Nor does it appear that the occupants' of rooms opening on the streets were very particular as to what they threw out in the way of rubbish or dirty water. It is true that there were aediles, or officers to look after the order of the streets and public places, but their efforts seem to have been mainly directed to preventing conspicuous obstruction. Practices which we should regard as heinous were treated lightly or disregarded. To make matters worse, the shopkeepers, who occupied the lower fronts of most of such houses, took the greatest liberties in encroaching upon the roadway when exhibiting their wares, and it was not till twenty years later than our date that the Emperor Domitian ordered them to keep within their own thresholds.
Apart from the question of the freedom of traffic, it can be readily imagined that, with all the wooden counters, doors, and shutters down below, and with the disproportionate quantity of woodwork in the beams, floors, and even walls above, fires were of the commonest occurrence, and, with streets so high and narrow, the conflagration of a whole quarter of the town was speedy and complete. Augustus had divided the metropolitan area into fourteen regions, and had distributed over these a force of 7000 watchmen to keep the peace and to deal with fires at night; but it was not to be expected, if a fire occurred in a lofty block, that this body, assisted or hampered by the neighbours, could do much with the buckets, siphons, and wet blankets which formed the extinguishing apparatus of the time.
Another serious danger, or, when not danger, at least discomfort, came from the trick which the Tiber has always had of flooding the lower parts of the city. Somewhat later than our date the river restrained by strong stone embankments, which one had to descend by steps in order to reach the river at the ferries or other boats; but this must have been but inadequately achieved in the early period of the empire, and a severe flood might bring the houses in the Velabrum, for example, tumbling about the ears of their inhabitants.
* * * * *
On the whole the streets of Neronian Rome were neither very comfortable nor very safe to walk in. At night there was no lighting, except when, at some great festival, illuminations might be made by order of the emperor for a whole night or perhaps a series of nights. In ordinary times torches and lanterns must be provided by yourself, and even the 7000 watchmen scarcely gave you a full feeling of security. The precise arrangements made for scavenging are unknown, but presumably it was done by the public slaves under the supervision of the aediles. It is, however, easy to discover from contemporary complaints that the streets were often annoyingly wet and slimy.
One thing the ordinary Roman appears never to have minded, any more than it is minded at the present day. This was noise. There are studious men enough in ancient literature who complain that sleep or study is impossible in Rome. They exclaim upon the bawling of the hawkers, the canting songs of the beggars, the banging of hammers, the sing-song of schoolboys learning to read in the open-air verandahs or balconies which often served as schools, and the shouting in the baths. All night long there was the rattle of carts and the creaking of heavy waggons. But the average Roman cared, and still cares, very little for quiet or sleep, and no emperor attempted to check the annoyance. Perhaps he could devise no check. Perhaps he himself, being on the Palatine, and his counsellors, being in their own comparatively secluded houses on the hills, scarcely realised the full enormity of the nocturnal roar of Rome. In any case the fact of the noise is unquestionable. It was then very much as it is now if one tries to sleep in rooms in the Corso or the Via Babuino. The saying that "God made the country and man made the town" is met with in a Roman writer of the age of Augustus, and the noise is one factor in the difference.
The ancient Romans, we have said, were masters of practical engineering, and a chief glory of the city was its abundant supply of water. Apart from the Tiber and the natural springs, there were in the year 64 at least eight aqueducts bringing drinkable water into the city. It was the emperor's concern to see to this matter, as he did to the corn-supply, but in practice he appointed what he might call his Minister of Water-supply, and gave him liberal means to provide a large staff of engineers, surveyors, masons, pipelayers, inspectors, and custodians. It is a common error to imagine that the Romans were ignorant of the simple hydraulic law that water will find its own level, and to suppose that their aqueducts were built in consequence of that ignorance. In point of fact they knew the law as well as we do. Their earlier aqueducts were conduits almost wholly underground; their later were all on arches. When they wished to carry water to a height within the city, up a watertower to a distributing cistern, or to the top storey of a building, they did so by pipes, just as we should; but when they brought water from forty miles away they preferred to bring it in channels lined with impermeable cement and carried upon arches, which wound across the country according to the levels in order to avoid the excessive pressure of too steep a gradient. The reasons for their choice are simple enough. Their chief difficulty was in making pipes of iron of sufficient capacity. On the other hand, it was easy to construct a cemented channel in masonry of any size you desired. In the next place the water about Rome rapidly lays a calcareous deposit, and it is much easier to clear this from a readily accessible channel than from pipes buried in the ground. The pipes which the Romans commonly made were of lead, bronze, or wood. None of these could be made and cleared cheaply enough to serve for the volume of water required for household use, the baths, and the public fountains of Rome. Meanwhile slave labour was inexpensive, and the cost of building an aqueduct of any length was of little account to the Roman.
When the water reached the city it was conducted into settling and distributing reservoirs and its flow regulated. Thence it was carried by pipes, mostly of lead, wherever it was required. When Agrippa was minister of water-supply he constructed in the city 700 public pools or basins and 500 fountains, drawing their supply from 130 collecting heads or reservoirs. And it is to the credit of Agrippa and of Rome that all these pools, fountains, and reservoirs were made pleasant to the eye with suitable adornment. There is mention of 400 marble columns and 300 statues, but these are to be regarded as only chief among the embellishments.
The streets of Rome were commonly paved with blocks of lava quarried in the neighbourhood from the abundant deposits which had formed in a not very remote volcanic period.
The materials employed for substantial building were various; in the older days red and black tufa—a stone so soft as to require protection by a layer of stucco; later the dark-brown peperino, the golden-creamy travertine, marble white and coloured, and concrete. The modern visitor to Rome who regards the ruins but superficially would naturally imagine that many of the edifices were mainly constructed of brick. In reality there was no building so composed. The flat triangular bricks, or rather tiles, which are so much in evidence, are but inserted in the face of concrete to cover the nakedness of that material. Concrete alone might serve for cores and substructures, but those parts of the building which showed were required to present a more pleasing surface. At the date of Nero this might be achieved by a fronting of marble slabs and blocks, but more commonly it was obtained by means of the triangular red or yellow tiles above mentioned. In buildings of slightly earlier date the exterior often presented a "diamond pattern" or network arrangement of square pieces of stone inserted in the concrete while it was still soft. The huge vaults and arches affected by the Romans made concrete a particularly convenient material, and nothing could better illustrate its strength than the tenacity with which it has endured the strain in the unsupported portions of the vaults of the Basilica of Constantine. Any of the more imposing buildings which were not mainly of concrete were composed of blocks of stone, held to each other by clamps soldered in with lead. Few, if any, such buildings were made entirely of marble. In the case of those composes of the other varieties of stone already named, the surface was commonly coated either with stucco or with marble facings attached by hook-like clamps fixed into the main structure Externally the appearance of Rome—so far as its public buildings are concerned-was that of a city of marble. The present having been for centuries torn away, either to be used elsewhere, or more often to be burned down for lime.
THE ROMAN TOWN HOUSE
We have taken a general survey of the city of Rome, its open places, streets, and public buildings. We may now look at the houses in which the Romans lived, and at the furniture to be expected inside them.
Mention has already been made of the large and lofty tenement houses or blocks, often mere human rookeries, which were let out in lodgings to those who did not possess sufficient means to occupy a separate domicile of their own. These buildings, which were naturally to be found in the busier streets and more thickly inhabited quarters, were not, however, the habitations most typical of the romanized world. They were created by the special circumstances of the city, and might recur in other towns wherever the conditions were similar. The cramped island part of Tyre, for example, possessed houses even loftier than those of Rome. Where there was sufficient room—that is to say, where there was no large population crowded into a space limited by nature or by walls of defence—the ordinary house was of a very different character. It was built on a different plan and seldom ran to more than two stories, if so high. We shall shortly proceed to describe such a house; but it is first desirable to say something more of the tenement "block" in the metropolis. It is to be regretted that no such building has actually come down to us; we are therefore compelled to form our notions of one from the scattered references and hints of literature. Nevertheless if these are read in the light of customs still observable in Rome itself and in other parts of Italy, the picture becomes fairly definite.
