a marvel of engineering of the Roman Empire, as well as a reminder of the prominent place mass entertainment held in Roman society.

Herculaneum—City in the region of Campania in southern Italy. Lying on the Bay of Naples, Herculaneum was buried in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. The well-preserved remains of Herculaneum reveal details of life in a Roman city, including styles of architecture.

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) 65-8 B.C.E.; Sermones. (Literally Conversations, but often called Satires). Satirical poems on a variety of subjects. Horace often includes details of daily life activities such as dining.

Horace of the Faun, Pompeii—Built in the second century B.C.E., this luxurious townhouse is an outstanding example of the influence of Hellenistic Greek aesthetics on Roman decorative arts and domestic decoration.

Juvenal (Decimus Iunius luvenalis)—Saturae (Satires). Satirical poems that attack the customs and vices of contemporary Rome. Juvenal’s works are more caustic than those of Horace, and include the names of well-known contemporary figures.

Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) circa 60-circa 130 C.E.; Epigrammata (Epigrams). Short poems on a variety of subjects. Martial’s poems are primarily satirical, and reveal interesting details about Roman society of the first century C.E. The first book of poems deals with the spectacles produced by the emperor Titus in the Colosseum to celebrate its opening in 80 C.E.

Ostia—Rome’s port city at the mouth of the Tiber River, on the coast of Italy. Ostia provides a useful study of daily life in a busy commercial city of Roman antiquity. While Ostia has typical public buildings of the Roman world (theater, baths, etc.), the domestic architecture of Ostia contrasts sharply with that of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) 43 B.C.E.-circa 18 C.E.\Ars amatoria (Art of Love). A mock-didactic poem about finding and winning over a beloved. In the third book of this poem Ovid gives advice to women about enhancing their appearance through the application of cosmetics and wearing clothing of suitable color.

Ovid, Amores (Love Poems). A collection of poems mainly about love. One of these poems is entirely devoted to berating his mistress for her abuse of hair dyes, which gives us insight into hair care practices in the early Roman Empire.

Petronius (Titus Petronius Arbiter) d. 65 C.E.; Satyrica. A satirical novel written in both poetry and prose. The remains are fragmentary, but the longest section, known as “Trimalchio’s Dinner,” is a funny portrait of a rich yet vulgar freed slave’s dinner party. The episode is a commentary upon the contemporary excesses of the class of former slaves, many of whom became wealthy in service to the emperors of Rome.

Piazza Navona—modern name of the area in Rome developed directly over Domitian’s stadium. The shape of the modern piazza follows precisely the outline of the stadium, whose foundations are still visible under the current structures.

Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) 61 or 62-circa 114 C.E.; Epistulae (Letters). Pliny’s letters are almost essays about current events, and provide valuable insight into the history and society of Rome in the late first and early second centuries C.E. One of the most famous of these letters describes the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E., which Pliny witnessed.

Plutarch ([L.?] Mestrius Plutarchus) circa 46-circa 120 C.E.; Parallel Lives. Biographies dealing mostly with political and military figures. We can learn much about the upbringing, including family life and education of Romans such as Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, and Cato.

Pompeii—City in the region of Campania in southern Italy. Lying on the Bay of Naples, Pompeii was buried in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. The remains of Pompeii are some of the most informative sources regarding life in a Roman city. Many of the typical characteristics of a Roman city can be seen, including an amphitheater, two theaters, a forum with macellum, and a number of bath complexes. The townhouses of Pompeii teach us much about the construction, layout, and decoration of Roman houses.

Pont du Gard—Three-tiered Roman aqueduct built circa 14 C.E. near Nimes, France. This aqueduct is testimony not only to the durability of Roman architecture, but also to the process of “Romanization” in areas of Europe conquered by Rome. The aqueducts were necessary not only for bringing drinking water into Roman cities but also for supplying the quantities of water necessary to run Roman bathing facilities.

Suetonius (Gaius Tranquillus Suetonius) circa 70-circa 140 C.E.; De vita Caesarum (On the Life of the Caesars). Biographies of Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Many valuable details about Roman society and history are to be found here, particularly about the education and daily habits of Rome’s elite families.

Tacitus (Cornelius Tacitus) circa 55-circa 117 C.E.; Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Orators). A conversation that the author claims to have witnessed concerning the decline of Roman oratory in the first century C.E. The speakers discuss standards of education, poor teaching, and loss of political freedom as the causes for the decline.

Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) circa 195-159 B.C.E.; Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law). Latin comedy based upon a Greek model. In the prologue to this play we learn how difficult the production of drama was in Rome of the second century B.C.E. Before Rome had a permanent theater in 55 B.C.E., drama was performed in the open and often had to compete with other forms of entertainment for the same audience. The prologues to other plays as well as the plays themselves offer information about daily life and manners, and theatrical productions in the second centuries B.C.E.

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) circa 160-circa 240 C.E.; De spectaculis (On Spectacles). Christian attack on the vices and moral concerns associated with entertainment spectacles including gladiatorial combat. Tertullian is one of the few Romans of his era who criticized the games.

Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii—This building is a wonderful example of a luxurious seaside villa complete with its own baths and working farmyard. The original portions of the complex date to the first century B.C.E.

Vitruvius (Marcus Vitruvius Pollio) late first century B.C.E.-early first century C.E.); De architectura (On Architecture). Handbook on Roman architecture that treats principles of symmetry and proportion, the designs of public and domestic buildings, and other aesthetic concepts of Vitruvius’s era.