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The demonym "Roman" refers to people originating from the city of Rome, and eventually the cities and provinces it controlled. Unlike many national groups from central Italy (such as the Etruscans or Samnites), the Romans were not differentiated by a shared ancestry or ethnicity. Rather, they were a group of people whose shared identity centered in the Seven Hills area of Central Italy, in the region of Latium (modern Lazio). Although there were indigenous Italic peoples who would form part of Rome's original population, for much of the Romans' existence, membership in the Roman identity was based on residency within a Roman-controlled territory and on conformance with the Roman lifestyle, not ethnicity or any concept of "race". As with many cultures, a person’s quality of life depended in many ways on their rank within the social structure. Two Romans living at the same time in the same city could have very different lives.


The Romans were not a distinct ethnic group or tribe of their own. Rather, they were a sociopolitical community, identifying themselves by their birthplace in Roman lands or the possession of Roman legal citizenship (though these were often the same). That being said, most of the early Romans were part of the Latin or Latini peoples of central Italy, what was then called Latium (now Lazio). Archaeological evidence shows that humans have lived in communities on the land now known as Rome for thousands of years, long before the supposed foundation of the city around 750 BCE. However, very little is known about these people, and their similarity to their successors is unclear.

The exact circumstances of the events which led to the formal creation of the city-state of Rome are unclear. It may have coalesced gradually over an extended period of time, rather than being founded on a specific date, but the perishable nature of materials from that era makes it extremely difficult for archaeologists to date any traces that still exist. However, Romans during the era of the republic typically believed that Rome was founded by the demigod Romulus. Romulus and his twin brother Remus were fathered by the god Mars, who was a god of agriculture and warfare (facets of life the Romans believed were intrinsically linked). After being thrown into the Tiber River to die as newborns (not uncommon for unwanted children in Rome), they were saved by a mother wolf and raised by a shepherd. Seizing control of much of Latium from other kings, Romulus and Remus then turned on each other, and Romulus killed Remus and before establishing the city boundary.

To populate the city, Romulus invited criminals, vagabonds, escaped slaves, foreigners, and other outcasts from the larger Italic Peninsula (the majority of modern Italy) to settle there. So many antisocial individuals in one place led to frequent violence and low social cohesion. This made other Italic peoples reluctant to marry their daughters to Romans, as they were considered unpleasant people. The lack of women in the settlement exacerbated the unrest because men had no outlet for pleasure. Equally troubling, the shortage of women meant that the Romans would not be able to reproduce. To bring women into the town and find wives for the male-dominated population, Romulus orchestrated the kidnapping and rape of many women of the nearby Sabine people of central Italy. When war was about to break out between the Romans and the Sabines, the Sabine women were said to voluntarily give themselves to the Romans for the sake of peace. From then, the first Romans were born in the city, which remained populated ever since.

While the reality of this story is undoubtedly scant, it provides important insights into how Romans saw themselves. Interpretations as to the meaning of the story vary widely, as do the details of various retellings. Yet several themes remain consistent: the harshness and unfairness of the world, the political and psychosocial importance of war and conquest, the belief that all of existence is subject to an inherent hierarchy, the right of the stronger to dominate the weaker, war as a cultural ideal, the normalization of women's submission and acceptance of their necessary role as pleasure outlets and child-producers, the inherent superiority of elites, and cleverness and ruthlessness as high virtues.

History Up to 73 BCE[]

Descended from the god of war and farming, the Romans considered themselves the superior people to all others. They quickly conquered their neighbors in central Italy, and eventually moved southward, fighting many Italic tribes along the way. The conquest and wiping out of many of these peoples (what today may be considered genocide) was justified, in their minds, by two related arguments: that Romans had a divine right to conquer, and that they excelled at doing so because of their ruthless pragmatism, that they could do what needed to be done in order to expand Rome--a virtue which was required in order to thrive in a cruel, chaotic world.