A block—or "island," as it was called—might be a building of four or five stories, surrounded by four of the narrow streets, lanes, or alleys which formed a network in the city. Whether managed by the landlord, by his agent, or by a tenant who sub-let at a profit, it was divided into lodgings, which might consist either of a single room or of a suite. Some such rooms and flats were "ordinary," others were described (as they are still in the advertisements of modern Rome) as "suitable for a gentleman," or, to use the exact language of the day, "suitable for a knight." Access to the respective quarters of the house was to be gained, not solely through a main door, but by separate stairs leading up directly from the streets and lanes. It would appear that each tenant had his own key, corresponding, though hardly in convenience of size, to our latch-key. Whereas it will be found that the ordinary private house of one storey was for the most part lighted by openings in the roof and by wide courts, this arrangement could manifestly be applied only partially to the tall tenement buildings. There might, it is true, exist in the middle interior of such a block an open space or "well," with galleries running round it at each floor, so that the inner rooms could obtain light from that quarter. It is also to be assumed that stairs ran up to these galleries, so that the inward rooms or flats were made accessible in this way. Mainly, however, the light came from windows opening on the street. If we glanced up at these from below we should find them narrower than ours at the present day—since we have discovered how to produce large and entirely diaphanous sheets of glass—but probably not narrower than those of a century ago. They were either mere openings with shutters, or, in the better houses, were glazed with transparent material. In the brighter part of the year they contained their boxes of flowering or other plants, and were often provided with a shade-awning not unlike those so familiar in Paris.
The roof of such a building was either gabled and covered with tiles or, though perhaps less often, it was flat. The flat roof sometimes formed a terrace, on which the plants of a "roof-garden" might be found growing either in earthenware tubs or in earth spread over a layer of impermeable cement. The lowest floor, level with the street, commonly consisted of shops, which were open at full length in the day, but were shuttered and barred at night. As with the shops which are now built into the sides of large hotels and the like, they had no communication with the interior of the building. Regularly, however, they possessed a short staircase at the back or side leading to an upper room or entresol, where, in the poorer instances, the shopkeeper might actually reside. To the aristocratic Roman, with his contempt of petty trade, "born in the shop-loft" was a contemptuous phrase for a "son of nobody."
Meanwhile the more representative houses of the strictly Roman part of the Roman world—that is to say, the dwellings of Romans or of imitators of Romans, wherever they might be settled, as distinct from the Greek and Oriental houses or from the various kinds of primitive huts to be found among the Western provincials—were of three chief kinds. These were the town house, the country seat, and the country homestead. There was, of course, nothing to prevent a wealthy Roman from building his town house exactly like a country seat, or vice versa, if he had so chosen, but from considerations of purpose, apart from those of local space and view, it would have been altogether irrational to take either course. The conditions of his life in town and country differed even more widely than they do with us. The average Roman, moreover, was a lover of variety in respect of his habitation. We find in a somewhat later epigrammatist that one grandee keeps up four town houses in Rome itself, and moves capriciously from one to the other, so that you never know where you will find him. At different seasons or in different moods he might prefer this or that situation or aspect. As for country seats of various degrees of magnificence, a man might—like many modern nobles or royalties—possess three, four, a dozen, or twenty. He might, for example, own one or more on the Italian Lakes, one in Tuscany, one on the Sabine or Alban Hills, one on the coast within a half-day's run of Rome, one on the Bay of Naples, one down in the heel of Italy, and so on. Pliny the Younger, who was born in the reign of Nero, was not a particularly rich man, yet he owned several country seats on Lake Como alone, besides others nearer to Rome on north and south, at the seaside, or on the hills.
We may begin with a town house, and our simplest procedure is to take a plan exhibiting those parts which were most usual for an establishment of even moderate pretensions. Let it be understood that it is but the symmetrical outline of a general scheme which was in practice submitted to indefinite enlargement or modification. In the house of Livia, the mother of Augustus, on the Palatine Hill at Rome, and in various houses at Pompeii—such as those of the Vettii, of "Sallust," of the "Faun," or of "The Tragic Poet"—there will be found much diversity in the number and arrangement of the rooms, halls, and courts. Nevertheless the main principle of division, the general conception of the portions requisite for their several purposes, was practically the same. Some of the differences and enlargements may be illustrated after we have considered our first simple outline. Before we undertake this, however, it may be well to warn any one who may have visited or be about to visit Pompeii, that he must exclude from his thoughts all those small premises of a room or two which face so many of the streets. These were mostly shops, with which we are not now dealing. He must also exclude all the public edifices. This done, he must remember that we now possess only portions of the walls without the roofs, and that in such circumstances apartments always appear to be much smaller than they are by actual measurement, or than they appear when they contain their furniture and appointments properly disposed. Finally, he must not take a Pompeian house, even the most spacious, as a fair example of either the size or splendour of the great houses in the metropolis. Pompeii was but a small place, with a population of no great wealth or standing, and its houses would have cut but a provincial figure among those of the same date on the Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, or Quirinal Hills. Nevertheless they are extremely useful to us in reconstructing the type. It is that type and not the exception which we now consider.
A town house might either be detached or it might stand in a street, like one of the tenement-blocks, with shops let into the less important parts of the outer wall of the ground floor. Much would naturally depend upon the means and dignity of the owner. In any case the interior portions would belong to the private residence. As a rule the exterior of the ordinary house was little regarded. No architecture was wasted upon it; decoration and other magnificence belonged to the interior. Provided a house possessed a more or less imposing doorway its exterior walls might be left either to shops or to a dull monochrome of stucco, pierced here and there, if necessary, at 9 or 10 feet from the ground by barred slits, which cannot be called windows, for the admittance of light. The general principle of a Roman house, as of a Greek, was that of rooms surrounding spaces lighted from within. Privacy from the outer world was not indeed so scrupulously sought by the Romans as by the Athenians—principally because of the more free position occupied by the Roman women—nevertheless it was secured by the absence of ground-floor windows opening on any thoroughfare.
Before the actual door there was commonly an open recess or space a little backward from the street, in which callers could wait until the door was opened. This was the "vestibule," and in the case of the larger houses of the nobles it was often adorned with honorary statues, on horseback or otherwise, while above the door might be seen the insignia of triumphs won by the family, a decoration in some measure corresponding to the modern hatchment, except that it was permanently fixed. This regularly remained as a mark of the house even when it changed owners. It was in such a vestibule of his Golden House that Nero erected his own colossal statue, destined afterwards to give its name to the Colosseum. Over the larger vestibules there might be a partial roof, but generally, and perhaps always at this date, they were without cover.
Facing you in the middle of the vestibule are double or folding doors, more or less ornate with bronze, ivory, and other work, and generally bearing a large ring or handle to serve either as a knocker or to pull the door to. Above them is a bronze grating or fretwork for further adornment and to admit light and air. Some householders, more superstitious or conventional than the rest, affected an inscription, such as "Let no evil enter here," and over some humbler entrance you might find a cage containing a parrot or magpie, which had been trained to say "Good luck to you" in Greek. At either side of the door, or of the actual entrance to the vestibule, is a column or pilaster, either made of timber and cased with other woods of a more beautiful and costly kind, or consisting of coloured marble with an ornate capital. These "doorposts" were wreathed with laurel or other foliage on festal occasions, such as when the occupant had won some distinguished honour in the field, in the courts, or at the elections, or when a marriage took place from within. At funerals small cypress trees or branches would be placed in and about the vestibule. At one side of it you might sometimes find a smaller door, to be used for the ordinary going in and out when it was unnecessary or inconvenient for the larger doors to be opened.
The doors themselves turn, not upon hinges of the modern kind, but upon pivots, which move, often too noisily, in sockets let into the threshold and lintel. The fastenings consisted of locks—often highly ingenious—of a bar laid across from wall to wall, of bolts shot across or upward and downward, and sometimes of a prop leaning against the inside of the door and entering a cavity in the floor of the passage. The floor of the entrance passage itself might be paved with marble tiles, or made simply of a polished cement with or without patterns worked in it; or it might consist of small cubes of stone, white and black or more variously coloured, frequently worked into figures, and now and then accompanied by an inscription just within the threshold, such as "Greeting" or "Beware the Dog." In one Pompeian house the floor bears the well-known mosaic likeness of a dog held upon its chain. At the side of the passage there is often a smaller room for the janitor. When there is none, he must be supposed to have used a movable seat.
