Today we have the fourth and final part in our Ancient Everyday blog series on Time in the Roman World.
I hope you’ve enjoyed all the posts thus far, and that you’ve learned a little something with regards to how the Romans tracked the years, developed the calendar, and numbered and named the days and weeks.
In Part IV, we’re going to look at how the Romans told time.
The time of day is something that most of us obsess about, whether we want to or not. Almost everyone has a watch on their wrist, or a mobile phone in their pocket to check the time whenever they want.
But what did they do to tell the time in ancient Rome? How did they divide the hours of the day? How did they keep their appointments whether with one’s hairstylist, fuller, patron, or with Caesar himself?
Let’s have a look…
In ancient Rome, the day was divided into twelve hours of night, and twelve hours of day.
Because of this, a daylight hour was not the same length as a nighttime hour, except during an Equinox! For example, a daylight hour in mid-winter was about forty-five minutes long by our reckoning, and in midsummer, it was about one and a half hours long.
Time was told in relation to the hour of night or daylight. For instance, midnight was the sixth hour of night, and midday was the sixth hour of day.
Time was expressed in terms like ‘first hour’. E.g. ‘I’ll meet you at the temple of Venus and Rome at the first hour’ (after sunrise).
If you were invited to someone’s home on the Caelian Hill for a late night party, they might tell you to be there at the ‘eleventh hour’, that is two hours before sunset.
Midday was known as meridies, and this is where we get the notion of A.M. and P.M.
A.M. stands for ante meridiem (‘before midday’), and P.M. stands for post meridiem (‘after midday’). Another thing the Romans did for us!
But what if you were out at a late night orgy, or drinking and gambling in the tabernae of the Suburan slums? What if you woke up late and your whole sense of time was thrown off. How would you be able to tell what time it was, and whether you missed that all-important meeting with your patron?
If someone else wasn’t around who could tell you what hour of daylight it was, you could always go and check a clock.
Yes! The Romans did indeed have clocks, or horologia.
Horologia could come in two forms. They could be solaria (shadow clocks or sundials) or they could be clepsydrae (water clocks).
Solaria were apparently introduced to Rome sometime in the third century B.C. They were by no means perfect for telling the time as they needed scale adjustment for latitude, required seasonal corrections, and most obviously, relied on sunshine, so they could not be used at night.
I’m guessing that solaria in the far-away province of Britannia might have been more finicky than one on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea!
Perhaps the most famous of solaria in ancient Rome was the one erected by Emperor Augustus on the Campus Martius in 9 B.C.
The Solarium Augusti as it was known was basically a giant sundial that used an Egyptian obelisk brought from Heliopolis, in Egypt, as the gnomon or staff of the sundial. Augustus dedicated this solarium to the Sun, making it the first solar dedication in the city of Rome.
Today, you can see the obelisk in the Piazza di Montecitorio.
Waterclocks, or clepsydrae, were also used in ancient Rome and across the Empire.
Now, these also needed seasonal adjustment, but they could be used at night because they didn’t require sunlight. This made them especially useful in military camps for keeping the hours of the watch through the night.
A clepsydra was usually a vessel with holes for the outflow of water. As the water emptied, it measured time, sort of like an hour glass with sand.
Of course, like watches and clocks today, clepsydrae came in varying levels of quality and accuracy, as well as extra features.
One had to keep an eye on the water level in the smaller vessels that made up some clepsydrae, as once the water ran out, it would stop working and have to be set up again. This might be akin to having to wind clocks every so often.
However, there were more elaborate clepsydrae that had a constant supply of water, and this would allow for twenty-four hour operation.
An example of this high-end ‘time piece’ is the Tower of the Winds in the Roman Agora of Athens, also known as the Horologion of Andronicus, which was built in the first century B.C.
So, there you have it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this four-part Ancient Everyday series on Time in the Roman world.
I have to say, I’ve found it very interesting and even learned some new things myself.
