The following article appeared in the London Daily Mail, July 6, 2000 by Leslie Gibson. (Thanks, Gill)
High Street Londinium Web Site - The Museum of London
The year is AD 100 and Britannia is occupied by the Romans. I'm Julia Marciana, the wife of a wealthy civil servant on the staff of the British I live in a large house in the province's capital, Londinium, which has a population of about 12,000, and have 18 domestic slaves, who do everything from dressing me to cooking, cleaning, doing the weekly shop and looking after the children.
I was actually born in Rome, and my marriage to Gaius Antonius Faustinus was arranged by my parents when I was 15. He is 14 years older -- old enough to be my father, in fact -- and, to be honest, not the most attractive of men. To add insult to injury, shortly after we married he was posted to Britannia, which was conquered by Claudius in AD 43. I had no choice but to leave my home and family to come with him . We've been living in this wild outpost, which is now under the control of Emperor Trajan, for 15 years. We have three children Cassius, 13, Antonia, nine, and Lucius, seven. Sadly for us, two more died in infancy.
Like the majority of Roman men, my husband is a womaniser who thinks he has a right to have affairs. The son of one of our pretty German slaves bears more than a passing resemblance to him, and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if he had other illegitimate children scattered all over Londinium.
As his wife, I'm seen largely as his possession, but in return I enjoy his protection and the status of a lady of leisure. All I have to do is manage the household slaves ·and accounts, be feminine, and allow him his conjugal rights. That's the worst part of my marriage, as Gaius is well into his 40s now, and he isn't the sex god he thinks he is. As a matter of fact, when he visits my room I usually pretend I have a headache, but if he won't take no for an answer I just lie back and think of Rome. Although men are unfaithful whenever and with whoever they like, women are expected to be chaste. However, most of us are married to older men we do not love. So even though our life of leisure might sound wonderful, in reality it can be very dull and a lady would go mad without a little romantic excitement to break up the monotony. Unfortunately, the age of Roman orgies is long gone -- or, at least, they don't happen here. So, like many of my friends, I have been known to spice up my life with the occasional extra-marital liaison. Of course, my husband doesn't know this and I have to be very discreet. But that isn't difficult, as Roman men and women lead largely separate lives. To let you in on a secret, some of my friends wear blonde wigs when visiting their beaux to disguise their true identity.
When it comes to affairs high-ranking soldiers fit the bill best. Not only are the military men generally muscular, with plenty of stamina; they're also invariably posted to other towns such as St Albans, Colchester, Lincoln, Chester and York sooner or later, before things get awkward. It's heartbreaking when they have to go, but at least the risk of husband finding out is minimal. On a personal note, we ladies are careful to take contraceptive precautions -- the barrier method is popular, a mixture of honey and moss, which we smear on ourselves. Although abortion is frowned upon, some ladies do take this option, and I have heard that jumping up and down on the spot several times has the desired effect. Thank goodness, I've never conceived out of marriage, and I put that down to my regular visits to the Temple of Venus, where I pray for protection and occasionally sacrifice a goat. There are several temples, each dedicated to a different god, but Venus is the one I call upon most.
Emotions can run high, though. Last year, I had a terrible shock when I heard my former lover had been killed in battle. He'd been sent to the dangerous northern frontier, where the natives are particularly savage. The Army's plan is to set up several forts and join them with a huge wall which will span the country to keep the Scots out of our territory. But that will take several years - after all, Rome wasn't built in a day.
And on the subject of building, our house here has a wooden frame covered by wattle and daub -- a mud and straw mixture -- with a mosaic floor and plastered walls. We live at the opposite end of the High Street from the lower classes, our craftsmen and shopkeepers, who live in much smaller buildings. We have running water but no toilets - my family use chamber pots which are emptied and cleaned regularly by the slaves.
As befits our position, there are two reception rooms, a kitchen and five bedrooms, and the house is stylishly furnished with tables and chairs, a sofa with leather cushions, and beds made from wooden frames with wool-filled mattresses.
My day begins at 7am, when I'm woken by one of the slaves who helps with my toilette. Our slaves come from different parts of the Empire such as Germany, Greece or France and, generally, we have no problems. I look after them and make sure they are well dressed, and they respect me for that. But if any of them betrayed my trust or put my make-up on wrongly they know they would be in for a severe beating.
Seven o'clock might sound like an ear;y start, but the commoners rise at dawn, so I have the luxury of a lie-in. Unlike us, the natives can't afford candles and olive oil lamps, so they get at first light and go to bed when dusk falls.
Once I am up. One slave helps me to wash with plain water, then smoothes olive oil scented with rose petals on my skin before helping me into my tunic. Only men wear togas over their tunics, but pretty wrap-around shawls are popular among my female friends. After that, another slave, someone we call an omatrix, acts as my personal make-up artist. Not only does she paint my face, she's also skilled with a pestle and mortar and makes all the cosmetics Iuse including toners, mud packs, foundation, eye-liner and hair dye.
To start with she covers the exposed skin on my face, neck, upper chest, back and forearms with a paste made from white lead and lanolin, the grease from sheep's wool. This makes my complexion look as pale as ivory -- very desirable among the upper-classes. The problem is, though, white lead is poisonous, and it's slowly eating my skin away And it's a vicious circle, the more inflamed my complexion becomes, the more paste I need to cover it. I wouldn't dream of allowing anyone other than my slaves to see me without make-up -- least of all my husband, who would probably divorce me if he knew how I really look.
As it is we sleep in separate chambers and if he knocks on my door before I'm ready, I simply tell my slave to say I'm still in bed. When my foundation is complete, the ornatrix applies rouge made from poppy petals to my cheeks and lips. Then comes the tricky bit - the eyes. My slave lines them in black using a gold tool similar to a tooth pick, which she dips in soot mixed with water.
