Luxury Leisure Excess Joy High Living in Ancient Rome A Brief Analysis

28 September 2016

How satisfying was living in luxury in ancient Rome? Did luxury have any ethics related to it?

Although Romans were initially rather reserved about luxury, they finally conquered Greece which highly admired luxury. Gradually the Romans became the most cultured, meanwhile degenerate society of their time. Extravagance and luxury in ancient Rome, especially in leisure and dining, played a major role.

Luxury in ancient Rome was not only limited to private luxury such as lavish banquets. As a matter of fact the Romans loved public glory as well and actively took part in it.

The Romans openly discussed the morality of luxury and believed in the existence of a natural limit to it. They made the first laws on luxury which restricted the amount of budget that people could spend on banquets and occasions.

The regulations imposed limits not only on luxury expenditures, but also the number of guests and kinds of food served during the banquets.

Luxury in ancient Rome
Floralia festival | Image source: it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floralia

As an example, one can mention the Baths of Caracalla, which was in fact the ancient Rome’s most luxurious baths. During the time of its glory, the baths featured splendid fountains, marble columns and floors, statues, and mosaics. The baths also had heated water, bronze mirrors to reflect sunlight, together with a library for leisure reading.

Christianity: Luxury in the Service of God

Legalization of Christianity by Roman emperor Constantine, introduced a new era in the timeline of Roman luxury. In addition to being a political and social problem, luxury became a moral and religious issue as well.

As Christianity began to spread, the Roman power suddenly moved to the church. As a result, Luxuries that were once gifts to Roman gods such as Mercury, found their way to the church.

Luxury in ancient Rome - Roman Empire Crown
Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire made in 11th century | Image source: wikipedia.org

Far from being an establishment which openly criticized luxury, the church itself was one of the biggest luxury consumers. In spite of advising people to stay away from luxury, the churches also welcomed the use of luxury, in the worship of God. This idea, led to glorious creations such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Similar to the Solomon’s elegant temple, the Romans built elegant places of worship. They decorated these new churches with the gold and marble they took from earlier pagan temples.  However, the Protestants in the 16th century were not in favor of such luxury. As a result, they destroyed many displays of religious luxury in the areas where they had enough influence and power.

In Christian Rome, luxury meant not only excess or extravagance, but also greed and lust. In many ways, luxury, sexuality and feminine wiles, are still bound up very closely. Christians still debate the ethics of luxury.