Primary History

Romans: Family and children

  • What was life like for a Roman family?

    Life for women in Roman times was often hard. Mother was less important than father in the family. Father had the power of life or death over everyone. When a new baby was born it would be laid at its father's feet - if the father picked the baby up it would live, but if he ignored the baby it would be taken away to die. Women were expected to run the home, cook meals, and raise children. If they were wealthy, women were lucky; they had slaves to do the work.

    Many girls were married at the age of 14. Marriages were often arranged between families. A man could divorce his wife if she did not give birth to a son. Many women died young (in their 30s), because childbirth could be dangerous, and diseases were common.

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  • Did Romans go to school?

    Most children in Roman times did not go to school. Only quite rich families could afford to pay a teacher. Most schools were in towns. Not many girls went to school, but some were taught at home by tutors, who were often educated slaves. Boys from rich families learned history, maths, and literature at school, to prepare them for jobs in the army or government. In poor families, girls and boys had to work, helping their parents.

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  • What did Romans write with?

    For short messages and at school, Roman wrote on soft wax tablets using a pointed metal stylus. To use the tablet again, or rub out a mistake you smoothed the wax over with the blunt end of the stylus. For important letters the Romans used a metal pen dipped in ink. They wrote on thin pieces of wood or on specially prepared animal skins. Books did not have pages, they were written on scrolls made from pieces of animal skin glued together and then rolled up.

    We know that Roman women wrote letters, because some of their letters have survived. One was found at Vindolanda, a fort near Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. It is a birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to her friend Sulpicia Lepidina and was written about AD 100.

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  • What did Romans eat?

    Poor Romans ate bread, vegetable soup, and porridge. Meat was a luxury, unless they lived in the countryside and could go hunting or fishing.

    Poor people's small homes had no kitchens. So they often took food round to the baker, to cook in his oven. Many people bought takeways, such as sausages or fried fish, from food-shops.

    Rich Romans had food cooked at home in the kitchen by slaves. Most ate a light breakfast, and a snack at mid day - perhaps bread and cheese, or boiled eggs and salad. They ate dinner in late afternoon, with a starter, a meat course (such as hare, pig, beef, goat, chicken, fish or pigeon) followed by fruit or nuts. Ice cream was a treat. Lettuce was served at the end of a meal because Romans believed it helped you sleep.

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  • What were Roman toys like?

    Roman children had some toys very like ones we play with today - such as toy soldiers, rattles, balls, doll's houses, carts and pull-along animals on wheels. Even poor children had board games, using pebbles for counters, and wooden dolls. Some dolls had moveable arms and legs. Roman children had ivory letters to practise their spellings with. Favourite Roman pets were dogs, birds and monkeys.

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Fun Facts
  • Some Romans liked to eat snails fattened on milk, peacocks' brains and flamingos' tongues.

  • At dinner, slaves gave guests small hot bread rolls to wipe their plates clean.

  • Roman flour contained a lot of dust and bits. This made bread so coarse that it wore down people's teeth.

  • Romans liked fun foods, such as a roast hare with bird's wings stuck on, to look like a flying horse!

