Among the dependants were nearly all the genteel unemployed of Rome, including the Grub-Street men of letters, who in those days could make little, if anything, by their books, and who therefore sought the same kind of assistance as did our own literary rank and file in the early eighteenth century. When we read the authors of the period we are inevitably reminded of Samuel Johnson waiting in the ante-chamber of Lord Chesterfield, and of the flattering dedications of books which were so liberally or illiberally paid for by the recipients of such compliments. From his little flat, often a single room and practically an attic, in the tenement-house, the client would emerge before daylight, dressed de rigueur in his toga, which was often sadly worn and thin. He would make his way for a mile or more through the carts, the cattle, an the schoolboys, sometimes in fine weather, sometimes through the rain and cold, when the streets were muddy and slippery, and would climb the hill to his patron's door, joined perhaps on the way by other citizens bent on the same errand. Gathering in that open space or vestibule which has already been described, they waited for the janitor to open the door. If the doorkeeper of Silius was like the generality of his kind, he would take a flunkey's pleasure in keeping them waiting, and also, except in the case of those who had been wise enough to ease his manners with a "tip," or who were known to be in special favour, a flunkey's pleasure in exhibiting his contempt. Brought into the hall, they stood or sat about and conversed until Silius appeared. Then, according to an established order of precedence—which apparently depended on seniority of acquaintance, while again it might be affected by a douceur—they were presented one by one to the patron.
One must not expect a Roman noble to deign always to remember the names of humble persons—sometimes he actually did not—and therefore a slave, known as the "name-caller," announces each client in turn. The client says, "Good morning, Sir," and Silius replies, "Good morning, So-and-So," or "Good morning, Sir," or simply "Good morning." There is a shaking of hands, or, if the patron is a gracious gentleman and the client is of old standing, Silius may kiss him on the cheek and offer some polite inquiry or remark. A very haughty person might merely offer his hand to be kissed and perhaps not open his mouth at all, even if he condescended to look at you. But these habits were hardly so characteristic of our times as of a somewhat later date.
The reception over, the client obtains information as to the movements of his patron during the day. On the present occasion it appears that Silius himself is to proceed at once to pay his own morning homage to a still higher patron, His Highness Nero, who is at home on the Palatine Hill, and whose levee calls imperatively for the attendance of certain members of the aristocracy. At the palace there exists a roll of persons known as the "friends of Caesar"—a roll which depends solely on the favour of the emperor. Naturally it contains the names of a number of the highest senators and of the chief officers of the state, but a place in it is not gained simply by such positions, nor is it restricted to them. There may be a few knights and others on the list. To be removed from the roll is to be socially a marked man and a person to be avoided. Silius is, at least for the time being, one of the "friends." Nero is not yet in sufficient financial straits to require that Silius should be squeezed or sacrificed, nor has he chosen to take offence at something which a spy or informer has reported of him. Our friend therefore enjoys the entree to the palace, and to the palace he goes.
It is a clear fine morning, and he has plenty of time. He therefore perhaps elects to go on foot. Learning this, a number of his clients form a procession. Some are honoured by walking at his side, a few go in advance and so clear a way through the crowd—which is already moving at the top of the Sacred Way—to the point where you turn off on the left and ascend to the entrance to the Palatine Hill. Some of the clients will walk behind, where also will be a lackey or two in waiting. On the way Silius may perhaps meet with Manlius, another noble, whom he probably greets with "Good morning, brother," and a kiss upon the cheek. This kissing, it may be remarked, ultimately became an intolerable nuisance, particularly among the middle classes, and the epigrammatist, after complaining of the cold noses and wet osculations of the winter-time, pleads to have the business at least put off till the month of April.
When it is a bad or sloppy day, Silius will decide to go in his litter, or Roman form of the palanquin. Being a senator he may use this conveyance, otherwise at this date he could not. There are also sedan chairs, but as yet there exists a prejudice against these as being somewhat effeminate. At this decision four, six, or eight tall fellows, slaves from Cappadocia or Germany by preference, clad in crimson liveries, thrust two long poles through the rings or the coloured leather straps which are to be found on the sides of the litter, and place these poles upon their shoulders. To all intents and purposes the litter is a couch with an arched roof above it, of the shape here indicated, but covered with cushions, which are often stuffed with down. Its woodwork is decorated with silver and ivory. The litter may either be carried open on all sides, or with curtains of coloured stuffs partially drawn, or it may be enclosed by windows of talc or glass. In the days when litters were in promiscuous use, persons who did not possess one, or perhaps the slaves to bear it, might hire such a vehicle from the "rank," after the modern manner of hiring a cab. In this receptacle Silius is carried amid the same procession as before.
He will wear nothing on his head. On a journey, or when the sun was particularly strong in the roofless theatre or circus, he might put on a broad-brimmed hat, very much like that of the modern Italian priest. Instead of the hat it was common, when the weather so required, either to draw a fold of the toga over the head or to wear a hood closely resembling the monkish cowl. This might be either attached to a cloak or made separately for the purpose. The hood was also employed when, particularly in the evening, the wearer had either public or private reasons for concealing his identity as he moved abroad, commonly issuing in such cases from his side door. But on an ordinary day, and when attending a ceremony, the Roman head is bare. So also are the hands, for gloves are not yet in use.
On arriving at the palace—outside which there is generally standing a crowd of the curious or the snobs—Silius passes through the guards, Roman or German, at the doors, is taken in hand by the court slave or freedman who acts as usher, and himself goes through a process similar to that which his own clients have undergone. There are times, and just now they may be frequent, at which he will have to submit to a search, for fear he may be carrying a concealed weapon. If he is high in favour or position, he belongs to the batch of "first admittance," or first entree. If not, he must be contented with "second." He will find that His Highness Nero, exacting as he may be concerning the costume of his callers, will not trouble to put on his own toga, as a more respectable emperor would have done, but will appear in anything he pleases, frequently a tunic or a wrapper of silk, relieved only by a handkerchief round the neck. Nor will his High Mightiness always condescend to lace his shoes. If he is in a good humour, he may bestow the kiss, remember your name, and call you "my very dear Silius." If he has been accustomed to do so, but omits the warmer greeting on this occasion, it may be taken as boding you no good. It is, however, very probable that in this year 64 he will refuse the kiss to almost every one of the senators, for he has already come openly to detest them. It will suffice if he so much as offers his hand to be saluted. Caligula, being a "god," had sometimes offered his foot, but only that crack-brained emperor had so far attempted this enormity.
The day happens to be one on which the emperor has nothing further to say and requires no advice. Silius is therefore free to go his ways. There is also no meeting of the Senate, no festival, chariot-race, or show of gladiators. He has therefore only the ordinary day before him, and he proceeds, as practically every other caller does, towards the Forum and its neighbourhood. If on his way he meets with a great public official—a consul or a praetor—proceeding on duty, he politely makes way, and, if his head chances to be covered, he uncovers it. He loyally recognises the claims of that toga edged with purple, and of those lictors walking in front with the symbolic bundles of rods containing the symbolic axe. Whatever he may think of the men, he pays all respect to their office. The Forum is now full, the banking and money-changing are all aglow in the Basilica Aemilia, the loungers are playing their games of "three men in a row," or perhaps their backgammon, on the pavement of the outer colonnade of the Basilica of Julius. Groups are reading and discussing the columns of the "Daily News," which are either posted up or have been purchased from the professional copiers. This is an official, and therefore a censored, publication in clear manuscript, containing proclamations, resolutions of the senate, bulletins of the court, results of trials, the births and deaths registered in the city, announcements of public shows and sports, striking events, such as fires, earthquakes, and portents, and occasional advertisements. Silius may perhaps stop and read; more probably his slaves regularly purchase a copy for his private use. Criers are meanwhile bawling to you to come and see the Asiatic giant, or the mermen, or the two-headed baby. The old sailor who has been wrecked, or pretends to have been, is walking about with a harrowing picture of the scene painted on a board and is soliciting alms. The busybody is gossiping among little knots of people and telling, manufacturing, or magnifying the latest scandal, or the latest news from the frontier, from Antioch, from the racing-stables, the law-courts, or the palace. Perhaps Silius has a little banking business to do, and he enters the Basilica to give instructions as to sending a draft to Athens or Alexandria in favour of some friend or relative there who is in want of money, or whom he has instructed to make artistic or other purchases. In about seven days his correspondent will obtain the cash through a banker at Athens, or in about twelve or fourteen days at Alexandria.
