The Values the Romans lived their lives by are not the Values most modern people would recognize as important values to live their lives by.
Most people wouldn’t feel the need to consult their father on all decisions but in Roman times the Paterfamilias had the power of life and death over his household. Executions for disobeying were extremely rare but he did have that right. The paterfamilias was head of an autonomous unit and was also the priest of the family conducting all religious ceremonies for the family. The Paterfamilias was expected to be moderate and responsible in ruling his family for reasons of common sense and to follow the mos majorum (roman values or way of the elders.). Women did have rights like property ownership and divorce but society ran on the principles of Mos Majorum (mos maiorum).
These are the principles and most were illustrated by goddesses, the oldest goddess being Fides. Fides was a bigger concept than the word, “trust” encompasses in English, it also included trustworthiness, acting in good faith, confidence, reliability and credibility. Your word was literally your bond. If you said it, you meant it. Oral contracts were just as sacred as a written one. Sometimes more so.
The next principle is pietas. Pietas demanded that you respected your family, society, the gods and Rome. It was both inner devotion to the gods and other ritual devotion. It started in the family with ancestor worship and the family’s lares and penates and continued out into the greater world in an expanding circle.
Religio and Cultus Religio was the contract between mortals and deities and was signified by the rituals conducted in the family and in the temples. Cultus was the conducting of those very necessary rituals which had to be done correctly. Religio is not the same as pietas. It is the external expression of the religion not the inner devotion to your deities. A modern person steeps in Christian cultural values has a hard time with these concepts. Or even that these are separate and not equal values.
Disciplina is the Roman value of self control. Self control manifests itself in how you conduct yourself and pertains to education, training, military affairs and how you behave. It’s the disciple that fostered the small schools that were all over Rome so that learning to read was available to almost all men. Girls learned at public schools along side boys education was so important.
Gravitas is the dignity in which you express that self control. One did not have hysterical loud arguments and one behaved civilly to all.
Constantia was the ability to keep going in the face of adversity and trouble. You were to be serious and persevering in all circumstances.
Virtus, literally comes from the word for man, vir. A man should always know what is good or evil, useless or useful, or what is shameful or dishonorable. Sounds a lot like do what you will but harm none to me.
Dignitas was the value of service. This was service to the country as in military service that all men had to serve in and it was also service as a priest at a temple or as a magistrate in some fashion. It was how you built your reputation and expressed all the other virtues.
Through all these virtues one earned Auctoritas. Auctoritas was the respect and honour others paid you for visibly exhibiting these values.
These were the mos maiorum and yes, poor old Cicero could be heard decrying O tempore, O mores about the people he did not feel were exhibiting those values. Sounds a lot like the modern right wing of the Republican Party. Nobody has values but them. Cicero’s toga was too tight. (and by the way it is always a hard “c” in Latin just like Gaelic so it correctly pronounced kikerow or Caesar is pronounced kaiser and yes, that is where the Germans got it.)
Christianity’s first acts were to try to destroy the values that under pinned the Roman civilization. They used the verse about leaving your father and mother and follow the Christ. to destroy the main thing that held society together, the family structure. Oddly ironic that now the right wing Christians yell about family values when their first act as a religion was to destroy family values. Prudentius actively wrote denigrating the following of “superstitions of old grandfathers” and that Roman values were inferior to the “revealed” values of the new religion.
We have a hard time conceiving of a world whose chief value is trust and inner piety. We’re big on not trusting and getting it all down in writing. We’re big on showing how pious we are in big religious shows when all that really needs to be done is to keep yourself in line with your gods and not talk about it. They would think blogging about it exceptionally weird, I would think.
You’ll notice that none of the values involve purity, chastity or any other sexual restraint. Those are much later Christian values. The only people who took a vow of chastity were the Vestal Virgins and that was only until their retirement after a 30 year term of service to Vesta. They could marry after their service.
These values governed Roman behavior for over a thousand years until Christianity destroyed the Empire.
