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The reader of Roman fiction encounters ancient Roman words that may not be familiar. This portion of the site will help the reader understand the meanings behind these words.

All terms are listed alphabetically. To find the term you are looking for click onto the letter that begins the particular word. If you have any problems please feel free to contact Fred Mench or Ruth Breindel.

A - G | H - M | N - R | S - Z

N | O | P | Q | R


natalis restitutio: restoration of ingenuus status, whether the person so granted had ever been freeborn or not.

naumachiae: a naval battle performed as a show.

nefasti (ludi/feriae): days on which no official public business could be transacted.

negotiator: a businessman; esp. a banker.

nobiles: Meaning well known; members of families with ancestors who had held high office in Rome, in particular the consulship (Dersin).

nomen (gens): center (of 3) or clan name. (example:Julius in Gaius Julius Caesar)

Nones: ninth day before the ides (hence 5th or 7th of month, since Romans counted both ends of the number series).

novus homo: “new man”; the label was applied during the late Republic to the first man of a family to serve in the Senate, and in particular to those few men , such as Cicero, who attained the consulship despite their nonsenatorial family origins (Dersin).


optimates: the “best” men; the traditionalist faction in the Senate during the late republic. Notable optimates included Cicero & Cato the Younger (Dersin).

Ostia: ancient city of Italy, in Latium, at the mouth of the Tiber River, southwest of Rome. Ostia was famed for its marshes, the salt from which was conveyed over the Salarian Way, and it was the port to which grain from Sicily and Sardinia was delivered. Ostia was the naval base of Rome until the harbor became filled with silt.


paedagogus: slave appointed as personal attendant a of child. The paedagogus was his constant companion and was responsible for his behavior & appearance (Shelton). The paedagogus accompanied the child to school.

Palatine: chief of the Seven Hills of Rome, located between the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, with the Roman Forum at its foot; according to tradition the site of the earliest Roman settlement. During the Roman Republic, temples and some of the finest private houses in Rome stood on the Palatine, and under the empire, the hill became the site of imperial residences, hence the term "palace".

palestra: exercise courts at Roman baths.

papyrus: a tall marsh plant, and the paperlike sheets made from it. Papyrus was manufactured and sold in rolls. Originating in Egypt, papyrus became the most widespread writing material in the Roman world (Dersin).

parchment: the skin of a sheep or goat, scraped and prepared for writing on.

paterfamilias: the head of the family. He had absolute control over all the members of his family, including the right of life & death. Heads of families did decide to expose new-born children, and even on occasion to execute wives or sons. The paterfamilias was responsible for providing his children with education, character training & religious upbringing.

peristyle: an open courtyard or garden area surrounded by a colonnade (Shelton).

plebian: (1) Roman citizens who did not belong to the exclusive patrician class, however rich and powerful they might be, and (2) the common people, citizens. There was a wide economic variation, from shop-keepers and artisans to welfare-recipients.

plebs: the common people.

pomerium: sacred boundary dug around the city. No troops were supposed to be in the city. A general who crossed the pomerium to enter Rome automatically lost his imperium.

pontifex maximus:"chief pontiff" the leading religious official in the state.

populares: the “supporters of the people”; the faction in the Senate that sought reform by appealing to popular opinion; opponents of the optimates (Dersin).

potestas: general term for power.

praenomen: first or personal name. (example: Gaius in Gaius Julius Caesar)

praetor: civil & criminal judges; after one year, may be provincial governors by prorogatio. The praetorship was created as a separate office to provide for the jurisdiction of civil suits and to provide additional magistrates with imperium. The urban praetor presided over all litigation between citizens in the city of Rome proper. The peregrine praetor conducted lawsuits in which one or both of the litigants were foreigners.

praetor peregrinus: dealt with legal cases in which one or both parties were foreigners.

praetor urbanus: dealt with legal cases between Roman citizens.

prandium: lunch; very light, usually something left over from the previous night’s dinner.

province: a geographically defined area outside Italy administered by a governor from Rome. During the empire some provinces were administered by the Senate while others were under control of the emperor (Dersin).

publicani: tax collectors. The Romans had no Imperial Revenue Dept. to collect the taxes from the distant provinces. Instead they auctioned the right to tax a particular area to finance companies through whom the publicani were employed. Employees of the companies were responsible for the collection of taxes on the spot. The companies were owned and directed by the equites.

puls: a boiled wheat dish, similar to cream of wheat, grits, or couscous.


quaestor: keepers of state funds; paymasters. The earliest quaestors had judicial powers, but as the finances of Rome increased in complexity, two quaestors were appointed by the consuls to control the public treasury. After 447 BC the quaestors were elected annually by the comitia tributa. In 421 BC the office was opened to the plebs and the number of quaestors was raised to four. As the Roman Republic gained control of Italy and more provinces were acquired, additional quaestors were elected as financial assistants to the military commanders and provincial governors (Dersin).


rhetor: teacher of the elite third stage of Roman education, public speaking After an indefinite period of training students would take on simple cases in the courts or deliver public speeches. Rostra: the speaker’s platform in the Forum, which took its name from the prows (rostra) of enemy ships with which it was decorated (Dersin).

rudis: a small stick; a wooden sword given to gladiators on their discharge.

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