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Your visit to
Ancient Rome
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You have received an invitation to come and visit your good friend Importantus Claudius Amicus in Rome. The invitation, written on a wooden writing tablet, reached you by the Roman post, the cursus publicus.
Messages were written with ink onto thin strips of woods, which were folded and sealed..
Harbour Scene
Museum of London
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The harbour of Ostia is Rome's seaport, where the goods of all the ancient world arrive for sale in Rome's markets.
Having come from far away, you have travelled by ship and have finally reached the famous harbour of Ostia. The city of Rome itself is not by the sea, so it is the town of Ostia at the mouth of the river Tiber which flows through Rome which all the ships stop at. Ostia is a fabulous harbour. It even possesses a lighthouse.
The harbour is marvelously busy. Ships from all over the known world are stopping here. Spices, grain, ivory and silk arrive from the far away ports of Antioch and Alexandria. Expensive metals from Spain and Britain, pottery from France, marble from Turkey and Greece, fine wines, olive oil and fish pickle sauce from Sicily, Greece and Spain... All the goods of the world seem to be coming together here at Ostia.
You can even see wild beasts being unloaded in cages. They are for the great circus in Rome.
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Your rich friend Amicus awaits you at the harbour in his senator's toga.
As your ship docks you spot your friend, the fabulously wealthy senator Importantus Claudius Amicus, standing there waiting for you.
'Salve!' he greets and embraces you as a good friend, 'Let us go to Ostia for something to eat and to find our horses to ride to Rome.'
The great harbour called Portus, built by the emperors Claudius and Trajan actually lies a little out of town from Ostia. So on a little boat you are taken from the great harbour, past the sacred island with the graveyard, to the town of Ostia.

Ostia is a very busy, noisy town. There is many taverns for the sailors to get drunk in. Many goods are traded, or loaded onto smaller boats to be taken up the river Tiber to Rome. Slaves are sold to traders who will sell them in their shops in Rome.

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An augur predicts all is well from your journey from the entrails of animal sacrificed to the gods.
Your friend Amicus leads you to a popina, a tavern, for a quick meal and a bit of wine. You are indeed hungry. Your sea voyage has been a long one and the ship's food was terrible. Then again, the food here is not much better. Puls, a barley gruel, some stale bread and a cup of bad wine. Ugh !

After your meal you head for the city gate at Ostia where Amicus' personal slave Sardinius has been waiting at the stables with the horses. There are only two horses waiting, one for you and one for Claudius. Sardinius rides only a mule.
But you do not leave for Rome immediately. No, of course you don't. First you ask an augur, a fortune teller, if it is safe for you to travel. The augur cuts open a fish and 'reads' in its innards that all is safe for your yourney to Rome. Naturally, the fortune teller doesn't work for free. He has to be paid. But it is money well spent, Amicus assures you. For you must be sure the gods are with you.

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Claudius' slave Sardinius

And so you start out on the Via Ostiensis, the road from Ostia to Rome. You quickly realise that, although Sardinius is a slave, he and Amicus appear to be good friends. Most likely they have grown up together in the same house, wherever they have gone since, they went together.
Sardinius tells the two of you about the rumours that these roads are very dangerous. Once in a while wild beasts are said to escape on their way from Ostia to the circus. Who knows, there could be a lion behind those bushes! But Amicus just laughs. No, there are no lions. After all, the augur said it was safe to travel!

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Roman roads were the finest in the world, connecting all the cities of the empire, including Ostia and Rome.
You are very impressed with the road. It is a very well made, broad path covered with flat stones. And once in a while you pass a mile stone, on which is carved how many more miles it is to Rome. The road is busy. You pass many travellers and sometimes are overtaken by a courier on his galloping horse or a speeding chariot.
From the road you can make out a villa once in a while, a rich man's country residence which also functions as a farm. To the left of the road flows the river Tiber on which you can make out many river boats which carry goods from Ostia to Rome.

Finally, you reach the gates of Rome!
Just before you reach the walls of Rome the road splits in two, you take the one leading to the right and head towards the porta raudusculanae, one of the gates into Rome. Amicus tells you that the other road would lead to the great porticus aemilia, a giant complex of storehouses where all the goods which arrive up the river from Ostia are unloaded and stored before going to market.
You pass through the great gates. Intimidating guards stand there and watch that everything is in order.
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Don't mess with the guards at the gates !