Passing through the passage, you find yourself in a rectangular hall, upon which was lavished the chief display in the way of loftiness and decoration. In the middle of the ceiling is an open space, square or oblong, to which the tiles of the gabled roof converge from above, and in the middle of the floor beneath is a corresponding basin, edged and paved with coloured or plain marble. The basin is of no great depth, and contains the water which has been poured into it from the ornamental pipe-mouths of bronze or terra-cotta projecting, like gargoyles, from the edge of the opening above. Sometimes the basin contained a fountain. There is of course an outlet pipe for the surplus water, but some of that overflow often ran into a covered cistern, over which you would find a small circular well-mouth, ornamented with sculptured reliefs. The opening in the ceiling may be formed simply by the space between the four cross-beams, or it may be supported by a pillar—of marble or of brick cased with marble—at each corner, or it may rest upon a greater number of such pillars. It is this opening which lets in the light and air to the hall, and it should always be remembered that the Italian house had more occasion to seek coolness and freshness than warmth. On a day of glaring sunshine and heat it was always possible to spread under the opening an awning or curtain of purple or other colour, of which the reflected hues meanwhile lent a richness to the space below. If we take one of the finer houses, we shall see, in glancing at the ceiling which covers the rest of the hall, that it is divided into sunken panels or coffers, which are adorned with reliefs in stucco and are painted, or else are decorated with copper, gold or ivory. The height may be whatever the owner wishes, but perhaps 25 feet would be a modest average estimate. The floor in such a house will generally consist of slabs of marble or of marble tiles arranged in patterns. In houses of less show it may be made of the same materials as those described for the entrance passage. To right and left are various chambers, shut off by lofty doors or by portieres or both. To these light is admitted their doors and the gratings over them, from the high window-slits already mentioned in the outer wall, or sometimes, when there is no upper storey, from sky-lights. And here let it be observed that the notion that the Romans of this date used very little glass is altogether erroneous, as the discoveries at Pompeii and elsewhere sufficiently prove.
The walls of the hall are in the better instances either coated with panels of tinted marble, or parcelled out in bright bands or oblongs of paint, or decorated with pictures of mythological, architectural, and other subjects worked in bright colours upon darkened stucco. To our own taste these colours—red, yellow, bluish-green, and others—as seen at Pompeii, are often excessively crude and badly harmonised. But while it is true that the ancients appear to have been actually somewhat deficient in colour-sense, it must be borne in mind that many of the Pompeian houses were decorated by journeymen rather than by artists, and, above all, full allowance must be made for the comparatively subdued light in which most of the paintings would be seen. The hall might also contain statuary placed against the walls or against the supporting pillars, where these existed. At the farther end from the entrance you will perceive to right and left two large recesses or bays, generally with pilasters on either side. These "wings" were utilised for a variety of purposes. One of them might occasionally serve for a smaller dining-room, or it might hold presses and cupboards. In noble houses one of them would contain certain family possessions of which the occupants were especially proud. These were the effigies of distinguished ancestors, which served as a family-tree represented in a highly objective form. At our chosen date there would be a series of portrait busts or else of portrait medallions, in relief or painted, while in special receptacles, labelled underneath with name and rank, were kept life-like wax masks of the line of distinguished persons, which could be brought out and carried in procession at the funeral of a member of the family. Though there was no "College of Heralds" in antiquity, it was commonly quite possible for a wealthy parvenu to get a pedigree invented for him. It is true that by use and wont the "right of effigies" was confined to those families which had held the higher offices of state, but there was no specific law on the subject, and the Roman nouveau riche could act exactly like his modern representative in securing his "portraits of ancestors."
Having thus glanced to right and left, to the ceiling and the floor, we now look at the end of the hall facing us. The middle section of this is open, and is framed by a couple of high pillars or pilasters and a cornice, which together formed perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this part of the house. Between the pillars is an apartment which may or may not be raised a step or two above the level of the hall. This, unlike the hall itself, is of the nature of a sitting-room, reception-room, or "parlour" (in the old sense of that word), and contains appropriate furniture. In it the master receives a guest, interviews his clients, makes up his accounts, and transacts such other private business as may fall to his lot. At the back it may be entirely closed, or it may contain a large window, through which we can catch a vista of the colonnaded and planted court beyond. The floor may here consist of a large carpet-like mosaic, such as that famous piece, taken from the House of the Faun at Pompeii and now in the Naples Museum, which represents a battle between Alexander and the Persians. To one side of the entrance to this "parlour" there will often stand on a pedestal the bust of the owner, as "Genius of the home." On the other side there is a passage serving as the means of access to the second or inner division of the house.
On making our way through this passage we find ourselves in a space still more open than the hall. It is commonly an unroofed, quadrangular court surrounded by a roofed colonnade, and thence known as the "peristyle." Or the colonnade may extend only round three sides, the back being free to the garden. In the uncovered space lying between the rows of pillars there are ornamental shrubs and flowers, marble tables, a cistern of water containing goldfish, a fountain, and marble basins into which fresh water is spouted from bronze or marble statuettes, from figures of animals, or from masks. Under the colonnade are marble floors or other more or less rich pavements, decorated walls, and such works of art as the owner most affects.
When it seems desirable for shade and coolness, coloured curtains or awnings may be suspended between the columns, so that one can sit or walk with comfort under the cloistered portion. At the sides are apartments for different purposes. At the far end, or elsewhere, there is regularly the largest dining-room, often with mosaic floor and generally with pictured walls. Whereabouts in the house the family or an invited party should dine would depend partly on the number to be present, partly on the season of the year, and partly on some passing inclination. A house of any pretensions would possess several rooms used, or capable of being used, for this purpose. Some dining-rooms had what we should call French windows on three sides, permitting the diners to enjoy the view of the garden or the shrubbery outside.
Other large and airy apartments or saloons off the peristyle were used for social conversation, or as drawing-rooms. Farther back still, approached by another passage or door, there was often to be found a garden, containing an arbour or a terrace covered with a trailing vine, of the kind known in modern Italy as a pergola. In suitable weather al fresco meals were often taken here, and occasionally there were fixed couches and tables of masonry always ready for that purpose.
Coming back from the garden into the court, we might explore other passages, leading to the kitchen or to the bathrooms of hot, warm, and cold water. These offices would be respectively situated wherever circumstances made them most convenient. In the kitchen the part corresponding to our "range" consisted of a flat structure of masonry, on which the fire was lighted. The cooking pots were placed either upon ridges of masonry running across the fire or upon three legged stands of iron. The accompanying illustrations will sufficiently show what is meant. The bedrooms, little better than cells, of the slaves, and also the storerooms, were variously distributed. Underground cellars were apparently exceptional, although examples may be seen at Pompeii.
Somewhere in one of the bays of the hall, at the back of the peristyle court, or elsewhere, would be found a small shrine for the worship of the domestic gods. This was variously constructed. Sometimes it was a niche or recess containing paintings or little effigies and with an altar or altar-shelf beneath, sometimes a miniature temple erected against the wall. There was apparently no special place to which, rather than any other, it was to be assigned. To the nature and meaning of the household gods we may refer again when dealing with the general subject of religion.
In the homes of persons of culture there would also be included a library and, perhaps less regularly, a picture-gallery. The library, which sometimes comprised thousands of rolls, would be a room not only surrounded by large pigeon-holes or open cupboards containing the round boxes for the parchment rolls, but also traversed by lower partitions provided on either side with similar shelves. About the room, over or by the shelves, stand portrait busts or medallions of great authors, both Greek and Roman, the "blind" Homer being represented in traditional form, but the majority, from Aeschylus and Thucydides down to Virgil and Livy, being authentic and excellent likenesses. In the picture-gallery would be found paintings either done upon the stucco walls in a frame-like setting or upon panels of wood attached to the walls, very much as we hang our modern pictures.
It was scarcely ever the case that a second storey—where one existed at all—extended over the whole house. If upper rooms were used, they were placed over those parts where they would interfere least with the light, the comfort, and the appearance of the ground-floor arrangements. The stairs leading to them were variously disposed and as little as possible in evidence. In such upper apartments there was naturally not the same risk from the curious or the burglar as in the case of the lower, and windows of perhaps 4 by 2-1/2 feet were therefore freely employed. In some instances, though we cannot tell how frequently, the second storey projected on strong beams over the street, as in the example at Pompeii known as the "House of the Hanging Balcony."
It remains to make brief observations upon one or two matters interesting to any practical householder. These are the questions of water-supply, drainage, warming, and roofing.
