Music in Ancient Rome

Roman music?

In fact you will find fewer examples of music than one would think, given the Roman's culture inspired many aspects of our modern western society, Rome did not, however, contribute much to music as the Greeks did. Although they conquered their territories, Greek culture was always more important and viewed as a source of culture. To alleviate this deficit the Romans adapted Greek music to suite their character. It seems that the state or the Roman representatives themselves did not value the music, some condemned it and said that restraint should be sought when music was involved, such as Marcus Tullius Cicero.

This did not however limit it in its popularity where the virtuosos of music were respected and considered throughout the Empire. They studied under the tutelage of memorable teachers; they had to lead a methodical and healthy life; they toured concerts around the Empire and received impressive payments and numerous patrician families continued the practice that had begun with the famous Gracos, Tiberius and Cayo Sempronio around 110 BC, of sending their children to music schools to learn how to sing and dance.

Among these virtuosos, the Greeks stood out as: Terpnos, great cystolist (under Nero,) Polón and Mesomedes of Crete, among others. Actors of Etruscan origin who danced to the rhythm of the tibiae, a type of oboe, instrument similar to the Greek aulos (a type of clarinet), sometimes accompanied by vocal singing. While it might seem a luxurious lifestyle, actors were denied the same political and civic rights, in fact they were actively denied the same treatment afforded to ordinary Roman citizens. At that time they were viewed as having low social status, not being uncommon for actors to be held as slaves, often being beaten when they preformed unfavorably.

Both acted performances and dance were accompanied by music.

Of these types of music we have virtually nothing left, except brief fragments, that Terencio used in one of his theatrical performances. Carmen Saecularis (full text), a poem for a children's choir by Quintus Horatius Flaccus, premiered in 17 BC.

During the reign of Servius Tullius (578-534 BC), the sixth king of Rome, groups of musicians were instituted in the Roman Legions. They had army NCO status, the same as the flag bearers. Later, around 400 BC, these Roman military and ceremonial groups consisted of flutes, horns and trumpets of various shapes and sizes and peculiar instruments such as the flute and the lute or curved trumpet.

Lucius Cornelius Sila (138-80 BC) had among his servers the rich group of musicians, which counted among his own slaves a large number of instrumentalists and singers who were daily responsible for maintaining a permanent musical atmosphere in his residence. In general many slaves were trained as musicians.

According to the historian Paul Henry Lang, Emperor Caligula listened to orchestral music while navigating the Bay of Naples. (Pompey) and Nero, in addition to exhibiting his own qualities as a singer and played the cithara (a type of lyre), implemented in the year 60 AD the Neronian games, in them music played an important role. Later, Emperor Domitian (Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus) established the Capitoline Games, in which the performance of instrumentalists, musicians, songwriters and poets was awarded. Thus transforming music into spectacle.

In multiple acts and ceremonies, military and rituals, it became frequent to use various instruments such as the Buccina, folded trumpet with detachable mouthpiece, the tibia (alos) which, at first was a bone flute, then became transversal and the tympanum or tambourine. The lyre was also very popular.

Later, with the Roman conquests, music was enriched by contributions from Egypt, Syria and Spain.

In the time of Emperor Caesar Augustus (63 BC-14 A.D.), the aulos, an instrument inherited from the Greeks, increased its dimensions and became an instrument of the similar size to the tubas. The historian Ammiano Marcellin (340-400 A.D.), tells us about the use of large lire that had to be transported in wagon. And so did the number of performers, forming ensembles of impressive musicians, a tradition that already existed in Egypt. Lucius Anneo Seneca, preceptor of Nero speaks of the number of instruments, including organs.

But perhaps where you can best appreciate the musical genre is as an accompaniment to theatre, in places such as circuses, theaters and amphitheaters, as in Greece. Unlike in Greece, choir parts were not as important in Rome. There were parts sung with accompaniment generally, which could be single or double, repeating these twice. The pairs had a tuning just like the others. In Rome, the recited parts, called deverbia were followed by cantica or parts sung by a soloist or a duo. In between, recitals were offered.