There will be other installments of Ancient Everyday in the future, and much more!
So, thank you for reading, happy Summer, and we’ll see you next time…
We’re back in the Roman world for the third part in this mini Ancient Everyday blog series about, you guessed it: Time.
In the last two posts, we looked at how Romans tracked the years, as well as the evolution of the calendar in ancient Rome.
Today, we’re going to take a brief look at the Roman days and weeks which, in addition to many things, are one of their legacies to us.
The Roman days of the month were not numbered serially as they are today. They were numbered in relation to three specifically named days. It was from these three specific days that the other dates were counted retrospectively.
So, what were these special days, you might ask? They were the:
(the Kalends – first day of the month, and origin of our word ‘calendar’)
(the Nones – the ninth day before the Ides, or the fifth day of the month; seventh in a 31-day month; originally, the Nonae corresponded with the first quarter moon of the lunar month)
(the Ides – the thirteenth day; or the fifteenth day in a 31-day month; the Ides originally corresponded with the full moon of the lunar month)
So, those are the ‘special’ days in the Roman month. But how did they count the rest?
This is where it gets complicated…
The day was numbered or named by its place so many days before (ante diem) the Kalends, the Nones, or the Ides of the month.
But! The day immediately before one of the three named days was called pridie.
If you ever try to read Roman dates, you will also notice that they are always abbreviated.
In ancient Rome, the official Calendar was drawn up by the pontiffs (priests) who ensured the inclusion of the dates for religious festivals – and in ancient Rome, there were many of those! These festivals would be indicated by a letter or abbreviation representing a particular celebration beside the date.
So, those are the days of the Roman calendar, but what of the weeks? Did they have the exact same weekdays that we do? Or rather, do we have the same ones as the Romans?
Early on, the Roman week was eight days long. The eighth day was a market day, or nundinae.
The market day was a day of rest from agricultural labour, a time to take the produce or livestock to market.
To confuse things a little more, the period of time between market days was known as a nundinum.
The eight-day week did not last however.
The seven day period that we are familiar with was used at first in the East, especially by Hellenistic astrologers.
In Rome, the earliest reference to a seven day week is supposedly from the time of Augustus (27 B.C. – A.D. 14). This was eventually officially adopted by Emperor Constantine in A.D. 321.
Finally, what were the names of the days of the week in ancient Rome?
Well, they were named after the gods and planets, and to this day the names used in the various Romance Languages preserve the Roman tradition. Beginning with Monday, they are:
Dies Lunae (the day of the Moon)
Dies Martis (the day of Mars)
Dies Mercurii (the day of Mercury)
Dies Jovis (the day of Jupiter)
Dies Veneris (the day of Venus)
Dies Saturni (the day of Saturn)
Dies Solis (the day of the Sun)
There you have it, the Roman days and weeks!
The legacy of the Romans never ceases to amaze me.
Next week is the fourth and final part of this Ancient Everyday blog series in which we will be looking at how the Romans told the time of day.
Until then, thank you for reading!
Welcome to the second part in this mini, Ancient Everyday blog series about Time in the Roman world.
Last week we took a brief look at how the Romans tracked and organized the years. If you missed it, you can read it by CLICKING HERE.
This week, we’re going to take a look at what is perhaps one of their greatest legacies – the Calendar.
Now, the Romans did indeed do a lot for us – you can check out this wonderful series hosted by Adam Hart-Davis to learn what the Romans did for us – and it goes without saying that we take a lot of it for granted today.
The calendar ranks right up there, and even though we take time for granted, it is actually something that we are constantly aware of. Quite the conundrum, if you ask me!
The word ‘calendar’, as well as the names of the months we still use today are of Roman origin.
However, the calendar went through some reform before it got to the version we are now familiar with.
The original Roman calendar, known as the ‘Calendar of Romulus’, was an agricultural, 10-month year. There were ten irregular months with a total of 304 days from March to December.