In respect of water there was no difficulty. It was brought in the ordinary way, from those reservoirs which formed the ends of the aqueducts or conduits, by means of pipes, mostly made of lead, though sometimes of bronze. These were conducted to the points where they were required, and there the flow was manipulated by means of taps and plugs. In order to make a water-pipe, a sheet of lead or bronze was rolled into a cylinder, the joining of the two edges taking the shape of a raised ridge, which was soldered. One end of a section was squeezed or narrowed so that it might be inserted into the widened end of the next. Lead pipes of no inconsiderable size, stamped with the name of the owner, are to be seen preserved in the Palatine House of Livia, and a number of smaller ones remain at Pompeii. For drainage there the sewers, and also pipes to carry the less offensive overflow of water into the street channels, which in their turn led into underground drains.
For the warming of a house the Romans not only portable braziers with charcoal for fuel, but in the larger establishments there existed a system of "central" heating, by which hot air was conducted from a furnace in the basement through flues running beneath the floor and up through the walls, where its effect might be regulated by adjustable openings or registers. The only fixed fire-place in a town house was in the kitchen. From this the smoke was carried off by a flue, constituting to all intents and purposes a chimney. The belief that the Romans were unacquainted with such things as chimneys has been proved to be untrue.
The roofing, when constructed, as it most frequently was, in a gabled form, consisted of terra-cotta tiles arranged on a regular system. First came the flat layers, each higher row overlapping the lower. The descending edges of a row of these flat plates, as they lay side by side, were turned up into a kind of flange of about 2-1/4 inches in height, so that at the points of contact a ridge was formed down the roof. Over this line was laid a series of other tiles shaped into a half-cylinder, the lower end of each tile overlapping the next. By this means the rain was prevented from penetrating the crevice between the flanges. At the bottom, above the eaves, the line of semicircular tiles ended in a flower-like or mask-like ornament, which broke the monotony of the horizontal edge of the roof.
After this description of what may be considered a representative Roman house, it is necessary to repeat that it is but typical. Many were considerably smaller, containing, for example, no peristyle. Many on the contrary were far more spacious and sumptuous, possessing more than one hall and more than one peristyle, and varying the nature as well as the number and position of those portions of the house. In exceptional cases the hall had no opening in the ceiling and therefore no basin below, but was covered with a simple gabled roof which shed the rain-water into the street. In exceptional cases also there was no "parlour" of the kind described a little while ago. The situation of the house, enlargements made after the main part was built, the joining of two houses into one, or other causes, often modified the rectangular and symmetrical appearance presented in the plan hitherto given. Such modifications are, however, better illustrated by a comparison of the plans of two well-known Pompeian houses than by any amount of verbal description. The first is that of Pansa, which forms the main portion of a whole block, smaller dwellings and shops unconnected with the Pansa establishment being built round and into it at various points. The arrangements of this house closely approach the normal or simple type described in this chapter. The second is the famous house of the Vettii, which departs somewhat freely from the customary disposition of apartments.
The parts within the dark lines belong to the one house; the rest are other houses and shops built into the block.
1. Vestibule 11. Rooms 2. Passage 12. Dining-Room 3. Hall 13. Winter Dining-Room 4. Rooms 14. Saloon (Drawing-Room) 5. Wings 15. Kitchen 6. Dining-Room 16. Carriage Room 7. Parlour 17. Boudoir 8. Passage 18. Portico 9. Library? 19. Saleroom 10. Peristyle 20. Passage to Side Door
It would be tempting to indulge in rhetoric and to dwell upon the magnificence of some of the more luxurious houses of the wealthy Romans; to describe their ostentation of rich marbles in pillar, wall, or floor—the white marbles of Carrara, Paros, and Hymettus; the Phrygian marble or "pavonazzetto" its streakings of crimson or violet; the orange-golden glow of the Numidian stone of "giallo antico"; the Carystian marble or "cipollino" with its onion-like layers of white and pale-green; the serpentine variety from Laconia, and the porphyry from Egypt. We might descant upon the lavish wall-paintings, representing landscapes real and imaginary, scenes from mythology and semi-history, floating figures, genre pictures, and pictures of still life; or upon the mosaics in floor and wall depicting similar subjects and often serving to the occupants not so much in the place of pictorial art as in the place of wall-papers and of Brussels or Kidderminster carpets. We might speak of the profuse collections of statuary, of the gilding on ceiling and cornices, of the colours shed by the rich curtains and awnings of purple and crimson, of the grateful sound of water plashing in the fountains and basins or babbling over a series of steps like a broken cascade in miniature. But perhaps too much of such description might only encourage still further the erroneous notion that the Roman houses were all of this nature, and that even the average Roman lived in the midst of an abundance of such domestic luxury and art. It requires but a little sober thought to realise that such homes were, as they have always been, the exception. It would be as reasonable to judge of an average London house by the most opulent specimens in Park Lane, or of an American house by the richest at Newport, as to judge of the abodes of Romans in the time of Nero by the examples which appeal so strongly to the novelist or the romancing historian. Suffice it that beside the modest and frugal homes, the tenement flat, and the hovel, there were houses distinguished by immense luxury; and, since Romans have at all times sought the ostentatious and grandiose, perhaps such dwellings were larger and more pretentious in proportion to wealth than they are in most civilised countries at the present day. Seneca, who made himself extremely comfortable in the days of Nero, exclaims upon the rage for costly decoration. Says he of the bathing of the plutocrat: "He seems to himself poor and mean, unless the walls shine with great costly slabs, unless marbles of Alexandria are picked out with reliefs of Numidian stone, unless the whole ceiling is elaborately worked with all the variety of a painting, unless Thasian stone encloses the swimming baths, unless the water is poured out from silver taps." These, indeed, are comparatively humble. "What of the baths of the freedmen? a mass of statues! What a multitude of pillars supporting nothing, but put there only for ornament! What an amount of water running over steps with a purling noise—and all for show!"
THE COUNTRY HOMESTEAD AND COUNTRY SEAT
Throughout the romanized parts of the empire—in other words, wherever Romans settled, in Italy, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and also wherever the richer natives imitated the Roman fashions—the house in any city or considerable town was built as nearly as possible after the type described.
In the country the poor naturally had their much simpler cottages and cabins of a room or two, commonly thatched or shingled, knowing nothing of hall and court and all these arrangements of art and luxury. In the case of the more well-to-do country people of Italy—the larger farmers, wine-growers, olive-growers, and the like—the homestead was of a kind which made for simplicity and comfort. It was in such homes that one would find the most wholesome life and the soundest moral fibre of the time.
Normally the homestead would be a large, and often a rambling, building of one storey, except where a tower served as a store-room for the mellowing wine or a loft for the mellowing fruit. When we read in Horace about the liberal stack of wood to be kept in readiness near the hearth, and about the wine-jar drinking in the smoke in the store-room we must think of his country homestead on the Sabine Hills, not of a house in Rome, for at Rome there was no blazing hearth to sit round and no smoky tower-loft for the ripening of the Caecuban.
You enter an open court or yard, round the sides of which may run the stalls of the horses and oxen of the farm, the tool-rooms, the lofts of hay and corn, the quarters of the labourers—herdsmen, ploughmen, vine-dressers—and the great farm-kitchen. It is in this kitchen that you will find the bright hearth in winter-time, where all the members of the homestead gather round the fire. It is here that they then all eat, and in it the women of the establishment perform their work, spinning and weaving and mending. Off from the court will be situated the wine-press, or the olive-press, the-granaries, the fruit mellowing on mats, and the various rooms or bins where wine is fermented and stored, or where the olive-oil is treated and stocked. Commonly a more retired court will contain the private rooms of the owner, and somewhere in the homestead will be found the fowl-yard, with its hens, ducks, geese, and guinea-fowl, the sties, and the preserves for various toothsome animals, including perhaps dormice and snails.