After defeating the Samnite peoples of central and southern Italy in three wars, Rome held most of the Italic Peninsula and became a major Mediterranean power. Their next enemy was Carthage, a city-state empire with advanced trade and ship-crafting. Rome also encountered Greece, and many Romans became obsessed with Greek culture. They appropriated many religious, intellectual, and material traditions from Greek peoples and applied them to Roman traditions. However, Roman traditionalists disapproved of this trend highly; they believed that the Greek way of life was too opulent and wasteful, and was destructive to Roman society and identity. This cultural rift between Romans would persist for many centuries, the most reactionary elements of which would pave the way for the turmoil of the late republic--the historical context in which the Third Servile War would take place.

After competing with each other for many years, Rome and Carthage engaged in a series of long, bloody wars known as the Punic Wars, They ultimately ended when Rome utterly destroyed Carthage in what is widely considered to be one of the earliest- and best-recorded genocides. After this, Rome faced almost no opposition in expanding throughout the Mediterranean, and began to conquer lands and peoples at accelerating rates. Some scholars believe--and even some contemporary social commentators feared--that defeating Carthage would ultimately destroy Rome; without the power of Carthage limiting Rome's expansion, the state would grow too large and too quickly, spreading itself too thin to meet serious threats to its power, and its people would eventual turn on each other. One of the most challenging of these threats would be the rebellion led by Spartacus, which not only taxed Rome's ability to function, but also shook Roman ideas about power dynamics to the core.

Class Structure[]

In general, Roman society was divided up by Patricians, Plebeians, Freedmen, and Slaves. Social advancement was not uncommon, but it mostly occurred within the lowest ranks: namely, slaves being manumitted (legally freed) and becoming freedmen. Whether or not freedmen could move up into the Plebeian class is a matter of debate. Freedmen had more rights than slaves, and could have held almost all of the rights as Roman citizens--the primary exception being the right to hold office. Children of freedmen were free at birth, and were full Roman citizens with every legal right afforded them.

Advancement to the Patrician class was, for all intents and purposes, impossible. While it was possible for a Plebeian to be adopted into a Patrician family, and even to hold vast amounts of wealth and power in the late republic, they would never have the same rights and privileges as Romans born into the Patrician class. It was the attempted advancement of Plebeians into roles traditionally held by Patricians that set the stage for much of the social conflict in Rome, particularly the brutal civil wars between traditionalist Lucius Cornelius Sulla and populist Gaius Marius in the late republic. The Sulla-Marius wars occurred in the early first century BCE, ultimately ending with Sulla's complete victory and assumption of the position of dictator. All of this would have been occurring just before the events of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, and Quintus's desire to advance socially, despite Tullius and his father demanding he remember his place, embodies the atmosphere of tension between Patricians and Plebeians during this time, and throughout much of the republic.


Patricians (fathers) were the descendants of the original members of the first incarnation of the Roman senate, as appointed by Romulus. They were the highest rank of Roman society and made up the majority of the Nobiles (noblemen). Originally, only members of the Patrician class were represented in the Roman Senate. But by the year 471 BCE, the lower classes took their first steps toward gaining political power in the Roman state, with the establishment of the Concilium Plebis (Plebian Council). Soon, more families of Plebeian origine would gain membership in the Senate. Those whom were successful enough to be elected to the office of Consul would be regarded as legitimate Nobiles ever after.

To advance politically, Patrician men usually had to fulfill a term of military service, preferably serving with distinction and achieving many victories. For most of the republic, only those men who owned land could be part of the military, as it was believed that no man would be willing to fight and die for Rome unless he owned a piece of it. This would change in the late republic, but military service continued to be an important avenue of accruing dignitas (dignity), respect, and power for Patricians.

Although his origins are unclear, it is possible that Gaius Claudius Glaber in the series was from a lesser Patrician or even a Plebeian family, and his unceasing quest for military glory may be his way of trying to climb the cursus honorum (the "ladder" or "course of honor"). The generally disdainful view of him held by his father-in-law Albinius and many other Romans may derive from his status as what they perceive to be socially inferior to them.

The second level of the Roman upper-class was the Ordo Equestor or Equestrian order, was the mercantile middle-class in Roman society, composed variously of the sons of Patrician class whom held no membership in the Senate (commerce was considered below the dignity of the Nobiles), enterprising Plebeians and ambitious freedmen and their descendants thereof. In the early Republican era, men from this section of society were recruited as Equites, providing the bulk of Rome's cavalry during wartime. But during peace, many ran private businesses in shipping. Many would form Publicani firms (tax-farming) and with the expansion of Rome's empire overseas, many Roman and Italic Equestrians would migrate to the provinces as licensed Publicani, with the duty to collect taxes from the resident citizenry and Rome's foreign subjects. After the Marian Reforms of 107 BCE, Rome's cavalry arm would be increasingly filled by foreign auxiliaries, with many Equestrians becoming middle-ranking officers. Those Equestrians with ambitions to join the Roman Senate would seek election as Military Tribunes in the legions. Most such officers would be prefects in the Auxilia cohorts. Others who could not find the necessary vacancies might either use what influence they had with the nobilty to gain a commission as a centurion, or else served in the Eques Legionis Alae of the legion, which after the Marian Reforms was reduced to a hundred and twenty-strong formation to employed for reconnaissance and logistics.  

Wealthy Romans[]

Wealthy was not always tied to ancestry, though it was more often than not. Toward the late republic period, more Romans could become wealthy without having Patrician heritage. Plebeian men--though usually with some ties to the nobility--could accumulate large amounts of wealth through a variety of industries. They could also function as patrons, giving them access to greater wealth, resources, political power, and prestige.

Similarly, Patricians were not always wealthy. While Patrician ancestry always commanded a degree of respect, they could fall on hard times through financial mismanagement, legal trouble, political upheaval, and poor luck. Their Patrician name may have given them some political and financial leverage with sympathetic members of their class, which they could use to recover their assets.

Regardless of social status, for wealthy Roman

Cossinius and Furius, two Romans.

s, life was generally good. They lived in extravagant townhouses called domi (singular: domus) or expansive rural farming estates called villae (singular: villa). They enjoyed a posh lifestyle with luxurious furnishings, the highest quality clothing and jewelry, and relatively safe and comfortable lifestyles. They depended on servants (mostly slaves) to cater to their every desire and accomplish the more mundane or laborious tasks of daily life.

A typical day for a wealthy Roman began in the morning, often after sunrise. After a morning meal, the man of the house (paterfamilias) would travel to his properties in the city or hold court in his home, so that his clients could review his investments with them and discuss their affairs. This would last until the afternoon, followed by a light lunch and then a trip to the public bath house to socialize or continue business. Dinner was held generally before dusk, and included rich and lavish fare. To show off their wealth, power, and generosity, they would often host exclusive dinner parties, where they would serve their guests the exotic dishes of the day like honeyed dormice and flamingo tongue, as well as other conventional but expensive meat, dairy, fish, starches, and fruits.

Working Class[]

Working-class Romans varied in wealth and lifestyle, but generally lived less privileged lives that the wealthy class. They dwelled in urban apartments called insulae ("islands") or in rural cottages, neither of which usually had their own plumbing. The urban poor did not cook at home due to the small amount of space, as well as the fire-prone nature of insulae. Instead, they ate from small restaurants or eateries like tabernae and popinae, used unsafe public toilets, and got water from free, public sources dispersed throughout the streets. Malnourishment, disease, injuries, and starvation were common, though improved at different periods through social programs like the cura annonae (grain dole) of the late republic. A lack of resources, education, and women's autonomy led to an epidemic of unwanted newborn babies. These infants could be left in public places in hopes that someone else would take them in as a servant or slave, but they were often killed or abandoned alive, thrown in trash depositories or into the Tiber River to drown. In the late republic, rural Romans often had to abandon their farms due to wartime labor shortages. These lands were then seized by wealthy individuals and made into latifundia, massive farming operations worked by slaves. Romans displaced from rural areas would flood into cities, leading to crises of unemployment, disease, fire, hunger, and crime. Modern surveys conducted using documentary and archaeological evidence indicate that, for the entirety of its existence, Rome's inhabitants spent an average of one out of every nine years in famine, epidemic, or war. Some scholars believe that the average life expectancy for Romans was only twenty-five years.

Poor in wealth but strong in numbers, they were the Roman mob, who relaxed in front of the popular entertainment of the time – chariot races between opposing teams, or gladiators fighting for their life, fame and fortune.

Although their lives may have been different, they did have some things in common. In any Roman family life, the head of the household was a man. Although his wife looked after the household, he controlled it. He alone could own property. Only he decided the fate of his children and who they would marry.

In 471 BCE, the Concilium Plebis or Plebian Tribal Assembly was established. The Conflict of the Orders in decades past had caused instances where the Plebians attempted to secede from the total authority the Patrician class had over the Republic of Rome. Thirty-three years earlier in 494 BCE, the Plebians had elected among their number the first Tribunus Plebis (Tribune of the Plebs) and two Plebians Aediles to represent the interests of their social class. The office of the Tribunate embodied the Plebian class and was considered sacrosanct, to the point that it was a capital offence to obstruct him in his duties.

In 445 BCE, the Lex Canuleia is successfully passed in the Senate. The author of the new law was the Plebian Tribune Gaius Canuleius, abolished the prohibition against the intermarriage between the Patrician and Plebian orders, with the children of such marriages inheriting their class from their paternal line.

In 376 BCE, the Lex Licinia Sextia by the Plebian Tribunes Gaius Licinius Stolo and Lucius Sextus Lateranus, which was meant to guarantee that one of the Consular positions would be granted to a Plebian senator.

In 287 BCE the Lex Hortensia which allowed the resolutions passed by Plebian politicians to be as binding as those of the Patricians order.


There were other traditions that all Romans shared. Whatever their individual circumstances, all Romans observed certain practices at dinner time, the main meal of the day. Although they might eat very different food, they ate it in roughly the same way.

And Romans of all classes made a point of visiting the baths after work each day. There they would mix freely with their fellow citizens, exercising, washing and chatting. To citizens, the baths made them feel superior to the rest of the world – they made them feel Roman.

In The Show[]

In the show, Romans are portrayed as being arrogant, manipulative, xenophobic, classist, selfish, apathetic, cruel, and sadistic. There are some points where Romans exhibit more positive attributes, though even these are often couched in the oppressive Roman notion of honor. The wealthy are well-groomed, wear extravagant clothing, eat and drink as expensively as they can, and spend their time between business affairs (for men), political schemes, festivals and worship, celebrations, and watching gladiator fights. They rely on slaves for almost everything, from taking care of the home and businesses, to sexual intercourse.

Women are, in the eyes of the law, entirely dependent on men. Women must marry as soon as possible--ideally to someone of prestige--and bear sons so that their husbands can carry on their family lineage. They have no legal rights, cannot own property, cannot inherit anything, and cannot own or run enterprises. That being said, they wield considerable "soft power", using their influence over the men in their lives to manipulate certain situations. They are just as intelligent as men, but have no education beyond basic literacy and overseeing domestic affairs. They spend their time in the home, attended to by slaves and focused on social and personal affairs, but are sometimes found in the marketplace and at public games like arena fights.

Men are the sole breadwinners of the family, and hold the only overt political power. They are in charge of the family's finances and, though their wives may be able to influence them, are the primary decision makers in matters of money. When they make mistakes, they are accountable only to themselves, to other men, and to the Roman legal system. They have the authority to beat and even kill their wives and children, especially if they are the paterfamilias. Their professions are vary, with lower-class men doing trades or manual labor for a living, while upper-class men are engaged in a series of enterprises through the Roman patronage system. Many of the men, but not all, have a military history, and are deliberately ruthless and cruel to their enemies. Generally speaking, this lifestyle is quite historically accurate. Although some of them can be quite skilled, and their army is capable of exceptional discipline, they are typically less skilled in combat than characters of other backgrounds. Exceptions of this include Glaber, Marcus, Crassus, Caesar, and Varro.

Notable Romans[]