The names of these months originated then, and the gap of missing months accounts for the period of time in which no agricultural work was carried out. This was also a lunar cycle, so there was a degree of ‘seasonal drift’ compared to the solar cycle.
It is believed that the change to a 12-month calendar occurred in the sixth century B.C.
In the year 153 B.C., January was made the first month of the year, named after Janus, the god of doorways and new beginnings.
But until Julius Caesar’s calendar reform, the Roman year was 355 days long, divided into 12 months. Four of these had 31 days (March, May, July, and October), seven months had 29 days, and February had 28 days.
Here are the names of the months on the Roman calendar:
Ianuarius (the month of ‘Janus’)
Februarius (the month of ‘Februa’, purgings or purifications)
Martius (the month of ‘Mars’)
Aprilis (uncertain meaning)
Maius (uncertain meaning)
Iunius (the month of ‘Juno’)
Quinctilis (the ‘fifth’ month – renamed ‘Iulius’ in 44 B.C. after Julius Caesar)
Sextilis (the ‘sixth’ month – renamed ‘Augustus’ in 8 B.C. after Emperor Augustus)
September (the ‘seventh’ month)
October (the ‘eighth’ month)
November (the ‘ninth’ month)
December (the ‘tenth’ month)
Notice how some of these names are a legacy of the 10-month agricultural Roman calendar year?
There is apparently some evidence for ‘intercalation’, that is, the addition of days to adjust the year. This included the addition of 22-23 days every other year in February.
The act of intercalation was the domain of the pontiffs of Rome, but it was not accurate, and by the time of Julius Caesar, the civic year was about three months ahead of the solar year that was in use.
Caesar extended the year 46 B.C. to 445 days to remove the discrepancy.
So, from January 1st, 45 B.C. he made the year 365 days long with the months at their current numbers. Quite the legacy, no? He also introduced the leap year.
Thus, was the Julian Calendar born.
Today, the most widely used calendar is the Gregorian Calendar. However, the Gregorian calendar is basically the same as the Julian Calendar except for some small changes.
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII omitted 10 days from the calendar year to adjust the discrepancy between the Julian calendar and the solar year. He also ordered that 3 days be omitted in leap years every 400 years.
So there you have it! A very brief look at the evolution of the calendar from ancient Rome to the one we use today.
Next week, in Part III of this series, we’ll be looking at the days and weeks in the Roman world.
Thank you for reading!
This week on Writing the Past, we’re going back in time from the Middle Ages to ancient Rome once more.
I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Ancient Everyday blogs about something that concerned our ancient ancestors as well as ourselves. It’s something that, across the ages, we all wish we had more of: Time.
This isn’t going to be a philosophical series of posts on time, but rather a look at the practicalities of time and how ancient Romans organized it.
In this first post, we’re going to look at how years were counted and tracked in ancient Rome and across the Empire.
Today, dating is something we take rather for granted, but at times during the Roman era, there was a lot of thought put into this and the development of a system around it.
Early in the Roman Republic, the years were usually dated by the names of the Roman Consuls, the highest rank for an elected Roman official, and the pinnacle of the Cursus Honorem, the tried and true path of public offices for anyone seeking political success.
Two consuls served at once and, conveniently, they served for just one year, so that could be readily used as a method of dating. The lists of consuls were called fasti, and they exist from about the year 509 B.C.
This practice of dating using the names of Roman Consuls stopped in about A.D. 537 when Emperor Justinian I (the ‘Great’) switched to the regnal years of the emperors.
Prior to that, there were other ways in which the years were tracked and counted.
Sometimes years were dated from the founding of the city of Rome – ab urbe condita was the wording used. Rome is generally thought to have been founded in the year 753 B.C., so the years would be counted from that point on.
I wonder how widespread this dating was, compared with the use of the fasti. There were even more dating systems across the Empire, systems which had a local flavour; say, for instance, years counted from a particularly big event in the history of a certain place etc.