As you can see music in Rome was not innovative, it was appropriated, but it was also became a crucial aspect of their culture. Though it is not a product of ancient Rome, much thanks is to be given in their preservation and patronage to the art which helped the seed of European music survive.


Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

The Origins of Rome

History and legend blend irretrievably together when we attempt to explain the origins of Rome. Leaving aside what tradition tells, long before the city was founded, the peninsula of Italy was inhabited by many different groups of people. Some of whom were from the interior of Europe, who crossed the Alps and settled, some in the north, were the case of the Etruscans and the Umbri. Others, the Latinos, occupied and settled in the valley of the Tiber River. The Samnites settled in the hills and valleys of the south of the peninsula. Later, they would also enter through the Alps, Celtic peoples (the Romans called them Gauls).

The Etruscans settled, the penetrated to the very heart of the country, beginning approximately from the 6th century BC. They ended up forming a wide league of cities, some large and with good seaports which allowed for their expansion. The Etruscans formed a higher class within the population, where they obtained their resources from various sources: livestock, agriculture and mining. They also had a textile and metallurgical industry. Socially, they were given an advantage due to their knowledge of Greek, both culturally and in the military, sporting and religious fields.

Politically, the Etruscans headed in two directions.

Across the sea they nurtured some friendship with Phoenicians and Carthaginians who thanked the Etruscans' pirate tactics against common enemies. At that time it was known that the Etruscans were more pirates than merchants. With those who did not entrust them with their affections, they could turn to their neighbor, the Greeks for fair treatment. Continued battles to control maritime domains towards Etruscans and Greeks did not imped the relationships with third parties.

This was the panorama at sea, by land the Etruscan advancement was constant, their ambition led them to Po valley in the north and Campania in the south. They completely occupied the Valley until the Celts appeared in the 5th century BC.

Their incursions and movements to the south were mostly successful, only partly halted by the political and economic position and situation, also cultural, of two italic peoples on the peninsula, the Samnites and the Latino-Faliscan. The Samnites, making close contacts with the Greeks, learned a lot from them, to fight, to perfect their weapons, building and fortification. Trade also with the Greeks, enriched them. These Samnites managed to put a limit on Etruscan expansion to the south.

Lazio was another destabilizing element for the Etruscans. It was their situation on the peninsula that gave them have access to the sea by an Italic people. The only rivals of Lazio were the Volsci, a mountain tribe of the Apennines that separate the Lazio from Campania, their encounters were bloody and continuous. They acted as an independent state without being incorporated, neither by Etruscans nor Greeks, apart from their connection to the sea was of vital importance for their developments, both of the Lazio and of the Latin people. The entire civilizing current from Greece, Etruria and Carthage, contributed in raising the economic and social level of both Lazio and Latino-Faliscan.

City Foundation

The first vestiges of foundations in Rome appear in the hills of Lazio, where life was prosperous, rich and rewarding. It is in these hills that the institutions that made the backbone for Rome were founded. It must be considered that all these beginnings are not definitive, producing swings over the course of the years. It was possible that there were also two foundations, one by the Latinos on Palatine Hill and one by the Sabines in the Quirinacon. According to local tradition, the belief was preserved that the Palatine, or, in other words, the primitive Rome, was a colony of two Latin cities in the vicinity; Alba and Lavinium. Surely such a location was chosen because the only point of the lower Tiber that offered facilities to cross from the left bank to the right, from Latin to the Etruscan soil, was secured. In front of the Palatine there is a small island on the Tiber that made it easy to build a wooden bridge there.

All these communities that were grouped together and exercised as such a unit that they acquired a great and emerging force as a city and as a people.

Our knowledge of the history of Rome in the preceding centuries, at the beginning of its foundation, the 8th, 7th and first half of 6BC, is undoubtedly imperfect. Various indications and various conjectures of various historians, make it clear that there no single explanation for the final constitution of the city.

