Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rome VBS Index

Below are links to my posts here related to Rome VBS.   There's a lot of info on Rome out there, so for my articles  I tried to focus on things that would be from the 1st century, around the time Paul was imprisoned in Rome.  You can also check out my VBS Rome Pinterest page, which is full of inspirations, pictures and links (not all of which will be just about the 1st century)...and to find others doing this program and get advice, check out the Holy Land Adeventure Unnofficial Facebook Group, Group's Holy Land Adventure Facebook Group, and the Group Forums.


Roman Social Structure in the 1st Century

Roman Families
You can't talk about social structure in Rome without talking about the Roman family.  Legally, in Rome, people were not treated as individuals, but as family groups.  The paterfamilias (the oldest male member of the family--father or grandfather), controlled all the assets of all of the family, even of grown sons and grandsons (male heirs).   He could choose whether each child born in the family was kept or abandoned to die.  He was held responsible if one of the members of his family committed a crime. When the paterfamilias died, men who lived in their own households at the time of the pater's death became the paterfamilias of those households.

Women had a choice when they married to remain financially under their “pater” or transfer control to their husband.  Most choose the former, since it gave them some financial freedom from their spouse, and a chance of a future inheritance of their own.  Even so, Roman law required that a women have a male guardian of some sort until she had born three children (four for freedwomen).  During the  empire women could replace their guardians at will.

Social Class in Rome
Roman social class was written into Roman Law, and affected all areas of life.  Your social class defined everything from who you could marry,  where you sat at a theater, and what quality of food and wine you might be served at a dinner party.

Senatorial Class
Though the 900 members of the senate were the most powerful class under the Emperor.  Membership in the Senate was generally limited to those those with a pedigree of distinguished ancestors and considerable wealth (one million sesterces to be exact).  Senators were prohibited from engaging personally in non-agricultural business, trade or public contracts.  They wore a toga with a dark purple trim.

Equestrian Class
Those who could claim two generations of free birth and possessed 400,000 sesterces could become an Equestrian (and Equestrians who fell short of that amount of wealth lost the status).  Unlike senators, Equestrians were allowed "unlimited participation in commerce, trading, and governmental contracts," though they often choose to rest on their wealth and land-holdings and not engage in business.

Common Citizens (Plebeians)
The common citizen class included both those who were quite well off to the poorest of the poor. Citizens were allowed to wear the white toga.

Some freed slaves received rights similar to those of citizens, while others were treated legally more like foreigners, depending the manner in which they were free.  There were ways for some slaves to receive full rights as citizens (such as serving 6 years at a Vigeles, or Roman Firefighter).  Freed slaves still had some obligations to their former masters.    Children born after they had been freed became full citizens.

Between 25 to 40 percent of the Roman population were slaves, whose work ranged from hard labor, menial work,, work as skilled tradesman, and even managers and teachers.    Not all slave masters were servants of the upper class--many were employed by merchants in their businesses.  Private slaves had no rights, and their masters could subject them to whatever abuse they wanted (though treating your slaves cruelly was frowned on, so there was some social ramifications to abusing a slave even if there were no legal ones).  Slaves were also employed by the government both for public building projects and administrative work.  Some higher level government positions for educated slaves even included a salary, and some legal rights that private slaves didn’t have.

All other freeborn people who lived in Rome.  They had less rights and privileges than Roman Citizens.

My Sources for the Roman Families

My Sources for the Roman Class System

And For Slavery Speicifically

Pictures from

Roman Names

Once you have figured out whether your character will be a roman citizen, a slave, or a former slave (freedman), you can pick out a name using the guide below.

Roman Citizens:

Roman male names typically had three parts (except for slaves and foreigners)

Praenomen - First name
Nomen - Family/Tribe name
Cognomen - Name indicating your particular family line (optional)

You only had a few first names to choose from (because of superstitions regarding names):
Caius or Gaius (the most common), Cnaeus or Gnaeus, Titus, Tiberius, Quintus, Aulus, Decimus, Lucius, Marcus, Postumus, Publius, Quadratus, Sextus, Servius, Spurius, and maybe Primus and Tertius

(Since Servius and Tiberius are names for groups, you will probably want to avoid those).

