Weights and Measures
125 paces (nautical)
the area a yoke of two oxen could plow in a day
the area taken up by a century of legionaries
Dis vos aufert or Dis te aufort!
Ita me di juvent!
Hercle! (or Ercle!)
Fortuna te favet!
All the Gods!
May the Gods Take You Off!
So help me Gods!
Luck favors you!
Mild expletive usually used by men
Used when startled
Used when startled
Used in anger or solemnly
Mild expletive usually used by women
As (copper) = 4 quadrans
Sestertius (brass) = 4 asses
Denarius (silver) = 4 sestertii
Aureus (gold) = 25 denarii
Entrance to the baths = 1 quadrans
Soldier's wages = 225 denarii per year
Apartment rent = 500-5,000 denarii per year
Skilled slave labourer = 2,000 denarii
Pretty house slave = 25,000-50,000 denarii per year
Fine townhouse = 500,000-1,000,000 denarii
(1 denarius = 10 dollars seems a good mental conversion)
Daylight and night are divided into 12 hours each, measured from sunrise to sunset.
The calendar day is counted as the number of days prior to one of three markers days each month:
Kalends - the 1st of the month
Nones - the 7th of the month in March, May, July, October, otherwise the 5th
Ides - the 15th of the month in March, May, July, October, otherwise the 13th
For example, July 4th would be "four before nones," August 8th would be "six before ides," and Februaury 24th would be "six before March kalends."
As determined by the augers and pontiffs, days were divided among those on which public business could be conducted, and those on which it could not. On some days, business was allowed only in the afternoon. Black days, on which is was unlucky to do anything important, were the anniversaries of past disasters, generally military. Every ninth day was market day.
March (named for Mars, the father of Romulus and Remus)
- Salii (1st) The Salii, priests of Mars, dressed in full armor and carrying the sacred spears and shields, dance throughout the city. Where they dance, people gather to watch and hold banquets after.
- Matronalia (1st) Celebration by women in honor of the Sabine women who stopped the war between the Romulans and the Sabines.
- Vestalia (6th) A feast celebrating the Vestalia, where the sacred flame was tended by the Vestal Virgins in the hearth of Rome.
- Equirria (14th-) More horse races held in honor of Mars on the Campus Martius.
- Feast of Anna Perenna (15th) Held in the open fields near the Tiber with continuous drinking, dancing, and the singing of ribald songs, celebrating a women who became a nymph in the Tiber.
- Bacchanalia (17th) Feast of Baccus, during which boys who have reached maturity are invested with the toga.
- Quinquatrus (19th) Festival of Minerva, celebrated with games which on the first day are bloodless.
- Tubilustrium (23rd) Washing of the Sacred Trumpets (war horns) and performances by the Salii
April (named for Aphrodite or Venus)
- Megalensie (4st) Feast of Megale, the Great Mother (Cybele), celebrated by a procession through the city carrying an image of the goddess, and ecstatic self-mutilations. Celebrated by banquets and the first games of the year, followed by horse races.
- Cerealia (12th-) Feast of Ceres (Demeter), celebrated by fasting until sunset and sacrifices. The combined games of Ceres and Baccus begin.
- Fordicidia (15th) The sacrifice of pregnant cows (forda). Each of the city Wards receiving one cow. Foxes with lighted torches tied to them are set loose in the Circus Maximus.
- Vinalia (23rd) First Venereal feast (dedicated to Venus), celebrated especially by prostitutes
- Floralia (28th) Festival of lights marking the flowering of fruit trees, dedicated to Flora. Hare and roe are hunted in the Circus. Games end the festival on May 3rd.
May (named for Maia from Mayday)
- Mayday (1st) Rites dedicated to Maia, the Bona Dea or Good Goddess, open only to women.
- Lemuria (9th) Feast of the Dead with nocturnal ceremonies to propitiate the underworld.
- Feast of Mars of the Ploughed Fields (10th) Sacrifice by the Arval Brothers to ensure the fertility of the fields.
- Games of Mars Avenger (12th)
- Sacrifice of the Argei (14th) Vestals throw straw dummies from the Sublician Bridge to propritiate the god of the Tiber.
- Feast of Mercury (15th) Popular with merchants. Holy water from the fountain of Mercury absolved merchants of past and future lies made in the pursuit of gain.
- Tubilustrium (23rd) Another washing of the Sacred Trumpets (war horns) and performances by the Salii
June (named for Juno)
- Feast of Carna (1st) Celebrated with offerings of fat bacon, beans, and spelt.
- Feast of Bellona (3rd) Dedicated to Bellona, an attendant of Mars
- Feast of Semo Sancus (5th) Dedicated to Semo Sancus Dius Fidius, the principal god of the Sabines.
- Feast of Tiber (7th) Feast and games on the Campus Martius, popular with fishermen.
- Matralia (11th) Dedicated to Mater Matuta, Mother of the Morning, a Sabine goddess.
- Minor Quinquatrus (13th-19th) Lesser Feast of Minerva, during which the Guild of Pipers paraded through the streets for three days.
- Feast of Summanus (20th) Etruscan deity of lightning.
- Feast of Fors Fortuna (24th) Celebrated by inebriated revellers ferrying across the Tiber to her temple in boast decked with flowers.