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

Acropolis [a-CROP-olis]
The Acropolis is a large hill in the centre of Athens. On top of it were many temples and other buildings, the remains of which can be seen today.
amphitheatre
A place like a stadium, where Romans went to watch animals and people fighting.
aqueduct
A system of pipes and channels used to bring water into towns.
archaeological site
A place such as a ruined fort studied by archaeologists.
archaeologists
People who study the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
archaeology
Studying the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Aristophanes [aris-TOF-a-neez]
Lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He wrote comedies for the theatre in Athens.
Aspasia [as-PAY-zia]
Was a woman to taught public speaking in Athens. She was the partner of the famous general Perikles. Aspasia had much more independence than most women in Athens.
barbarian
A person who lived outside the Roman Empire, seen by Romans as violent and uncivilized.
basilica
A large building where town business was carried out (like a modern Town Hall).
assembly
The Assembly was the public meeting of the giovernment of the city. All citizens could take part and vote there.
Athena
The patron goddess of Athens. A huge statue of Athena stood outside the Parthenon.
Attica [A-tik-a]
The region around Athens.
aulos [OW-los]
A wind instrument with a reed similar to a modern oboe.
capital city
Main city of a country, the centre of government.
catapult
A machine that threw rocks or burning tar at the enemies. In Latin it was called an onager.
cavalry
Soldiers who fight on horseback.
chariot
Cart with two wheels pulled by horses. Romans raced chariots, and Celtic warriors rode into battle on them.
celts
People who lived in Europe, including Britain, and who fought the Romans.
centurion
An officer commanding about 80 legionaries.
citizen
Person with special rights such as the right to vote and own property in the Roman Empire. Only men could be full Roman citizens.
cohort
There were ten cohorts in a legion.
crossbow
Weapon like a bow and arrow, only the string is pulled back by turning a handle and the bow is fired by releasing a trigger. In Latin it was called a ballista
druids
The priests of the old Celtic religion.

E to G

election
Process where people vote to choose the people they want to be in charge.
empire
A large area with many people ruled by one strong leader, called an emperor.
forum
An open space in the middle of a town for markets and meeting people (like a market square). It was the centre of Roman town life.
fort
A building with walls to keep out enemies, used by soldiers.
foundations
Firm base for a road or building.
general
leader of an army, the soldier giving the orders to everyone else.
gladiator
A person trained to fight other gladiators or animals in amphitheatres.
governor
The ruler of Roman Britain, who worked for the Roman Emperor.

H to L

hypocaust
Roman central heating. Hot air from a furnace (fire) flowed through gaps between walls and flooring
latin
The language spoken and written by the Romans
legate
The officer commanding a whole legion.
legion
The main battle unit of the Roman army, its soldiers were called legionaries. There were between 4,000 and 6,000 legionaries in a legion.
legend
A story made up about people in the past

M to O

mosaic
A pattern made from coloured pieces of stones and pottery.
myth
A made-up story, often about gods and spirits, told to explain things such as why the sun rises and sets every day.

P to Z

pension
Money paid to a retired worker or soldier.
picts
people who lived in Scotland
republic
A country without a king, queen or emperor. The Roman republic was ruled by the elected Senate. Most countries today are republics.
sacred
Something that is believed to be holy and to have a special connection with a god or gods.
scroll
Roman book, written on a long strip of paper rolled around a stick.
senate
The Roman government, made up of senators.
senator
A person elected to the Roman Senate who helped run the government. Some countries today, like the U.S.A., have senators.
sewage
Dirty water and toilet waste which flows into sewers from drains and toilets.
sewers
Pipes or tunnels that carry away sewage.
slave
Someone who can be sold to another person to work for nothing. A slave is not free and has no rights.
slingshot
Weapon for throwing stones, made from a long strip of leather and whirled around by the thrower.
standard
Roman army emblem, a pole with special decorations (such as a metal eagle) carried by a soldier. Each legion had its own standards.
stirrups
the metal holder for a rider's foot. Attached to a horse's saddle by a leather strap.
strigil
A metal object used in Roman baths to scrape sweat, dirt and excess oil off.
stylus
A metal pen for scratching words into soft wax on wooden tablets.
taxes
Money or items taken by the government from people, to pay for things like the army, wars, emperor's palaces and building roads.
Thatched roofs
Roofs of buildings made from bundles of straw or reeds.
treadmill
Machine like a big wheel inside which slaves walked round, to turn the machine.
tribe
A group of people who live in one part of a country and are ruled by a chief.
tutor
A teacher who gives lessons to a student at home.
underworld
A gloomy place where Romans believed your soul went after you died.
villa
A large house in the country. Some Roman villas were farmhouses and some were like palaces.
warrior
A trained soldier, someone used to fighting in wars.
wreath
A ring or crown made of leaves or flowers.