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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Roman Romance

What did the Romans know about love?

Venus took pride of place as the goddess of love, fertility, and marriage. One of her festivals, Veneralia, was held on April 1st and encouraged couples to respect ‘traditional’ values of romance. It was also a chance for people to ask for her help in granting love-related favours!

Denarius of Julia Domna depicting Venus on the reverse
Cupid is the next divine figure best linked with love in the Roman world. Cupid is likely the Romanised version of Eros, a key figure of Greek mythology. The fable of Cupid and Psyche is laced with the bizarre and fantastical; including Psyche receiving assistance from some ants that help her sort grain into piles during Venus’s trials to regain Cupid’s love. It shows no matter how weird, even amongst the gods love is never far from the Roman imagination.

Roman intaglio depicting Cupid, discovered at the Roman Baths

What did the real people of Rome say about love in their lives? 

The ‘ideal’ marriage occupied the hearts and minds of Romans in everyday life. Marriages were generally arranged by the paterfamilias (Father of the household). In upper-class society, marriage was commonly focused on alliance-forging, dowry exchange, or property gain, and romance is presented as an afterthought. It is easy to look at Roman marriages as cold, political, and calculated. Which, in fairness, is not wrong in some cases.

How reflective of wider Roman society is this? 

Whether it is the controversial Ovid, the amorous Catullus or the elusive Gallus, love poetry is a valuable insight into a far more general perspective of romance. Read them with a large pinch of salt because little is without agenda or exaggeration in Rome. These poems show love in all its colours, the good, the bad, and the peculiar. It is endearing to see that even two thousand years ago, love was still everything it is to us today.

Placement student