Life in Ancient Rome was very different than life today, of course, and yet you can see many similarities, as well. In this lesson, we’ll focus less on vocabulary and grammar and more on the history and culture of the people who spoke the Latin language. To begin with, we’ll look at education, and then we’ll take a look at art.
Before 200 B.C., children were taught at home, either by their parents or, if wealthy, by a tutor or slave. After 200 B.C., the Romans adopted Greek ideas on education. Greek was the international language at the time and Romans were considered “educated” if they were bilingual.
Roman children started their education at age six, which is when most kids in America go to first grade. They would learn reading, writing, counting — in Roman numerals, of course — and math. They would continue in this type of education, advancing with their age, until they got to about twelve years old.
At age twelve, children would go on to learn Latin, Greek, the grammar of both of those languages, and literature. This type of education continued until the children were sixteen.
At age sixteen, some boys went to rhetoric school to study public speaking. This prepared them to become orators and public officials.
Schools would start before sunrise and children would bring candles to use until daybreak. They stopped for lunch and afternoon siesta and went back to school until the late afternoon.
While the Romans of course did create art and appreciate it, most art took second stage to architecture. The art that they did create was heavily influenced by Greek art and many artists were Greek slaves. Some characteristics of Greek art are that it showed ideals and perfect things, such as the human body or nature. Roman art was more realistic in its portrayals of life.
Romans considered sculpture to be the highest form of art. The following are some types of sculptures that the Romans created.
Triumphal Arches: arches covered in scenes that depicted the victories and good deeds of the emperor
Honorific Columns: similar to triumphal arches; columns with carved scenes spiraling to top
Free-Standing Sculptures: usually of gods or heroes; made of marble, limestone, bronze, gold, or silver; the metal ones were unfortunately melted down in the Middle Ages
Portraits: realistic busts of people, often made of recently deceased people and shown at funerals
Sarcophagi (Flesh Eaters): a type of coffin that featured scenes from the deceased’s life on the outside
Murals were popular in the home. Because the houses were windowless, many people decorated their interiors with murals of outdoor scenes, everyday life, or mythological subjects. Painting plaster to look like marble, alabaster, or wood was also common.
Romans also prized metalwork, gem cutting, glass working, and mosaics.
Phrases About Art
ars gratia artis — art for the sake of art
ars longa, vita brevis — art lasts long, life is short (this is very popular)
ars est celare artem — true art is to conceal art
de gustibus non disputandum — about art there is no dispute