Perhaps, however, one of his clients has asked for his help in a case at law, which is being tried either over the way in the Basilica of Julius, or round the corner to the right in the Forum of Augustus. If a man of study and eloquence, he may have consented to act as pleader—taking no fee, because he is merely performing a patron's duty. Noblesse oblige. In the year 64 a pleader who has taken up a cause for some one else than a dependant is allowed by law to charge a fee not exceeding L100, but the law says nothing, or at least can do no thing, as to the liberal presents which are offered him under some other pretext. If he is not to plead, Silius may at any rate have been requested to lend moral support by seating himself beside the favoured party and perhaps appearing as a witness to character. If he pleads in any complicated or technical case, it will generally be after careful consultation with an attorney or professional lawyer. Round the apse or recess in which the court sits there will stand a ring of interested spectators, and among them will be distributed as many as possible of his own dependants, who will religiously applaud his finely-turned periods and his witticisms. There was generally little chance of missing a Roman forensic witticism; its character was for the most part highly elaborate and its edge broad. In a later generation it was not rare for chance bystanders to be hired on the spot as claqueurs. The court itself consists of a large body of jurymen of position empanelled, not for the particular case, but for particular kinds of cases and for a period of time, and over these there presides one of the public officials annually elected for the judicial administration of Rome. The president sees that the proceedings are in accordance with the law, but the verdict is given entirely by the jury.
If there is no need for Silius to attend such a court, he may find many other demands upon his time. Among Romans of the higher classes etiquette was extremely exacting. Contemporaries themselves complain that social "duties" or "obligations" frittered away a large proportion of their day, and that they were kept perpetually "busy doing nothing." One man or woman is making a will, and asks you to be one of the witnesses to the signature and sealing; another is betrothing a son or daughter, and invites you to be present and attest the ceremony; another has a son of fifteen or sixteen concerning whom it is decided that he has now come of age, must put on the white toga of a man in the place of the purple-edged toga of the boy, and be led into the Forum in token of his new freedom; you must not omit the courtesy of attending. Another desires you to go with him before the magistrate while he emancipates a slave. Worst of all, perhaps, is the man who has written a poem or declamation, and who proposes to read it, or to get a professional elocutionist to read it, to his acquaintances. He has either hired a hall or borrowed a convenient room from a friend, and you are kindly invited to be present. We learn that these amateur authors did not permit their victims to forget the engagement, but sent them more than one reminder. At the reading or recitation it was your duty to applaud frequently, to throw complimentary kisses, and to exclaim in Greek, "excellent," "capital," "clever," "unapproachable," or "again," very much as we say "encore" in what we think is French, or "bravo" in Italian. The native Latin terms most commonly in use may perhaps be translated as "well said," "perfect," "good indeed," "divine," "a shrewd hit." On one occasion a certain Priscus was present at the reading of a poem, and it happened to open with an invocation to a Priscus. No sooner had the author begun, "Priscus, thou bidst me tell ..." than the man of that name called out "Indeed I don't." This "caused laughter" and "cast a chill over the proceedings." Pliny apologises for the man, as being a little light in the head, but he is manifestly tickled all the same. It is scarcely a wonder that the Roman was glad to escape from all these formalities of "toga'd Rome" to his country seat, or to the freer life of Baiae.
His business in the Forum accomplished, Silius returns to his house on the Caelian. As, on the slope of the Sacred Way, he passes the rich shops of the jewellers, florists, and perfumers, he may be tempted to make some purchase, which the attendant slaves will carry to the house. Arrived there, he will take his luncheon, a fairly substantial though by no means a heavy meal. He may perhaps be a married man. If nothing has yet been said about his wife, it is because in the higher Roman households the husband and wife owned their separate property, lived their own lives, and were almost equally free to spend their time in their own way, since marriage at this date was rather a contract than a union. If, however, he is a benedict, it is probable that at this meal the family will meet, no outside company being present. Silius himself reclines on a couch, the children are seated, and the wife may adopt either attitude. After this our friend will probably take a siesta, precisely as he might take it in Italy to-day. The practice was indeed not universal; nevertheless it was general. He will not go to bed, but will sleep awhile upon a couch in some quiet and darkened room. If he cannot sleep, or when he wakes, he may perhaps read or be read to. Where he will spend the afternoon till the bath and dinner is a matter of his own choice.
SOCIAL DAY OF A ROMAN ARISTOCRAT (continued)—AFTERNOON AND DINNER
We will suppose that Silius is specially inclined for action and society. The afternoon is growing chilly, and, as he has no further ceremonial to undergo, he will probably throw over his toga a richly coloured mantle—violet, amethyst, or scarlet—to be fastened on the shoulder with a buckle or brooch. In very cold weather, especially when travelling, Romans of all classes would wear a thick cloak, somewhat like the cape worn by a modern policeman or cab-driver, or perhaps more closely resembling the poncho of Spanish America. This, which consisted of some strong and as nearly as possible waterproof stuff, had no opening at the sides, but was put on by passing the head through a hole. To-day Silius puts on the coloured mantle, and gets himself carried across the Forum, through the gap between the Capitoline and Quirinal Hills, and into the Campus Martius, somewhere about the modern Piazza Venezia and the entrance to the Corso. Here he may descend from his litter, and purchase a statuette, or a vessel of Corinthian bronze or silver, or an attractive table with the true peacock markings, or a handsome slave. While doing so, he may find amusement in observing a pretender who "shops" but does not buy, wearying the dealers by pricing and disparaging the costliest tables and most artistic vessels, and ending with the purchase of a penny pot which he carries home himself. He may then stroll along under the pictured and statued colonnades, perhaps offering the cold shoulder to various impecunious toadies who are there on the look-out for an invitation to dinner, perhaps succumbing to their blandishments. His lackeys are of course in attendance, and clients are still about him. In passing he is greeted by some person who is hanging officiously round a litter containing an elderly lady or gentleman, and whom he recognises as what was called an "angler"—that is to say, one whose business is to wheedle gifts or a legacy out of childless people of wealth. This was a regular profession and extremely lucrative when well managed.
A little further, and he stops to look at the young men curvetting and wheeling on horseback over the riding-ground. Away in the distance others are swimming backwards and forwards across the Tiber. Or he steps into an enclosure, commonly connected with the baths, where not only young men, but their seniors, even of high rank, are engaged in various exercises. Some of them are stripped and are playing a game with a small hard ball, which is struck or thrown, and smartly caught or struck onward by right or left hand equally, from the three corners of a triangle. Some are playing with a larger and lighter article, something like a football stuffed with feathers, which seems to have been punched about by the fist in a way calling for considerable judgment and practice. Others are jumping with dumb-bells in each hand, or they are running races, or hurling a disk of stone, or wrestling. Yet others are practising all manner of sword strokes with a heavy wooden weapon against a dummy post, merely to exercise themselves keep down their flesh.
Probably Silius will himself take a hand in the three-cornered game, unless he possesses a private court at home and is intending to take his bath there instead of in one of the larger public or semi-public establishments. Whether he bathes in the baths of Agrippa at the back of the Pantheon, or in those of Nero, or in his own, the process will be much the same. The arrangements are practically uniform however great may be the differences of sumptuousness and spaciousness. We have not indeed yet reached the times of those huge and amazing constructions of Caracalla and Diocletian, but there is no reason to doubt that the existing public baths were already of much magnificence. Regularly we should first find a dressing-room with painted walls, a mosaic floor, and glass windows, and provided with seats, as well as with niches in the walls to hold the clothes. Adjoining this is a "cold" room, containing a large swimming-bath. Next comes a "warm" chamber, with water heated to a sufficient and reasonable degree, and with the general temperature raised either by braziers or by warm air circulating under the floor or in the walls. After this a "hot" room, with both a hot swimming-bath and a smaller marble bath of the common domestic shape—though of much larger size—provided with a shower, or rather with a cold jet. Lastly there is a domelike sweating-chamber filled with an intense dry heat. The public baths built by Nero were particularly notorious for their high temperature. After the bath the body was rubbed over with perfumed oil, in order to close the pores against the cold, and then was scraped down with the hollow sickle-shaped instrument of bronze or iron depicted in the illustration. The other articles there shown are a vessel containing the oil, and a flat dish into which to pour it for use. These, together with linen towels, were brought by your own slave.
