Last month, I was fortunate enough to hear my favorite Edutainment guy, Alberto Angela (host of the show, Ulysse) who, along with his dad, Piero Angela (host of the Quark series) make it the only two guys in Italy (aside from yours truly, Caroline Lawrence and The History Channel) who make history entertaining. He regaled us with stories from his just published in English book, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome.
[for a funny version by Rick Steves, go here.]
What was at once totally wonderful and – admittedly – depressing, was that, in these 2000 years, not a whole lot has changed. After reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome series, boy, that point really hit home! Between the politics, the affairs, the theater, the filth, the intrigue...Basically the only difference I found between then and now was that, in the old days, actors were seen as only one rank above prostitutes and singers were usually slaves. Nowadays, actors not only are royalty, they even marry into Europe’s royal families. Makes you wish for days of yore…
But I digress. Here is a short list, alà Alberto Angela, of things people complained about in Ancient Rome (people like Marzio, who would have been today’s equivalent of a learned David Letterman or in the very least, a blogger):
Traffic – the Romans had strict rules for when you could come into the City Center with your mule, much like the ZTL zones today. Not only that, whenever a politician’s posse came riding through, all traffic was stopped to let them get ahead, just like those omnipresent and obnoxious blue cars of today. In addition, Roman roads were constantly filled with holes and in need of repair
Pollution -- While today it’s car pollution and small particles, in the day, it was the smoke arising from nearly every fire pit around town.
Immigration – everyone seemed to complain about the arrival – in an already crowded place – of more and more immigrants from across the empire. The higher up you went in the multi-storey building, the more people you’d find crowded into single rooms – not like the state of the poor immigrants of today.
Housing – there was a huge shortage of housing, with people speculating on the real estate and building, just as today. Although I imagine that they all didn’t enjoy ‘second houses’ while many flats were left empty due to fear of renting them out.
Justice System – there was a very long waiting list for court cases to go through the system; today, it’s an average of 5 years. They also had spectacular court cases like the current Amanda Knox case in Perugia, giving rise to Judge Judy and her ilk.
Misc. – Rome was a very dangerous place by day or night, and, along security was a huge issue back then as now. Graffiti was commonplace and an eyesore, except I think there’s was even more permanently carved in stone. And finally, as a sign of demise, of course, there were the low birthrates and the high divorces.
Pretty much the biggest difference was the advent of household appliances: fans, blenders, ovens, water spouts. You name it: in ancient times, these duties were carried out by slaves but today, these little objects still respond to the commands of the master of the household.
And who says history doesn’t repeat itself?