Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Jessica Ruby Today, we’re going to look at the world of Rome through the eyes of a young girl. Here she is, drawing a picture of herself in the atrium of her father’s enormous house. Her name is Domitia, and she is just 5 years old. She has an older brother who is fourteen, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, named after her dad. Girls don’t get these long names that boys have. What is worse is that Dad insists on calling all his daughters Domitia. “Domitia!” His call to Domitia drawing on the column, Domitia III. She has an older sister, Domitia II, who is 7 years old. And then there’s Domitia I, who is ten. There would have been a Domitia IV, but mom died trying to give birth to her three years ago. Confused? The Romans were too. They could work out ancestry through the male line with the nice, tripartite names such as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. But they got in a real mess over which Domitia was married to whom and was either the great aunt or the great stepmother and so on to whom when they came to write it down. Domitia III is not just drawing on the pillar, she’s also watching the action. You see, it’s early, in the time of day when all her dad’s clients and friends come to see him at home to pay their respects. Lucius Popidius Secundus, a 17 year old, he wants to marry Domitia II within the next five to seven years, has come as well. He seems to be wooing not his future wife, but her dad. Poor Lucius, he does not know that Domitia’s dad thinks he and his family are wealthy but still scumbags from the Subura. Afterall, it is the part of Rome full of barbers and prostitutes. Suddenly, all the men are leaving with Dad. It’s the second hour and time for him to be in court with a sturdy audience of clients to applaud his rhetoric and hiss at his opponent. The house is now quieter. The men won’t return for seven hours, not until dinner time. But what happens in the house for those seven hours? What do Domitia, Domitia, and Domitia do all day? Not an easy question! Everything written down by the Romans that we have today was written by men. This makes constructing the lives of women difficult. However, we can’t have a history of just Roman men, so here it goes. We can begin in the atrium. There is a massive loom, on which Dad’s latest wife is working on a new toga. Domitia, Domitia, and Domitia are tasked with spinning the wool that will be used to weave this mighty garment, 30 or more feet long and elliptical in shape. Romans loved the idea that their wives work wool. We know that because it’s written on the gravestones of so many Roman women. Unlike women in Greece, Roman women go out the house and move about the city. They go to the baths in the morning to avoid the men or to separate baths that are for women only. Some do go in for the latest fad of the AD 70s: nude bathing with men present. Where they have no place is where the men are: in the Forum, in the Law Court, or in the Senate House. Their place in public is in the porticos with gardens, with sculpture, and with pathways for walking in. When Domitia, Domitia, and Domitia want to leave the house to go somewhere, like the Portico of Livia, they must get ready. Domitia II and Domitia III are ready, but Domitia I, who is betrothed to be married in two years to darling Philatus, isn’t ready. She’s not slow, she just has more to do. Being betrothed means she wears the insignia of betrothal: engagement rings and all the gifts Pilatus has given her – jewels, earrings, necklaces, and the pendants. She may even wear her myrtle crown. All this bling shouts, “I’m getting married to that 19 year old who gave me all this stuff I’m wearing!” While as they wait, Domitia II and Domitia III play with their dolls that mirror the image of their sister decked out to be married. One day, these dolls will be dedicated to the household gods on the day of their wedding. Okay, we’re ready. The girls step into litters carried by some burly slaves. They also have a chaperone with them and will be meeting an aunt at the Porticus of Livia. Carried high on the shoulders of these slaves, the girls look out through the curtains to see the crowded streets below them. They traverse the city, pass the Coliseum, but then turn off to climb up the hill to the Porticus of Livia. It was built by Livia, the wife of the first emperor Augustus, on the site of the house of Vedius Pollio. He wasn’t such a great guy. He once tried to feed a slave to the eels in his fish pond for simply dropping a dish. Luckily, the emperor was at the dinner and tamed his temper. The litters are placed on the ground and the girls get out and arm in arm, two by two, they ascend the steps into the enclosed garden with many columns. Domitia III shot off and is drawing on a column. Domitia II joins her but seeks to read the graffiti higher up on the column. She spots a drawing of gladiators and tries to imagine seeing them fighting, something she will never be permitted to do, except from the very rear of the Coliseum. From there, she will have a good view of the 50,000 spectators but will see little by way of blood and gore. If she really wanted a decent view, she could become a vestal virgin and would sit right down the front. But a career tending the sacred flame of Vesta is not to everybody’s taste. Domitia I has met another ten year old also decked out in the insignia of betrothal. Home time. When they get there after the eighth hour, something is up. A smashed dish lies on the floor. All the slaves are being gathered together in the atrium and await the arrival of their master. Dad is going to go mad. He will not hit his children, but like many other Romans, he believes that slaves have to be punished. The whip lies ready for his arrival. No one knows who smashed the dish, but Dad will call the undertaker to torture it out of them, if he must. The doorkeeper opens the front door to the house. A hush comes over the anxious slaves. In walks not their master but, instead, a pregnant teenager. It is the master’s eldest daughter, age 15, who is already a veteran of marriage and child birth. Guess what her name is. There is a five to ten percent chance she won’t survive giving birth to her child, but, for now, she has come to dinner with her family. As a teenage mother, she has proved that she is a successful wife by bringing children and descendants for her husband, who will carry on his name in the future. The family head off to the dining room and are served dinner. It would seem Dad has had an invite to dinner elsewhere. With dinner concluded, the girls crossed the atrium to bid farewell to their older sister who is carried home in a litter, escorted by some of Dad’s bodyguards. Returning to the house, the girls cross the atrium. The slaves, young and old, male and female, await the return of their owner. When he returns, he may exact vengeance, ensuring his power over the slaves is maintained through violence and terror, to which any slave could be subjected. But, for the girls, they head upstairs for the night, ready for bed.