Unlike modern peoples who are raised to be rugged indivualists, the Romans were basically “programmed” from birth, to be part of the “group” -- to not stand alone, but to be “part of.” It was the approval of their fellows and their confirmation of his ability and identity that the Roman man sought. This confirmation by others was truly sought after, as well as required. Be they the elders of his family, his patron or his clients, army comrades, or even -- in an election -- the people of Rome; no Roman could be his own judge, but could see himself only through the eyes of others. If others thought him a “hero,” he was! If a man was thought a coward or a loser, then, “what else could he be?”
And so in Rome, where nobility, military and political leadership were all intertwined, there would be no end of bragging, showing-off and a boundless supply of flattering rumors. Bragging, instead of being thought rude or in poor-taste, as today, was considered the proper thing to do.
For a Roman to be a “good man” meant he had to be deemed worthy by others -- a man deemed "honorable." But so too, in the Roman mind set, “honorable” was only what was actually honored. “Glory” or “honor” were really only measured in the recognition it drew from others.
To our Roman Citizens, great and noble deeds might be done, but without other people knowing about them, there was no glory, no fame and no advantage to be gained from the deed.
And to Romans the only advantage to be gained from glory and honor was to use them to climb the social ladder. Any credit among your fellow men gained by your ability, either in office or on the battlefield, was immediately to be used to further one’s political fortunes; all in the hope of finally achieving that distant goal -- a seat in the Roman Senate.
So, what this meant was that any achievement was blatantly bragged about, to make absolutely sure everyone knew about the feat. And if one was too dignified to do the bragging himself, he simply found others who would do it for him.
All this bragging might sound a bit “much” to us today, but in a society in which so much depended on the light in which others saw you, their view could not only elevate you, but it could also quickly destroy you.
Any news, be it good or bad, spread like wildfire in a society that spent much of the day gossiping in the public baths, or mingling at the forum. Graffiti was scribbled on walls, and in the inns -- drunken songs might ridicule the high and mighty. In the theatres actors would, in their plays, praise or deride public figures of the day.
And so Rome was a city of rumors, for the entertainment of the many and for the advancement of those whose worst fate could be, not to be talked about.
Nobility was not simply bestowed upon an individual. Instead, nobility was gradually built up or torn down by a whole family. “Three fathers” was the duration required to establish a man’s noble status. The father, grandfather and great-grandfather had to have each exercised a higher magistracy. In other words, for a child to be noble, it was essential that he had been subject solely to the authority of relatives who were magistrates. Even the nobility of Octavian, whose great-grandfather had been a mere freedman, was called into question. It mattered little that a man’s family had been noble in the past, an interruption of the three generations was all it took to deprive him of his noble status. Harsh, but it was what they knew -- what they knew to be right.