You can pick your family name from the list of nomina on this page, and add a cognomen (on the same page) if you would like.  

You generally took a feminine form of your father's nomen (family name).    Find your roman name on this page (the ones with an "f" by them).

Your master gave you a single name.   Greek names and names of Roman dieties were popular.  (A few slaves also kept the name they had when they were free.  Recent slave captures during the time of Nero may have come from Britian or Gaul, so if you want to research and pick one of those names, feel free to check out the "foreigners" section under Celtic or Germanic below to find a name from one of those places).

Former Slaves:

Upon being freed, a slave took the praenomen (first name) and nomen (family name) of his master, and added what had been his slave name as a cognomen.  So, if your character is a praenomen and nomen from  this page  and pick a slave name using the guide for slaves above.

Freedwomen took the name of their mistress and added their slave name.  For your first name find your roman name on this page (the ones with an "f" by them)., and for your second name pick from this list of Greek names or this list of Roman dieties.

Free foreigners only made up about 5% of the Roman populations. If your character was a foreigner, go to these pages to find your name.

   Ancient Hebrew 
   Ancient Egyptian 
   Ancient Greek
   Ancient Celtic 
   Ancient Germanic

A lot of the info here also comes from this site, which talks about naming during the early Imperial era (which is aproximately when our VBS is set in, so was a good source). 


More Resources

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Roman Clothing - Men

During the first century, Roman men wore a tunic, and if they were citizens, could wear a toga (which was always white, or the beige of natural wool, unless you were grieving).  Togas were a 6 yards long semi-circle and made of wool...but we can make do with sheets (or whatever white fabric you have access too).

Slaves, freedmen, and foreigners were not allowed to wear a toga--they would have worn a tunic with a belt (these could be various colors, but white was popular).  Tunics either had short sleeves or no sleeves (long sleeves were only for women).  Men also sometimes wore cloaks/capes which could be any color.  Of course, what color you could use depended somewhat on how much you could afford (more on that here.)

And of course, if you were a Roman Guard, you would have a whole different attire.

If you're wearing a toga over it, a white or t-shirt will do, and of course shorts underneath.

Fitted sheets sort of mimic the rounded look of a real toga.  

This video below shows how to wrap a toga (thanks Lauren!).

(Too see this done with a real roman toga, not a sheet, click here.)

Roman Men's Hair
According to this video, "Roman hairstyles were similar to today except that they never parted it...they combed it forward from the crown or up from the sides so that it distributed evenly over the top of the head. " Parted hair was only for women. In the late 1st century men went clean shaven and often liked to curl their bangs (as did women) with something like a curling iron.

Most of the info about men's clothing I got from this fascinating site.

Women's Clothes

Fresco from 1st Century Pompeii

Women in 1st century Rome had a lot more freedom in their clothing then men did.  They could wear a variety of styles and colors (though darker and more vivid colors were limited to the upper class, simply because they were more expensive - you are safe with any faded pastel, brown, beige, white or grey).

A simple Roman women's outfit

Below you can find info on how to make several common roman women's dresses:

How to Make Roman Costumes for Women

Colors Available to Commoners and the Rich

More Info on Women's Dress (if you're interested)

A Pinterest page Full of Ancient Jewelry (not mine)
Just search the page for "Roman" - there's a lot

Some examples...

Two Ways to Wear a Peplos, one with a belt underneath,
one with a belt above.

A woman with a tunica, stola, and palla (wrapped around her).  

Detail on women's way they wore them.

Pictures courtesy of VRoma and Wikipedia Commons

Monday, May 27, 2013

Roman Hair - For Women

Roman women wore their hair up in various's some for you to try out.  The last three links show how to actually do the hairstyle with the tools they had at the time.