Silius is now carried home, and as it is approaching four o'clock, he dresses, or is dressed, for dinner. His toga and senatorial walking-shoes are thrown off, and he puts on light slippers or house-shoes, and dons what is called a "confection" of light and easy material—such as a kind of half-silk—and of bright and festive colours. Some ostentatious diners changed this dress several times during the course of a protracted banquet, giving the company the benefit of as great a variety of "confections" as is afforded by a modern star actress in the theatre. If the days are long and it is suitable weather, he may perhaps dine in the garden at the back of the peristyle. Otherwise in the dining-room the three couches mentioned in a previous chapter (FIG. 48) are arranged along three sides of a rectangle. Their metal and ivory work gleams brightly, and they are resplendent with their embroidered cushions. In the middle of the enclosed space shines the polished table, whether square or round. The sideboard is laden with costly plate; the lamps are, or soon will be, alight upon their tall shafts or hanging from their chains; the stand for the carver is awaiting its load. The dining-room steward and his subordinates are all in readiness.
At the right time the guests arrive, endeavouring to show neither undue eagerness by being too early nor rudeness by being too late. Each brings his own footman to take off his shoes and to stand behind him, in case he may be needed, though not to wait at table, for this service belongs to the slaves of the house. After they have been received by the host, the "name-caller" leads them to their places, according to such order of precedence as Silius chooses to pre-arrange. The regular number of guests for the three couches will be nine—the number of the Muses—or three to each couch. To squeeze in more was regarded as bad form. If the crescent couch and the large round table are to be used the number may be either six or seven. The position of Silius himself as host will be regularly that marked H on the plan, while the position of honour—occupied by a consul if one be present—will be that marked C.
Each guest throws himself as easily as possible into a reclining attitude, resting his left elbow on the cushion provided for the purpose. He has brought his own napkin, marked with a purple stripe if he is a senator, and this he tucks, in a manner still sufficiently familiar on the continent of Europe, into upper part of his attire. Bread is cut and ready, but there are no knives and forks, although there is a spoon of dessert size and also one with a smaller bowl and a point at the other end of the handle for the purpose of picking out the luscious snail or the succulent shell-fish. The dainty use of fingers well inured to heat was necessarily a point of Roman domestic training.
There have been many—perhaps too many—descriptions of a Roman dinner, but the tendency, especially with the novelist, is to exaggerate grossly the average costliness and gluttony of such banquets. Undoubtedly there were such things as "freak" dinners almost as absurd as those of the inferior order of American plutocrat. Undoubtedly also there was often a detestable ostentation of reckless expenditure. But we are endeavouring to obtain a fair view of representative Roman practice, and must put out of our minds all such vagaries as those of the ceiling opening and letting down surprises, or of dishes composed of nightingales' tongues and flamingoes' brains. These were always, as a later writer calls them, "the solecisms of luxury." Nero himself, or rather the ministers of the vulgar pleasures which he regarded as those of artistic genius, devised an abundance of such expensive follies and surprises, but we must not permit the professional satirist or Stoic moralist to delude us into believing them typical of Roman life. Praise of the "simple life" and the simple past is no new thing. It is extremely doubtful whether at an ordinary Roman dinner-party there was any such lavish luxury as to surpass that of a modern aldermanic banquet. We can hardly blame the people who could afford it for obtaining for their tables the best of everything produced around the Mediterranean Sea, any more than we blame the modern citizen of London or New York for obtaining the choicest foods and dainties from a much wider world. Doubtless a Roman dinner too often meant over-eating and over-drinking, and doubtless neither the ordinary table manners nor the ordinary table conversation would recommend themselves to us. The same might be said of our own Elizabethan age. But any one intimately acquainted with Latin literature as a whole, and not merely with the more savoury passages commonly selected, will necessarily incline to the belief that novelistic historians have too often been taking what was exceptional, eccentric, and strongly disapproved by contemporaries, for the usual and the normal. If we read about Romans swallowing emetics after gorging themselves, so that they might begin eating afresh, we may feel both disgust and pity, but we must not imagine such a practice to have been a national habit.
The dinner regularly consisted of three divisions: a preliminary course of hors d'oeuvres, the dinner proper, and a sort of enlarged dessert. It might or might not be accompanied or followed by various entertainments, and closed by a protracted course of wine-drinking. All would depend upon the tastes of the host and the nature of the company. The meal, it may be mentioned, begins with an invocation corresponding to our grace. The hors d'oeuvres are taken in the shape of shell-fish, such as oysters and mussels, snails with piquant sauce, lettuce, radishes and the like, eggs, and a taste of wine tempered with honey.
Next comes the dinner proper, commonly divided into three services, comprising a considerable choice of fish (particularly turbot, flounder, mullet, and lampreys), poultry and game (from chicken, duck, pigeon, and peacock, to partridges, pheasants, ortolans, and fieldfares), hare, joints of the ordinary meats, as well as of wild boar and venison, a kind of haggis, a variety of the vegetables most familiar to modern use, mushrooms, and truffles. There is abundant, and to our taste excessive, use of seasonings, not only of salt, vinegar, and pepper, but of oil, thyme, mint, ginger, and the like, The piece de resistance—a wild boar, or whatever it may be—regularly arrives as the middle of the three services. The substantial meal ends with a small offering to the household deities. After this follows the dessert, consisting of fresh and dried fruits, and of cakes and sweet-meats artistically composed.
During the dinner a special feature is made of the artistic arrangement of the various viands upon the large trays or stands from which the guest makes his choice, for the several dishes belonging to one course were not brought separately to table. In full view of the guests the professional carver exhibits his dexterity with much demonstration of grace and rapidity, and well-dressed and neat-fingered slaves render the necessary service. Of plates and dishes of various shapes and purposes, silver and silver-gilt, there is great profusion.
The conversation meanwhile depends upon the company. Sometimes it turns upon the chariot-races and the chances of the "Red" or "Green"; sometimes it is social gossip and scandal. If the guests are of a graver cast of mind, it may be concerned with questions of art and literature, or even philosophy. The Roman particularly affected encyclopaedic information, and frequently posted himself with such miscellaneous matter derived from a salaried domestic philosopher or savant—commonly, of course, a Greek. But upon politics in any real sense conversation will either not turn at all, or else very cautiously, at least until some one has drunk more than is good for him. It is only too easy to drop some remark which may be construed into an offence to the emperor, and there are too many ears among the slaves, and perhaps too many among the guests, to permit of any risk in that direction. In some rather serious companies a professional reader or reciter entertained the diners with interesting passages of poetry or prose; before others there might be a performance of scenes from a comedy. At times vocal and instrumental music was discoursed by the domestic minstrels; or persons, generally women, were hired to play upon the harp, lyre, or double flageolet. Such performances would also be carried on during the carousal which often followed deep into the night, and to these may be added posture-dances by girls from Cadiz, juggling and acrobatic feats, and other forms of "variety" entertainment. Dicing in public, except at the chartered Saturnalian festival, was illegal—a fact which did not, of course, prevent it from being practised—-but it was permitted in private gatherings like this, provided that ostensibly no money was staked. The dice are rattled in a tower-like box and are thrown upon a special board or tray. You may play "for love," or, as the Romans called it, "for the best man," or you may play for forfeits. Naturally the forfeits became in practice, in spite of the law, sums of money. The best possible throw is called "Venus," the worst possible "the dog." A sort of draughts or of backgammon may be preferred at more quiet times of social intercourse; but a game like "head or tail," called in Latin "heads or ships," was a game for the vulgar.
If it was decided to indulge in a prolonged carousal in form, heads were wreathed with garlands of roses, violets, myrtle, or ivy; lots were cast for an "umpire of the drinking," and he decided both how much wine—Falernian, Setine, or Massic—should be drunk, and in what degree it should be mixed with water. A large and handsome mixing-bowl stands in the dining-hall. From this the wine is drawn by a ladle holding about as much as a sherry-glass, and a certain number of such "glasses" are poured into each cup according to the bidding of the umpire. While being poured into the "mixer" the wine is passed through a strainer and in the hot weather the strainer would be filled with snow brought down from the nearest mountains and artificially preserved. Healths were drank in as many "glasses" as the name contained letters; absent ladies were toasted in a similar way; and at some hour or other guests asked their footmen for their shoes and cloaks, and departed to their homes under the escort of attendants, who carried the torches or lanterns and were ready to deal with possible footpads and garroters, if any were lurking in the unlighted streets for pedestrians less wary or less protected. The "Mohawks" also will let them alone, and perhaps their homeward way may be entertained by the sounds of serenaders at the door of some beautiful Chloe or Lydia on the Upper Sacred Way or near the Subura.
It is not, however, to be supposed that every evening meal, even of a noble, took the form of a dinner-party. It is indeed probable that there were few occasions upon which, while in town, he was not either entertaining visitors or being himself entertained. Occasionally there would be an invitation to dine at Court, where perhaps eighty or a hundred guests of both sexes, distributed in different sets of nine or seven over the wide banquet-hall, would eat off gold plate, and be entertained from three or four o'clock till midnight with all the unbridled extravagance that a Petronius or some other "arbiter of taste" might devise for the Caesar. The snob of the period set an enormous value upon this distinction. The emperor could not always review his list of invitations, nor could he on every occasion be personally acquainted with every guest. It was therefore quite possible for his servants now and then to smuggle in a person ambitious of having dined at the palace. Under Caligula a rich provincial once paid nearly L2000 for such an "invitation." When the emperor found it out, he was, if anything, rather flattered; the next day he caused some worthless trifle to be sold to the same man for the same amount, and on the strength of this acquaintance invited him to dinner, this time pocketing the money for himself.
Yet there must have been no few evenings upon which Silius preferred the company of an intimate friend or two, making all together the "number of the graces," and dined with less form and ceremony. At such times the meal would be of comparatively short duration, and there would be deeper and more intimate matter of conversation. Now and then the dinner would be purely domestic; and, after it, Silius would perhaps pass an hour or two in reading, or in listening to the slave who was his professional "reader." If he was himself an author, as an astonishing number of his contemporaries actually were, he might spend the time in preparing a speech, composing some non-committal epic or drama, jotting down memoranda for a history, or concocting an epigram or satire to embody his humorous fancies or to relieve his exasperation. If, as was often the case, he kept in the house a salaried Greek philosopher—in a large measure the analogue of the domestic chaplain of the later seventeenth century—he might enjoy his conversation and pick his brains; or, if a man of real earnestness of purpose, discuss with him the tenets of his particular philosophy, Stoic, Epicurean, or Eclectic. This was the nearest approach which the ancient Roman made to what we should call theological or religious argument.
On other days a patron would naturally entertain a number of his clients at dinner, and on no occasion would he be better able to show how much or how little he was a gentleman in the modern sense of the term. It is not merely from the satirist that we learn how discourteous the Roman grandee might be at his own table if he chose. It was no uncommon thing for a patron to set before these humbler guests dishes or portions of dishes markedly inferior to those which were offered to himself and to any aristocrat whom he had placed near him. In this sense the client was often made to feel very distinctly that he was "sitting below the salt." While the mellowest Setine or Falernian wine was poured into the patron's own jewelled goblet of gold or silver or crystal, his client might be drinking from thick glass or earthenware the poorer stuff grown on the Sabine Hills. The fish presented to Silius and his "brother" noble might be a choice turbot, and the bird might be pheasant, while Proculus the client must be content with pike from the Tiber and the common barndoor fowl. The later satirist Juvenal presents us with inimitable pictures of the hungry dependants at the table of their "king," waiting "bread in hand" (like the sword drawn for the fray) to see what fortune would send them. On the other hand there were, of course, patrons who made no such distinctions. The younger Pliny, who was himself a gentleman almost in the modern sense—if we overlook a too frequent tendency to contemplate his own undeniable virtues—writes a letter to a young friend in the following terms: "I need not go into details as to how I came to be dining with a person with whom I am by no means intimate. In his own eyes he combined elegance with economy; in mine he combined meanness with extravagance. The dishes set before himself and a few others were of the choicest; those supplied to the rest were poor scraps. There was the same difference in his wine, which was of three kinds. The intention was not to offer a choice, but to prevent the right of refusing. One kind was for himself and us; another for his less important friends (for his friends are graded); another for his and our freedmen. My next neighbour noticed this, and asked me if I approved of it. I said 'No!' 'Well,' said he, 'what is your own practice?' 'I treat every one alike, for I invite people to a dinner, not to an insult, and when they share my table I let them share everything.' 'Your freedmen as well?' 'Yes, at such times I regard them as guests, not as freedmen.' At this he said, 'It costs you a good deal?' 'Not at all.' 'How can that be?' 'Because it is not a case of their drinking the same wine as I do, but of my drinking the same wine as they do.'" The letter is perhaps nearly half a century later than our chosen period, but there is no reason to think that manners had undergone any great change in the interval.
LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AND LOWER CLASSES
Silius was a noble, with a nobleman's privileges and also his limitations. The class next in rank below his consisted of the "knights," of whom something has already been said. It will be remembered that these men of the "narrow stripe" were the higher middle class, who conducted most of the greater financial enterprises of Rome and the provinces. While the senatorial order could govern the important provinces, command legions, possess large estates, and derive revenues from them, but could make money in other ways only through the more or less concealed agency of knights or their own freedmen, the knights were free to act as bankers, money-lenders, tax-farmers, and merchants or contractors in a large way, and to take charge of such third-rate provinces as the Caesar might think fit to entrust to them. Money-lending at Rome was an extremely profitable business. Not only was the nobleman often extravagant in his tastes, but when once elected to a public position he was practically compelled to spend money lavishly in giving shows and exhibitions of the kind which will be described immediately, or upon some public building, or otherwise. In consequence he often incurred heavy debts. Meanwhile the smaller traders and agriculturists, who were in competition with slave-labour and other false economic conditions, to say nothing of bad seasons, were frequently in the hands of the usurers. Though efforts were repeatedly made to check exorbitant rates of interest, they were apparently quite as ineffectual as with us. An almost standard charge was at the rate of one-twelfth of the loan, or 8-1/3 per cent, but another common rate was that of one per cent per month. Rates both higher and lower are known to us from particular cases. Naturally the question depended on the security, when it did not depend upon the greed of the one side and the ignorance of the other. Much, however, of what the books call money-lending was only what we should consider legitimate banking. Be this as it may, the knights made large fortunes from the practice. They were also the tax-farmers, who operated in the case of those imposts which were still left indirect. The practice was to make an estimate of the amount of such a tax derivable from a province, to purchase it from the government at as large a margin of profit as possible, and so relieve the state of the trouble and cost of collecting it. For this purpose "companies" were formed, with what we should call a "legal manager" at Rome. The managers would bid at auction for the tax, pay the purchase-money into the treasury, and proceed to get in the tax through local managers and agents in the provinces concerned. It has already been explained that the more important taxation of the empire was at this date direct—a community in Gaul, Spain, Asia Minor, or Syria knowing what its assessment was, taking its own measures, and using its own native or local collectors. The knights at Rome might still advance sums to such communities, but they were not in this case tax-farmers. It is unfortunate that the word "publicans"—bracketed with "sinners"—is used in the New Testament translation for the local collectors like St. Matthew. Not only does the word convey either no notion or a wholly incongruous one to the ordinary reader, but it is apt to mislead those who know its origin. Because the financial companies at Rome, in purchasing the taxes, were taking up a public contract, they were called publicani. But it is not these men who were themselves acting as petty collectors—in any case they had nothing to do with the native collectors appointed by the communities—and it is not these who enjoyed an immediate association with "sinners." The fact is that the Latin word applied to the great tax-farming companies, who were acting for Rome, was afterwards transferred to even the smallest collecting agent with opportunities for extortion and harshness.
The stratum of Roman society below the knights was extremely composite. The slaves, of course, are not included. They have no right to the Roman "toga," nor may they even wear the conical Roman cap, except at the Saturnalia, when everything is deliberately topsy-turvy. Omitting these, we may roughly divide the rest, as the Romans themselves divided them, into "people" and "rabble." The rabble are either persons without regular occupation, or lazzaroni, sheer idlers, loafers, and beggars. Doubtless many of them would execute an errand or carry a parcel for a small copper, otherwise they would be found hanging about the public squares, lounging on the steps or in the precincts of public buildings, such as temples, basilicas, porticoes, and baths, and playing at what the Italians call morra—a more clever and tricky species of "How many fingers do I hold up?"—or at "Heads or Tails." The poor of ancient Rome, like those of modern Italy, could subsist on very plain and simple food. Water, with a dash of wine when it could be got—and apparently at this date wine cost less than a penny a quart—and porridge or bread, however coarse, would suffice, so long as there were amusements, sunshine, and no need to work. Every considerable city of the empire round the Mediterranean would doubtless contain its proportion of such "lewd fellows of the baser sort," but it was naturally the imperial city that contained by far the most. Rome was by no means the only city in which doles of free corn were made and free spectacular exhibitions given. But in other places the distributions were occasional and depended on the bounty of local men of wealth or ambition, whereas at Rome the dole was regular, and the spectacles frequent and splendid. Rome was the capital, and the abode of the emperor. It claimed the privileges of the Mistress City, including the enjoyment of the surplus revenues. Policy also demanded that the rabble should be kept quiet by "bread and games."
