When Octavian's victory at Actium had brought to an end the long turmoil of the civil wars, and the Augustan peace ensued, Rome became not only more resplendent with her many new marble buildings, but a much more cosmopolitan city than before. [1] Many scholars and teachers were among those who now flocked to it from all parts of the Mediterranean world. [2] Their presence, together with the increased availability of books in the new public libraries, combined to make it one of the leading centres of learning. Until 38 B.C., when Asinius Pollio established the first public library in Rome, [3] books had existed only in private collections, such as those of Lucullus and Cicero, but under Augustus (who carried out a plan envisaged by Julius Caesar) [4] the splendid Greek and Latin libraries adjoining the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, and that at the Colonnade of Octavia, provided ample resources for study and research. [5] But many who had leisure had little interest in learning. In a general atmosphere of prosperity and expansion, the building trade was a hive of industry, engaged not only on public works, but on the construction and decoration of luxurious private villas for the rich, whether in the country or at attractive spots on the coast. The chariot-races in the Circus, the gladiatorial shows, the stage productions, and the baths were more lavish and magnificent than ever, whilst unimpeded sea-transport and the increase of foreign trade brought in luxury goods from far afield. Jewellery, furnishings and furniture, purple dyes, perfumes, exotic foods, spices, silk sent from Cos or along the caravan routes from the Seres of the Far East — all this, and much more, could now tempt those who had money to spend it. [6] The result was that such words as thrift and industry were often qualified by the epithet antiqua — 'old-fashioned' — and it was mostly in places well removed from the capital that the stricter way of life survived. Tacitus spoke of 'an Italy still austere and tenacious of ancient custom' in Nero's day, [7] and noted that the emperor Vespasian (who was a native of the Sabine country) was an outstanding example of old-style parsimony. [8]

There was also a considerable shift in the distribution of wealth. The nouveau riche (novicius dives) became a familiar figure in Roman society. [9] Many of these newcomers to affluence were ostentatious

freedman, who either attempted to disguise the fact that their culture was rudimentary by acquiring libraries and having a scholar or two to dance attendance, [10] or else confidently asserted that anything beyond a primary education was a waste of time. 'I never learnt geometry or literary criticism', says one such character in Petronius' novel, 'or any such wretched stuff, but I know my capital letters, I can say my percentage tables, I know my weights and measures, and how to divide up money ... you will soon find that your father wasted his fees, even though you are a rhetoric-scholar'. [11] This represents the kind of education which boys of the poorer classes — unless their fathers had higher ambitions for them — usually received, but among the middle and upper classes grammar, literature and rhetoric continued to provide a generally respected training. Many, however, who received such an education must have been exasperated, as was Martial, to find its rewards so meagre compared with the wealth that a low-born, ill-educated person might acquire by a stroke of luck. [12]

But education was not only a matter of academic training; it was also a matter of home upbringing, and was affected by contemporary standards of behaviour. Under the Empire, conditions of family life were, in general, nothing like so stable as they had been under the Republic. Quite apart from the fact that concubinage was common, and so many remained unmarried, or childless, that serious civil disabilities were imposed on them in Augustan legislation, adultery and seduction were so rife that Augustus enacted a law under which the penalties were severe. [13] Divorce, which had been so rare in the earlier Republic, but had become more common later, was now far more frequent. Here Augustus does not seem to have done more than to insist on certain forms of procedure, and to regulate the legal arrangements for the return, in whole or in part, of the dowry. [14] On the other hand, the considerable privileges accorded to parents with three children (ius trium liberorum) must have helped to encourage and consolidate family life. [15] We cannot, however, form any clear idea of the proportion in the community of such close-knit families as those described in the last poem of Propertius and the letters of Pliny. The mass of evidence on moral decline is only partially counterbalanced by indications, particularly in inscriptions, which testify to a better state of affairs. [16] But in the study of education, we can at least make an assessment of some of the worse trends of the time, and of the attempts which were made to correct them.