Frequently a Roman of the city affected a country house of this character, to which he would flee during the tyrannous reign of the Dogstar or the Lion—-in other words, during that hot season of the year which requires no description for those who have been so ill-advised as to sojourn in Rome in July, August, and early September. Many of his town slaves he would take with him, and what was a holiday for him was also a holiday for them. His rural homestead would possess great charm for the quieter type of man who had no real love for the pomps and shows the rattle and tumult, of the city. The vision of wholesome country-produce—of fresh milk and eggs and vegetables, and of tender poultry—is one which still attracts our city-folk. But the vision, then as now, was often subject to disillusion. Complaints are many that you had to feed the homestead in place of it feeding you, and when Martial has given a pleasant picture of a family reaching the gate of Rome with a coachful of the typical produce of the country, he ends by suddenly letting you know that they are not coming in from their country house but are going out to it. The complaint of the English seaside town that there will be no fish "till the train comes in from London," is thus a sufficiently old one. Yet the same Martial supplies another picture, painted with such zest of frank enjoyment that we are at once convinced of its truth. Some portions of it perhaps admit of translation in the following terms:—
Our friend Fundanus' Baian seat, My Bassus, is no pleasance neat, Where myrtles trim in idle lines, Clipped box, and planes unwed to vines Rob of right use the acres wide: 'Tis farm-life true and countrified. In every corner grain is stacked, Old wines in fragrant jars are packed: About the farmyard gabbling gander And spangled peacock freely wander: With pheasant and flamingo prowl Partridge and speckled guinea-fowl: Pigeon and waxen turtle-dove Rustle their wings in cotes above. The farm-wife's apron draws a rout Of greedy porkers round about; And eagerly the tender lamb Waits the filled udder of its dam. With plenteous logs the hearth is bright. The household Gods glow in the light, And baby slaves are sprawling round. No town-bred idlers here are found: No cellarer grows pale with sloth, No trainer wastes his oil, but both Go forth afield and subtly plan To snare the greedy ortolan. Meanwhile the garden rings with mirth, While townfolk dig the yielding earth: No need for the page-master's voice; The saucy long-haired boys rejoice To do the manager's commands. At morn 'tis not with empty hands The country pays its call, but some Bring honey in its native comb, Or cones of cheese; some think as good A sleepy dormouse from the wood; And honest tenants' big girls bring Baskets with "mother's offering."
The visit to the country in the season of the "mad star" and the scirocco was as necessary to the ancient Roman as is his villeggiatura to the modern. But there were other seasons when he fled from town. If to the heat of summer he sought the hills, in the colder he might seek the south of Italy, and in spring or autumn the seaside at various points the mouth of the Tiber to southward of Salerno, might run away from inconvenient business or ceremonies, or through a mere desire to get rest or sleep or change. He might wish, as Cicero and Pliny did, to get away from the "games" and to study and write in quiet. He might fancy that his health called for baths in the hot springs on the Bay of Naples, or for sea-bathing somewhere on the Latian or Campanian coasts. To put it briefly, he was very much like our worried, bilious, or exhausted selves. His life of ceremony was a hard one, and often he ate and drank too much. But whereas nowadays we can make free choice of any agreeable spot, since every such spot possesses its "Grand Hotel" or "Hotel Superbe," where we can always find the crowd and discomfort which we pretend to be escaping, the Roman idea was different. It corresponded more to that of our English nobles, who, in Elizabethan or Queen Anne days or later, built themselves country seats, one, two, or more, indulging in architectural fancies and surrounding all with spacious gardens, ponds, and rockeries. The Roman man of wealth created no hotels. He dotted his country seats about in places where the air was warm for winter and spring, or cool for summer and autumn, by the seashore, on the lower hills, or high on the mountain side. You would find them on the Italian lakes or elsewhere toward the north. In greater numbers would you find them on the hills near Rome, at the modern Tivoli or Palestrina, on the Alban heights near what are now Frascati, Albano, or Genzano, along the shore at Antium, Terracina, Baiae, Naples, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Castellamare, and Sorrento.
Perhaps it is not too much to say that more than a hundred and twenty miles of this coast were practically a chain of country houses. The shore of the Bay of Naples has been compared to a collar of pearls strung round the blue. Wherever there was a wide and varied landscape or seascape, there arose a Roman country house. We are too prone to assume that the ancients felt but little love or even appreciation of scenery, and to fancy that the feeling came as a revelation to a Rousseau, a Wordsworth, or a nineteenth-century painter. That Roman literature does not gush about the matter has been absurdly taken for proof that the Roman writer did not copiously enjoy the glories presented to his eyes. But, though Roman literature does not gush, it often exhibits the same feelings towards scenery which at least a Thomson or a Cowper exhibits. Perhaps it was so accustomed to scenic beauties that it took for granted much that an English or German writer cannot. At any rate we are sure that the Roman chose for his country seat a site commanding the widest and most beautiful outlook, and that he even built towers upon his house to command the view the better. In this respect he was like the mediaeval monks, when they chose the sites of monasteries at San Martino or Amalfi, and his love of a belvedere was probably quite as great as theirs.
The country seat differed widely from the town house. We must forget the plan which has been given above, with its hall and court lighted from within, and made private from the passing crowds in the street. In the country there is no need of such an arrangement. Moreover there are no formal receptions to necessitate the hall, and there are ample gardens to make the peristyle superfluous. Here the walls of the house may break forth into large and open windows, while all around may run pillared verandahs. Built in any variety of shape, according to the situation and the fancy, it may contain an immense variety of sitting-rooms, dining-rooms, bedrooms, facing in every direction to catch the sun, the shade, the breeze, or the prospect, as the case may be. Not that magnificence is any more neglected than in the great English country seats. The pillars and pavements are as rich as means allow, and works of painting and statuary are perhaps even finer and more numerous than in town; there is more time to look at them, and there are better facilities for showing them off. Many of the best works of ancient sculpture now extant in the museums have come from such country seats. There were of course vulgar houses in bad taste, where the owner's notions of magnificence consisted in ostentatious extravagance and a desire to outdo his neighbour. As now, everything depended either on the culture of the man or on the amount of his good sense in leaving such matters to his artistic adviser.
Outside the house lie the gardens and grounds. For the most part these are laid out in the formal style adopted so often in more modern Italy and favoured so greatly in England in the early eighteenth century. Perhaps the Villa d'Este at Tivoli, though of course not ancient, may convey some approximate idea of the prevailing principle. Along one side of the Roman house we should find a smooth terrace ornamented with statues and vases, to be used as a promenade. There are straight walks and avenues between hedges and trees and shrubs—cyprus, laurel, box, and other manageable plants—cut to the shape of beasts and birds and inanimate objects. There are flower-beds—of the rose, the crocus, the wallflower, the narcissus, the violet, but not, for example, the tulip—laid out in geometrical patterns. There are trellis-work arbours and walks covered with leafy vines or other trailing plants. There are clumps of bay-trees, plane trees, or myrtles, with marble seats beneath. There is either an avenue or a covered colonnade, where the ground is made of soft earth or sand, and where the family may take exercise by being carried in a litter up and down in the open or under the shade. There are greenhouses and forcing-houses, where flowers are grown under glass. There are fish-ponds, fountains, and water-channels, with artificial cascades and a general suggestion of babbling streams. Out beyond lie the orchards and the vegetable gardens, where are grown most of the modern fruits, including peaches, apricots, and almonds, but not yet including either the orange or the lemon.
The country immediately round the mansion of the wealthy man was commonly his own estate. A portion of this was frequently woodland, affording opportunities for hunting deer, wild boar, and other game. For the boar the weapon was a stout spear, and the general practice of the sportsman was to wait at a certain spot until the beast was driven towards it by a ring of beaters. Deer were caught in nets or transfixed with javelins while running. In more open places the hunter, accompanied by hounds, rode after a hare. But though far too much of Italy was taken up by preserves of this unproductive kind, the large estates were mostly turned to agricultural purposes. Different owners, different practices; but the possessor of a number of country seats would in some cases work the land for himself by means of slaves—often in disgrace and labouring in chains—under the direction of a manager or bailiff, while in others he would parcel out his land on various terms among free tenants. It is gratifying to discover that in bad seasons a generous landlord would sometimes remit a portion of his dues, and that he recognised various obligations of a grand seigneur to his district. Among them was the keeping up and beautifying of the local shrines and contributing to buildings and works for the public comfort.
Such would be the country seat when established landward. By the seaside, especially in a much-frequented resort like Baiae, the room was more limited and the equipment modified. The extensive garden would be absent, and the height of the building increased by a second or even a third storey. It was no uncommon thing for such a "villa," as it was called, to stand out on a promontory, where it could be greeted by the sea on either side. In many cases it was actually built out into the sea on piles or on a basis of concrete, and the occupant made a special delight of fishing from his window, and of letting the true sea-water flow into his swimming bath.
On the customary furniture of a Roman house we need not spend many words. For one thing, it was simple and scanty as compared with the furnishing and upholstering of to-day. For another, its nature presents little that would be strange to us or that would require explanation.
