Tuesday 12 January
10 AM PST
1 PM EST
6 PM GMT
7 PM CET
With Dr. Eireann Marshall
In contrast to their wealthy counterparts, the lives of the poor and of ordinary people in ancient Rome could be very difficult. Living in cramped conditions with no running water or access to sewage, the plebs in Rome lived in apartment blocks, insulae, which could be seven storeys high. While only one of these insulae survives today in Rome, at the bottom of the Capitoline Hill, there are many more preserved to an exceptional standard in Ostia, the bustling port of Rome which recent studies have shown was much larger than previously presumed. The lives of the poor in the Bay of Naples were perhaps not as squalid as those who lived in Rome, though they were in marked contrast to the wealthy who lived near them.
The occupants of the apartments in the House of Opus Craticium in Herculaneum, which is immediately adjacent to the elegant House of the Wooden Partition, left behind meagre belongings, including a broken wind chime. Perhaps the most moving glimpse we have of working people in Herculaneum is that which is laid out in the house of the wine seller, above the wine shop on Cardo IV, which still preserves a bed, hearth and latrine, along with a wax tablet which a child used as a spelling list.
Rarely mentioned in literary sources, we are able to gain some understanding of what it was like to be an ordinary person in the Roman world in the Vesuvian cities, surviving on fast food and bread and living cheek by jowl with people who had infinitely more resources than they.