Manners of the Romans

Caligula coin

‘The piety of Christian princes had suppressed the inhuman combats of gladiators, but the Roman people still considered the Circus as their home, their temple, and the seat of the republic. The impatient crowd rushed at the dawn of day to secure their places, and there were many who passed a sleepless and anxious night in the adjacent porticoes. From the morning to the evening, careless of the sun or of the rain, the spectators, who sometimes amounted to the number of four hundred thousand, remained in eager attention, their eyes fixed on the horses and charioteers, their minds agitated with hope and fear for the success of their colours which they espoused; and the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race.’

‘This native splendour is degraded and sullied by the conduct of some nobles who, unmindful of their own dignity and of that of their country, assume an unbounded licence of vice and folly. They contend with each other in the empty vanity of titles and surnames, and curiously select or invent the most lofty and sonorous appellations– Reburrus or Fabunius, Pagonius or Tarrasius–which may impress the ears of the vulgar with astonishment and respect. From a vain ambition of perpetuating their memory, they affect to multiply their likeness in statues of bronze and marble; nor are they satisfied unless those statues are covered with plates of gold.’

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, 1776-89

A One-Volume Abridgement by Dero A. Saunders, 1952

Advertisements