Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) was born in Augusta Bilbilis (Tarraconensis), in about AD 50. He moved to Rome in AD 64 where he gained a reputation as a talented and entertaining poet, specialising in epigrams (short poems with a witty ending).

Martial was willing to write flattering poems about influential politicians in order to gain fame and fortune. This backfired when Emperor Domitian, who had been much praised by Martial, was assassinated. Martial was forced to flee to Tarraconensis where he died in about AD 104.

Over 1,500 of his poems have survived and, although some were written as propaganda, many of them provide useful information on life in Rome.

Primary Sources

(1) Advertisement written on a wall in Rome by the poet Martial (c. AD 85)

That you may not be ignorant where I am to be bought and wander in uncertainty over the town, let me guide you to where you may be sure of obtaining me. Seek Secundus... behind the Temple of Peace and the Forum of Pallas.

(2) Martial, Epigram XI (c. AD 90)

Even Britain is said to sing my verses. Yet what do I gain by it? My purse knows nothing of my fame.

(3) Martial, Epigram VII (c. AD 90)

Shopkeepers had swallowed the whole of Rome... (now) people are no longer forced to walk in the mud... The barber, the cook and the butcher have to keep behind their thresholds. We have Rome again, where yesterday there was nothing but one great filthy shop.