From the late 3rd century A.D., the practice of counting years by indiction, or indictio, was also used. This was the announcement of the delivery of food and other goods to the government. So, basically, indictio referred to the tax assessment which took place, at first, in five-year cycles, but in a fifteen-year cycle from about A.D. 312.
Indictio was also often used to date the fiscal years in the Empire which tended to begin on the first of September.
It’s thought that the general population may have tended to know the indictio years better than the consular years. This isn’t surprising as we’re all aware of the dates when the government slashes at our purse strings!
The Christian reckoning of years using B.C. and A.D. (for Anno Domini – ‘Year of the Lord’) in the Julian and Gregorian calendars was introduced in the mid-sixth century by the monk Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor. In this reckoning, there is no year ‘0’, but rather 1 B.C. is immediately followed by A.D. 1. Nowadays, there is a movement toward using B.C.E (Before Common/Current Era) and C.E. (Common/Current Era).
Whichever method of dating you prefer today, it seems that the Romans had a variety of methods to choose from.
Were they as obsessed with time as we are today? I suspect not. But it was something they grappled with on certain levels.
Either way, ancient dates are likely less reliable before Julius Caesar’s calendar reform of 45 B.C.
I suppose we should thank the gods for circa, that is, ‘approximately’!
Thank you for reading!
If you are curious and want to check out a list of the consuls of Rome, you can do so by CLICKING HERE.
Come back next week for the next Ancient Everyday in this series on Time in which we’ll be looking at the Roman calendar and months.
The name conjures images, doesn’t it? Oh yes – more so than Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the full name of the Roman emperor we know as Caligula.
Caligula definitely has more power, largely due to the stories behind the name, stories of extreme debauchery, sadism, insanity and horror.
You might envisage John Hurt in the television drama of Robert Graves’ I Claudius, his mouth bloody after eating the baby which he had put in his sister’s belly, believing himself to be the god, Jove.
Or, perhaps more disturbingly, the image of Malcolm McDowell cavorts into your thoughts amid flashes of naked bodies and the bloody bits and pieces of Caligula’s victims in the infamous, star-clad film originally scripted by Gore Vidal, Caligula.
These are the images that we have of Caligula today. They’re built on ancient sources and popular culture that described the reign of this most disturbing of Roman emperors.
But is the portrayal of Caligula as an insane, perverted, and brutal emperor accurate? Is it fair?
Caligula had an interesting life as a boy. He was with his father, the Roman hero Germanicus, and the army along the northern frontier camps. Among the men of the Legions, it’s said, he got his nickname. ‘Caligula’ is a diminutive version of the word for military, hobnailed boots called caligae. He became ‘Little Boots’ because of the smaller pair of caligae he wore around the camp.
Was Caligula a cute little boy? Odd to think after all the rumours. The troops seemed to have adopted him.
His life took a turn for the worst though, leaving him one of the sole survivors of his family.
There were rumours that Tiberius or Livia, Augustus’ empress, may have been responsible, more or less, for killing Caligula’s family, including his hero father, Germanicus. However, most now seem to agree that this was unlikely, that it was due to natural causes in the East. Another rumour was that Germanicus was poisoned by Gnaeus Piso, who was put on trial for it.
Either way, ‘Little Boots’ ended up spending a lot of time with his great uncle, Tiberius, on the island of Capri. This island is where the Emperor retreated in his advanced years, and it’s rumoured that much depravity took place there, and that Caligula learned that behaviour.
Oddly enough, the first six months of Caligula’s reign as emperor were said to be good and moderate. He fell seriously ill around that time, however, and afterward the chroniclers speak of a young man who believed himself divine, and who became the most cruel, extravagant and perverse of tyrants. Did the illness alter his mind in some way? We may never know.
I’m not an expert on the reign of Caligula and, in fact, it seems that few people are.
Caligula’s reign as Roman emperor is one of the most poorly documented in Roman history.