After your tiring voyage you are glad that Amicus' home is not far from here. It lies, so Amicus tells you, just off the street called vicus piscinae publicae roughly between the Circus Maximus and the Baths of Caracalla. In fact it is very close to the aqua claudia, one of the aqueducts which which carry water into Rome from far away.
You are very impressed. Such an address would be very expensive! Because it is close to an aquaeduct, which means fresh, running water, and it is close to the great Circus Maximus and the Imperial Palace!

Museo della Civilta, Rome
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Roman roads were the finest in the world, connecting all the cities of the empire, including Ostia and Rome.
As you arrive at Amicus' house, Sardinius takes the horses away to the stable. The two of you enter through the door. You pass through the corridor into the atrium, the beautiful reception room of the house with its fantastic mosaic floor. Another of Amicus' slaves immediately comes to greet the two of you. As you both sit down the slave helps you and Amicus out of your boots and into some luxuriously soft sandals, before rushing off to the kitchen to fetch some wine and fruit.

Amicus' wife Theodora comes to greet you and tells you that she will see to it that you shall have a nice meal for the evening, after your tiresome voyage from Ostia.
Not that she cooks the meal herself. No, for this there are slaves. But Theodora is the mistress of the house who oversees all that happens and gives the slaves their orders. Well, Amicus being very rich, Theodora needn't do all the overseeing herself. Her assistant, the elderly Ignatius, who is the procurator (overseer) of the house does much of the work for her.
It isn't long before you and Amicus are called from the beautiful garden of the house, the peristylium, to come and eat.

Indeed, Theodora told the truth when she would see to it that you had a nice meal, after that terrible gruel at the popina in Ostia.
The table in the triclinum (dining room) is bedecked with fine plates and dishes bearing the tempting gustato (first course) to the meal. Oysters drizzled with garlic sauce, olives, snails, boiled eggs, lettuce, figs and mulsum (wine mixed with honey) await.

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Amicus’ noble wife Theodora welcomes you at their house with her personal slave by her side.

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You enjoy a fabulous Roman meal with Claudius and his wife Theodora.
One of the household slaves arrives with a bowl of water for you to wash your hands. This is a lot better than that terrible tavern in Ostia! You eat with your fingers and chat to Amicus and his wife, hearing the latest news and gossip from the circus, the senate and the palace.
Next the caput cenae, the second course, arrives. A fine looking peacock, stuffed dormice in honey, a large plate of fish, some salad and scented wine. It is truly delicious. Particularly as the garum, the delicious, oily fish pickle sauce served with most dishes, is of the finest Spanish quality. Last comes the secunda mensa, the dessert. Pears, apples, grapes, olives, nuts, pastries, cakes and more mulsum.

Finally, you are so full, you can eat no more. Once more a bowl is brought for you to wash your hands. You talk for a while, but soon you all decide it is getting late and one should retire to bed. You thank Amicus and Theodora for this delicious meal and, after Theodora has clapped her hands, a slave arrives to show you to your room.

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Beautiful mosaics decorate the floors of Claudius' house.
You are led to a wonderful cubiculum (bedroom), with beautiful mosaic patterns on the floor and elaborately painted walls. The slave helps you out of your clothes and sandals before retiring and leaving you to a good night's sleep. You finally drift into a dream of all the exciting sights still to come the following day.
Vindolanda Museum, UK
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The walls of your bedroom are decorated in bright colours.

The next day you are woken early by a slave, handed a large towel and are led to the private bath of Amicus. You have the bath house all to yourself, as the Claudius family are all already about their business.
The children are with their Greek tutors learning grammar. Theodora has left the house together with several of her slaves to go shopping.

Meanwhile Amicus is in the tablinum (the study), welcoming 'clients'. Clients are members of other families who are loyal to a rich family like that of Amicus'. They will all help Amicus when he needs it, but sometimes they also need help and so come to him to ask for money, help in the law courts, or advice.
Having bathed you soon join Amicus in the tablinum, where he is hearing that a client family's grown up son has got himself into trouble with the law, by throwing a cabbage at a senator in a scuffle. Amicus promises that he will represent the son in court, acting as his lawyer. For Amicus, like many heads of rich, powerful families, has studied law.
Last there is only a bit of money to hand out to a small queue of people, who all depend on Amicus for their upkeep.
This done, Amicus has time again to look after his guest, - you.
Museo della Civilta, Rome
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It is in the impressive surroundings of his luxurious tablinum that Amicus meets his clients.