July (named for Caius Julius Caesar)
- Feast of Juno Felicitata (1st)
- Poplifugia (5th) The Flight of the People, reenacting the confusion of the people after the disappearance of Romulus. Celebrated by people rushing from the city gate leading to the Goat's Marsh, calling out men's names, to make sacrifices.
- Games of Apollo (5th-6th)
- Nonae Caprotinae (7th) Feast of Juno of the Goat-Figs, celebrated by slave girls, dressed as matrons and chased from the Temple of Juno to dine under wild fig trees outside the city and whip each other with wands cut from the tree (emulating manual fertilization of fig blossoms). Also significant as the historical ceremony during which Romulus was taken up to become a god.
- Lucaria (19th) Feast honoring the deity of the sanctuary, Asylaeus, after the grove (lucus) on the Capitoline hill where the Asylumn was first drawn by Romulus.
- Neptunalia (23rd-) Feast of Neptune, celebrated especially by horse races (Neptune being the creator of horses).
August (named for Caius Octavianus Cæsar Augustus)
- Salus (7th) The Augury of Salus, the god of public safety who provided for the preservation of the state through war or other calamity. Held only during times of peace (and not recently).
- Feast of Sol Indiges (9th) Dedicated to the Sabine god Sol.
- Feast of Hercules Invictus (12th) Hercules Unconquered, who by tradition had passed by the site of Rome before it was founded and built the Ara Maxima. Celebrated by a communion at the Ara Maxima and the adjacent Temple of Hercules Invictus in the Ox Market.
- Feast of Diana (13th) Celebrated in Rome and at the Temple of Diana at Nemi, most famous for its peculiar priesthood, the Rex Nemorensis, which could be held only by a runaway slave who had managed to kill his predecessor in single combat.
- Second Vinalia (19th) Feast of Rural Vinalia, dedicated to Vine alone (and not shared with Venus as is the Vinalia in April), at which new wine is sampled (liberally).
- Consualia (21st) Feast of Consus (Equine Neptune). The altar of Consus was covered with earth in the Circus Maximus on all days except those of the festival and during horse races. On the days of the feast, all equine beasts of burden, horses, asses, mules, were decked with garlands and given a vacation from their labors. Also the day on which the Rape of the Sabine Women was perpetrated by Romulus.
- Vulcanalia (23rd) Feast of Vulcan
Other Important Festivals
- New Year's Day (Jaunuary 1st) Sacred to Janus, celebrated by exchanging gifts and a procession of the consuls beginning their terms of office.
- The Lupercalia (February 15th) Celebrated by the Luperci priests, who, taking strips of skin from sacrificed goats, run naked through the city sweeping the ground with the skins. The priests start from the cave that was the home of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus. Recently married matrons struck by the skins will become fertile.
- Regifugium (February 24th) The Flight of the King, celebrating the end of the kingdom of Rome and the beginning of the Republic. The Rex Sacrorum conducts a sacrifice in the Comitium, after which he flees at a run through the forum.
- Saturnalia (December 10th) One of the major events of the year. During this seven day festival, business was suspended, the roles of master and slaves were reversed, moral restrictions were loosened and gifts were exchanged.
The typical well-to-do Roman citizen had three names. For example, Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Cognomen: Their last name was, as it is with us, their family name (called the cognomen). Sometimes when someone's name was written or spoken the last name would be given first, and their middle name second. Very often the family name derives from some notable feature of a renowned family ancestor. For example, the cognomen "Scaevola" means "Lefty" (from scaevus, "left"), the name taken from a legendary ancestor who volunteered to burn his own right hand off just to scare invaders into lifting a siege on Rome (after all, who wants to fight a race of people who are that patriotic?).
Nomen: A Roman's middle name was his clan name (called the nomen). A Roman clan was called a gens and one gens consisted of numerous familia. All clan names end with -ius in Latin, and famous examples are Julius (Julius Caesar's first name was actually Gaius), Tullius ("Tully"), Plinius ("Pliny"), and Flavius.
Praenomen: The first name was called the praenomen and was a personal name much like our first names today. Although we also employ a limited number of first names (how many people do you know named Mike or John?), among the Roman upper classes there were only some twenty or so names in use, so they were usually abbreviated.
Adoption: Usually, when someone was adopted into a new family they took the name of their adoptive father, while sometimes retaining their old family name, now modified to be an adjective (that is, the ending -ianus was added in Latin). For example, when Caesar adopted Gaius Octavius he became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, hence "Octavian" (later hailed as Augustus). Freed slaves, too, often adopted their previous master's name, and kept their original, single name as their last name.
Honorary Names: Often someone will be given or will take an honorary name, usually from a notable military victory. This name was called an agnomen and was often passed from father to sons, one of the many ways Roman society tried to egg its young men into living up to the reputations of their ancestors. Famous examples are Germanicus (for victories in Germany) and Africanus (for victories in Africa), but also Augustus ("Magesty" or "Reverend") and Empiricus (for being a renowned member of that particular school of medical theory).
Women: Women usually took no first name. They simply acquired the clan-name of their father, or sometimes of others (a maternal grandfather, for example), suitably feminized (e.g. Julia from Julius). If there was more than one in a family they would be noted by the appellation "the elder" (maior) or "the younger" (minor), or they would be numbered (Secunda, Tertia, Quartia, etc.). Sometimes women also took a family name, usually from their father. However, when they married they did not change their names. The only indication of their marriage might be the occasional inclusion of the possessive form of their husband's clan-name.