Titus Vestricius Spurinna (c. 24/25-101/102+) lived an accomplished life in imperial Rome. He was an admirable military commander, held the auspicious political office of consul at least twice, and was successful in an appointment as governor of Rome’s province of Lower Germany. Yet, according to his peers, Spurinna’s impressive career as a Roman statesman was matched by his interesting retirement lifestyle.
Spurinna, as it happened, was an acquaintance of the prolific letter-writer, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), who viewed Spurinna as a friend and a role model. As befits a friend, Pliny visited Spurinna while the senior statesman was in retirement. During these trips, Pliny was struck by Spurinna’s energetic daily routine, and he ultimately decided to make the retiree’s life the subject of one of his letters. A certain Calvisius Rufus was the recipient of the communication, in which Pliny the Younger made a detailed outline of Spurinna’s alleged retirement lifestyle. The curious note can be found categorized under book 3, letter 1, in Pliny’s existent collection of preserved letters.
As Pliny told it, Spurinna’s days in retirement always began with the old statesman waking up an hour after dawn. After putting on his clothing and shoes, he would then eagerly take a morning stroll through his estates, and during these sunrise walks he would often travel for three miles. Eventually, Spurinna would meander back to his household and attendants, where the next item on his agenda was a break for reading—or, more precisely, having his attendants read out loud for him to hear. If, by chance, one of his friends was paying a visit, Spurinna was also happy to forego reading in exchange for a round of engaging conversation.
When the reading and conversation reached a stopping point, Spurinna would then usher his wife or guests back outside, and they would go on a prolonged carriage ride. These, according to Pliny, could often be drives on a route about seven miles in length. The carriage ride was then followed by a mid-day walk, which was on average one mile long. Now, with his heart pumping from the walk, and enraptured by the atmosphere of nature, Spurinna would return to his private chambers and write some lines of poetry.
As the mid-afternoon hours approached, Spurinna would pull himself away from composing his verses and begin preparing for the evening hours. Calling his attendants, he would instruct them to prepare a bath. While the house staff saw to these preparations, Spurinna would do what he loved best—go out once more for a walk and some exercise. Yet, this particular round of walking and exercising was one of Spurinna’s more peculiar habits. As Pliny tells it, when Spurinna called for his staff to prepare the bath, he would strip down naked then and there. It was only after disrobing that he would go out for his pre-bath walk, leaving his house while still in the nude. Exercises and athletic games that accompanied the pre-bath walk were presumably also done naked. On this curious regimen of sunshine and exercise, Pliny the Younger wrote, “When summoned to his bath (in mid-afternoon in winter and an hour earlier in summer) he first removes his clothes and takes a walk in the sunshine if there is no wind, and then throws a ball briskly for some time, this being another form of exercise whereby he keeps old age at bay” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.1). It should be noted that nudity was not as shocking in ancient Rome as it has come to be in the modern age, but Spurinna’s naked excursions nevertheless may have still provoked reactions, for he was nearly eighty years of age at the time that Pliny was writing.
Nudity aside, Pliny the Younger had only admiration for Spurinna and his lifestyle. He wrote, “The result is that Spurinna has passed his seventy-seventh year, but his sight and hearing are unimpaired, and he is physically agile and energetic; old age has brought him nothing but wisdom. This is the sort of life I hope and pray will be mine…” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.1). Anyone would be proud of such a glowing appraisal and endorsement. Now, let us move on to Spurinna’s evening hours.
After completing his final pre-bathing excursion, Spurinna would return to his awaiting bath water, clean up, and then settle down for a pre-dinner period of resting and listening to his attendants read aloud. Finally, dinner would be served (presented on a fancy silver and Corinthian bronze table setting), and the meal was accompanied once more by attendants reading aloud, preferably from a comedy selection. With this, Spurinna’s routine was complete, and all that was left was for him to go to bed and live the schedule over again tomorrow.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene of an Interior of Roman Building with Figures, by Ettore Forti (c. active late 19th century – early 20th century), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Getty Museum).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.