It is for these reasons that the names of some 200,000 citizens stood upon a list to receive each month an allowance of corn—apparently between six and seven bushels—at the expense of the imperial treasury. This quantity they took away and made into bread as best they could. In many cases doubtless they sold it to the bakers and others. It must be added that, apart from the free distribution, the imperial stores contained quantities of grain which could always be purchased at a low rate. Occasionally a dole of money was added; in one case Nero gave over L2 per man. Meanwhile there was water in abundance to be had for nothing, brought by the carefully kept aqueducts into numerous fountains conveniently placed throughout the city. While, however, we must recognise that the number of idlers was very large, we must be careful not to exaggerate. It is absurd to assume, as some have done, that because 200,000 citizens are receiving free corn there are 200,000 unemployed. The Roman emperors never intended to put a premium on laziness, but only to deal with poverty. In order to receive your dole of corn it was not necessary to show that you were starving, but only that you were entitled, or in other words, on the list. It is also a mistake to think that any chance arrival among the Roman olla podrida could claim his bushel and a half of corn a week. In any case only Roman citizens could participate. All the poorest workers, whether actually employed or not, could take their corn with the rest. Nor must we forget that among the unemployed there were a considerable number who were, for one reason or another, only temporarily out of work. Nevertheless, it requires no study of political economy to know, nor were Roman statesmen blind to see, that the best way to make men cease to work is to show them that they can live, however shabbily, without. The really surprising thing is perhaps that the Roman government, with its immense funds and resources, stopped short where it did. An unsound economic system had brought about difficult conditions, with which the emperors and their advisers dealt as best they could.
It was inevitable that among so numerous a pampered rabble, and so many impoverished aliens who tried their fortunes in the capital, there should be beggars in considerable numbers. We cannot tell precisely how many they were. You might find them on the bridges, where they marked, as it were, a "stand" for themselves and crouched on a mat, or at the gates, or wherever carriages must proceed slowly on the highroads near the city, as for instance up the slope of the Appian Way as it passed over the south-western spur of the Alban Hills. Other towns would be infested in the same manner. Nor were thieves and footpads wanting in the streets or highwaymen upon the roads, especially in the lonelier parts near the marshes between Rome and the Bay of Naples. The city was, indeed, liberally policed, but Roman streets, as we have seen, were for the most part narrow, crooked, and unlighted at night. As usual, it was the comparatively poor who suffered from the street robber; the rich, with their torches and retinue, could always protect themselves.
After the "rabble" we will take the "people" in the sense current at this date. We must begin by adjusting our notions somewhat. The Romans made no such clear distinction as we do between trades and professions. To perform work for others and to receive pay for it is to be a hireling. Painters, sculptors, physicians, surgeons, and auctioneers are but more highly paid and more pleasantly engaged hirelings. Only so far do they differ from sign-painters, masons, undertakers, or criers. No doubt the theory broke down somewhat in practice, yet such is the theory. That which in our day constitutes a "liberal" profession—a previous liberal education and a high code of professional etiquette—can hardly be said to have existed in the case of corresponding professions at Rome. If the liberality departs from our own professional education and the etiquette is relaxed, we shall presumably revert to the same state of things. A surgeon was commonly a "sawbones," and a physician a compounder and prescriber of more or less empirical drugs. Their knowledge and skill were by no means contemptible, and their instruments and pharmacopoeia were surprisingly modern. Among the Greeks and Orientals their social standing was high, but at Rome, where they were chiefly foreigners, for the most part Greeks, the old aristocratic exclusiveness kept them in comparatively humble estimation, however large might be their fees in the more important cases. Something will be said later as to the state of science and knowledge in the Roman world. For the present it is sufficient to note that artist, medical man, attorney, schoolmaster, and clerk belong theoretically to the common "people," along with butchers, bakers, carpenters, and potters.
Setting aside the aristocratic and wealthy classes on the one hand, and the pauperised class on the other, we have lying between them the workers, whether native Romans or the emancipated slaves, who are now citizens known as "freedmen." To these we must add the rather shabby genteel persons whom we have already described as "clients." Among workers are found men and women of all the callings most familiar to ourselves, with one exception. They do not include domestic servants. Romans who could afford regular servants kept slaves. It 18 true that occasionally one of the poorer citizens, even a soldier on furlough, might perform some menial task connected with a household, such as hewing wood or carrying burdens; but such services were regarded as "servile." With this exception there is scarcely an occupation in which Roman citizens did not engage. In such work they often had to compete with slave-labour. It is probable, doubtless, that the greater proportion of the slave body were employed as domestic servants. But many others tilled the lands of the larger proprietors. Others laboured under the contractors who constructed the public works. Others were used as assistants in shops and factories. It is obvious that such competition reduced the field of free labour, when it did not close it entirely, and the free labour must have been unduly cheapened. But to suppose that all the Roman work, whether in town or country, was done by slaves is to be grossly in the wrong. Romans were to be found acting as ploughmen and herdsmen, workers in vineyards, carpenters, masons, potters, shoemakers, tanners, bakers, butchers, fullers, metal-workers, glass-workers, clothiers, greengrocers, shopkeepers of all kinds. There were Roman porters, carters, and wharf-labourers, as well as Roman confectioners and sausage-sellers. To these private occupations must be added many positions in the lower public or civil service. There was, for example, abundant call for attendants of the magistrates, criers, messengers, and clerks. Unfortunately our information concerning all this class is very inadequate. The Roman writers—historians, philosophers, rhetoricians, and poets—have extremely little to say about the humble persons who apparently did nothing to make history or thought. They are mentioned but incidentally, and generally without interest, if not with some contempt, except where a poet is choosing to glorify the simple life and therefore turns his gaze on the frugal peasantry, who doubtless did, in sober fact, retain most of the sturdy old Roman spirit. About the soldiers we know much, and not a little about the schoolmasters. The connection of the one occupation with history and of the other with authors will account for this fact. Something will be said of the army and also of the schools in their special places. Keepers of inns are not rarely in evidence in the literature of satire and epigram, and no language seems too contemptuous for their alleged dishonesty. But of inns enough has been said. We learn that the booksellers made money out of the works of which they caused their slaves to make copies, and which they sold in "well got up" style for four shillings, or, in the case of slender volumes, for as little as fourpence-halfpenny. But to this day we do not know how much profit an author drew from the bookseller, or how it was determined, or whether he drew any at all. It is most reasonable to suppose that he sold a book straight out to the publisher for what he could get. Otherwise it is hard to see how any check could be kept upon the sales. The only occupation upon which literature offers us systematic information is agriculture, including the pasturing of cattle and the culture of the vine. For the rest we derive more knowledge from the excavations of Pompeii than from any other source. From actual shops and their contents, from pictures illustrating contemporary life, and from inscriptions and advertisements, we are enabled to reconstruct some picture of commercial and industrial operations. We can see the fuller, the baker, the goldsmith, the wine-seller, and the wreath-maker at their work. We can discern something of the retail trade in the Forum; or we can see the auctioneer making up his accounts.
The baker, for example, was his own miller. There are still standing the mills, with the upper stone—a hollow cylinder with a pinched waist—capable of revolving upon the under stone and letting the flour drop into the rim below. Into the holes in the middle of the upper or "donkey" stone, and across the top, were fixed wooden bars, which were either pushed by men or drawn by asses yoked to them. The oven is still in place, and, charred as they are, we are quite familiar with the round flat loaves shaped and divided like a large "cross" bun. The dough was kneaded by a vertical shaft with arms revolving in a receptacle, from the sides of which other arms projected inwards, so that there was little room for the dough to be squeezed between them. We have pictures of the fuller, to whom the woollen garments—the togas and tunics, and the mantles of the women—were regularly sent to be washed by treading in vats, to be beaten, stretched, and bleached with sulphur, and to have their naps raised with a comb or a bunch of thorns. The goldsmith is depicted at his furnace or his anvil. The garland-makers are at work fastening the blossoms or petals on a ribbon or a tough strip of lime-bark. Dealers in other goods are showing the results of their labour to customers, who carefully examine them by eye, touch, and smell. The tablets containing the receipts for sales and rents still exist as they were found in the house of the shrewd-looking Jucundus the auctioneer. They formally acknowledge the receipt of such-and-such sums realised at an auction, "minus commission," although unfortunately they do not happen to tell us how much the commission was. We see the venders of wine filling the jars for customers from the large wine-skin in the waggon. In conclusion to this subject it should be observed that all manner of descriptive signs were in use; and just as one may still see a barber's pole or a gilt boot in front of a shop, or a painted sign at a public-house, so one might see the representation of a goat at the door of a milk-vender, or of an eagle or elephant at the door of an inn.