Among the most conspicuous differences between Roman and modern furnishing must be reckoned the absence of carpets, the comparatively small use of tables and chairs, the absence of upholstery from such chairs as were used, and the greater part played by couches. In place of carpets there were the ornamental floors, whether in geometrical pattern-work, arrangements of veined marbles, or mosaic pictures composed of small blocks of coloured stone or glass. The making of carpets was well understood in the East, and Rome would have found no difficulty in obtaining as many as it chose, but so far as it employed tapestries they were for portieres and curtains, for the coverings of dining-couches and beds, or for throwing across a chair-back. The Roman kept his floors, walls, pillars, and ceilings carefully cleared of dust and stains by means of brushes of feathers or light hair, brooms of palm or other leaves, and sponges. He thus saved himself both the labour and the unwholesomeness of carpets.
We need not enter into dry details concerning such articles as were similar to our own. Of the Roman seats it is enough to say that they were either square stools without back or arms, or folding-stools, or they were true chairs either with straight arms and backs (the Origin of the modern throne) to be used by the owner when receiving clients or visitors on business, or with a long sloping back and without arms, as used particularly by women. A movable cushion constituted all the upholstery.
But the Roman man seldom took his ease in a chair: even his reading and writing were commonly performed while reclining upon a couch. When writing, he doubled his tablets on his knee, and it may be presumed that habit made the practice easy and natural. The couch is, indeed, perhaps the chief article of Roman furniture. So regular was it to recline that, where we should speak of a sitting-room, the Romans spoke of a "reclining-room." At business they sat; but they reclined in social conversation—unless it was brief—when reading, when taking the siesta, and when dining. Their beds in the proper sense were similar to our own, though less heavy than those of our older fashion. To mount them it was often necessary to use steps or an elongated footstool. A slave in close attendance upon a master or mistress sometimes slept upon a low truckle-bed, which, in the daytime, could be pushed under the other. The couches for day use were lower and of lighter and narrower build, with a movable rest at the head and with or without a back.
Upon the frame of such couches a good deal of decoration was lavished in the way of veneerings of ornamental wood, or thin plates of ivory or tortoise-shell, or reliefs in bronze or even in gold or silver. The feet might also, in the richer houses, consist of silver or of ivory. For the dining-rooms of people of wealth a special feature was made of such work upon the conspicuous parts of the frames, while the cushions and coverings were of costly fabrics, richly dyed and embroidered or damasked. The method of serving and eating a dinner is a subject which belongs to our later treatment of a social day, and it must here suffice to picture the ordinary arrangement of a dinner party.
In the middle is the table, either square or, if round, made if possible of a single piece of costly wood richly grained by nature in a wavy or peacock pattern and obtained by sawing through the lower part of the trunk of a Moorish tree. The price depended on the size. Of one such circular slab we learn that it cost L4000. It may be needless to remark that many tables were only "imitation." When not in use, and sometimes even then, such tables were protected by coloured linen cloths. By preference this ancient equivalent of "the best mahogany" was supported on a single leg, consisting of elephants' tusks or of sculptured marble. On three sides are placed the couches, covered with mattresses stuffed with flock or feathers, and provided with soft cushions for the left arm to rest upon. Sometimes, instead of the three separate couches, there was but one large couch shaped like a crescent, either extending round half the large circular table, or having more than one smaller table placed before it. Tables in other rooms were scarcely to be found, since, as has already been remarked, they were not required for reading or writing or for holding the various articles which we moderns place upon them. Besides the dining tables we should generally find only a sideboard placed in the dining-room for the display of articles of plate. This was either of ornamental wood or of marble with a sculptured stand, and was distinctly meant for show. In place of tables for supporting necessary objects we find tripods, either of bronze or marble, with a flat top and sometimes with a rim.
Other articles of household furniture were chests and presses or wardrobes. It was almost a rule that in the hall, at the side or end, should stand a low heavy chest—occasionally more than one—sometimes made of iron, sometimes of wood bound with bronze and decorated with metal-work in relief. In this were contained supplies of money and other articles of value, and for this reason it was strongly locked and often fastened to the ground by a vertical rod of iron. Such a chest is still to be seen in its place in the House of the Vettii at Pompeii. Of portieres, curtains and awnings enough has been said, except that they were also used for draping the less ornamental walls. Mirrors were apparently plentiful. No mention is made of such articles in glass, probably because the ancients had not yet learned to make that material sufficiently pure and true or to provide it with the proper foil or background. For the most part they were made of highly polished copper, bronze, or silver. The smaller ones were held in the hand, the handle and back parts being richly and often tastefully ornamented. There is an epigram extant which tells of a vindictive Roman dame who struck her maid to the ground with her mirror, because she detected a curl wrongly placed. Other mirrors were made so as to stand upon a support, and there is mention of some sufficiently large to show the full length of the body.
In the absence of gas or electricity or even kerosene, there was no better means of lighting a house than by oil-lamps. Even those were provided with no chimney. Naturally every effort would be made to obtain such oil as would produce the least smoke or smell, but doubtless the difficulty was never completely overcome. It is therefore natural to hear of the oil being mixed with perfume. In the less well-to-do houses there might be wax candles, in still poorer houses candles of tallow or even rush-lights, formed by long strips of rush or other fibrous plant thinly dipped in tallow. Generally speaking, however, the Roman house was lit by lamps filled with olive-oil. The commonest were made of terra-cotta, the better sorts of bronze or silver, often richly ornamented and sometimes very graceful. As typical specimens we may take those here illustrated.
The little figure standing on the one lamp is holding a chain, to which is attached the probe for forcing up the wick or for clearing away the "mushrooms" that might form upon it. Lamps are made in all manner of fantastic shapes—ships, shoes, and other objects—and may burn either one wick or a considerable number, projecting from different nozzles. For the purpose of lighting a room they may either be placed upon the top of upright standards, four or five feet high and sometimes with shafts which could be adjusted in height like the modern reading-stand; or they may be hung from the ceiling by chains, after the manner of a chandelier, or held by a statue, or suspended from a stand shaped like a pillar or a tree, from whose branches they hang like fruit. For use in the street there were torches and also lanterns, which had a metal frame and were "glazed" with sheets of transparent horn, with bladder in the cheaper instances, or with transparent talc in the more costly.
As with the Greeks, a Roman house was lavish in the use and display of cups and plate in great diversity of shape and material. Glass vessels were numerous and, except for a perfectly pure white variety, were produced both at Rome and Alexandria with the most ingenious finish. A kind of porcelain was also known, but was very rare and highly valued. For the most part the poor used earthenware cups and plates or wooden trenchers. The rich sought after a lavish profusion of silver goblets studded with jewels and sometimes ventured on a cup of gold, although the use of a full gold service was by imperial ordinance restricted to the palace. There were drinking vessels, broad and shallow with richly embossed or repousse work, or deep with double handles and a foot, or otherwise diversified. There were all manner of plates and dishes of silver or of silver-gilt. There were graceful jugs and ladles and mixing-bowls. What we regard as most essential articles, but missing from a Roman table, are knives and forks. Table-forks, indeed, were unknown till a very modern date, but even knives were scarcely in use at Rome except by the professional carver at his stand. There were also heaters, in which water could be kept hot at table and drawn off by a small tap.
If now we stepped into the kitchen we should find there practically every kind of utensil likely to be of use even for the modern cuisine. There is no need here to catalogue the kettles and pots and pans, the strainers and shapes and moulds, employed by Roman cooks. Perhaps it will suffice to present a number of them to the eye. In general, however, it deserves to be remarked that such a thing as a pail, a pitcher, a pair of scales, or a steelyard was not regarded in the Roman household as necessarily to be left a bare and unsightly thing because it was useful. The triumph of tin and ugliness was not yet. Such vessels as waterpots are still to be seen made of copper in graceful shapes, if one will notice the women fetching water on the Alban Hills. How far the domestic utensils resembled or differed from those still in use may be judged from the specimens illustrated.
There existed no clocks of the modern kind, but the Romans do not appear to have suffered much practical inconvenience in respect of telling the time and meeting engagements. Sundials, both public and private, were numerous, but these were obviously of no use on gloomy days or at night. The instrument on which the Romans mainly relied was therefore the "water-clock," which, though by no means capable of our modern precision of minutes and even seconds could record time down to small fractions of the hour. The principle was that of the hour-glass, water taking the place of sand. From an upper vessel water slowly trickled through an orifice into a lower receptacle, which at this date was transparent and was marked with sections for the hour and its convenient fractions. In this way the time would be told by the mark to which the water had risen in the lower portion. The Romans were not unaware of the difference between the conditions of summer and winter flow of water, but it would appear that they had attained to proper methods of "regulating" their rather awkward time-pieces. It is as well to add that in the wealthier houses a slave was told off to watch the clock and to report the passing of the hours, as well as to summon any member of the family at the time arranged for an appointment.
