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The Dark Side of Rome: A Social History of Nighttime in Ancient Rome


This dissertation explores nighttime in Ancient Rome. Although several monographs on the history of night have appeared in the last two decades, no one has focused on antiquity. Through the examination of literary sources from the second century BCE to late antiquity from histories, biographies, plays, novels, laws, art, archaeology, and theological treatises, this dissertation examines how Romans experienced and thought about night.

Chapters one and two argue that night intensified emotions. The first chapter examines how Romans constructed the nocturnal soundscape. The change from day to night altered the meaning of some sounds. Other sounds induced more anger, fear, excitement, and even divine transcendence than they did during the day. The second chapter explores a reoccurring complaint Romans made about nighttime: it imprisoned them. The chapter charts how nocturnal boredom divided Romans: virtuous from reproachable, literate from illiterate, laborer from leisured. Nocturnal boredom led to creativity for some and trouble for others.

Chapters three and four explore how night separated people by status and identity. The third chapter considers the slave experience at night. Sketching the problems night posed to masters, I argue that slaveholders were more concerned about where their slaves were than keeping them busy. Because masters desired to keep their human property accessible at all hours, many slaves spent their nights inactively confined. The fourth chapter examines how beds marked Roman identity. Where one slept separated the civilized from uncivilized, the rich from the poor, and the manly from the effeminate.

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