Meanwhile out in the country we can perceive the farm, with its hedges of quick-set, its stone walls, or its bank and ditch. The rather primitive plough—though not always so primitive as it was a generation or so ago in Italy—is being drawn by oxen, while, for the rest, there are in use nearly all the implements which were employed before the quite modern invention of machinery. It may be remarked at this point that the rotation of crops was well understood and regularly practised. Then there are the pasturelands, on the plains in the winter, but in summer on the hills, to which the herdsmen drive their cattle along certain drove-roads till they reach the unfenced domains belonging to the state. There they form a camp of huts or wigwams under a "head man," and surround their charges with strong fierce dogs, whose business it is to protect them, not only from thieves, but also from the wolves which were then common on the Apennines—where, indeed, bears also were to be met. There was no want of occupation in the country in the time of haymaking, of the vintage, or of olive-picking. Even the city unemployed could gather a bunch of grapes or pick an olive, just as they can with us, or just as the London hop-picker can take a holiday and earn a little money in Kent. In the vineyards, where the vines commonly trailed upon low elms and other trees, various vegetables grew between the rows, as they still do about Vesuvius; on the hills were olive-groves, which cost almost nothing to keep in order, and which supplied the "butter" and the lamp-oil of the Mediterranean world.
We need not waste much compassion upon the life of the Roman working class. It is true that there was then no doctrine of the "dignity of labour," but that there was reasonable pride taken in a trade reputably maintained is seen from the frequent appearance of its tools upon a tombstone. In respect of the mere enjoyment of life, the labourers, of the Roman world were, so far as we can gather, tolerably happy. They had abundant holidays, mostly of religious origin; but, like our own, so frequently added to, and so far diverted from religious thoughts, that they were more marked by jollity and sport than by any solemnity of spirit. The workmen of a particular calling formed their guilds, "city companies," or clubs, in the interests of their trade and for mutual benefit. There was a guild of bakers, a guild of goldworkers, and a guild of anything and everything else. Each guild had its special deity—such as Vesta, the fire-goddess, for the bakers, and Minerva, the goddess of wool-work, for the fullers—and it held an annual festival in honour of such patrons, marching through the streets with regalia and flag. Doubtless the members of a guild acted in concert for the regulation of prices, although the Roman government took care that these clubs should be non-political, and would speedily suppress a strike if it seriously interfered with the public convenience. The ostensible excuse for a guild, and apparently the only one theoretically accepted by the imperial government, was the excuse of a common worship. It is at least certain that the emperors jealously watched the formation of any new union, and that they would promptly abolish any which appeared to have secret understandings and aims, or to act in contravention of the law. In the towns which possessed local government the municipal authorities were still elected by the people; and the guilds, especially of shopkeepers, could and did play their parts in determining the election of a candidate. The elections might make a difference to them in those ways in which modern town-councillors and mayors, may influence the rates, the conditions of the streets, the rules of traffic, and so forth. There are sixteen hundred election notices painted, in red and black about the walls of Pompeii, and we find So-and-So recommended by such-and-such a trade as being a "good man," or "an honest young man," or a person who will "keep an eye on the public purse." It is amusing to note that, in satirical parody of such appeals as "the fruitsellers recommend So-and-So," we find that "the petty thieves recommend So-and-So," or we get the opinion of "the sleepers one and all." Special objects connected with these and other associations were the provision of "widows' funds," and of proper burial for the members. Of the importance of the latter to the ancient world we shall speak when we come to a funeral and the religious ideas connected with it.
The most difficult task in dealing with antiquity is to visualise the actual life as it was lived. In the life of the humbler citizens the remains of Pompeii lend more help than anything else to the desired sense of reality, but they are the remains of Pompeii, not of Rome. Nevertheless there are many points in which we may fairly argue from the little town to the larger, and it is customary to adopt this course.
We may, therefore, think of the common people among these ancients as very much alive in their frank curiosity, their broad humour, their love of shows, and their keen enthusiasm for the competitions, their interest in petty local elections, their advertising instincts, their insatiable fondness for scribbling on walls and pillars, whether in paint or with a "style," a sort of small stiletto with which they commonly wrote on tablets. The ancient world becomes very near when we read, side by side with the election notices, a line from Virgil or Ovid scrawled in a moment of idleness, or a piece of abuse of a neighbouring and rival town—such as "bad luck to the Nucerians"—or a pretty sentiment, such as "no one is a gentleman who has not been in love," or an advertisement to the effect that there are "To let, from July 1, shops with their upper floors, a flat for a gentleman, and a house: apply to Prinus, slave of So-and-So"; or "Found wandering, a mare with packsaddle, apply, etc."—the latter, by the way, painted on a tomb.
For places of social resort there were the baths, the colonnades, the semicircular public seats, the steps of public buildings, the shops, and the eating-houses and taverns. The middle classes, in the absence of the modern clubs, met to gossip at the barber's, the bookseller's, or the doctor's. Those of a humbler grade would often betake themselves to the establishments corresponding to the modern Italian osterie, where were to be obtained wine with hot or cold water and also cooked food. As they sat on their stools in these "greasy and smoky" haunts they might be compelled, says the satirist, to mix with "sailors, thieves, runaway slaves, and the executioner," but even men of higher standing were often not unwilling to seek low pleasures amid such surroundings, especially when, as was frequently the case, there was provision for secret dicing beyond the observation of the police.
From literature, meanwhile, we may fill in their vivacious language, the courteous terms the people apply to each other, such as "you ass, pig, monkey, cuckoo, chump, blockhead, fungus," or, on the other side, "my honey, my heart, my dove, my life, my sparrowkin, my dainty cheese." But to go more fully into matters like these would carry us too far afield.
We will end this topic with a last look at the ordinary free workman, who wears no toga, but simply a girt-up tunic, a pair of boots, and a conical cap, and who goes home to his plain fare of bread, porridge, lentil soup, goats'-milk cheese, "broad" and "French" beans, beetroot, leeks, salted or smoked bacon, sausages, and black-pudding, which he will eat off earthenware or a wooden trencher, and wash down with cheap but not unwholesome wine mixed with water. He has no pipe to smoke; he has never heard of tea, coffee, or spirits. He may have been told that certain remote barbarians drink beer, and he may know of a thing called butter, but he would not touch it so long as he can get olive-oil. However humble his home, he will endeavour to own a silver salt-cellar, and to keep it as an heirloom.
HOLIDAYS AND AMUSEMENTS: THEATRE, CIRCUS, AMPHITHEATRE
These topics bring us naturally to the consideration of the chief amusements and entertainments of Rome and of those parts of the empire which were either fairly romanized or else contained a large number of resident Romans.
Holidays, some of them lasting over several days, were at this date liberally spread throughout the year. Most of them belonged to fixed dates, others were festivals specially proclaimed for victories or other causes of rejoicing. We may estimate their average number at Rome itself at about a hundred. At first sight this might indicate an astonishing waste of time and the prevalence of enormous indolence. But we must remember that the Romans had no such thing as Sunday. Our own Sundays and the weekly half-holidays make together seventy-eight days, and if to these we add the holidays at Christmas, Easter, and other Bank and public "closings," we shall find that our annual breaks in the working year are not very far from the Roman total, however differently they may be distributed. The difference between us and them lies rather in the way in which the holidays were employed. Originally the holidays did not imply any giving of shows and games in the way of chariot-races, gladiatorial combats, and the like. They were simply festivals of deities—of Flora, the goddess of flowers, Ceres, the goddess of crops, Apollo the god of light and healing, and other divinities—honoured by sacrifices, processions, and feasts. The feast of Saturn, for example, was at first held for only one day. Later it was extended over five and then over seven days, exactly as our Christmas celebrations—which are a Christian adaptation of it—tend virtually to spread over longer and longer periods. At this winter festival of the Saturnalia there was an interchange of presents—such as confectionery, game, articles of clothing, writing-tablets—and a general outburst of goodwill and merriment. For one day the slaves were allowed to put on the freeman's cap, the "cap of liberty," and to pretend to be the masters. This is the source of the mediaeval monkish custom of permitting one annual day of "misrule." Meanwhile the citizen threw off the toga and clad himself in colours as he chose. He played at dice publicly and with impunity. The cry of "Hurrah for the Saturnalia!" was heard everywhere. Later it became customary to hold public shows on these days, and the emperors gave gladiatorial games and acrobatic or dramatic entertainments, at which there were scrambled various objects, articles of food, coins or tickets entitling the holder to some gift which might be valuable, valueless, or comical. Similarly there was a holiday on New Year's Day, when presents were again interchanged, regularly including a small piece of money "for good luck." The gifts on this day frequently bore the inscription "a Happy and Prosperous New Year to you." Presents at all times played a prominent part in Roman etiquette and sociality. Not only were they given at holidays but also at all important domestic events. Even at a dinner-party, besides actual articles of food to be carried home, there were frequently gifts of a kind either expressly adapted to the recipient, or else drawn by a humorous lottery. Among numerous other articles of which one might be the recipient in various seasons and circumstances, there are mentioned books, pictures, tablets of ivory, wood, or parchment, cushions, mufflers, hats, hoods, sponges, soap, rings, flasks, baskets, musical instruments, balls, pens, lamps, tooth-picks, dice, money-boxes, satchels, parrots, magpies, and monkeys. On the Ides of March the poorer classes made their way to the Campus Martius beside the river, built themselves arbours or wigwams of boughs, and spent the day and evening in riotous song and jollity.