SOCIAL DAY OF A ROMAN ARISTOCRAT—MORNING
We have seen in what sort of a home a Roman dwelt in town or country. Meanwhile it goes without saying that the non-Roman or non-Romanized populations of the empire were living in houses and amid furniture of their own special type—Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, or as the case might be. They were also living their lives after their own fashion in respect of dress, meals, occupations, and amusements.
We may now look at the manner in which a typical Roman might spend an ordinary day in the metropolis, and endeavour to form some clear idea of the outward aspects of such a life. In the first instance our Roman shall be a man of the senatorial aristocracy, blessed with both high position and ample means, but one who, for the time being, holds no public office, whether as a governor, a military commander, a Minister of Roads or Water Supply, an officer of the Exchequer, or of Justice. Instead of referring to him awkwardly as "our citizen," we will call him Silius. The same name may be borne by a large number of other persons, for it is the name of an early Roman family which in course of time may have divided into several branches or "houses," answering to each other very much as the "Worcestershire" So-and-Sos may answer to the "Hampshire" So-and-Sos, except that the distinction in the Roman case is not territorial. Our Silius will therefore naturally bear further names to distinguish him. One will be the special appellation of his own "house" or branch, derived in all probability from its first distinguishing member. Let us assume, for instance, that he is a Silius Bassus. As, again, there are probably a number of other persons belonging to the same branch and entitled to the same two designations, he will possess a "front name," answering to our "Christian" name, and he shall be called for our purposes Quintus Silius Bassus. It is the middle name of the three which is regarded as the name, but when there is no danger of mistake our friend may be addressed or written of as either Silius or Bassus. In private life among his intimates he prefers to be called Quintus. The individual name, family name, and branch name were frequently followed by others, but at least these three are regularly owned by any Roman with claims to old descent. To us, however, he will be Silius.
He lives, let us say, in one of the larger town-houses on the Caelian Hill, looking across the narrow valley towards the Palatine, somewhere near the modern church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. It is before day-break that the loud bell has awakened the household slaves and set them to their work. In the road below and away in the city the carts, which are forbidden during the full daytime, are still rumbling with their loads of produce or building-material. All night long the less happily housed inhabitants have tolerated this noise, together with the droning and grating of the mills grinding the corn in the bakers' shops. It is however, now approaching dawn, and imperial Rome, which goes to sleep late, wakes early. No few Romans, even of the highest classes, have already been up for an hour or two, reading by lamplight, writing letters or dictating them to an amanuensis, who takes them down rapidly in a form of shorthand. Out in the streets the boys are on their way to school, the poorer ones carrying their own lanterns—at least if it is the time of year when the days are short—their writing-tablets and their reading-books, probably Virgil and Horace, who were standard authors serving in the Roman schools as Shakespeare and Pope do in our own. Boys of well-to-do parents are accompanied by an elderly slave of stern demeanour. In the distance are heard the sounds of the first hammers and the cries of the venders of early breakfasts.
Silius rises, and with the help of a valet, who is of course a slave, dresses himself. His household barber—another slave—shaves him, trims his hair in the approved style and cleans his nails. At this date clean shaving was the rule. Every emperor from Augustus to Hadrian, fifty years later than Nero, was clean shaven, and the fashion set by emperors was followed as closely by the contemporary Roman as "imperials" and "ram's-horn" moustaches have been imitated in later times. The hair was kept carefully neither too long nor too short. Only in time of mourning was it permitted to grow to a negligent length. By preference it should be somewhat wavy, but there was no parting. Dandies had their hair curled with the tongs and perfumed, so at to smell "all over the theatre." If they were bald, they wore a wig; sometimes they actually had imitation hair painted across the bare part of the scalp. If nature had given them the wrong colour, they corrected it with dye. If the exposed parts of the body were hairy, they plucked out the growth with tweezers or used depilatories. But these were the dandies, and we need not assume Silius to have been one of them.
It is to be a day of some formality, and Silius will therefore attire himself accordingly. In other words, he will put on the typical Roman garb. Of whatever else this may consist, it will comprise a band round the middle, a woolen—less often a linen—tunic with or without sleeves, and over this the voluminous woollen toga; on the feet will be shoes. Of further underwear a Roman used as much or as little as he chose. If, like the Emperor Augustus, he felt the cold, he might indulge in several shirts and also short hose. Such practices, however, were commonly regarded as coddling. Breeches were worn at this date only by soldiers serving in northern countries, where they had picked up the custom from the "barbarians." Mufflers were used by persons with a tender throat.
Inasmuch as Silius is of senatorial rank, his tunic, which will show through the open front of his toga, bears the broad inwoven stripe of purple running down the middle, and his shoes—which otherwise might be of various colours, such as yellow with red laces—are black, fastened by cross straps running somewhat high up the leg and bearing a crescent of silver or ivory upon the instep. The stripe, the shoes, and the crescent mark his senatorial standing. That which marks him as a citizen at all is the toga—an article of dress forbidden to any inhabitant of the empire who could not call himself in the full sense "Civis Romanus." It was a cumbrous and heavy garment (when spread out it formed an oval of about 15 feet by 12), with which no man who wanted to work or travel or simply to be comfortable would hamper himself. St. Paul was a Roman citizen, but, if he ever wore a toga at all, it would only be when he desired to bring his citizenship home to a Roman court, and we should probably be quite mistaken in imagining that he travelled about with a toga in his baggage, or, as the Authorised Version calls it, his "carriage." When out of town, in his country-seat or when amusing himself at home in the city, especially in the warmer weather, the Roman cast off his toga with a sigh of relief. In the provincial towns of Italy, though theoretically as much in demand, this blanket-like covering was little used by any man except on the most formal public and religious occasions, and, as a poet says, "when dead," for then the toga was indispensable. Nevertheless at Rome it was the necessary dress for all men of position when appearing in any sort of public life. The Roman emperors insisted upon its use in all places of public amusement—the theatre, circus, or amphitheatre. In a court of justice the president certainly could not "see" a pleader unless he wore it. You cannot be present at a formal social ceremony—a wedding, a betrothal, a coming of age, a levee—without this outward and visible mark of respect. Nor was it sufficient that you should wear it. It must be properly draped and must fall to the right point, which, in front, was aslant over the lower part of the shin, while behind it fell to the heel. Your wardrobe slave must see that it has been kept properly folded and pressed. If you claimed to be a gentleman, and were not in mourning and not an official, it must be simply and scrupulously white. Poorer people might wear a toga of a duller or dark-grey wool, which would better conceal a stain and require to go less frequently to the fuller. The same dull hue was also worn in time of mourning, or as an ostentatious token of a gloomy spirit, as for example, when one of your friends was in peril of condemnation in the law-courts, or when you fancied that some serious injustice was being done or threatened to your social order. The only person privileged to wear a toga of true purple was the emperor. On the whole the Roman dress was very simple; far more so than in mediaeval times or the days of Elizabeth or Charles II. Velvet and satin were not yet known, furs hardly so, and there were very few changes of fashion.
Silius will also wear at least one large signet-ring as well as his plain ring of gold, but he will leave it to the dandies to load their fingers with half-a-dozen and to keep separate sets for winter and summer. When Quintilian, in his Training of the Orator, touches upon the subject of rings, he recommends as requisite for good form that "the hand should not be covered with rings, and especially should they not come below the middle joint." A handkerchief will be carried, but only to wipe away perspiration.
Having finished his dressing, he may choose this time for taking his morning "snack," corresponding to the coffee and roll or tea and bread-and-butter of modern times. It is but a light repast of wine or milk, with bread and honey, or a taste of olives or cheese or possibly an egg. Schoolboys seem to have often eaten a sort of suet dumpling. In the strength of this meat our friend will go till mid-day.
