AEDILE magistrate in charge of the infrastructure of the city of Rome. Originally four in number (two elected by the plebs, two by the patricians). Not an essential step on the cursus honorum – the political career – but because of their involvement in the Games, a way of getting into the public eye.
AFRICA to Romans only the countries bordering the Mediterranean.
AGER PUBLICUS the land belonging to the state, in Italy and the provinces, leased out by the censors or given to veterans.
ALLIES OF ROME title given to a city friendly to Rome in the Italian peninsula; nations further afield were called ‘Friend and Ally of the People of Rome’.
AMPHORA the standard container of the ancient world, a two-handled jar with a narrow neck for storing or transporting anything which could be poured, like grain, wine and oil; holding an average of nine gallons in Greece and six to seven pints in Rome.
AQUILIFER the top soldier in the legion who carried the silver eagle and was expected to die rather than surrender it.
ASIA western Turkey, including the islands of Lesbos, etc., and the cities of Smyrna and Ephesus.
ASSEMBLY there were three: 1) the Centuriate, ancient unwieldy, consisting of the plebs and the patricians together in their classes. Elected consuls, praetors and censors and passed laws. 2) The Assembly of the People, arranged in the thirty-five tribes of Rome, summoned by a consul or praetor. Elected the quaestors, the curule aediles and the tribunes of the soldiers, with the patricians. Passed laws and had trials. 3) The Plebeian Assembly, no patricians, passed laws and conducted trials. In all Assemblies the block vote was operated.
AUCTORITAS authority plus prestige, credibility and influence.
AUGURS elected priests to the official College of, to check out whether a proposed undertaking – anything from a war to a marriage – had the approval of the gods.
BARBARIAN any non-Roman, originally any non-Greek.
CAMPUS MARTIUS military training ground outside the city walls to the north-west, with space for horticulture, depots for wild animals, temples and mausoleums.
CENSOR this office was the zenith of a respected political career, to which only a consular (q.v.) could be elected, for five years. The two censors controlled the membership of the Senate, the equestrian order, and awarded state contracts, apart, of course, from coping with the
CENSUS which was the roll call of every male Roman citizen, with his tribe and status, brought up to date every five years.
CISALPINE GAUL Gaul from this, the southern, Roman, point of view. Conquered by an Ahenobarbus ancestor of Nero, securing for Rome the territory from north-west Italy to the Pyrenees.
CITIZEN a Roman citizen could not be flogged or punished without a trial and had the right of appeal (vide St Paul). He could be conscripted at seventeen and was entitled to the corn dole.
CITRUS WOOD no longer extant and not to do with lemon trees but cut from the roots of the cedars of Lebanon; the most coveted and valuable wood for cabinet makers in the ancient world. Table tops were mounted on ivory legs; Seneca had a lot of them.
CLASSES there were five official classes in Rome, according to economic status; the ‘head count’ did not have any, therefore no vote.
CLIENTELA every grand Roman patron was attended in the morning by a group of hangers-on or dependents, ‘clients’, who were treated by him with consideration or hauteur according to his mood or nature, but the relationship was important to both parties, crucial between former master and freedman.
CONSCRIPT FATHERS senators enjoyed this designation because it reminded them of their antiquity.
CONSUL the top job in Rome under the Republic, with limitless power, and an office to which Emperors were frequently elected. Strictly speaking a Roman could not be elected consul before the age of forty-two. Two were elected annually and their names, with the abbreviation ‘cos’, were used to date events.
CONSULAR (noun) a former consul who would be used to govern provinces, become censor, etc.
CUNNUS root of the English word ‘cunt’ and the French ‘con’.
CURSUS HONORUM the four steps of a political career – senator, quaestor, praetor, consul.
CURIA place where the Senate met, in our period not fixed.
CURULE CHAIR a grand stool made of ivory, sometimes inlaid with gold, for the use of magistrates and above, with curved legs in the shape of an X.
DELATOR a citizen who denounced another, usually one of substance, to ingratiate himself with the powers that be and get a rake-off (vide MAIESTAS).
DEMAGOGUE rude word from the right for a politician of radical views who often hired thugs (vide Clodius and Milo).