In general, however, the parts of these festivals to which the people looked forward with liveliest anticipation were those public entertainments, commonly known as "the games" or "sports," which were provided for them free of cost. The expense was theoretically borne by the state—whether from the exchequer of the emperor or from that of the senate and the state did indeed spend as much as six or eight thousand pounds upon a particular celebration. But, both in Rome itself and in the provinces, it was practically obligatory that the public officer who had charge of a given festival for the year should spend liberally of his own upon it. No man either at Rome or in a provincial city could permit himself to be elected to such a public position unless he was prepared to disburse a sum perhaps as large as the subvention given by the state. The more he gave, particularly if he introduced some striking or amusing addition to the ordinary shows, the more popular he became for the time being. In the Roman world you must pay for your ambitions, and this was the most approved way of paying. We might moralise over the enormous frivolity which could waste day after day thousands and thousands of pounds upon such transitory pleasures, instead of conferring lasting benefits in the way of hospitals or schools. But it is not the object of this book to moralise. We may feel confident that the Roman populace, if offered the choice, would have voted for the chariot-races or the gladiators, not for the college or the hospital.
The entertainments provided were of several kinds, by no means equally popular. There were plays in the theatres; there were contests of running, wrestling, boxing, throwing of spears and disks, and other "events," corresponding to our athletic sports; there were chariot-races in the Circus, answering to our horse-races at Epsom or Newmarket; and there were spectacles in the amphitheatre, to which, happily, we have no modern parallel. These included huntings and baitings of animals, fights with wild beasts—performances far more dangerous than those of the Spanish bull-ring—and, above all, the combats of the gladiators or professional "swordsmen." So far as there exists a later analogue to the last it is to be found in the more chivalrous tourney in the lists, but the resemblance is not very close. Least valued among the real Romans were the athletic sports. For genuine enjoyment of these we must look to the Greek part of the empire. At Rome they appeared tame, for the mind of the Roman populace was naturally coarse in grain; what it delighted in was something sensationally acrobatic, or provocative of a rather gross laughter, or else involving a thrilling anticipation of danger and bloodshed. In taste the Romans were in fact similar to those modern spectators who love to see a man plunge from a lofty trapeze into a narrow tank, with a reasonable chance of breaking his neck. It is a strange contradiction with other Roman attitudes when we find that they objected to the Greek wrestling or running on grounds of decorum, because it was innocently nude. On the athletic sports, although they were never wanting in the "games" at Rome, we need not therefore dwell. It may be sufficient to show by an illustration what sort of notion the ancient world entertained of interesting pugilism. It is only fair to say that the "boxing-gloves" here given—thongs of leather wrapped tightly round the arm and hand, and loaded or studded with lead or iron—were a notion borrowed from the professional pugilists of Greece.
Next lowest in esteem stood the plays given on the theatrical stage. Mention has been made in a previous chapter of the three great theatres of Rome, one of them said, though somewhat incredibly, to be capable of holding 40,000 spectators. Their shape and arrangement have already been hinted at. Huge structures of a similar kind existed in all the great romanized towns of Italy and other provinces. One at Orange in France is still well preserved, and two of smaller dimensions—one without a roof for plays, and one roofed for musical performances—are among the most easily remembered of the remains extant at Pompeii. In the Grecian half of the empire the theatres were not essentially different, the chief distinguishing feature being that, while the Roman auditorium formed half a circle, that of the Greek type formed over two-thirds. In the Roman type the level semicircle in front of the stage, from which we derive the name "orchestra," was occupied by the chairs of the senators, and the fourteen tiers of stone seats immediately behind them by the knights; certain sections were also set apart for special classes, one being for soldiers, one for boys not yet of age, and one for women, whose presence was not encouraged, and who, except at the tragedies, would have shown more modesty by staying away. Facing the seats is a stage, higher than among the Greeks, but somewhat lower than it is commonly made in modern times; and at the back of the stage is a wall architecturally adorned to represent a house or "palace" front, and containing one central and two side doors, which served for separate purposes conventionally understood. Over the stage is a roof, which slopes backward to join the wall. The entrances to the ordinary tiers of seats are from openings reached by stairs from the outside arcade surrounding the building; those to the level "orchestra" are from right and left by passages under an archway, which supports a private box for the presiding official. The two boxes are approached from the stage, and when the emperor is present he is seated in the one to the spectators' left. Round the top of the building, inside above the seats, runs a covered walk, which serves as a lounge and a foyer. Over the heads of the spectators a coloured awning—dark-red or dark-blue by preference—may be stretched on masts or poles; when no awning is provided, or when it cannot be used because the wind is too strong, the spectator is permitted to wear a broad-brimmed hat, if he finds one desirable for his comfort. The whole building must be thought of as lined and seated with marble, gilded in parts, and decorated with pillars and statues.
The curtain, instead of being pulled up, as with us, when the play begins is pulled down, falling into a groove in the stage. Where we should say the "curtain is up" the Romans would say exactly the reverse, "the curtain is lowered." For plays in which the palace-front was not appropriate, scenery was employed to cover it, being painted on canvas or on boards which could be pulled aside; other scenes were stretched on frames, which could be made to revolve so as to present various faces.
The actors, however much admired for their art, and however influential in irregular ways, were looked upon as in a degraded position, and no Roman who valued social regard would adopt this line of life. Among the Greeks and such Orientals as were under Greek influence no such stigma rested upon the profession, and therefore many of the chief actors of the imperial city had received their training in this more liberal-minded part of the Roman world. The rest were mostly slaves or ex-slaves. If a Roman of any standing took part, it was either because he was a ruined man, or else because the emperor had capriciously ordered him to undergo this humiliation.
The plays themselves were certainly of no great merit from a constructive or literary point of view. We hear a good deal nowadays of the "decline of the drama," but perhaps in no civilised country has it declined so far as it had descended in Rome by the year A.D. 64. The regular and classical drama—that is to say, literary tragedy and comedy—was not likely to appeal to any ordinary Roman gathering. The philosopher Seneca indeed wrote tragedies in imitation of the Greek, but they were intended for the reader and the library, and there is little probability that they were ever performed, or even offered to the stage. Tragedies were, it is true, represented, but they were mostly Greek, and the performance was in the Greek style. The heroic actors wore masks, covering not only the face but the whole head, which they raised considerably in height. About the body fell long and trailing robes of splendid material and colour, and on the feet were thick-soled boots which increased the height by several inches. The comedian played in low shoes or slippers; and "boot" and "slipper" were therefore terms in common vogue to distinguish the two kinds of theatrical entertainment. Of Pliny's two favourite country-houses on Lake Como one was called "Tragedy" as standing high, the other "Comedy" because on a lower site beside the water. The whole effect sought in the heroic play was the grandiose, and no attempt was made to reproduce the actualities of life. In the accompanying illustration will be seen the tragic hero as he appeared upon the Roman stage. In considering this somewhat amazing apparition it must be remembered that at Rome, as in Greece, the theatre was huge, effective opera-glasses were not known, and subtle changes of facial expression would have passed unnoticed. The make-up of the actor, like the painting of the scenes, was compelled to depend upon broad effects.
With its love of the false heroic, of rhetorical bombast, of sumptuous dress, magnificent scenes, and gorgeous accessories in the way of "supers" and processions, the Roman tragic drama of this period must have borne a striking resemblance to the corresponding English pieces of the Restoration or age of Dryden. Perhaps the most popular part of the performance was the music and dancing, whether by individual actors or as ballets, accompanied by the flageolet, the lyre, or the cymbals.