Since that is the case, it seems understandable that countless generations would cling to the tales told by Suetonius so many years after Caligula’s death: that he had sex with his sister on a regular basis, that he made his horse a consul, and that he forced senators’ wives to have sex.
If you can make it up, it probably fits the historical and pop-culture bill when it comes to Caligula.
The other side of the argument says that all of the salacious tales were invented, pure fabrications created by Caligula’s, and the Julio-Claudian’s, enemies.
Perhaps. But must not there be some basis in fact?
Certainly, the senatorial and Praetorian conspirators behind the assassination of Caligula (he was the first emperor to be assassinated) needed to justify their actions.
Some believe that Caligula had tried very hard to increase the power of the Emperor and further minimize the Senate. This would make him a lot of enemies – enemies who would write the history of his reign long after his death.
There is real power in writing after the fact – which is why we must approach any source, modern or historical, with a degree of caution.
Even our views of the most famous and popular (even well-documented) figures of history can be flawed. History is written by the victors, or at the least by the survivors. Everyone, especially emperors, had enemies, even if they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rulers.
Popular media, such as film and fiction, can reveal to us certain aspects of historical people, but we must take everything with a grain of salt. We have to accept that what we are reading or seeing might be based on subjective sources that had a particular goal in mind.
However, learning how a generation of people viewed a particular person (even though the stories may not be true) can also be useful. Their hatred, love or fear etc. must have come from somewhere!
Was Caligula as mad as they say or as we believe? Perhaps.
His depravity has made some good storytelling over the centuries. I suspect that some of it is true. But, like all good stories, things have been elaborated on for sheer entertainment value, especially when the man himself was safely dead.
I highly recommend Robert Graves’ I Claudius if you have not already read it. It’s a modern classic, as is its television dramatization starring John Hurt and Derek Jacobi. It’s a wonderful piece of fiction, if not entirely accurate.
On the other hand, if you have the stomach and libido for it, the film version of Caligula is a terror-filled, pornographic representation of Caligula that brings all of the most salacious tales of him to life. A warning: this film is not for the faint of heart.
But let’s get back to an original source…
We should end with a quote from Suetonius who seems to be one of the main sources of all the tall tales that have been passed down the ages:
“…he (Caligula) could not control his natural cruelty and viciousness, but he was a most eager witness of the tortures and executions of those who suffered punishment, revelling at night in gluttony and adultery, disguised in a wig and a long robe, passionately devoted besides to the theatrical arts of dancing and singing, in which Tiberius very willingly indulged him, in the hope that through these his savage nature might be softened. This last was so clearly evident to the shrewd old man, that he used to say now and then that to allow Gaius to live would prove the ruin of himself and of all men, and that he was rearing a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world.” (Caius Suetonius Tranquillus; Lives of the Twelve Caesars)
As I said, history is written by the survivors, and as it is, history remembers Caligula as a sadistic, incestuous maniac who thought he was a god, who made his horse a senator, cared nothing for the power of the senate, and went to war against the god Neptune. The damning list goes on and on…
On the other hand, he undertook several public building projects and expanded the Empire’s borders in North Africa.
But, in the end, Caligula was murdered by the Praetorians who immediately made Claudius the next emperor.
Will we ever know the true nature of Caligula?
Probably not, but this certainly is an instance in which the history, true or not, is highly entertaining and shocking.
Thank you for reading.
What are your thoughts on Emperor Caligula? Was he as vile as portrayed? Or was he the victim of malicious gossip?
For those of you who want to read a bit more, check out this interesting article on the BBC website by CLICKING HERE.
One of the things that fascinates me the most about studying the ancient world is the vast array of gods and goddesses. They all played an important role in the day-to-day lives of ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts and others.
There were many deities associated with agriculture in ancient Rome, Ceres and Saturn, for example. Many gods and goddesses, major and minor, could affect crops, agricultural endeavours and the subsequent harvests.
When you hear the name of Mars, agriculture is not the first thing that comes to mind. When I think of the Roman god, Mars, I think of one thing.