According to history, the origins of Rome date back to 753 BC. In order to protect the Tiber from the Etruscan threat, seven Latin villages in the Lazio region formed a confederation. But its strategic and commercial value attracted the Etruscans, who imposed their dominance over the villages that originated the authentic foundation. The city was walled, its streets were planned and the marshy valleys that surrounded it were curated through the drainage channels, and joined the banks of the Tiber with a bridge until it finally became a true city. With the consequent economic development Rome, grew rapidly, mainly due to two causes: proximity to Erutria and access to the mouth of the Tiber, thanks to the latter, trade with the outlying communities entered and departed on Phoenician and Greek ships. Together with economic development, a dominant aristocracy, a social order, based on blood ties and hermetism, was allowed to develop. The Etruscan upper class, dominant against villages and settlements is organized and intervened in the early governance of the city with the beginning of the monarchical era. Until, finally, it emerged as the Rome we now recognize.


When In Rome You Wear Sandals: Styles of Roman Footwear

What kind of shoes did the Romans wear and how did they make their shoes? The answer to that question(s) is simple. They made and wore primarily sandals. Fashionable right?

Yet unlike today, almost all shoes were made on strips of wood, which were a kind of simplified model of the human foot. They were used to assemble and form the individual parts of the shoe. The individual parts of the shoe were glued, nailed or sewn. For the soles Roman's used a piece of strong cow skin; for the other parts it was common to use sheepskin, goat and calf. Colored leather was also used for a more trendy touch. In addition to black, for example, there were red, white and yellow shoes. Today the remains of skin are almost always black, due to the time spent in the soil.

In most cases, the outsole was nailed to protect against wear and for better cohesion. The iron nails were fixed on the base template. The type of nailing depends on the taste of the buyer, in addition to the use and the type of shoes. Shape and technique of Roman sandals have evolved over time and can therefore serve as an aid for archeologist when dating them.

The shoes that have been found and the representations of in mural painting, sculptures and other forms of art show that there are many different types of shoes. The most important are:

  • Closed toed shoes
  • Carbatinae
  • Strap sandals
    • Caligae is the name given leather sandals, worn by legionnaires and members of the Roman auxiliary bodies. They were formed by a sole and leather straps that were tied in the center of the foot and at the top of the ankle. In military use the soles were studded with iron nails in order to reinforce them, improve the traction of the foot and "arm" them, that is, allow the soldier to inflict damage by kicking them.
  • Sandals With Toe Straps

All these styles were worn at the same times and apparently women, men and children wore the same types of shoes. Social differences were probably not in the form, rather in the value of the material.

Closed toed shoes form the main part of the shoes that have been found so far. There are many variations of these shoes, in which the foot is tightly surrounded by a piece of leather sewn into the toes or on the side of the top. Sole and instep are rarely found together because they were joined by nails and these have often been lost.

Shoes called Carbatinae were made of a single piece of leather. The basic pattern varies a bit, but essentially it always follows the same pattern. The leather is sewn into the heel and cut to the sides in the loops. It was then laterally bent and tied with a lash through the loops. This type of shoe can be made quite simply and it is possible that it was made not only by qualified shoemakers, but also by the laity.

Strap sandals (called Caligae) come in two variants: there are those that end above the ankle and were nailed. These types of sandals were used by the soldiers. On the other hand there is the type used by adults and young people which ended below the ankle and were not always nailed. The Caliga consists of three parts: between sole and insole there is an added third insole, which is cut along with the leather upper. That top was cut into ribbons, that made up the lashing for the sandal. The three parts were then joined; the upper, lower and middle were nailed together in tight rows. Often, the arch of the foot, however, strives for three nails. The upper part is closed on the heel, the joint is protected internally and externally by a strip of leather. The loops which are then formed are joined by a leather strap.

Simple Roman sandals are still used today.

The shape of the sole mimics the foot and the toes are sometimes marked by incisions. It consists of a maximum of four layers of sewn leather. The toe strap is fixed on a loop, which is located in the insole between the big toe and the second. The method of fixing them and heel varies by design.