I thought I would start sharing some of the things I learned in taking many years of Latin and Ancient History. Most of my childhood, I wanted to be an Archeologist/Anthropologist. This was after I found out Marine Biologists had to be good swimmers and after failing beginning swimming 7 times due to an inability to float this did not seem to be a wise career choice so at 10, I switched obsessions to Ancient History. I was aided and abetted in this obsession in very strange ways growing up. The weirdest being that I had been put in the hardest and highest math class under the mistaken apprehension on the part of my guidance counselors that I was just not working up to my potential not that I was spectacularly bad at math. I had a math teacher that sat you in the order of the grade you received on the last test. I got tired of sitting in the last seat in back so I embarked in a very short life of crime and forged my dad’s signature on a mid term grade notice. Really dumb move in a school where everyone knows your dad because he used to teach in the school next door and everyone knew his handwriting.
Witness me being called into the Guidance Counselor’s office and confronted with the evidence. I admitted it and told the counselor why and exactly what I thought of being tortured in this fashion. So he agreed to change me into an easier math class and I agreed to quit my life of crime on one condition. I wanted to take Latin when I started 9th grade. He agreed and didn’t tell my parents either. So I figured it was a win all around. Why he allowed me to do that I have no idea but he did and I got my Latin when the time came and a class in Ancient History from the same very beloved teacher who I will always adore.
Anyway this upped my game considerably because Mrs De Grassi also taught us bits of Greek language and the Russian Alphabet just for the fun of it. Yes, I was that big a geek. (still am) Latin and History were the only two subjects I never worried about my grades in ever. Latin also came with a travel bonus. It was the only language that you got at least a short trip somewhere in California to compete in Junior Classical League conventions and if you won an award my high school Latin teacher, once we moved into her class gave us “A’s” for winning which was good because I was a lazy translator when we read some things like Cicero. Caesar’s commentaries were better but Cicero was just a conservative old stick in the mud that now a days would be a contributor on Fox News. I will always love “Winnie Ille Pu”. I ended up with a 1st in the state of California and two 2nds and a 3rd in Roman History and Daily Life and a 2nd in the state in writing Latin Poetry. And unless you are a pagan those are basically irrelevant modern skills. The only year I lost at Roman History was the year the nuns who made up the tests thought they would trip our school up and lose the Sweepstakes. They only tripped my up because they added the much hated Byzantines into the tests. I studied them the next year, so it only worked once and we won the Sweepstakes anyway even if I lost that year.
I read everything I could get my hands on about Egypt, ancient Rome and the Celts, not so much on Greece because I didn’t like the way they treated their women. Their dogs had more freedom. Didn’t like the Byzantine era at all or much of the history of the Holy Lands either because the more I read, the more I got disenchanted with Christianity and any of the other cults of that era, especially after I figured out the real story of the massacre of Jericho. That did it for me. The whole,” my god says we can steal your land and kill all the men, women and children” because he says so and finding out even later that it was because they worshipped a goddess made it even clearer.
So over the years I’ve absorbed an incredible lot of information. I thought periodically I’d share some of the stuff I’ve learned over the years.
I never became an archeologist because a woman archeologist from UCLA, came to speak with us back in the “70’s told me to forget about it unless my daddy was rich. Dad being a Glendale school teacher in the 2nd lowest paying district in the state was a bit of a reality check. I will always wonder if the woman who came to speak to our class was Maria Gimbutas because she did have an accent and was at UCLA at the time but I guess I will never know.
That didn’t stop my fierce interest and even now when I’m feeling lazy in reading, ancient history is my drug of choice in murder mysteries that take place in ancient times like those by Lynda Robinson, Lynn Haney, Lindsay Davis, Peter Treymayne (AKA Peter Beresford Ellis) and Steven Saylor. I think Lindsay Davis is my favourite though.
Anyway, ready or not, here some of it comes later today.
This always makes me think of a very silly play we put on in 9th grade Latin about how Caesar waa stabbed in the rotunda.
They were trying to figure out what part of the body was the ‘rotunda’. 🙂
“Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate”