The family was regarded by the early Romans as the most important and sacred of all human institutions. At its head was the household father (paterfamilias). He was supreme ruler over all the members of the household; his power extended to life and death. He had charge of the family worship and performed the religious rites about the sacred fire, which was kept burning upon the family altar. Around the family hearth were gathered the sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and also, the adopted children,—all of whom remained under the power of the father as long as he lived. The family might also have dependent members, called “clients,” who looked up to the father as their “patron”; and also slaves, who served the father as their master. Every Roman looked with pride upon his family and the deeds of his ancestors; and it was regarded as a great calamity for the family worship to become extinct. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901),]

Jana Louise Smit wrote for Listverse: “Roman families would be both recognizable and unrecognizable today. Their strict social classes and lawful human rights violations will make any rational person glad to be alive in the 21st century. On the other hand, their homelier moments are eternal. Like today, children played similar games, the whole family coddled pets, and they enjoyed the finer things in life.” [Source: Jana Louise Smit, Listverse, August 5, 2016]

In attempt to boost the declining birth rate Augustus, in the A.D. 1st century, offered tax breaks for large families and cracked down on abortion. He imposed strict marriage laws and changed adultery from an act of indecency to an act of sedition, decreeing that a man who discovered his wife's infidelity must turn her in or face charges himself. Adulterous couples could have their property confiscated, be exiled to different parts of the empire and be prohibited from marrying one another. Augustus passed the reforms because he believed that too many men spent their energy with prostitutes and concubines and had nothing for their wives, causing population declines.

Under Augustus, women had the right to divorce. Husbands could see prostitutes but not keep mistresses, widows were obligated to remarry within two years, divorcees within 18 months. Parents with three or more children were given rewards, property, job promotions, and childless couples and single men were looked down upon and penalized . The end result of the reforms was a skyrocketing divorce rate.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Book: “The Roman Family” (1992) by Suzanne Dixon’

Familias (Households) in Ancient Rome

family with slave making a sacrifice

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “If by our word “family” we understand a group consisting of husband, wife, and children, we may acknowledge at once that it does not correspond exactly to any meanings of the Latin familia, varied as the dictionaries show these to be. Husband, wife, and children did not necessarily constitute an independent family among the Romans, and were not necessarily members even of the same family. The Roman familia, in the sense nearest to that of the English word “family,” was made up of those persons who were subject to the authority of the same Head of the House (pater familias). These persons might make a host in themselves: wife, unmarried daughters, sons, adopted sons, married or unmarried, with their wives, sons, unmarried daughters, and even remoter descendants (always through males), yet they made but one familia in the eyes of the Romans. The Head of such a familia—“household” or “house” is the nearest English word—was always sui iuris (“his own master,” “independent”), while the others were alieno iuri subiecti (“subject to another's authority,” “dependent”). [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The word familia was also very commonly used in a slightly wider sense to include, in addition to the persons named above, all the slaves and clients and all the property real and personal belonging to the pater familias, or acquired and used by the persons under his potestas. The word was also used of the slaves alone, and, rarely, of the property alone. In a still wider and more important sense the word was applied to a larger group of related persons, the gens, consisting of all the “households” (familiae) that derived their descent through males from a common ancestor. This remote ancestor, could his life have lasted through all the intervening centuries, would have been the pater familias of all the persons included in the gens, and all would have been subject to his potestas. Membership in the gens was proved by the possession of the nomen, the second of the three names that every citizen of the Republic regularly had. |+|

“Theoretically this gens had been in prehistoric times one of the familiae, “households,” whose union for political purposes had formed the State. Theoretically its pater familias had been one of the Heads of Houses from whom, in the days of the kings, had been chosen the patres, or assembly of old men (senatus). The splitting up of this prehistoric household in the manner, a process repeated generation after generation, was believed to account for the numerous familiae that, in later times, claimed connection with the great gentes. There came to be, of course, gentes of later origin that imitated the organization of the older gentes. The gens had an organization of which little is known. It passed resolutions binding upon its members; it furnished guardians for minor children, and curators for the insane and spendthrifts. When a member died without leaving heirs, the gens succeeded to such property as he did not dispose of by will and administered it for the common good of all its members. These members were called gentiles, were bound to take part in the religious services of the gens (sacra gentilicia), had a claim to the common property, and might, if they chose, be laid to rest in a common burial ground, if the gens maintained one. Finally, the word familia was often applied to certain branches of a gens whose members had the same cognomen. For this sense of familia a more accurate word is stirps. |+|

Men in Ancient Rome

At the head of the family was the household father (paterfamilias). He was supreme ruler over all the members of the household; his power extended to life and death. He had charge of the family worship and performed the religious rites about the sacred fire, which was kept burning upon the family altar. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Young men were allowed to, even encouraged, to visit prostitutes and have male lovers but once they got married they were expected to be devoted family men. Children often addressed their fathers as "Sir" and irregardless of whether they were male or female they were under the wing of their father as long as they there alive. Children who disappointed their fathers in some way were sometimes condemned to death by their fathers.

Sons needed approval from their fathers to marry, launch a business, and start a career. Their income belonged to their fathers. The stress and pressure that resulted from this arrangement no doubt encouraged sons to murder their fathers and fathers to disinherit their sons.

Augustus, a short but strong father figure with an out-of-control daughter

Patria Potestas: Authority of the Father

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The authority of the pater familias over his descendants was called usually patria potestas, but also patria maiestas, patrium ius, and imperium paternum. It was carried to a greater length by the Romans than by any other people, so that, in its original and unmodified form, the patria potestas seems to us excessive and cruel. As they understood it, the pater familias, in theory, had absolute power over his children and other agnatic descendants. He decided whether or not the new-born child should be reared; he punished what he regarded as misconduct with penalties as severe as banishment, slavery, and death; he alone could own and exchange property—all that those subject to him earned or acquired in any way was his; according to the letter of the law they were little better than his chattels. If his right to one of them was disputed, he vindicated it by the same form of action that he used in order to maintain his right to a house or a horse; if one of them was stolen, he proceeded against the abductor by the ordinary action for theft; if for any reason he wished to transfer one of them to a third person, it was done by the same form of conveyance that he employed to transfer inanimate things. The jurists boasted that these powers were enjoyed by Roman citizens only. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“But however stern this authority was theoretically, it was greatly modified in practice, under the Republic by custom, under the Empire by law. King Romulus was said to have ordained that all sons and all first-born daughters should be reared, and that no child should be put to death until its third year, unless it was grievously deformed. This at least secured life for the child, though the pater familias still decided whether it should be admitted to his household, with the resultant social and religious privileges, or be disowned and become an outcast. King Numa was said to have forbidden the sale into slavery of a son who had married with the consent of his father. But of much greater importance was the check put by custom upon arbitrary and cruel punishments. Custom, not law, obliged the pater familias to call a council of relatives and friends (iudicium domesticum) when he contemplated inflicting severe punishment upon his children, and public opinion obliged him to abide by its verdict. Even in the comparatively few cases when tradition tells us that the death penalty was actually inflicted, we usually find that the father acted in the capacity of a magistrate happening to be in office when the offense was committed, or that the penalties of the ordinary law were merely anticipated, perhaps to avoid the disgrace of a public trial and execution. |+|

“So, too, in regard to the ownership of property the conditions were not really so hard as the strict letter of the law makes them appear to us. It was customary for the Head of the House to assign to his children property, peculium (“cattle of their own”), for them to manage for their own benefit. Furthermore, although the pater familias theoretically held legal title to all their acquisitions, yet practically all property was acquired for and belonged to the household as a whole, and the pater familias was, in effect, little more than a trustee to hold and administer it for the common benefit. This is shown by the fact that there was no graver offense against public morals, no fouler blot on private character, than to prove untrue to this trust (patrimonium profundere). Besides this, the long continuance of the potestas is in itself a proof that its rigor was more apparent than real. |+|

Manus: Power of the Husband Over His Wife

from the Villa de Misteri in Pompeii

Women were regarded as the property of a man. When they reached marriageable age they had two options: to be married with manu , which meant she belonged to her husband, or without manu , in which she still belonged to her father and could inherit wealth for him or be repossessed by him. Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The power over the wife possessed by the husband in its most extreme form, called by the Romans manus. By the oldest and most solemn form of marriage the wife was separated entirely from her father's family and passed into her husband's power or “hand” (conventio in manum). This assumes, of course, that he was sui iuris; if he was not, then she was, though nominally in his "hand," really subject, as he was, to his pater familias. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“Any property she had of her own—and to have had any she must have been independent before her marriage—passed to her husband's father as a matter of course. If she had none, her pater familias furnished a dowry (dos), which shared the same fate, though it must be returned if she should be divorced. Whatever she acquired by her industry or otherwise while the marriage lasted also became her husband's (subject to the patria potestas under which he lived). So far, therefore, as property rights were concerned, manus differed in no respect from the patria potestas: the wife was in loco filiae, and on the husband's death took a daughter's share in his estate. |+|

“In other respects manus conferred more limited powers. The husband was required by law, not merely obliged by custom, to refer alleged misconduct of his wide to the iudicium domesticum, and this was composed in part of her cognates. He could put her away for certain grave offenses only; Romulus was said to have ordained that, if he divorced her without good cause, he should be punished with the loss of all his property. He could not sell her at all. In short, public opinion and custom operated even more strongly for her protection than for that of her children. It must be noticed, therefore, that the chief distinction between manus and patria potestas lay in the fact that the former was a legal relationship based upon the consent of the weaker party, while the latter was a natural relationship independent of all law and choice. |+|

Dominica Potestas: Power of the Father Over His Children and Property

from the Vasa dei Vettii in Pompeii

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Whereas the authority of the pater familias over his descendants was called patria potestas, his authority over his chattels was called dominica potestas. So long as he lived and retained his citizenship, these powers could be terminated only by his own deliberate act. He could dispose of his property by gift or sale as freely as we do now. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“He might “emancipate” his sons, a very formal proceeding (emancipatio) by which they became each the Head of a new House, even if they were childless themselves or unmarried or mere children. He might also emancipate an unmarried daughter, who thus in her own self became an independent familia, or he might give her in marriage to another Roman citizen, an act by which she passed, according to early usage, into the House of which her husband was Head, if he was sui iuris, or into that of which he was a member, if he was still alieno iuri subiectus. It must be noticed, on the other hand, that the marriage of a son did not make him a pater familias or relieve him in any degree from the patria potestas: he and his wife and their children were subject to the Head of his House as he had been before his marriage. On the other hand, the Head of the House could not number in his familia his daughter’s children; legitimate children were under the same patria potestas as their father, while an illegitimate child was from the moment of birth in himself or herself an independent familia. |+|

“The right of a pater familias to ownership in his property (dominica potestas) was complete and absolute. This ownership included slaves as well as inanimate things, for slaves, as well as inanimate things, were mere chattels in the eyes of the law. The influence of custom and public opinion, so far as these tended to mitigate the horrors of their condition, will be discussed later. It will be sufficient to say here that, until imperial times, there was nothing to which the slave could appeal from the judgment of his master. That judgment was final and absolute. |+|

Splitting Up a Household in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Emancipation was not very common, and it usually happened that the household was dissolved only by the death of its Head. When this occurred, as many new households were formed as there were persons directly subjected to his potestas at the moment of his death: wife, sons, unmarried daughters, widowed daughters-in-law, and children of a deceased son. The children of a surviving son, it must be noticed, merely passed from the potestas of their grandfather to that of their father. A son under age or an unmarried daughter was put under the care of a guardian (tutor), selected from the same gens, very often an older brother, if there was one. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“It is assumed that Gaius was a widower who had had five children, three sons and two daughters. Of the sons, Aulus and Appius had married and each had two children; Appius then died. Of the daughters, Terentia Minor had married Marcus and become the mother of two children. When Gaius died, Publius and Terentia were unmarried. Gaius had emancipated none of his children. The following points should be noticed:

“1) The living descendants of Gaius were ten (3, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16); his son Appius was dead. 2) Subject to his potestas were nine (3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14). 3) His daughter Terentia Minor (10) had passed out of his potestas by her marriage with Marcus (9), and her children (15, 16) alone out of all the descendants of Gaius had not been subject to him.

“4) At his death were formed six independent familiae, one consisting of four persons (3, 4, 11, 12), the others of one person each (6, 7, 8, 13, 14). 5) Titus and Tiberius (11, 12) merely passed out of the potestas of their grandfather, Gaius, to come under that of their father, Aulus. 6) If Quintus (13) and Sextus (14) were minors, guardians were appointed for them, as stated above.

The patria potestas was extinguished in various ways: 1) By the death of the pater familias; 2) By the emancipation of a son or a daughter 3) By the loss of citizenship of a son or a daughter 4) If the son became a Flamen Dialis or the daughter a virgo vestalis 5) If either father or child was adopted by a third party 6) If the daughter passed by formal marriage into the power (in manum) of a husband, though this did not essentially change her dependent condition 7) If the son became a public magistrate. In this case the potestas was suspended during the period of office, but, after it expired, the father might hold the son accountable for his acts, public or private, while he held the magistracy.


Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “It has been remarked that the children of a daughter could not be included in the familia of her father, and that membership in the larger organization known as the gens was limited to those who could trace their descent through males to a common ancestor, in whose potestas they would be were he alive. All persons related to one another by such descent were called agnati, “agnates.” Agnatio was the closest tie of relationship known to the Romans. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“In the list of agnati were included two classes of persons who would seem by the definition to be excluded. These were 1) the wife, who passed by manus into the family of her husband, becoming by law his agnate and the agnate of all his agnates, and 2) the adopted son. On the other hand a son who had been emancipated was excluded from agnatio with his father and his father’s agnates, and could have no agnates of his own until he married or was adopted into another familia. |+|

“It is supposed that Gaius and Gaia have five children (Aulus, Appius, Publius, Terentia, and Terentia Minor), and six grandsons (Titus and Tiberius, the sons of Aulus, Quintus and Sextus, the sons of Appius, and Servius and Decimus, the sons of Terentia Minor). Gaius has emancipated two of his sons, Appius and Publius, and has adopted his grandson Servius, who had previously been emancipated by his father, Marcus. There are four sets of agnati: 1) Gaius, his wife, and those whose pater familias he is: Aulus, Tullia, the wife of Aulus, Terentia, Titus, Tiberius, and Servius, a son by adoption (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 12, 15). 2) Appius, his wife, and their two sons (5, 6, 13, 14). 3) Publius, who is himself a pater familias, but has no agnati at all. 4) Marcus, his wife, Terentia Minor, and their child Decimus (9, 10, 16). Notice that the other child, Servius (15), having been emancipated by Marcus, is no longer agnate to his father, mother, or brother, but has become one of the group of agnati mentioned above, under (1).

Cognati and Adfines

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Cognati, on the other hand, were what we call blood relations, no matter whether they traced their relationship through males or through females, and regardless of what potestas had been over them. The only barrier in the eyes of the law was loss of citizenship, and even this was not always regarded. Thus, in the table last given, Gaius, Aulus, Appius, Publius, Terentia, Terentia Minor, Titus, Tiberius, Quintus, Sextus, Servius, and Decimus are all cognates with one another. So, too, is Gaia with all her descendants mentioned. So also are Tullia, Titus, and Tiberius; Licinia, Quintus, and Sextus; Marcus, Servius, and Decimus. But husband and wife (Gaius and Gaia, Aulus and Tullia, Appius and Licinia, Marcus and Terentia Minor) are not cognates by virtue of their marriage, though that made them agnates. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“ Public opinion strongly discountenanced the marriage of cognates within the sixth (later the fourth) degree, and persons within this degree were said to have the ius osculi, “the right to kiss.” The degree was calculated by counting from one of the interested parties through the common kinsman to the other. The matter may be understood from this table in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities under cognati, or from the one given here Cognates did not form an organic body in the State as the agnates formed the gens, but the twenty-second of February was set aside to commemorate the tie of blood (cara cognatio. On this day presents were exchanged and family reunions were probably held. It must be understood, however, that cognatio gave no legal rights or claims under the Republic.

“Persons connected by marriage only, as a wife with her husband’s cognates and he with hers, were called adfines. There were no formal degrees of adfinitas, as there were of cognatio. Those adfines for whom distinctive names were in common use were gener, son-in-law; nurus, daughter-in-law; socer, father-in-law; socrus, mother-in-law; privignus, privigna, step-son, step-daughter; vitricus, step-father; noverca, step-mother. If we compare these names with the awkward compounds that do duty for them in English, we shall have additional proof of the stress laid by the Romans on family ties; two women who married brothers were called ianitrices, a relationship for which we do not have even a compound. The names of blood relations tell the same story; a glance at the table of cognates will show how strong the Latin is here, how weak the English. We have “uncle,” “aunt,” and “cousin,” but between avunculus and patruus, matertera and amita, patruelis and consobrinus we can distinguish only by descriptive phrases. For atavus and tritavus we have merely the indefinite “forefathers.” In the same way the Latin language testifies to the headship of the father. We speak of the “mother-country” and “mother-tongue,” but to the Roman these were patria and sermo patrius. As the pater stood to the filius, so stood the patronus to the cliens, the patricii to the plebeii, the patres (senators) to the rest of the citizens, and Iuppiter (Jove the Father) to the other gods.

Family Cult

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “It has been said that agnatio was the closest tie known to the Romans. The importance they attached to the agnatic group is largely explained by their ideas of the future life. They believed that the souls of men had an existence apart from the body, but they did not originally think that the souls were in a separate spiritland. They conceived of the souls as hovering around the place of burial and requiring for its peace and happiness that offerings of food and drink be made to it regularly. Should the offerings be discontinued, the soul, they thought, would cease to be happy, and might even become a spirit of evil to bring harm upon those who had neglected the proper rites. The maintenance of these rites and ceremonies devolved naturally upon the descendants from generation to generation, whom the spirits in turn would guide and guard. Contact with Etruscan and Greek art and myth later brought in such ideas of a place of torment or possible happiness as Vergil gathers up in Book VI of the Aeneid. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The Roman was bound, therefore, to perform these acts of affection and piety so long as he himself lived, and was bound no less to provide for their performance after his death by perpetuating his race and the family cult. A curse was believed to rest upon the childless man. Marriage was, therefore, a solemn religious duty, entered into only with the approval of the gods, ascertained by the auspices. In taking a wife to himself the Roman made her a partaker of his family mysteries, a service that brooked no divided allegiance. He therefore separated her entirely from her father’s family, and was ready in turn to surrender his daughter without reserve to the husband with whom she was to minister at another altar. The pater familias was the priest of the household; those subject to his potestas assisted in the prayers and offerings, the sacra familiaria.

“But it might be that a marriage was fruitless, or that the Head of the House saw his sons die before him. In this case he had to face the prospect of the extinction of his family, and his own descent to the grave with no posterity to make him blessed. One of two alternatives was open to him to avert such a calamity. He might give himself in adoption and pass into another family in which the perpetuation of the family cult seemed certain, or he might adopt a son and thus perpetuate his own family. He usually followed the latter course, because it secured peace for the souls of his ancestors no less than for his own.

Family Recreation in Ancient Rome

Jana Louise Smit wrote for Listverse: “Downtime was a big part of Roman family life. Usually, starting at noon, the upper crust of society dedicated their day to leisure. Most enjoyable activities were public and shared by rich and poor alike, male and female—watching gladiators disembowel each other, cheering chariot races, or attending the theatre. [Source: Jana Louise Smit, Listverse, August 5, 2016]

“Citizens also spent a lot of time at public baths, which wasn’t your average tub and towel affair. A Roman bath typically had a gym, pool, and a health center. Certain locales even offered prostitutes. Children had their own favorite pastimes. Boys preferred to be more active, wrestling, flying kites, or playing war games. Girls occupied themselves with things like dolls and board games. Families also enjoyed just relaxing with each other and their pets.

The Romans loved their bathes and much of Roman social life centered around them. Bathing was both a social duty and a way to relax. During the early days of Roman baths there were no rules about nudity or the mixing of the sexes, or for that matter rules about what people did when they were nude and mixing. For women who had problems with this arrangement there were special baths for women only. But eventually the outcry against promiscuous behavior in the baths forced Emperor Hadrian to separate the sexes. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Most Roman houses, large or small, had a garden. Large homes had one in the courtyard and this was often where the family gathered, socialized and ate their meals. The sunny Mediterranean climate in Italy was usually accommodating to this routine. On the walls of the houses around the garden were paintings of more plants and flowers as well as exotic birds, cows, birdfeeders, and columns, as if the homeowner was trying achieve the same affects as the backdrop on a Hollywood set. Poor families tended small plots in the back of the house, or at least had some potted plants.

Plutarch on Good Parenting

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “13. Moreover, I have seen some parents whose too much love to their children has occasioned, in truth, their not loving them at all. I will give light to this assertion by an example, to those who ask what it means. It is this: while they are over-hasty to advance their children in all sorts of learning beyond their equals, they set them too hard and laborious tasks, whereby they fall under discouragement; and this, with other inconveniences accompanying it, cause them in the issue to be ill affected to learning itself. For as plants by moderate watering are nourished, but with over-much moisture are glutted, so is the spirit improved by moderate labors, but overwhelmed by such as are excessive. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“We ought therefore to give children some time to take breath from their constant labors, considering that all human life is divided betwixt business and relaxation. To which purpose it is that we are inclined by nature not only to wake, but to sleep also; that as we have sometimes wars, so likewise at other times peace; so some foul, so other fair days; and, as we have seasons of important business, so also the vacation times of festivals. And, to contract all in a word, rest is the sauce of labor. Nor is it thus in living creatures only, but in things inanimate too. For even in bows and harps, we loosen their strings, that we may bend and wind them up again. Yes, it is universally seen that, as the body is maintained by repletion and evacuation, so is the mind by employment and relaxation.

“Those parents, moreover, are to be blamed who, when they have committed their sons to the care of pedagogues or schoolmasters, never see or hear them perform their tasks; wherein they fail much of their duty. For they ought, ever and again, after the intermission of some days, to make trial of their children's proficiency; and not intrust their hopes of them to the discretion of a hireling. For even that sort of men will take more care of the children, when they know that they are regularly to be called to account. And here the saying of the king's groom is very applicable, that nothing made the horse so fat as the king's eye.

Plutarch: “Children Ought to Be Made to Abstain from Speaking Filthily”

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “14. Children ought to be made to abstain from speaking filthily, seeing, as Democritus said, words are but the shadows of actions. They are, moreover, to be instructed to be affable and courteous in discourse. For as churlish manners are always detestable, so children may be kept from being odious in conversation, if they will not be pertinaciously bent to maintain all they say in dispute. For it is of use to a man to understand not only how to overcome, but also how to give ground when to conquer would turn to his disadvantage. For there is such a thing sometimes as a Cadmean victory; which the wise Euripides attests, when he said — “Where two discourse, if the one's anger rise, /The man who lets the contest fall is wise. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“Add we now to these things some others of which children ought to have no less, yes, rather greater care; to-wit, that they avoid luxurious living, bridle their tongues, subdue anger, and refrain their hands. Of how great moment each of these counsels is, I now come to inquire; and we may best judge of them by examples. To begin with the last: some men there have been, who, by opening their hands to take what they ought not, have lost all the honor they got in the former part of their lives. So Gylippus the Lacedaemonian, for unsewing the public money-bags, was condemned to banishment from Sparta. And to be able also to subdue anger is the part of a wise man. Such a one was Socrates; for when a hectoring and debauched young man rudely kicked him, so that those in his company, being sorely offended, were ready to run after him and call him to account for it, What, said he to them, if an ass had kicked me, would you think it handsomely done to kick him again? And yet the young man himself escaped not unpunished; for when all persons reproached him for so unworthy an act, and gave him the nickname of Laktistes, or the kicker, he hanged himself.

“The same Socrates — when Aristophanes, publishing his play which he called The Clouds, therein threw all sorts of the foulest reproaches upon him, and a friend of his, who was present at the acting of it, repeated to him what was there said in the same comical manner, asking him withal, Does not this offend you, Socrates? — replied: Not at all, for I can as well bear with a fool in a play as at a great feast. And something of the same nature is reported to have been done by Archytas of Tarentum and Plato. For Archytas, when, upon his return from the war, wherein he had been a general, informed that his land had been impaired by his bailiff's negligence, sent for him, and said only thus to him when he came: If I were not very angry with you, I would severely correct you. And Plato, being offended with a gluttonous and debauched servant, called to him Speusippus, his sister's son, and said to him: Go beat you, this fellow: for I am too much offended with him to do it myself.

“These things, you will perhaps say, are very difficult to be imitated. I confess it; but yet we must endeavor to the utmost of our power, by setting such examples before us, to repress the extravagancy of our immoderate, furious anger. For neither are we able to rival the experience or virtue of such men in many other matters; but we do, nevertheless, as sacred interpreters of divine mysteries and priests of wisdom, strive to follow these examples, and, as it were, to enrich ourselves with what we can nibble from them.

“And as to the bridling of the tongue, concerning which also I am obliged to speak, if any man think it a small matter or of mean concernment, he is much mistaken. For it is a point of wisdom to be silent when occasion requires, and better than to speak, though never so well. And, in my judgment, for this reason the ancients instituted mystical rites of initiation in religion, that, being in them accustomed to silence, we might thence transfer the fear we have of the gods to the fidelity required in human secrets. Yes, indeed, experience shows that no man ever repented of having kept silence; but many that they have not done so. And a man may, when he will, easily utter what he has by silence concealed; but it is impossible for him to recall what he has once spoken. And, moreover, I can remember infinite examples that have been told me of those that have procured great damages to themselves by intemperance of the tongue: one or two of which I will give, omitting the rest. When Ptolemy Philadelphus had taken his sister Arsinöe to wife, Sotades for breaking an obscene jest upon him lay languishing in prison a great while; a punishment which he deserved for his unseasonable babbling, whereby to provoke laughter in others he purchased a long time of mourning to himself. Much after the same rate, or rather still worse, did Theocritus the Sophist both talk and suffer.

“For when Alexander commanded the Greeks to provide him a purple robe, wherein, upon his return from the wars, he meant to sacrifice to the Gods in gratitude for his victorious success against the barbarians, and the various states were bringing in the sums assessed upon them, Theocritus said: I now see clearly that this is what Homer calls purple death, which I never understood before. By which speech he made the king his enemy from that time forwards. The same person provoked Antigonus, the king of Macedon, to great wrath, by reproaching him with his defect, as having but one eye. Thus it was Antigonus commanded Eutropion, his master-cook (then in waiting), to go to this Theocritus and settle some accounts with him. And when he announced his errand to Theocritus, and called frequently about the business, the latter said: I know that you have a mind to dish me up raw to that Cyclops; thus reproaching at once the king with the want of his eye, and the cook with his employment. To which Eutropion replied: Then you shall lose your head, as the penalty of your loquacity and madness. And he was as good as his word; for he departed and informed the king, who sent and put Theocritus to death.

“Besides all these things, we are to accustom children to speak the truth, and to account it, as indeed it is, a matter of religion for them to do so. For lying is a servile quality, deserving the hatred of all mankind; yes, a fault for which we ought not to forgive our meanest servants.