DENARIUS the origin of our penny (1d), a silver coin the size of a dime.
DIGNITAS crucial to a Roman of any standing, his reputation, his worth, his everything. It was for the sake of his dignitas that Caesar crossed the Rubicon.
ERGASTULA barracks where slaves in chain-gangs working latifundia (landed estates) were locked up at night.
ETRUSCANS were an older race than the Romans, who took over many of their beliefs. They lived in that swathe of Italy on the west, between the rivers Arno and Tiber. Maecenas was an Etruscan prince.
FASCES outward and visible sign of authority in Rome, these bunches of birch rods were borne before a magistrate by lictors, whose number indicated the level of his power, from two for an aedile to twenty-four for a dictator. Outside the pomerium (boundary) of Rome an axe was included in the bundle, meaning the official could execute as well as scourge . . .
FORUM any open-air space where people congregated, also a market place.
FREEDMAN a slave who had been given, or had purchased, his freedom, but see ‘CLIENTELA’.
FREE MAN a man born free anywhere in the world.
GENS (noun, fem.) clan in Rome – e.g., Julia, Claudia (this book is about the Julio-Claudian clan), Livia, Cornelia, etc.
GLADIATOR a professional performer with the sword, who fought before an audience, not intentionally to the death, several times a year.
GOVERNOR used loosely in this and other books on Roman history to mean consul, praetor or other official who ruled a province in the name of the Senate or Emperor for a year or more.
GREECE was never even a geographical expression in Roman times, being depopulated and politically déclassé. (The Athenian Empire only lasted for thirty years.) Roman Emperors patronized, in every sense, the Greeks.
IMPERATOR originally the commander of a Roman army, then a great general hailed for his victory by his army, then a title used only by Emperors.
IMPERIUM area of power and degree of authority, vested in an individual and renewed annually.
INSULA apartment building in Rome, where most people lived, separated from the next insula by a street or alley. A rich family might have the whole of a ground floor of a five-storey building, the street-facing spaces being let as shops and the higher, the cheaper, the more dangerous and the most insanitary floors being subcontracted to a slum landlord.
KNIGHTS substantial Roman citizens, members of the equestrian order, who became in our period the businessmen of Rome – as opposed to the patrician senators who were not supposed to be ‘in trade’. In the early days of the Republic the knights had to supply and maintain a horse as part of a unit of cavalry for the city’s defence, but it became an indicator of status – 400,000 sesterces a year – and political entitlement.
LEGATES the Roman army did not categorize ranks into as many grades as ours (from lieutenant to field-marshal); legates were senior officers at the level of senator, reporting to the general and senior to military tribunes.
LEGION the essential Roman army unit, akin in esprit de corps, tradition and reputation to our regiments but fixed at around 6,000 men made up of ten cohorts of six centuries each. They were variously rowdy, riotous, rapist, indisciplined or balanced and trustworthy, depending. A legion was a complete unit, like a modern division with its own artillery, auxiliaries and cavalry.
LEX (noun, fem.), e.g., Lex Pompeia, called after the consul Pompey Strabo, passed by the Plebeian Assembly, which enfranchised communities in Cisalpine Gaul. Laws were inscribed in bronze or stone and stored in the temple of Saturn.
LICTORS the beadles, beefeaters, escorts of Roman magistrates who carried the fasces (q.v.). They had to be citizens but were not well paid and relied on tips.
MAGISTRATES general term for the elected officers of the Senate and People of Rome (SPQR – Senatus Populusque Romanus – still engraved on the manholes).
MAIESTAS treason (cf. lèse-majesté), a dangerous and much abused law by Tiberius through to Nero in our period.
MANUMISSION the act of freeing a slave. Theoretically the freedman became a Roman citizen but was usually too poor to vote as he was placed in one of the unenfranchised classes.
MENTULA correct Latin for male organ (vide PENIS).
NOBLEMAN as distinct from PATRICIAN (q.v.). A consul and his descendants became noblemen and this was a way of diluting the exclusivity of the old aristocracy, vide the English custom of converting politicians into peers of the realm.
PATERFAMILIAS head of the family, who in early Rome could execute his daughter if he smelt wine on her breath and sell his son into slavery. Augustus, when pushed, availed himself of these ancient, terrible rights.