Basic Roman Braid  (Easy)

Simple Braids and Buns (Easy to Medium)

Easy Roman Looking Hairstyles (First 3 on Page:  Easy)

Up-Do with Bands (Medium)

Roman Bun (Medium)

Faustina's Hairstyle (Hard, but shows examples of easier ones also) - Takes 35 minutes

Braided Ponytail of Agrippina the Younger (Hard)

Authentic Tutulus Bun (Hard)

Some Thoughts From the Bible

When I was  looking up Roman hairstyles for our volunteers,  I found some that were not too elaborate...ones that I could manage in front of a mirror. But there was many elaborate braided styles I learned about that there was no way for me to do on my own.  And then I thought of these verses: 

"Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.." (1 Timothy 2:9-10 NASB).

I often had wondered what "braided hair" had to do with modesty, but I realized that they were using "modesty" here in the same way we say "a modest home" or a "modest income." The braided hairstyles this probably refereed to was the elaborate types that would require a servant (in Rome, most likely that would have been a slave). Elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, expensive clothes...these were all conspicuous shows of consumption. And suddenly these verses made so much more sense to me. It was about how we spend our time and resources, not just about "fashion."  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Colors of Rome

Fresco of an Ancient Roman Dye Shop

While men's togas were white (or sometimes a beige you might get from un-dyed wool), women were not as restricted in the colors they could wear, except by cost .   You can see the colors that were available to Romans in the first century below.

In addition to white and natural wool there were various colors that were inexpensive enough that most people could afford them.  The colors below were made with dyes that were in a commoner's price range*--and as you can tell are more faded/muted colors.  Madder for red, pinks, peaches and browns.  Weld for yellow.  Lichen for green (and brown).  Woad for blue.

Naturally-dyed Sock Yarn, Madder Root2 - sheepsandpeeps
Rose Madder Natural Dye Scarlet Textured Thread Pack - TheOccasionalPurl
Singularities 102 Madder root mohair and wool yarn eco friendly naturally dyed 128 yards - girlwithasword
Singularities 11 Madder root mohair and wool yarn eco friendly naturally dyed 7.8 oz - girlwithasword
Handspun merino yarn natural dyed yellow - SpinningStreak
Weld Naturally Plant Dyed Merino Wool Yarn - Fingering Weight - 420 yards - M-16 - EscapeToEvermore
Super Wash Wool Roving Plant Dyed Olive Greens - by using Indigo & Onion Skins - WoolEwePlay
sale-DELICATE KNITTED DRESS, soft sage green, size M, 32-34" bust - BinkyLoveCat
pure wool natural dyed - tikayArtes
Weekend Workshop - Dyeing & Feltmaking - Creative Coastal Weekend in Dorset UK - EnglishTilly
Three Skein Listing for All Natural Handspun Mohair Alpaca Blend Yarn Natural Dye with Madder Root Onion Skins Woad Leaves Blue Red Yellow - Woodlandtrailfarm
Pink - Madder & Chamomile Botanically Dyed Tea Towel Linen / Cotton Blend Fabric - Hand Sewn - Free Shipping - sandySTC
Treasury tool by StylishHome.  Thanks to the people on Etsy who let me use these pictures.
You can click on the picture to visit their shops.

*All of these items shown below were actually made with dyes that were used during the Roman empire, except the green...I couldn't find anyone making green with lichen on etsy, but did find examples on this site  and this one which showed some greens actually made with lichen, which I used to pick out the green items above.    

The following colors would have cost quite a bit more to make.  The darker and more vivid the color, the more expensive it would be.  These colors were made with saffron (yellow/orange), indigo (blue),  kermes insects (crimson), and the most expensive of them all, the murex shell (tyrian purple...which could be nearly blood-red). These would have only been available to the very rich, and it would have been a symbol of your status to wear them.

