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3. Filling the Day

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 02 February 2003

We have an image of Roman citizens living in spacious villas, the floors and walls decorated with mosaics, with courtyards and fountains. In fact, the vast majority of urban people lived in cramped and dingy flats, paying rent on a daily basis to landlords who cared not a jot for their welfare, and paid scant attention to the structural integrity of their own properties.

From the morning visit to one's patrons, to the afternoon baths, how did Romans, rich and poor, spend their days? What were the working hours of the lower orders and, though there was no such thing as a weekend, what sort of free time did they have? And what did they do with it?

The Romans had interior design fads and polite dinner-parties, but were feasts and orgies as commonplace an occurrence as legend insists, and what were the dining rooms like?

And, though pretty well everyone went to the baths at some point in the day, the whole business involved a great deal more than just washing.

  • Wall painting

    Wall painting

    Wall painting of Ulysses and the Sirens, from a villa at Pompeii.

    Copyright British Museum
  • Portraits


    Painted roundel with portraits, from a villa at Pompeii.

    Copyright British Museum
  • Further reading

    Further reading

    Peter Jones
    An Intelligent Person's Guide to Classics

    P Jones & K Sidwell
    The World of Rome
    Cambridge 1997

    Jerome Carcopino
    Daily Life in Ancient Rome

    Fergus Millar
    The Roman Empire and Its Neighbours

    Anthony Birley
    Garrison Life at Vindolanda - A Band of Brothers

    Pliny (tr) Betty Radice
    The Letters of the Younger Pliny
    Penguin Classics

    Marcus Aurelius (tr) Maxwell Staniforth
    Penguin Classics

    Seneca (tr) Robin Campbell
    Letters from a Stoic
    Penguin Classics

    Tim Cornell & John Matthews
    Atlas of the Roman World
    New York: Facts on File c1982


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