The Roman God of War was second to none other than Jupiter himself in the Roman Pantheon.
The Romans were a warlike people after all, and so Mars always figured prominently.
Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus) vowed to build a temple to Mars in 42 B.C. during the battle of Philippi in which he, Mark Antony and Lepidus finally defeated the murderers of Julius Caesar. When Augustus built his forum in 20 B.C. the Temple of Mars Ultor (the Avenger) was the centrepiece.
“On my own ground I built the temple of Mars Ultor and the Augustan Forum from the spoils of war.” (Res Gestae Divi Augusti)
People often think that Mars was the Roman name given to Ares, the Greek God of War, as was the case with many other gods in Roman religion. This is not exactly true.
In the Greek Pantheon, Ares was simply God of War, brutal, dangerous and unforgiving. To give oneself over to Ares was to give in to savagery and the animalistic side of war. Fear and Terror were his companions. Most Greeks preferred Athena as Goddess of War, Strategy and Wisdom.
Mars was a very different god from Ares. He was a uniquely Roman god. He was the father of the Roman people.
Mars was the God of War, true, but he was also a god of agriculture.
Just as he protected the Roman people in battle, so too did Mars guard their crops, their flocks, and their lands.
War and agriculture were closely linked in the Roman Republic. Most Romans who fought in the early legions were farmers who had set aside their plows and scythes to pick up their gladii and scuta when called upon to defend their lands. One of the most cited examples of this is Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 BC – 430 BC), one of the early Patrician heroes of Rome.
In his work De Agri Cultura, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC– 149 BC) speaks at length about the tradition of the suovetaurilia, a sacrifice that was made roughly every five years and occasionally at other times. This ceremony was a form of purification, a lustratio.
The highly sacred suovetaurilia was dedicated to Mars with the intent of blessing and purifying lands.
It involved the sacrifice of a pig, a sheep, and a bull – all to Mars.
The sacrifice was done after the animals were led around the land while asking the god to purify the farm and land.
Cato describes the prayer that is uttered to Mars once the sacrifices have been made:
“Father Mars, I pray and beseech thee that thou be gracious and merciful to me, my house, and my household; to which intent I have bidden this suovetaurilia to be led around my land, my ground, my farm; that thou keep away, ward off, and remove sickness, seen and unseen, barrenness and destruction, ruin and unseasonable influence; and that thou permit my harvests, my grain, my vineyards, and my plantations to flourish and to come to good issue, preserve in health my shepherds and my flocks, and give good health and strength to me, my house, and my household. To this intent, to the intent of purifying my farm, my land, my ground, and of making an expiation, as I have said, deign to accept the offering of these suckling victims; Father Mars…“
(Cato the Elder; De Agri Cultura)
This is not a prayer to the bloodthirsty god of war that Ares was.
The words and actions above evoke a wish from a child to a supreme father and protector. We see the fears that would have occupied the minds of the Roman people. No matter how mighty in war they may have been, if crops failed and disease spread, they would have been lost.
Romans prayed to Ceres and Saturn for the success of their crops, for abundance.
But the prayer above was to Mars, he who held Rome’s enemies, the enemies of its lands, at bay.
In war and in peace, Mars was always the guardian of his people.
Thank you for reading
If you want a clearer understanding of the suovetaurilia ceremony, and the meaning of this interesting Latin compound word, here is a very short presentation: https://youtu.be/pz1KiILdW2s
It’s been a while since our last Ancient Everyday post, so time to get back to it.
Today, we’re going to look at the father in Roman society, the paterfamilias.
As an example, we are going to use Quintus Metellus Anguis, one of the main characters from the book, Killing the Hydra.
Looking back on the writing of this book, I forget all the years of research that went into it. I take for granted the everyday Roman world I immersed myself in to write it and the rest of the series. It all seems quite normal to me now.