It is safe to say that through their long tradition and improvement throughout the ages our modern footwear owes a great deal to the innovation that came from Roman cobblers.


What did the ancient Romans eat?

Food in ancient Rome wasn't as bland as you might think. Still, before the rich and elaborate meals began to appear on the tables the empire needed a basis to build on. Later food began to appear from places as distant as Guinea (pheasants), Persia (cocks), India (turkeys), Hispania (rabbits), Ambracia (toe), Calcedonia (tuna), Tarento (oysters and clams), Attica (mussels) or Dafne (tordos), the Romans knew nothing but the staple foods provided by the land: cereals, legumes, vegetables, milk or eggs. And the poorest Romans knew a very small selection of those.

The Ancient Roman cuisine

In ancient Roman times access to food was extremely difficult for the less favored classes. The staple food was puls for more than 300 years. Puls is a pottage made from farro grains boiled in water until it turns to mush and then flavored with salt and oil or pig fat. This type of wheat flour porridge was consumed by the commoners and legion alike.

The analysis and description of food in the times of ancient Rome must be done according to the social classes since each class had access to different types of food. For the poorest classes, such as campesinos, soldiers in battle and the inhabitants of cities, the basic food was cold and raw, consisting of cereals and vegetables. A fine meal for this population would be represented by a hot dish (such as a stew), even if this occurred rarely. The basic grain pottage, puls, could be expanded on with vegetables, meat, cheese, or herbs to produce dishes similar to polenta or risotto. Never the less, such items like beans, lentils and vegetables were the basis of daily cooking.

Okay, So what did the Romans eat?

We have an image, one based in popular culture, about the Roman meals, this is taken from movies and books and does not always paint an accurate picture of their diets. We imagine them stuffing themselves with greasy, spicy and bizarre foods, and drinking a lot of wine. But that's not the reality.

Not for the majority of the Roman population at least.

Ordinary people fed themselves with mostly bread, oil, cheese, olives and whether they could get some meat from time to time. They would also take fruit (grapes, figs, apples), nuts (almonds and pine nuts) and vegetables (asparagus, lettuce, carrot, onion and garlic) into their diets.

As we have already learned a very common meal was porridge.

If you were a member of the upper class your diet looked much different. And the food eaten on a daily basis was more plentiful and varied.

While it is obvious that the meals eaten by the rich were elaborate compared to those of the commoner and peasants, they still paled when compared to the Roman banquets.

In fact big banquets were something else. There are two ancient Roman books that have been preserved and tell things about the food of the rich. "The Satiricón" (full text) and a cookbook ("Apicius") by an author named Marcus Gavius Apicius. The dishes were very exotic and complicated. For example: nightingale tongues, stuffed slob loins or bristle breasts, roasted pheasant or turkeys with live thrush inside. The presentation of the dishes I consider it impressive.

I remember reading recipe from Apicius which called for rose leaves, pork brains and eggs all cooked slowly.

Maybe they wouldn't be popular today, but at least they were exotic to our palettes.

In the Rome of the Caesars, at the beginning of the Christian era and during the reign of Tiberius, the name of Marcus Gavius Apicius (25 B.C. – 37 A.D.) was cited as a culinary master and competent gourmand, having spent all his fortune in permanent gastronomic toil. He always organized great banquets, and thus dilapidated his heritage. When he found that what was left of him would not give to maintain his standard of living, he committed suicide. He was the founder of the school of Cuisine of the patricians of Rome, where he and his slave cooks taught culinary techniques and recipes to housewives. This may be the first gastronomist to be quoted in texts of well-known writers. Seneca, Herodotus and Isidoro were Romans who quoted Apicius in their writings, with indications that he wrote a manual of culinary techniques and recipes for sauces, called De re coquinaria (Ars Magirica, Apicius Culinaris, or On the Subject of Cooking).

