What would an average work day for a Roman Emperor be?

Ancientgeezer

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
8,898
The Dustbin, formerly, Garden of England
I wonder how much serious work was ever carried out in the days before artificial lighting. Anyone tried reading or, when a child, tried to do homework in candle-light in a power cut? It's exhausting. Of course dictating to clerks or scribes means one doesn't have to strain own eyes, but reading become problematic as does any exterior inspections. Of course one could schmooze by torchlight or candlelight, practice speeches, issue death warrants--but planning the invasion of Germania was probably left to morning
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,946
Australia
The Romans had some pretty elaborate lamps and lanterns. A room could be well lit if you had the slaves to keep them tended.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
Wake up
Call over piss bucket slave
Call over grape-peeling slave
Call over wine-serving slave
Call over emperor-dressing slaves
Call over hair-dressing slaves
Call over wine-serving slave
Breakfast
Sign a pile of execution warrants
Head out to the theatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Lunch
Duck across to the amphitheatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Second Lunch
Watch some Christians getting eaten
Call over wine-serving slave
Watch some Gladiator fights
Call over wine-serving slave
Dinner
Orgy
I believe you may have missed the last one Dan...

"Get assassinated by your own bodyguards."
 
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Oct 2018
1,734
Sydney
Very interesting, thanks. Do you have any books you'd recommend that discuss Roman governance and administration?
No worries. I would recommend Ruling the Later Roman Empire by Christopher Kelly, and, despite its faults, The Emperor in the Roman World by Fergus Millar.

I suspect the reality is that it depended on the individual emperor. One emperor may have performed many duties and took an active interest in governance, whereas another may have delegated most duties to others.

Incidentally, Cassius Dio describes the average day for Septimius Severus (77.17):

'The following is the manner of life that Severus followed in time of peace. He was sure to be doing something before dawn, and afterwards he would take a walk, telling and hearing of the interests of the empire. Then he would hold court, unless there were some great festival. Moreover, he used to do this most excellently; for he allowed the litigants plenty of time and he gave us, his advisers, full liberty to speak. He used to hear cases until noon; then he would ride, so far as his strength permitted, and afterward take some kind of gymnastic exercise and a bath. He then ate a plentiful luncheon, either by himself or with his sons. Next, he generally took a nap. Then he rose, attended to his remaining duties, and afterwards, when walking about, engaged in discussion in both Greek and Latin. Then, toward evening, he would bathe again and dine with his associates; for he very rarely invited any guest to dinner, and only on days when it was quite unavoidable did he arrange expensive banquets.'

The Historia Augusta provides the average day for Severus Alexander, but knowing the Historia Augusta, the writer may be parodying something (Severus Alexander 29-31):

'First of all, if it were permissible, that is to say, if he had not lain with his wife, in the early morning hours he would worship in the sanctuary of his Lares, in which he kept statues of the deified emperors — of whom, however, only the best had been selected — and also of certain holy souls, among them Apollonius, and, according to a contemporary writer, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, and others of this same character and, besides, the portraits of his ancestors. If this act of worship were not possible, he would ride about, or fish, or walk, or hunt, according to the character of the place in which he was. Next, if the hour permitted, he would give earnest attention to public business, for all matters both military and civil, were, as I have said previously, worked over by his friends — who were, however, upright and faithful and never open to bribes — and when they had been thus worked over they were given his endorsement, except when it pleased him to make some alteration. Of course, if necessity demanded it, he would give his attention to public business even before dawn and continue at it up to an advanced hour, never growing weary or giving up in irritation or anger, but always with a serene brow and cheerful in every task. He was, indeed, a man, of great sagacity, and he could not be tricked, and whoever tried to impose on him by some sharp practice was always found out and punished.

After the public business, whether military or civil, he would give even greater attention to reading Greek, usually Plato's Republic. When he read Latin, there was nothing that he would read in preference to Cicero on Duties and on the State, but sometimes he would read speeches or the poets, among them Serenus Sammonicus, whom he himself had known and loved, and also Horace. He would read, too, the life of Alexander the Great, whom he particularly sought to resemble, although he always denounced his drunkenness and his brutality toward his friends, in spite of the fact that these vices were denied by trustworthy writers, whom Alexander in most cases believed. After his reading he would devote himself to exercise, either ball-playing or running or some mild wrestling. Then, after having himself rubbed with oil, he would bathe, but rarely, if ever, in a hot bath, for he always used a swimming-pool, remaining in it about an hour; and before he took any food he would drink about a pint of cold water from the Claudian aqueduct. On coming out of the bath he would take a quantity of milk and bread, some eggs, and then a drink of mead. Thus refreshed, he would sometimes proceed to luncheon, sometimes put off eating until the evening meal, but more frequently he took luncheon. And he often partook of Hadrian's tetrapharmacum, which Marius Maximus describes in his work on the life of Hadrian.

The afternoon hours he always devoted to signing and reading letters. Meanwhile, the heads of the bureaus of the Imperial Correspondence, the Petitions, and the Memoranda would always stand beside him, or occasionally, if unable to stand on account of ill-health, they would be seated, while the secretaries and those who administered the particular bureau re‑read everything to him; then he would add with his own hand whatever was to be added, but in conformity with the opinion of the man who was regarded as the most expert. After attending to the letters, he would receive his friends, all of them at once, and speak with all equally, and he never received anyone alone except the prefect of the guard, Ulpian that is, who, because he was so pre‑eminently just, had always been his assistant on the bench. Moreover, whenever he sent for anyone for a consultation, he would give orders to summon Ulpian also.'
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,325
Wake up
Call over piss bucket slave
Call over grape-peeling slave
Call over wine-serving slave
Call over emperor-dressing slaves
Call over hair-dressing slaves
Call over wine-serving slave
Breakfast
Sign a pile of execution warrants
Head out to the theatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Lunch
Duck across to the amphitheatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Second Lunch
Watch some Christians getting eaten
Call over wine-serving slave
Watch some Gladiator fights
Call over wine-serving slave
Dinner
Orgy
That's a lot of slave-calling. Perhaps the Caesar of Rome needs more attentive slaves.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,806
Cornwall
Wake up
Call over piss bucket slave
Call over grape-peeling slave
Call over wine-serving slave
Call over emperor-dressing slaves
Call over hair-dressing slaves
Call over wine-serving slave
Breakfast
Sign a pile of execution warrants
Head out to the theatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Lunch
Duck across to the amphitheatre
Call over wine-serving slave
Second Lunch
Watch some Christians getting eaten
Call over wine-serving slave
Watch some Gladiator fights
Call over wine-serving slave
Dinner
Orgy
Joking, of course. All of those slaves would be trained to leap into action when needed, without being called.
That's a lot of slave-calling. Perhaps the Caesar of Rome needs more attentive slaves.
I'm sort of thinking that the bottom wiping slave may be needed after the orgy, or in case of Salmonella. maybe they multi-tasked as they wouldn't all be needed at the same time?