02 February 2011

An Ordinary Day In: The Life of A Roman Businessman

By Michelle Styles

During the waning years of the Roman Republic, the day began at dawn for the successful Roman businessman. Given that lighting was not very good, most people rose with the dawn. Also, because of the traffic congestion in ancient Rome (gridlock is not a modern problem), carts were banned during daylight hours, this meant sleep was difficult in any case. In Roman calculations, the first hour started when day broke, not when you hit midnight. The 12th hour ended when the sun went down. Night time was then divided into 12.

After rising, the businessman dressed and had a simple and quick breakfast. The round of client visits was the first thing he attended to. Everyone in Rome was a client of someone else. Think the Mafia. Think networking as a way of life. You had to pay your respects, ask for favours and support your patron when called upon. The patron for his part was honour bound to offer food, to come to his assistance and to make him gifts often of money. Clients were received depending on status.

After attending to the clients and paying his own calls, if necessary, the businessman saw to his work The markets of Rome teemed with good from all over the known world. Things had to be bought and sold, warehouses tended to, goods manufactured and the various enterprises financed. All roads really did lead to Rome and it was a metropolis teeming with possibility. However they did not work all hours and it has been estimated most Roman workers were finished sometime around the sixth or seventh hour.

The remaining hours in the day were filled up with shows or spectacles if they happened to be on. Or if not, there was strolling, exercise and bathing in one of the public baths. To get the experience of a Roman bath, you need to visit a Turkish bath or modern day spa. It was not a quick in and out but a chance to network and gossip. Playing games such as 12 Lines (backgammon), latrunculi (a type of chess) , draughts and other games involving dice. If you visit the Forum in Rome, on the steps of the old court, you can see various game boards scratched in the marble. Out of consideration for Roman matrons, brothels were supposed to be closed until the ninth hour!

After bathing, the businessman generally either had guests around or went to someone else’s house. This was the main (if not the only) meal of the day. Cooking by the end of the Republic was an all consuming craze with people vying for the most extravagant meals they could give. So much so that in 169 BC, the serving of dormice was banned and later under Sulla, laws were passed in favour of cheap homely fare. Given how Sulla dined, there is more than a faint air hypocrisy about the laws. After dining, there was often some form of entertainment before the businessman retired to bed.

Michelle Styles's latest Roman story, "The Perfect Concubine", has just been released as a Harlequin Historical Undone. One commenter (from the US or Canada) will get a free download from e-harlequin. The lucky winner will be announced on Sunday 6 February. A simple hello will enter you.

Also this month on Harlequin Historical Undone, Elaine Golden has her debut release, An Imprudent Lady featuring a mid-30's heroine.

Michelle Styles writes historical romance set in a wide variety of periods including Roman, Viking, Regency and Victorian. You can learn more about Michelle's books on her website.