FELTED WOOL PIECES Crimson wf458 - FabulousFabricFinds
Viscose wool felt - hand dyed - bright red, scarlet, crimson,magenta, dark pink - therainbowgirl
CUSTOM FOR RACHEL  Sari Ribbon color is Saffron - designtalentedone
Solid color HANDLOOM silk saffron  pillow case plain cushion cover 16 inches square 40x40 cm - cottagecraftonline
Madder, Saffron, and Onion Skin Dyed Handspun Yarn - SirenSongYarnsFiber
Hand Dyed Silk Rods by LarkspurFunnyFarm  ( Saffron ) 6 per packet - larkspurfunnyfarm
Sunshine - Wool and Silk Dyed with Saffron - SirenSongYarnsFiber
Camelia 55g, dyed with natural indigo 401 - PataNoita
Indigo Dyed Cotton Fabric - MilkweedQuilts
1oz of Cashmere/ Silk 50/50 dyed with Indigo - lochlomondstudio
Indigo Dyed Cotton Collection of Three Dozen - MilkweedQuilts
SALE MCN - Pampered Sock- 100 grams Color Purple Passion Hand Dyed Yarn - HauteKnitYarn
Hand dyed BASIC fingering weight Sock Yarn Skein - superwash merino and nylon blend - SWN103 - mulberryfibers
Hand Dyed Fingering/Sock Yarn Singles, 100% Superwash Merino,Tyrian Purple - Quaere
Baby Camel Silk Cobweb Lace Yarn Hand dyed Soie et Bebe Chameau Merlot - 1azclace

Because there are much cheaper ways to make these colors today, I couldn't find anyone on etsy using, for instace, kermes insects or murex shells to dye their wares, but I found some other pictures online of actual items made with these dyes and matched them with the colors shown above.  The blue colors above were actually made with indigo though, and some of the yellows were actually made with saffron.

Thanks to all the people on Etsy who let me use these pictures.
You can click on the pictures in the color mosaics to visit their shops.  Most of the particular items shown have been sold but you can find other similar items.

Here are the sources I found of actual items dyed with the rarer historic dyes:

Dyed With Saffron

Dyed wtih Murex Shell Tyrian Purple

Dyed With Kermes

Monday, May 20, 2013

Daily Life

The following is a little summary of everyday Roman life.  While you don't "need" to know this for Rome, it's may be useful to add some flavor to your talks.

While the richest Roman citizens had their own villas, most people in Rome lived in the Insulae , apartment buildings which could be many stories tall (like the one at the right)...with shops and larger apartments on the bottom, and poorer one room homes on the top.   Few apartments had kitchens,  so most people bought food from local vendors.  The poorest of the poor received a grain dole from the state...something like today's food stamps.  The rich had their food cooked by their slaves.

Shopkeepers and tradesmen would work every day...unless it was a festival day!   During festivals both rich and poor could watch race or fight at the arena, or attend the theater - it was all free.  Of course, if you were poor you got the "nosebleed" seats, while the upper classes got to sit in the front row.

The Circus Maximus was one arena where games took place.  
Christians were Martyred here by Nero...but this persecution did not start until after
the Great Fire in Rome in 64 AD, which Nero blamed the Christians for. 
Our time period is probably slightly before this.  
Much of daily life focused around the Forum, an open area surrounded by public buildings where political, business, and religious activities took place .  People would come to plead their cases in court, to listen to orators and politicians, and worship and make offerings at the temples surrounding the forum.  Shops and vendors crowded the entryways to the forum (this is where our marketplace would be).   Parades and religious celebrations also happened here.

You can see the forum and surrounding buildings here.  Most of these buildings
were around during the first centruy when Paul was in Rome, though the arches at the
end of the forum, and a couple of the buildings around it, were built later.  You 
can learn more about the forum here.

Another center of Roman life was the Baths, which were more like health clubs with saunas, exercise rooms, food vendors, and even sometimes reading rooms.   Only citizens were allowed to use them (though slaves could come to attend their masters).  There was a fee to use the baths, but it was not expensive.

In the evenings the wealthy would often hold elaborate dinner parties. But no one stayed out late, because traveling home in the dark un-lit narrow streets of Rome was dangerous.  It was easy to get lost, there was danger from thieves, and the streets were clogged with traders delivering shipments (since, with few exceptions, wheeled traffic was only allowed at night).

Sources Not Mentioned Above:
Ancient Rome for Kids (
Wikipedia (various articles)
Everyday Life in the Roman Empire by Kathryn Hinds.