One of the biggest problems faced by Governments was the maintenance of a food supply system for the people, as the supply was irregular. The nobles fed those who served them, slaves and attendants. But it was the government who distributed to the ommon people, everything from the wheat, the oil, and sometimes the pork, when the difficulties were greater. Because of this red meats could eventually be consumed by the commoner, but domesticated animals could only be slaughtered in religious ceremonies, which hinted about who had access to these foods. One of the habits of the wealthy was to serve roasted whole animals, such as piglets, boars, goats and lambs, which showed their power and wealth.

But the gluttony and waste of food incurred by the Romans of the imperial era was not always the case. When resources were scarce, the staple food was puls, and it remained so for more than 300 years. It was this kind of wheat flour porridge that helped build an empire. And through the consumption of this paupers dish led, in the times of greatest abundance, to the Iulian puls, which contained boiled oysters, brains and spiced wine, a sign that times had improved.

The staple food of Roman society was wheat. In the time of Julius Caesar (49-44 BC), some 230,000 Romans benefited from the distributions of cereal with which the flour was produced and, consequently, the bread.

Another popular food highlighted in the Roman diet was a drink, one that you certainly know, wine, although the science for preserving it was underdeveloped. As it soured easily in the amphorae where it was stored, it was drunk with species, or served hot and watery.

Those who could not afford access to more elaborate food in times of shortage had breakfast soups of bread and wine. These abounded: farro, chickpeas and vegetables, cabbages, elm leaves, mauve, etc.

The Roman that could afford more enjoyed a great consumption of milk, goat or sheep. As well as olives. The most consumed meat was pork, which was eventually joined by beef, lamb, sheep, goat, deer, deer and gazelle. Even the dog meat was highly prized.

The diet of the Roman during the Republic barely reached 3,000 calories (the average daily intake of calories in America is 3,770), of which at least 2,000 came from wheat. The rich became fond of consuming seasoned meat with a number of products that were influential in determining the characteristics of the future great imperial cuisine: pepper, honey, coriander, nettle, mint and sage.

Mealtime in Rome

The Romans ate three or four times a day:

  1. breakfast (ientaculum),
  2. lunch (prandium),
  3. snack and
  4. dinner (dinner)

The latter was the most important. It was done as a family, at the end of the day. One of his greatest pleasures was a good conversation around the table. From the daily dinner with lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, leeks, porridge and beans with bacon was passed to a sophisticated banquet dinner with the meal divided into three parts:

  1. the gustus or appetizer to wet the guest's appetite (melon, tuna, truffles, oysters,…),
  2. the premium table (chicken, chicken, ham, seafood, ….) which was the main course, and
  3. the backtable, the desserts.

In the Imperial era food became much more diverse and luxury foods like fowl began to emerge in the form of parrot and flamingo. The ibis and stork meats were avoided because they devoured snakes, and the swallow, which ate mosquitoes.

In imperial times no one set a stop to the consumption or the waste on the table: chickens and geese were fattened with boiled flour and mead or with bread soaked in sweet wine.

Although there were changes in the history of Rome in general the meals they made daily were three: breakfast or jentaculum, lunch at noon or prandium and dinner.

The jentaculum was taken when they got up, about seven in the morning. They usually took in a few spoonfuls of porridge or bread with cheese or bread smeared with wine, garlic or oil. Breakfast was eaten on one's feet, in other words while on the go.

At the prandium they took the leftovers from the night before, bread and fruit and vegetables. They were standing up for this meal as well. At the time prandium was eaten it was about noon.

When i was at the top, they'd go to the hot and cold baths. Then they'd come home and have dinner. Dinner was taken at the triclinium and it was around 8 o'clock and in summer at about 9. Dinner consisted of appetizers (eggs, cheese, olives, seafood), various dishes (salads, vegetables, meat and fish) and desserts (cakes, fruit or nuts).

The wine was drank mixed with water and sometimes drunk with added honey or spices.

As we have seen the ancient Romans ate in some things not un-similar to our modern diet. In part because they were Mediterranean, and their culinary contributions spread throughout Europe and from that to North America. But in other regards they were very different.