Valentine’s in Ancient Rome

Valentine’s Day didn’t exist during the time of ancient Rome but men still wrote love poems.

However they weren’t tender caring notes filled with gooey romantic declarations of love or even flattery, the Romans wrote more about the pain and discomfort of love.  Love was viewed as something that torments the lover more like a nightmare than a dream.

Barbara Gold, professor of the classics at Hamilton College in New York describes ancient love poems that call love a plague, and accuse love of making the writer ill.  “You would never go out today and find a a valentine that says “You’re like a plague, you set my bone marrow on fire.” She says.  Gold suspects the dark nature of the love poems relate to the sexual dynamics of the age. “It’s all about how they viewed women – women are a torment, women are a plague,” she said. “I think it’s because men were terrified of the power that women have, and they projected those feelings. It was the men who had more power in ancient Roman society. But any force that made them feel less in control and less powerful — such as a woman giving or withholding her love — could be very threatening.”

Romantic ideas of love were quite different in first century Rome, most marriages were arranged according to wealth and status and love was never taken into account, at least most people never expected to love their spouse.

Today’s culture allows for people to marry because of romance and mutual understanding because there is more of an equality in relationships and we aren’t under the strict social constraints of Roman culture.

So be glad you can choose who to have a relationship with!

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