I’ve spent a lot of time with the characters – the good, the bad, the savage, the honourable, the beautiful, the mysterious etc. etc., but Senator Quintus Metellus Anguis was a difficult person to deal with. However, I’m not sure he would have been out of place in the early Republican era.
Quintus is a spiteful, hard man who is quick to anger and jealous of his son’s (that is, Lucius Metellus Anguis’) successes. He is of a mindset that was born in the very early days of the Republic when there were no emperors, when kings were killed, and when the father held supreme power in the family.
Then again, in some ways, Quintus Metellus could not be more out of place in early 3rd century Rome, the period during which the story takes place.
Let’s take a look at the father in ancient Rome and his role as paterfamilias.
First we should have a look at the word familia. In ancient Rome, a familia did not only include a father, mother and children. The word also referred to other relatives (by blood or adoption), clients, freedmen and all slaves belonging to the family. It included all the family houses, lands and estates and anyone involved with running those holdings.
The Roman familia went far beyond the nuclear family, and the paterfamilias was the head of it all.
During the early days of the Roman Republic, the role of the paterfamilias was largely determined by an unwritten moral and social code called the Mos Maiorum, or the ‘ways of the elders’. These governing rules of private, social and political life in ancient Rome were handed down through the generations. Because these rules were unwritten, they evolved over time. Values and social mores change, as is natural, and successive generations come into their own with ideas different to their predecessors.
The generational differences form a large part of the conflict between Lucius and his father Quintus in both Children of Apollo and Killing the Hydra.
Quintus Metellus, as a Republican, is against Emperor Septimius Severus. He has had a vision of his son’s social and political progress since before he was born. He has tried hard all his life to breathe life back into the ancient name of ‘Metellus’, but without success. Now, all the pressure is placed upon his son, Lucius, whom he wants to become a senator of renown after he completes his minimum number of years in the military.
But Lucius has other ideas. He does not want what his father wants. Lucius has found success in the Legions and has been praised and promoted by Emperor Severus, a man he is happy to serve. Unlike many equestrian youths, Lucius Metellus Anguis is not interested in pursuing a political career. He wants to be a career officer in Rome’s Legions – something that causes his father no end of embarrassment and frustration. In his opinion, it is not the way to further the family name and better their fortunes.
In the early days of the Republic, Lucius would have had to do as his paterfamilias dictated. There would have been no choice in the matter, no influence from his mother or older sister to help his cause. The paterfamilias’ word was law within the familia.
In ancient Rome, the paterfamilias had to be a Roman citizen. He was responsible for the familia’s well-being and reputation, its legal and moral propriety. The paterfamilias even had duties to the household gods.
And this is where Quintus Metellus fails. He has lost faith in the gods that have watched over them. In fact, he fears them and their apparent favour of his son. Quintus clings to the archaic role of the paterfamilias like a dictator with power of life and death over the members of his familia. He forgets that the paterfamilias’ role is also to protect his familia within the current world they live in, and to honour their ancestors and their gods through his behaviour, his example.
This is where Lucius fills the void in duties neglected by his father.
But it is never as easy as that. The Empire is large, and most men are susceptible to corruption. Lucius fights for honour and goodness in a world that has no qualms about dismissing honour, virtue and family in the interests of greed and political advancement.
Quintus Metellus is the paterfamilias of their branch of the Metellus gens, but his own shortcomings and archaic notions are at complete odds with his son and the times they live in.
It’s always interesting to compare previous ages and practices with those of our own. Certainly the role of the father has changed over the centuries, though it varies from family to family and culture to culture.
Fortuna smiled on me with my own father who, thankfully, bore no resemblance to Quintus Metellus. But it was interesting to write such a character as Quintus, to explore his relationship with Lucius and the rest of the familia.
By the 3rd century A.D. the paterfamilias’ power of life and death over his family was restricted, the practice all but dead.
But old habits and ideas die hard, and for Quintus Metellus there are other ways to kill a member of your familia and maintain your power as paterfamilias.
Thank you for reading.