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Values professed by Romans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Bust of an elderly man - the so-called patrician of Torlonia
A bust of an elderly man - the so-called patrician Torlonia. Dated to the 1st century CE

Ancient Romans believed that their ancestors gave them a catalogue of values ​​to live by. They called him the term mos maiorum, or “the customs of the ancestors.” In practice, the Roman believed that the old is good because it has already been used in practice. In turn, “new things” (res novae) were, according to the Romans, a form of revolution that they associated with chaos and violence.

Values ​​for the Romans were: bravery, loyalty, piety, seriousness, respect and authority. Bravery was defined by the term virtus and initially, it had a male designation (the word comes from the word vir, meaning “husband”). In the 2nd century BCE, the Roman poet Lucius stated that “bravery” is, besides courage, also the ability to distinguish good from evil or to appear on the side of good, and to fight against evil. What’s more, to be masculine, one had to take care of health and fitness, so as to ensure stability for the family and for homeland security. Valour in battle was, in turn, valued as long as it was oriented towards the good of all. A woman could also naturally be “masculine” when she devoted herself to Roman traditions, she was an exemplary wife, a mother who passed the correct patterns to her descendants.

Faithfulness, i.e. fides, was geared to keeping formal and informal promises, regardless of the costs incurred. Fidelity to sexuality was different. The woman was valued when she had virginity to marry and did not cheat on her husband. The Roman, in turn, could not cheat on his wife with another citizen – all the games with slaves or prostitutes were not tightened.

Piety, or pietas, was based on worshipping Roman cults and dedication to the family. This value concerned not only the religious aspect but also social. A true Roman should take care of the memory of his ancestors, strengthen family ties and make offerings to the deities.

Keeping one’s emotions under control and self-control were the determinants of another value – seriousness (gravitas). An example of maintaining seriousness was the fact that a woman and a man had to avoid kissing in public, as this could be considered a loss of Roman value and a violation of custom.

Another extremely valued value was respect (dignitas), which was a reward from society for presenting itself well in the social sphere. Women were valued for their impeccable running, bearing children and supporting their husband. In turn, the man earned respect in the form of the possibility of holding his position and fulfilling increasingly responsible roles in the Roman state. Having gained a really high position on the Roman political scene, the citizen began to exercise moral power over others. At the time, this proved that he had gained authority in society (auctoritas). At this point, people did not follow his orders because of the law, but because he appeared to them as a person who was morally predisposed to indicate appropriate decisions and life paths.

  • Thomas R. Martin, Starożytny Rzym. Od Romulusa do Justyniana, Poznań 2014

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