In comedy there was apparently no originality. As in the oldest days of their drama the Romans had copied the Greeks, so they copied them still. We may believe that the acting was often excellent; especially in respect of intonation and gesture, but little can be said for the play, whether from the point of view of literature or of morals. Since verbal description must necessarily be of little force, it will serve better to present here a few specimens of comic masks and a scene from comedy:
Much more in demand were theatrical performances of a lower kind. These were farces, interludes, character-pieces, and dumb-shows known as "pantomimes." The farce was a loosely constructed form of fooling comedy, containing much of the ready Italian improvisation or "gag," and regularly introducing the four stock characters which have lasted with little disguise for so many centuries There was an old "grandfather," the forerunner of the modern pantaloon; a cunning sharper; a garrulous glutton with a fat face (known as "Chops"); and an amorous Simple Simon. Sometimes types of foreigners or provincials were introduced, with caricatures of their dress and language, after the manner, and probably with the veracity, of the stage Scotchman, Irishman, or Frenchman. All these parts were played in masks.
The interlude again was a slight piece with very little plot, and composed in a large measure of buffoonery, practical jokes, hitting and slapping, and dancing. Topical allusions and contemporary caricatures were freely introduced, and the whole performance, however coarsely amusing, was both vulgar and indecent. In these pieces no masks were worn and also no shoes, and the women's parts—taken in the other instances by men and boys—were actually played by females, whose posture-dances were no credit to their sex.
The dumb-shows or "pantomimes" were performances in which expressive and elaborate gestures and movements were left to tell the whole tale. For this kind of piece the actors naturally required not only uncommon cleverness but also great suppleness of body. As usual, these qualities, together with the qualities of voice, the magnificent dress, and the carefully cultivated long hair, won for the actor demoralising influence over too large a number of the more impressionable and untrammelled Roman dames.
Meanwhile the huge audience must not be conceived as sitting in quiet and restrained attention, but as roaring with laughter, applauding and stamping, shouting approval and encores, hissing and waving handkerchiefs. And meanwhile the claqueurs will have been duly distributed by those interested in the success of the performance. Every now and then a fine rain of saffron perfume is shed over the audience from pipes and jets distributed round the building. It deserves remark also that in the theatre, as in the other places of amusement, the gathering frequently broke out into demonstrations of its feeling towards persons and politics. There was safety in numbers, and the applause or hissing which greeted a personage or a topical allusion—or a line which could be twisted into such—could hardly be laid to the account of any individual. A certain license was conceded and fully utilised at the festivals: it served as a safety-valve, and wise emperors apparently so regarded it. At Rome the government was indeed "despotism tempered by epigram," but it was no less tempered by these demonstrations at the games and spectacles.
More worthy of imperial Rome were the exhibitions of chariot-races held in the immense Circus Maximus. That building, already described, would at this date probably hold some 200,000 persons, but it could never provide room enough for the excited people, who not only gathered in multitudes from Rome itself, but also from all the country, even all the empire, within reach. For weeks the chances of the parties have been discussed and betted upon; even the schoolboys have talked chariots, chariot-drivers, and horses. The fortune-tellers have been consulted about them; dreamers have dreamed the winners; and many an underhand attempt, sometimes including the hocussing of men or horses, has been made to corrupt the sport. The struggle is in reality not between chariot and chariot, but between what we should call stable and stable. There are four parties—the white, red, green, and blue—whose drivers will wear the respective colours, in which also the chariots were probably painted. By some means the green and blue have at this date contrived to stand out beyond the others, and the chief interest commonly centres upon these.
The day of the great spectacle arrives. Outside the building and in the porticoes surrounding it the sellers of books of the races and of cushions are plying their trade along with venders of confectionery and perfumes. The people are streaming into the numerous entrances which lead by stairways to the particular blocks or tiers of seats in which they are entitled to sit, and for which they bear a ticket. Full citizens are wearing the toga, or, if the emperor has not forbidden the practice, the brightly coloured cloak which has been already described. Seats are reserved for officials, senators, knights, and Vestal Virgins; and on the side under the Palatine is a large balcony-box for the emperor and his suite. At these games women have no special place set apart for them; they sit in their richest land showiest attire among the general body of the spectators, and flirting and love-making are part of the order of the day. A very crude form of field-glass or "spy-glass" was already in use, apparently consisting generally of a mere hollow tube, but occasionally provided with a magnifying lens. Nero himself, in consequence of his short-sight, had a "glass" in some way contrived of emerald.
At one end of the Circus is a building containing a curved line of stalls, equidistant from the starting-point, in which the drivers hold their chariots in readiness. These are all barred, and only at the signal will the doors be thrown open. The horses are commonly three-year-olds or five-year-olds. In some races there are two horses to the chariot, in others four. Less commonly there are three or six, or even a greater number. In the year 64 the number of cars running will be four, one for each club. How many races there are to be, and in what variety, will depend upon the presiding officer, who, as has been said, is paying a considerable portion of the expenses, and who will receive or lose applause according to the entertainment he affords to the spectators. Commonly there will be about twenty races run, although occasionally even that number be increased.
Down the middle of the arena, though not quite in its axis, runs a low broad wall called the "backbone," bearing various sculptures along its summit and in the middle an obelisk, now standing in the Piazza del Popolo, which Augustus had brought from Egypt after his conquest of that country. On the extremities of the "backbone" are placed the figures of seven dolphins and seven large eggs, and just free of each end, on a base of their own, stand three tall cones coated with gilt, round which the chariots are to turn as a yacht turns round the buoy. Seven times will the chariots race down the arena, round the end of the backbone, and back again. At each lap a dolphin and an egg will be removed from the wall, and as the last disappears the winning driver makes straight on for the white line which serves as the winning-post.
But they have not yet started. At the fixed hour a procession starts from the Capitol, descends by the temple of Saturn and past the face of the Basilica Julia, turns along the "Tuscan Street," and enters the Circus under a large archway in the middle of the building which contains the stalls. In front go a body of musicians with blare of the straight Roman trumpet and the scream of the flageolets; behind these comes the high official who has charge of the particular festival. He is mounted high on a chariot, and is clothed in a toga embroidered with gold and a tunic figured with golden palm-branches: in his hand he carries an ivory sceptre, and over his head is held a crown of gold-leaf. Behind the chariot is collected a retinue in festal array. The competing chariots follow; after these are the effigies of deities, borne on platforms or on vehicles to which are attached richly caparisoned horses, mules, or elephants; in attendance upon them are the connected priestly bodies. As this procession passes round the Circus the spectators rise from their seats, roar their acclamations, and wave their handkerchiefs. When it has made the circuit, its members retire to their places, and the chariots are shut in their stalls. Soon the president takes his stand in his box, lifts a large handkerchief or napkin, and drops it. Immediately the bolts of the barriers are withdrawn, and the chariots dash forward towards the point marked A. The drivers, clothed in a close sleeveless tunic and wearing a skull-cap, all of their particular colour, lean forward over their steeds, and encourage them with whips and shouting. At their waists you will see the reins gathered to a girdle, at which also hangs a knife, in readiness to cut them away in case of accident. The chariot is a low and shallow vehicle of wood covered with ornament and as light as it can well be made, and it requires no little skill for the charioteer to maintain his footing while controlling his team. Down the straight they rush, each endeavouring to gain an advantage at the turn, where the left rein is pulled, and the left horse—the pick of the team—is brought as closely round the end of the wall as skill and prudence can contrive. It is chiefly, though by no means only, here that the accidents occur, and that the chariots lose their balance and collide with each other, or strike against the end of the wall and are over-thrown. How readily collision might happen may be seen from the following diagram, where the courses of two chariots, A and B, are indicated.
Sometimes the teams get out of hand and general disaster may result. Round and round they go, the spectators yelling in their excitement for the blue or the green, the red or the white, and making or revising their bets. "Too far out!" "Well turned!" "The green wins!" "Well done, Hirpinus!" Shouts like these form a roar to which perhaps we have no modern parallel. One by one the eggs and dolphins disappear from the wall; the chariots are reduced in number; the four or five miles are completed; and an enormous shout goes up for the winner, whose name—of man and horse and colour—will be for days in everybody's mouth. For his reward he will not only obtain the honour of the palm-branch; he will receive presents in money, gold and silver wreaths, clothes, and various articles of value. Socially he may be but a slave or a person in base esteem; the occupation, however reputable in the Greek portion of the empire, is not for a free-born Roman; nevertheless, like the jockey who wins the Derby, he is the hero of the moment.