PATRICIANS the early Roman aristocracy which adhered to its prestige and privileges for hundreds of years, producing consuls, praetors, senators, generals and governors, whoever was in power. As in eighteenth-century England, when there were only 150 members of the House of Lords, they were all related and alone could hold certain priesthoods; however, throughout our period their power is fading in the face of the ‘new men’ and the imperial freedman.
PENIS (vulgar) name for the male organ (vide MENTULA).
PLEBS nothing derogatory about being plebeian, embraced every citizen who was not patrician.
POMERIUM the religious boundary enclosing the city of Rome within which no one could be buried.
PONTEFIX MAXIMUS head priest of the state religion; not a full-time job, but brought with it a grace and favour house with the Vestal Virgins.
PRAETOR second highest job in the state, eight of them in our period, often provincial governors.
PROLITARII the lowest, classes, also the ‘head count’.
PUBLICANI ‘publicans’ of the New Testament, tax farmers under the republic. The system generated abuse and was cleaned up by the Emperors.
PUBLIC HORSE in Rome (as in the Middle Ages) a horse cost as much as a Bentley; 1,800 were supplied by the state to the most important knights, becoming a mark of distinction for a family, which handed them down through the generations.
QUAESTOR the first step on the cursus honorum, a tax official who was elected for a year and had to be thirty, like a senator. There were sixteen of them and they served in the treasury in Rome or were seconded to the provinces.
QUIRITES a civilian as opposed to a soldier (cf. Julius Caesar’s opening remark to his disaffected veterans).
ROSTRA prows of ships used for ramming but became our ‘rostrum’ because the prows of the defeated fleet of the Volsci were stuck on to the speakers’ platform in the Forum.
SENATE senior advisory and occasionally legislative and debating chamber in Rome, whose numbers wobbled up and down from 100 in the days of the kings to 300 in the Republic (when they were appointed by the Censors) to 600 under the Empire at the discretion of the Emperor. Senators had to be rich and were mainly landowners, often with estates all over the Empire. They were often usurers and Brutus, ‘the noblest Roman of them all’, once took advantage of a thinly attended session to put through a guaranteed loan to some Cretans at 48 per cent interest for himself. The Senate controlled the treasury, foreign affairs, declarations of war and could dominate in an emergency, even against an Emperor, e.g., in outlawing Nero. Unlike its imitators in other countries, the Senate did not have its own building but could be convened in different places, like a privy council.
SESTERCES abbreviated as HS, the commonest Roman currency, worth a quarter of a denarius.
SUBURA the slummiest section of Rome, where nevertheless Caesar had his family domus; polyglot, including Jews and the first synagogue.
TALENT about twenty-five kilos of metal not necessarily gold or silver.
TOGA impressive but awkward garment worn by Roman citizens on formal occasions; like a large bath-sheet and held by the left hand. Colleen McCullough, now a scholarly writer of historical novels, has proved that a Roman so attired could not have worn underpants as he would have found it impossible to pee. Togas only came in one size, were always made of light wool but were decorated variously for Emperors, triumphant generals, magistrates, priests and for those in mourning – black.
TRIBE thirty-five in number of which sixteen were ancient, patrician gentes.
TRIBUNE an official. The term was used of military officers, magistrates, senior civil servants at the treasury, elected representatives of the plebs with powers of veto. Tribunicial potestas voted to Emperors gave them overriding powers.
TRIUMPH voted by the Senate to a successful general; occasions when the city of Rome went en fête, wallowed in self-glorification, food, drink, loot and the blood of their enemies. Often the preliminary to a coup d’état; Augustus restricted Triumphs and Nero, fatally, perverted them.
TUNIC standard top for a Roman male, distinguished by stripes of colour according to rank. The tunica modesta was used to burn the Christians for Nero’s garden parties.
VESTAL VIRGINS six girls of gentle birth chosen as children of seven or eight to be brought up in chastity and serve the goddess Vesta for thirty years. Their persons were sacrosanct and any lapse on their part was punished by being buried alive.
VILLA a large country house, originally at the centre of an estate but in our period built in agreeable spots, like Antium, for pleasure and holidays by the sea. They were always grand.