Diary Of A Roman Schoolboy

2,500 – 1,500 years ago
Around 500 BC to 500AD

Octavian, 15
Patrician Schoolboy
Self Portrait

It’s well before daybreak when Mother wakes me for school. I’m still so tired! But I must rise, Mother tells me that my education is the most important thing in my life. I stretch and rise from my pallet, and head for the bath.

Julia, our servant, has laid a fresh tunic on the low stone bench for me, crisp white linen with a deep crimson border. *sigh* I look forward to becoming a citizen – next year! – so I may do away with childish things and wear the pure white tunic of a citizen. She has drawn a hot bath for me, and has left fresh towels for me as well.

Julia says that in other homes, there is only cold running water or none at all, and that years ago, there was no running water! Even worse, there weren’t any toilet facilities – not even the public latrines we have in Rome today. Ugh. Dreadful. I’m glad to live in such modern, civilized times. I don’t think I could bear living without running water or a decent toilet.

I bathe quickly, wishing I could stay and soak, knowing my time is limited. If I am late, the headmaster will be furious, and he’s not a man to be trifled with. I dry myself and dress, and quickly scrub my teeth before dashing across the courtyard to the dining room. The servants have already laid a good breakfast out – bread, wine, cheese and olives. Mother sits at the table, father has already left for the Senate for the day. We eat together and Mother asks after my studies. She is very strict with me, reminding me that it is important to be well educated, that I may become a Senator like Father. Though I think Father’s job is interesting enough, She hands me a few candles, my wax tablet and scrolls, and shoos me outside, encouraging me to hurry so I am not late.

I scurry through the dark street, and find that my friend and schoolmate, Marcus, is just ahead of me. I call to him to wait, and we walk the remaining distance to school together. He has been to the bakery, and is wolfing down a pancake as we walk. He rose late again, his mother isn’t nearly as strict as mine.

When we arrive at school, we stop to light our candles at one of the oil lamps burning near the entrance. It’s important to remember to bring candles each day, lest we haven’t light enough to read by before the sun rises. The headmaster is already there, and he greets us with a curt nod and a gesture to sit.

We spend the day studying intensely. The Twelve Tables of Law, the duties of a Roman citizen, philosophy, arithmetic, grammar, oration. By midday, I’m famished and my brain hurts. The headmaster pushes us very hard, and it requires all of my energy to concentrate. I’m relieved to have a break to go home for lunch!

Julia has prepared lunch for me – Mother is at the Forum, most likely shopping or visiting with friends. I have a piece of cold fish, some bread and cheese, and then I go back outside to look for Marcus.
Marcus and I throw a ball around for a little while, each of us trying to throw harder than the other. It feels good to be out in the sun and fresh air! Our break time is soon over, though, and we rush back to school to finish our lessons for the day.

When I return home, I find that my sister is in the courtyard with Mother. They are sewing silk flowers, and Mother looks very pleased with my sister’s progress. Father is inside, having returned from the Senate, and is preparing to attend a dinner party in the home of another Senator this evening. He claps me on the shoulder and asks after my studies, particularly after my lessons in oration. I explain what the headmaster has taught us, and he tells me I will make a fine Senator some day. I hope this is so, I want very much to follow in Father’s footsteps.

Father leaves for the dinner party, and I join Mother and my sister in the dining room. Julia and our other servants have prepared a delicious meal for us – roasted pigeon, figs, dates, cheese, grapes, bread and wine. We linger over dinner, enjoying each others’ company and the chance to relax. Mother informs us that we are to see the physician tomorrow, to ensure that we are healthy. People don’t seem to fall ill very often, but when they do, our physicians are usually able to cure them. We are very fortunate to have such skilled healers here. We sit in the courtyard for a little while after dinner, to look at the stars and enjoy the night breezes, then I retire to my sleeping quarters, for it will soon be time to rise again and spend another day at school.

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