One slip could blind me, so she has to be extremely careful. She pays particular attention to my eyebrows at the moment, because its fashionable for them to be so dark and heavy that they almost meet in the middle.
The ornatrix also manicures my nails with a pumice stone and uses a tool to remove the dirt. If I'm going somewhere special, such as a banquet, she paints my nails with varnish made from lizards' blood.
Luckily, I still have my own teeth, which are occasionally whitened using a pumice stone, but ivory teeth set m gold are available to any ladies with dental problems.
My hair is the last thing to be dressed, and I have a specially-trained stylist to look after it. Once a week she dyes it black using a sticky paste made mainly from leeches, but most mornings she simply curls it for me using iron tongs, and then sets it using olive oil.
Ladies are now wearing their hair wear in very elaborate styles, with several tight curls on the crown with an ornate bun at the back. Lately I've been cheating, as many of my friends do, by using a wig. They are made from hair clippings sold by poor people who are desperate to make ends meet. Mine is hot and heavy to wear, but it saves a lot of time.
As a final touch, my hair is often decorated with pretty gold pins with precious stones, leaves or flowers. I also like to wear other jewellery, and have a particular fondness for gold brooches and necklaces.
At about 8.30am, I'm ready to face the world, and a breakfast of bread and fruit is prepared for me by one of the kitchen slaves, before I start on the daily round of managing the household, telling the slaves what to do and running the domestic accounts.
With the help of slaves, I looked after our three children until they were seven. I taught them to read and write in Latin, and to play pipe music. At seven the boys started school and my daughter was old enough to be left in the care of my slaves.
Few girls go to school as we wealthy women do not follow careers. In fact, some think we don't
do much at all. However, tonight, we're having a dinner party for eight, so I'll be preparing a menu for the cookery slave and telling her what ingredients to buy at the Forum. I've decided on a starter of oysters with a fish sauce, and a main course of peacock encased in pastry. For dessert, we'll have my favourite - fried bread drizzled in honey, with plums. Of course, we will also need plenty of wine.
The more wealthy among us enjoy a varied and sophisticated diet, including fish, beef, pork, lamb, poultry and crane -- a type of wading bird which we import as a luxury food. We also like sausages, burgers made of minced pork and pies. Vegetables such as carrots, turnips and
leeks, and fruit including apples, pears, peaches, plums, grapes and figs are imported to add some variety.
After giving out orders for the day, I often ask the shopping slaves to carry me to the smart stores at the edge of the Forum in my Sedan Chair. Although I wear comfortable, flat, leather sandals with straps which are tied around the ankle, I rarely walk anywhere.
There is only one high-class fashion store, but I enjoy going there because it stocks stylish tunics made from expensive imported Chinese silk, as well as warm woolen ones to keep out the cold. I tend to buy clothes for my husband because he never goes shopping but the range of men's togas and tunics is quite limited. Then there's a home store where I go to buy new plates if any are broken at our drunken parties. The store also sells knives, spoons and quite delicate glassware. After a lunch of cold meat, bread and fruit, I often call in to visit friends, or at least I tell my husband that, and secretly meet my lover. Then, at least twice a week, when it is open to women, I go to the single- sex public bath house.
I am carried there in my chair, and my massage slave, ornatrix and hairdresser accompany me on foot. First, I have a warm wash in the caldarium, or hot room, to open and cleanse my pores, then I have a cold dip in the fngidarium. Afterwards, my masseuse gives me a relaxing rubusing scented olive oil. The baths aren't deep enough to swim in but they are a great place to enjoy a good gossip and have a drink.
The only problem is that it takes more than an hour to have my make-up reapplied and my hair re-done, which is really rather tiresome. In the evening, my husband and I often entertain friends or visit them for dinner. We also go to the amphitheatre for events such as boxing, athletics, juggling and acrobatics. Occasionally, there's some added excitement when troupes of travelling gladiators visit Londinium.
There's also a free theatre, which has some excellent acting. In fact, plays are so life-like that when the plot calls for one of the cast to be killed, the actor is replaced with a condemned criminal and a real execution takes place.
That might sound barbaric, but we thoroughly enjoy it because the criminals are invariably rapists -and murderers who deserve all they get.
At bedtime, one of my slaves helps me to undress and remove my make-up, then applies a toner and a moisturiser, or occasionally a face mask. We use mainly vegetable oils, plant infusions, lanolin, honey and mud in our skin care regime which has to be adapted to compensate for such appalling weather.
I often dream of Rome and wish we could return. I don't know how long we'll have to stay in Londinium before my husband is sent back, but I'm giving up hope. At 45, he's an old man now -- life expectancy for the poor is only 28, and just 10pc of people live beyond 45.
When Gaius dies, our eldest son will inherit his wealth and look after me. I'Il be too old to remarry and I'll probably have to spend the rest of my days in this inhospitable place.
We've made good friends here, but compared to Rome, it's terribly uncivilised. Before we arrived, the natives were illiterate, and lived in small tribes at subsistence level. Most can now speak a few words of Latin, but they're so primitive that they haven't yet learned how to think and behave like us. They're also incredibly ungrateful.
Forty years ago there was actually a native rebellion led by a warrior queen, Boudica, who was the wife of a British chieftain. Yes, a woman actually led troops onto battle! Imagine the indignity! After attacking Colchester, she moved on into London and set fire to the city, destroying much of what we had built.
Sometimes I wonder why we bother to educate these people. Without us, the Brits would still be living in mud hut villages, dying of starvation and cold in the winter. They'd have no running water, no drainage, no roads, no architecture or culture, and a limited diet.
One day I hope the natives will understand what we Romans have dome for them and realise how lucky they are that we came here.
But by then, no doubt I'll be dead and buried.
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