After a brief bite to eat for jentaculum (breakfast), you head out to town together. Well, it's not you two alone, Amicus' personal slave Sardinius accompanies you together with another slave called Musculus, who is big and strong and who can push any nasty people out of the way if they want to cause trouble.
As you head towards the river, you and other passers-by all jump out of the way as the large group of men come charging up the street, carrying buckets and ladders and pulling little carts. These are the vigiles, the city's fire brigade. Somewhere a house has caught fire and they're on their way to put it out. You watch in amazement as they charge by.
You make your way along busy streets towards the river. Everywhere are thousands of people all going about their daily life.

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At the forum boarium you almost tread on a jumble of empty amphorae.
At the end of the street you come upon a wide open space occupied by lots of market stalls. It’s the meat market at the forum boarium beside the river Tiber. A great mass of shops is selling all kinds of meats. Stall sellers shout their prices and barter with wily customers. A great many things are being sold, not just meat. It seems like complete chaos. At one point you stumble and almost fall over a great many discarded amphorae lying next to a stall.
You pass through this chaotic place and soon find yourself in an altogether calmer environment, next to the pons fabricius, one of Rome's many bridges.
But you are not heading for the bridge, far more you now enter a grand looking building which is the Theatre of Marcellus. You enter into a vast semicircle of tiered seating, where many people sit watching the performance. Although the theatre is far from full. The theatre could house twelve thousand spectators, but there are perhaps a few hundred people here. 'The people prefer to watch the gladiators in the Colosseum,' Amicus tells you. Luckily Sardinius has brought a cushion each for you and Amicus to sit on. After all, the stone seats are very hard.
Museo della Civilta, Rome
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The impressive Theatre of Marcellus

The mask exaggerated the character's features and also acted as a 'sound box' to make the voice sound louder.
A comedy called 'The Rope' by the writer Plautus is being staged. As you enter the play has already been going for a while. Two comedians are on stage wearing masks. One is holding a chest which is wrapped in a fishing net, but the other man has the rope connected to the net in his hands. Both pull and tug while they play their parts shouting at each other to let go. The audience laughs and applauds as the two buffoons quarrel.
As the play ends one of the actors steps forwards and asks for applause. It is now that the audience can show its appreciation of the play. Some people snip there fingers - they liked it a bit. Others clap - they liked it a bit more. Others wave their handkerchiefs - they really loved it.
Then again, not all enjoyed it. Some are booing and hissing and even throwing rotten apples.
You leave the theatre in a good mood. It was fun and you wonder what ever next of Rome's wonders might be shown to you.
Before you head any further though, you must follow nature’s call. The ingenious Romans are of course famous for the public toilets. Here one doesn’t just do it behind a street corner. No, this is the heart of civilisation. Sardinius helpfully points you to a little public building situated next to the forum boarium.
Being a man who thinks of everything, he carries in a bag a sponge each for all four in your group.
‘In case the need is rather a major than a minor one,’ he says diplomatically. ‘If you need to use it, clean it and then rinse it out in the vinegar bowl,’ he reminds you.
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Sardinius has thought of everything and brought along a sponge each.
You follow the street called the vicus iugarius and sense that you are heading further into the city centre. For everywhere there are people. It is a mad, dizzying chaos. You have never seen such a thing. Good luck you brought Musculus along who easily clears a way through for you. You continue on along the street and soon find yourself in the thriving heart of Rome.
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The city centre abounds with shops and stalls. Here a beed seller is offering necklaces for sale.
Museo della Civilta, Rome
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The Roman Forum is a glittering forest of marble pillars, steps and pediments. Spectacular temples rise skyward, triumphal arches straddle the roads and large, free-standing columns commemorate great victories of the past.

In this busy city center it appears thousands of things are happening at once. Street sellers are offering their wares. A politician is standing on a box holding a speech to a gathered crowd some of which are applauding him, while others are booing. A wealthy nobleman is carried past you in a litter. He is old and by now prefers to be carried rather than to walk himself. And if he feels himself to frail to walk, then carried he must be, for the law forbids any carriages to drive on the streets of Rome during daylight.

Thousands of people are standing or sitting on steps here in the city centre and talk and exchange gossip.
Amicus waves to someone once in a while as clients or friends pass by.
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The forum bustles with people. Here two men in togas walk by. The narrow purple band (angustus clavus) on the hem on the left man's toga signifies he's of the wealthy equestrian class.
Over all this hustle and bustle the guards of the city cohorts cast a watchful eye. They are the Roman police force and watch out that nobody misbehaves.