As he has no very early call to the imperial court upon the Palatine, he will now proceed to hold his own reception of morning callers. For this purpose he will come out to the spacious hall, which has been already described as the most essential part of a Roman house, and will there establish himself in the opening of the recess or bay which has also been described as a kind of reception-room or parlour. Before he arrives, the hall has been swept and polished by the brooms and sponges of the slaves, under the direction of a foreman. The number of Silius' household slaves is very great. Very many Romans of course owned no slave at all; many had but one or two; but it was considered that a person of anything like respectable means could hardly do with less than ten. Silius will probably employ several times that number. We have mentioned the valet, the barber, the wardrobe-keeper, and the amanuensis. We must add to these the cooks, the pastry-makers, the waiters, the room-servants, the doorkeeper, the footmen, messengers, litter-carriers, the butler and pantrymen. Some of the superior slaves have drudges of their own. The librarian, accountant, and steward are all slaves. Even the family physician or architect may be a slave. Many of these men may be persons of education and talent. Their one deficiency is that they are not free. Many of them are in colour and feature indistinguishable from the people outside; most, however, show their origin in their foreign physique. They are Phrygians, Cappadocians, Syrians, Jews, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Numidians, Spaniards, Gauls, Germans, Thracians, and Greeks. Their master either inherited them from his father or friends, or he bought them in the slave-market. For whatever reason they became slaves—whether as prisoners of war, by birth, through debt, through condemnation for some offence, by kidnapping like that practised by the Corsairs or the modern Arabs, or through being sold by their own parents—they had become the Property of slave-dealers, who picked them up in the depots on the Black Sea or at Delos or Alexandria, and brought them to Rome. There they were stripped and exposed for sale, the choicer specimens in a select part of a fashionable shop, the more ordinary types in the auction mart, where they were placed upon a stand or stone bench, were labelled with their age, nationality, defects, and accomplishments, and were sold either under a guarantee or without one. For an ordinary room-slave Silius, or his agent for him, has paid perhaps L20; for a servant of more special skill, such as a particularly soft-handed barber, perhaps L50; the price of a muleteer who was "too deaf to overhear private conversation in a carriage" might thereby be enhanced to L150; for a slave with educational or artistic accomplishments—a good reader, reciter, secretary, musician, or actor—he may have paid some hundreds. If he is a man of morbid tastes, and affects a particular kind of dainty favourite, he may go as far as a thousand. Curly-haired pages and amusing dwarfs are generally dear. It is the business of the house-steward to see that each slave receives his daily or monthly rations of corn, a trifling sum of money for other needs, and perhaps an allowance of thin wine. Many a slave also received a considerable number of "tips" from guests, as well as perquisites and presents from his master. With economy he was thus enabled to purchase his own freedom. The master might also in some cases provide the slave with the essentials of his dress, to wit, a coarse tunic, a rough cloak, and a pair of shoes or sabots.
Over all these persons, so long as they are slaves, the owner possesses absolute power. He can box their ears, or condemn them to hard labour—making them, for instance, work in chains upon his lands in the country or in a sort of prison-factory—or he may punish them with blows of the rod, the lash, or the knout; he can brand them upon the forehead if they are thieves or runaways, or in the end, if they prove irreclaimable, he can crucify them. Branded slaves who afterwards became free and rich sought to conceal the marks by wearing patches. There were inevitably some instances in which masters proved so intolerably cruel that their slaves were driven to murder them. To prevent any conspiracy of the kind the law ordained that, when a master was so killed, the slaves should one and all be put to death. It is gratifying to learn that in the reign of Nero the whole populace sided with a body of slaves in this predicament and prevented the law from being carried out.
But, being a typical Roman, Silius has a strong sense of justice; moreover he values public opinion as well as his own. Also, being a typical Roman, he behaves with strictness and for the most part with a distinct haughtiness of manner, graduated, no doubt, according to the standing of the individual. When, as was often the case, he did not even know the name of a slave whom he came across in hall or peristyle, he frequently addressed him as "Sirrah" or "Sir" or "You, Sir." To the waiter at table and for ordinary commands, where the master affects no ceremony, the commonest term is "boy," precisely as that word is used in the East or garcon in French. If Silius knew the actual appellation assigned to the slave when bought and was disposed to be kindly, he accosted him by it, calling him "Syrian," or "Thracian," or "Croesus," or by his proper Greek or Egyptian name. The slave, unlike the Roman citizen, owned but one name, and the shorter the better.
We meet, as is only natural, with many examples of great trust and confidence between master and slave, and, in the case of the superior types, no few instances of great kindness and consideration. Pliny speaks of his "long friendship" for a cultivated slave named Zosimus, whom he set free, and whom, because he was liable to consumption, he sent to Egypt and the Riviera for the good of his health. A faithful or very useful slave could make tolerably sure of being some day emancipated with all due form and ceremony, either during the master's lifetime or by his last will and testament. In such a case he became a Roman citizen of the rank known as "freedman," and after the second generation there was nothing to prevent his descendants from aspiring to any position open to any other Roman. Sometimes even his son attained to public office. On attaining his citizenship the freedman became entitled to "the three names," and it was the rule that he should adopt the family name of his master. A freedman of Silius is himself a Silius. Also by preference he will be a Quintus Silius; but he will not be a Bassus. The third name will still, for his own lifetime, be such as to mark him for what he is. Moreover, though free, he is himself still bound to pay a dutiful respect to his former master's family, but beyond this he is at his own disposal and in possession of every right in regard to person and property. Many such men were extremely skilful in trade and made themselves rich enough to vie with the Roman aristocracy in outward show. The freedmen of the Emperor, who occupied positions of influence at court as chamberlains, stewards, private secretaries and the like, and were the powers behind the throne, became enormously wealthy. Their houses were adorned with the finest marble columns, the most richly gilded ceilings, and the most costly works of art; the choicest fruits ripened under glass in their forcing-houses, and, when they died, their monuments were among the most sumptuous by the side of the great highways. "Freedmen's wealth" became a proverb. They were occasionally even appointed to those minor governorships held by "agents" of Caesar, and the Felix of the New Testament was himself a freedman of Nero's predecessor and brother to one of the richest and most influential of the class. In the provincial cities of Italy freedmen, though they were not themselves eligible for the ordinary offices, might in return for acts of munificence be admitted to what may be called an inferior grade of knighthood—a sort of C.M.G.—styled the "Order of Augustus." They thus became notables of their own town in a way of which they were sufficiently proud, as the Pompeian inscriptions show. It was part of the shrewdness of Augustus to kill two birds with one stone, by erecting a provincial order directly attached to the cult of the Emperor, and by encouraging the local self-made man to spend money liberally upon the embellishment and comfort of his own municipality.
Well, Silius, meeting with or escorted by various slave attendants, passes from the inner rooms through the passage into the hall and finds waiting for him a throng of visitors known as his "clients" or dependants. The position of these persons is somewhat remarkable. They are commonly free Roman citizens of the "genteel" middle class, who openly admit that they depend for the bulk of their living upon the patronage of the noble or the rich. The custom arose from a very old condition of things, under which certain classes of citizens, not being entitled to appear in the law-courts or in public business on their own behalf, put themselves under the protection of a person so entitled, who, in return for certain acts of support and deference, appeared as their advocate and champion. At a later time, even though their rights had become complete, men might still seek counsel, legal advice, and advocacy from a person of influence and eloquence. In return they paid him the honour of escort in the streets, supported him in his candidature for public office, applauded his speeches, and exercised on his behalf such influence as they possessed. The standing of a prominent Roman was apt to be measured by the number and quality of the persons thus attaching themselves to him. If next it is remembered that very few money-making occupations were looked upon with favour by the Romans, and that the higher orders were for the most part very rich, it will be obvious that there would grow up the custom of the patron making liberal presents to his dependants—money gifts, or gifts of small properties and of useful articles—as well as of inviting them to his table. The clients themselves brought little presents on the patron's birthday or some other special occasion, but these were merely the sprats to catch the whale. It gradually resulted that the patronage extended by the aristocrat or plutocrat was mainly one of a direct pecuniary nature. As in other cases where a dubious custom develops gradually, there ceased to be any shame in this relation. Many members of the middle class, impoverished and earning practically no other income, lived the life of genteel paupers. They would attend the morning reception of a grandee, either bringing with them, or causing a slave to bring, a small basket, or even a portable cooking-stove, in which they carried off doles of food distributed through his servants. The scene must have borne no slight resemblance to that of the charity "soup-kitchen." In process of time, however, this practice became inconvenient for all parties, and most of the patrons compounded for such doles by making a fixed payment, still called the "little basket," amounting perhaps to a shilling in modern weight of money for each day of polite attention on the part of a recognised "client." If a client was acknowledged by more than one patron, so much the better for the amount of his "little baskets." In some cases the dole was paid to each visitor at the morning call; in others only after the work of the patron's day was done and when he had gone to the elaborate bath which preceded his dinner in the later part of the afternoon. By this means the complimentary escort duty was secured until that time.