Plutarch: Encouraging Teenagers Not to Hang Out with Degenerates

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “14. Thus far have I discoursed concerning the good-breeding of children, and the sobriety requisite to that age, without any hesitation or doubt in my own mind concerning any thing that I have said. But in what remains to be said, I am dubious and divided in my own thoughts, which, as if they were laid in a balance, sometimes incline this way, and sometimes that way. I am therefore loath to persuade or dissuade in the matter. But I must venture to answer one question, which is this: whether we ought to admit those that make love to our sons to keep them company, or whether we should not rather thrust them out of doors, and banish them from their society. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“For when I look upon those straightforward parents, of a harsh and austere temper, who think it an outrage not to be endured that their sons should have anything to say to lovers, I am tender of being the persuader or encourager of such a practice. But, on the other side, when I call to mind Socrates, and Plato, and Xenophon, and Aeschines, and Cebes, with a whole troop of other such men, who have approved those masculine loves, and still have brought up young men to learning, public employments, and virtuous living, I am again of another mind, and am much influenced by my zeal to imitate such great men. And the testimony also of Euripides is favorable to their opinion, when he says---“Another love there is in mortals found;/ The love of just and chaste and virtuous souls.

“And yet I think it not improper here to mention withal that saying of Plato, spoken betwixt jest and earnest, that men of great eminence must be allowed to show affection to what beautiful objects they please. I would decide then that parents are to keep off such as make beauty the object of their affection, and admit altogether such as direct the love to the soul; whence such loves are to be avoided as are in Thebes and Elis, and that sort which in Crete they call ravishment; and such are to be imitated as are in Athens and Sparta.

“16. But in this matter let every man follow his own judgment. Thus far have I discoursed concerning the right ordering and decent carriage of children. I will now pass thence, to speak somewhat concerning the next age, that of youth. For I have often blamed the evil custom of some, who commit their boys in childhood to pedagogues and teachers, and then suffer the impetuosity of their youth to range without restraint; whereas boys of that age need to be kept under a stricter guard than children. For who does not know that the errors of childhood are small, and perfectly capable of being amended; such as slighting their pedagogues, or disobedience to their teachers' instructions? But when they begin to grow towards maturity, their offences are oftentimes very great and heinous; such as gluttony, pilfering money from their parents, dicing, revelings, drunkenness, courting of maidens, and defiling of marriage-beds. Wherefore it is expedient that such impetuous heats should with great care be kept under and restrained. For the ripeness of that age admits no bounds in its pleasures, is skittish, and needs a curb to check it; so that those parents who do not hold in their sons with great strength about that time find to their surprise that they are giving their vicious inclinations full swing in the pursuit of the vilest actions. Wherefore it is a duty incumbent upon wise parents, in that age especially, to set a strict watch upon them, and to keep them within the bounds of sobriety by instructions, threatenings, entreaties, counsels, promises, and by laying before them examples of those men (on one side) who by immoderate love of pleasures have brought themselves into great mischief, and of those (on the other hand) who by abstinence in the pursuit of them have purchased to themselves very great praise and glory. For these two things (hope of honor, and fear of punishment) are, in a sort, the first elements of virtue; the former whereof spurs men on more eagerly to the pursuit of honest studies, while the latter blunts the edge of their inclinations to vicious courses.

“17. And in sum, it is necessary to restrain young men from the conversation of debauched persons, lest they take infection from their evil examples This was taught by Pythagoras in certain enigmatical sentences, which I shall here relate and expound, as being greatly useful to further virtuous inclinations. Such are these: Taste not of fish that have black tails; that is, converse not with men that are smutted with vicious qualities. Stride not over the beam of the scales; wherein he teaches us the regard we ought to have for justice, so as not to go beyond its measures. Sit not on a phoenix, wherein he forbids sloth, and requires us to take care to provide ourselves with the necessaries of life. Do not strike hands with every man; he means we ought not to be over hasty to make acquaintances or friendships with others. Wear not a tight string; that is, we are to labor after a free and independent way of living, and to submit to no fetters. Stir not up the fire with a sword; signifying that we ought not to provoke a man more when he is angry already (since this is a most unseemly act), but we should rather comply with him while his passion is in its heat. Eat not your heart; which forbids to afflict our souls, and waste them with vexatious cares. Abstain from beans; that is, keep out of public offices, for anciently the choice of the officers of state was made by beans. Put not food in a chamber-pot; wherein he declares that elegant discourse ought not to be put into an impure mind; for discourse is the food of the mind, which is rendered unclean by the foulness of the man who receives it. When men are arrived at the goal, they should not turn back; that is, those who are near the end of their days, and see the period of their lives approaching, ought to entertain it contentedly, and not to be grieved at it.