From close by you can hear loud shouting and chanting. The noise turns out to be a raucous demonstration in front of the curia, the building which houses the Roman senate. Some people are protesting against some law they don't like, waving banners and placards. Meanwhile some elderly, very dignified looking gentlemen in togas, can be seen entering or leaving the curia. These are the senators of Rome. In fact they are colleagues of your esteemed friend Amicus.

As you pass by the curia you immediately encounter more pandemonium. This time it's a grand trial in the courts. The Romans just love a big show trial and so hundreds have gathered to listen to the lawyers making their cases and to see if the accused shall be found guilty. So many have gathered, they don't all fit in the court house. The great gates of the building have been swung open so that the people can listen to the arguments from outside.

'Now to the Colosseum,' Amicus announces with a smile, bringing an immediate gleam to your eyes. The gladiatorial games of the Colosseum are famed throughout the empire. You catch a quick snack at one of the stalls before walking hurriedly down the via Sacra to the great Colosseum. The men of the city cohorts are keeping order as people push and shove to try and get in as quickly as they can. Some large men in magnificent looking armour push some spectators aside, muscling their way past. 'Men of the Praetorian Guard,' Amicus announces excitedly, 'Who knows, perhaps the emperor is here to watch !' As you are with the rich and powerful Amicus soon a way in is found for you, as he is not expected to queue for a way into the Colosseum with the ordinary people of Rome. Better still, you get some of the best seats of the house! In the front row, the seats reserved for the senators. Amicus smiles, feeling very important. You sit yourself down, and once more Sardinius' cushions come in handy. Amicus nudges you and points to the side. And there in the imperial box, elevated above the crowd either side of him, sits the emperor!
Museo della Civilta, Rome
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The spectacular Colosseum could seat over 60’000 people.

All around the Colosseum the crowd nervously murmurs, waiting for the 'warm-up' fights of the paegniarii, armed only with clubs and whips, to end.
Finally the real show beings and the two weary paegniarii retire from the arena. Through the gates the officials enter the arena. The crowd now falls silent, as the referees demonstrate the weapons that will used, proving that they are indeed razor sharp and that therefore the fighting is for real. They also draw lots for the pairing of the various fighters. These proceedings over the officials retire.

With a trumpet fanfare one of the gates to the arena opens and out march the two gladiators for the first fight. They walk up to beneath the royal box where they both raise their weapons to the emperor and shout:
'Ave, Imperator! Morituri te salutant!' ('Greetings, emperor! Those who are about to die, salute you!')
The crowd roars. The two fighters begin carefully to circle one another.
Next is a duel between a retiarius, a fighter armed only with a trident, a net and a small dagger, and a hoplomachus, with armour clad arm, a small shield, greaves and a large helmet with a vizor.
After initial hesitation, both men begin to fight rather awkwardly. ‘Not very skilled,’ Amicus sniffs. You agree. The fight soon descends into an unsightly brawl. The two fighters end up in a violent tangle in the sand, wrestling with each other in a deadly embrace.
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Gladiatorial games were not play-acting. In these brutal games, men would fight each other to the death!

The crowd's cheers get yet louder as they feverishly fire the fighters on. Then it is all over. The retiarius has killed hoplomachus with his dagger. Some spectators jubilantly cheer, but many clearly are disappointed.
Amicus applauds politely. 'These games are for the plebeians (the common people),' he says. 'They like to watch this sort of thing.'

These two superb gladiators win the support of the crowd with their display of skill and daring.
The next fight has two different types of gladiators. One is a secutor, the other a Samnite. The Samnite wears a spectacular crested helmet, one greave (shin guards) and an armoured sleeve to protect his sword arm and carries a short sword. The secutor is armed very similarly but for his very odd looking helmet with eye holes. This particular secutor carries a large shield, his opponent a small shield. Amicus explains to you the significance in the difference in shields.
The smaller shield allows more agility but provides less protection. So is the smaller shield bearer who dances, seeking a weakness, and it is the larger shield fighter who defends and waits for his chance to come.
Once again, two men fight like beasts to the chants of the crows, lunging and stabbing at each other. But this time the crowd is impressed by the recklessness of the fighting.
The fighters joust and justle, lashing out at each other with their swords, parrying the blows. As they twist and turn they grow ever more tired, once in a while stumbling.

Both suffer wounds but continue on, expecting to find no mercy from the crowd if they fail. Yes, the spectators came here to see blood. But these two fighters seem worthy of being spared. Murmurs among the crowd can be heard, in respect of the skill, effort and sheer courage of these two men. Once more the Samnite roars angrily as he attacks. The swords clash as the blow is parried but, as the shields crash into one another, the Samnite loses balances. The secutor doesn't hesitate a second and barges into him with his shield. The exhausted Samnite falls helplessly onto his back. With his foot the secutor steps onto his foe's swordhand and, raising his sword, he looks up to the emperor.

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The victorious secutor wins the rudis and with it his freedom.
'Jugula !' ('Cut his throat !') some can be heard shouting, while stretching out their fist with the thumb pointing downward. But it is the usual reaction of the lowly part of the mob, who always call for blood. Most of the other spectators are sufficiently impressed to let the Samnite live. 'Mitte !’ (Send him back !') they cry.
Both you and Amicus are frantically shouting: 'Mitte !
The emperor decides to be merciful this time. He raises his hands and declares 'Mitte !'

Yet what about the victor?
The emperor rises to his feet and, to the cheers of the crowd, throws the victorious secutor not only a palm of victory but also the rudis, a wooden sword. This means he is now free, no longer a slave.

You both decide it time to leave. Particularly as you both fancy a visit to the chariot races. For Amicus has heard a rumour that an interesting team of horses has arrived from Syria and will be racing for the 'Blues' today. Quickly you get up and leave the Colosseum and make your way toward the Circus Maximus where yet further excitement awaits. Masses of people can be heard roaring in the circus. If the noise of the Colosseum sounded loud, then this is deafening. The races have been going on since early in the morning and yet still there are people trying to get into the stadium to watch. But the guards turn them away for there is no more room.

Museo della Civilta
Rome
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The Circus Maximus was huge. It seated 250'000 visitors.
Once again Amicus' high standing helps open a little side entrance which allows you to get in nonetheless. There is always special room set aside for important people.
As you enter on to the terraces the scene before you takes your breath away. A quarter of a million people sit around the track, cheering and shouting.
You notice at once that the true passion of Rome is neither the theatre nor the gladiator fights, but chariot races at the Circus Maximus. The latest race just finished a few minutes ago. They are just finishing to clear the track of the wreckage of some of the chariots which crashed.

Amicus next to you is enormously excited at being at the races. He is a strong supporter of the 'Blues'. Well, there are two main teams to which most charioteers are attached: the blue team and the green team. And the rich people support the blue team, whereas the poor usually favour the 'Greens'.
Amicus next to you is placing a bet that, Dionysos, the Greek star charioteer of the blue team who is driving the new Syrian horses will win the next race.

The editor, the president of the games, stands up. ‘It's consul Cornelius,’ you are told by Amicus. Many politicians pay for races in order to be popular with the people. The editor ceremoniously drops his handkerchief. The doors to the boxes smash open and the chariots come charging out. The crowd goes wild. Eight chariots, each pulled by four horses, race at an enormous speed down the length of the track. Amicus is screaming at the top of his voice. A green chariot first makes the turn around the center isle (the spina).

The speeds are incredible! But most of all one must remember that there are no rules ! The race goes on and on, and the Amicus shouts himself hoarse next to you.
The chariot in second position on purposely falls back to be alongside the third cart and then, in the curve, it veers violently to the side. The two chariots bang together and the outer vehicle is smashed to pieces on the side wall.
Various charioteers are now using the whip not only on their horses but also on each other. In all this chaos, Dionysos' new horses appear to be the fastest.
He catches up with the leading chariot, whose horses are tired and much slower. But the leading driver maneuvers his chariot well, making it almost impossible for Dionysos to overtake. Only in the last corner does his chariot run wide. Dionysos darts through the gap and wins by only a few feet. All the 'Blues' fans cheer like mad, while the fans of the 'Greens' boo and hiss. Amicus is well pleased. He has won his bet and collects his winnings.
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The chariot races were utterly spectacular. Although they were also incredibly dangerous with many pile-ups and crashes. They were by far and away Rome’s most popular events.


As you head back to Amicus' house next to the great aquaeduct, you know that your brief visit is coming to an end. You will have another meal and sleep there another night. And then in the morning you will make your way back to Ostia to sail back home.

Museo della Civilta, Rome
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And so, as you make your way through the busy streets, you think to yourself;
'Rome, what a marvelous city you are !'

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This page was last updated on 2nd August 2007.