“But to return from this digression, our children, as I have said, are to be debarred the company of all evil men, but especially flatterers. For I would still affirm what I have often said in the presence of divers fathers, that there is not a more pestilent sort of men than these, nor any that more certainly and speedily hurry youth into precipices. Yes, they utterly ruin both fathers and sons, making the old age of the one and the youth of the other full of sorrow, while they cover the hook of their evil counsels with the unavoidable bait of voluptuousness. Parents, when they have good estates to leave their children, exhort them to sobriety, flatterers to drunkenness; parents exhort to continence, these to lasciviousness; parents to good husbandry, these to prodigality; parents to industry, these to slothfulness. And they usually entertain them with such discourses as these: The whole life of man is but a point of time; let us enjoy it therefore while it lasts, and not spend it to no purpose. Why should you so much regard the displeasure of your father?---an old doting fool, with one foot already in the grave, and 'tis to be hoped it will not be long ere we carry him there altogether. And some of them there are who procure young men foul harlots, yes, prostitute wives to them; and they even make a prey of those things which the careful fathers have provided for the sustenance of their old age. A cursed tribe! True friendship's hypocrites, they have no knowledge of plain dealing and frank speech. They flatter the rich, and despise the poor; and they seduce the young, as by a musical charm. When those who feed them begin to laugh, then they grin and show their teeth. They are mere counterfeits, bastard pretenders to humanity, living at the nod and beck of the rich; free by birth, yet slaves by choice, who always think themselves abused when they are not so, because they are not supported in idleness at others' cost. Wherefore, if fathers have any care for the good breeding of their children, they ought to drive such foul beasts as these out of doors. They ought also to keep them from the companionship of vicious school-fellows, for these are able to corrupt the most ingenuous dispositions.

Plutarch: A Closing Word on Good Parenting

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “18. These counsels which I have now given are of great worth and importance; what I have now to add touches certain allowances that are to be made to human nature. Again, therefore, I would not have fathers of an over-rigid and harsh temper, but so mild as to forgive some slips of youth, remembering that they themselves were once young. But as physicians are wont to mix their bitter medicines with sweet syrups, to make what is pleasant a vehicle for what is wholesome, so should fathers temper the keenness of their reproofs with lenity. They may occasionally loosen the reins, and allow their children to take some liberties they are inclined to, and again, when it is fit, manage them with a straighter bridle. But chiefly should they bear their errors without passion, if it may be; and if they chance to be heated more than ordinary, they ought not to suffer the flame to burn long. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

family tombstone

“For it is better that a father's anger be hasty than severe; because the heaviness of his wrath, joined with implacableness, is no small argument of hatred towards the child. It is good also not to discover the notice they take of divers faults, and to transfer to such cases that dimness of sight and hardness of hearing that are wont to accompany old age; so as sometimes not to hear what they hear, nor to see what they see, of their children's miscarriages. We use to bear with some failings in our friends, and it is no wonder if we do the like to our children, especially when we sometimes overlook drunkenness in our very servants. You have at times been too straight-handed to your son; make him at other times a larger allowance. You have, it may be, too angry with him; pardon him the next fault to make him amends. He has made use of a servant's wit to circumvent you in something; restrain your anger. He has made bold to take a yoke of oxen out of the pasture, or he has come home smelling of his yesterday's drink; take no notice of it; and if of ointments too, say nothing. For by this means the wild colt sometimes is made more tame. Besides, for those who are intemperate in their youthful lusts, and will not be amended by reproof, it is good to provide wives; for marriage is the strongest bond to hamper wild youth withal. But we must take care that the wives we procure for them be neither of too noble a birth nor of too great a portion to suit their circumstances; for it is a wise saying, drive on your own track. Whereas men that marry women very much superior to themselves are not so truly husbands to their wives, as they are unawares made slaves to their portions.

“I will add a few words more, and put an end to these advices. The chief thing that fathers are to look to is that they themselves become effectual examples to their children, by doing all those things which belong to them and avoiding all vicious practices, that in their lives, as in a glass, their children may see enough to give them an aversion to all ill words and actions. For those that chide children for such faults as they themselves fall into unconsciously accuse themselves, under their children's names. And if they are altogether vicious in their own lives, they lose the right of reproaching their very servants, and much more do they forfeit it towards their sons. Yes, what is more than that, they make themselves even counselors and instructors to them in wickedness. For where old men are impudent, there of necessity must the young men be so too. Wherefore we are to apply our minds to all such practices as may conduce to the good breeding of our children.

And here we may take example from Eurydice of Hierapolis, who, although she was an Illyrian, and so thrice a barbarian, yet applied herself to learning when she was well advanced in years, that she might teach her children. Her love towards her children appears evidently in this Epigram of hers, which she dedicated to the Muses:
“Eurydice to the Muses here doth raise
This monument, her honest love to praise;
Who her grown sons that she might scholars breed,
Then well in years, herself first learned to read.

“And thus have I finished the precepts which I designed to give concerning this subject. But that they should all be followed by any one reader is rather, I fear, to be wished than hoped. And to follow the greater part of them, though it may not be impossible to human nature, yet will need a concurrence of more than ordinary diligence joined with good fortune.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardianand various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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