when in Rome, do as the Romans do

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Alternative forms[edit]


The first attestation is Medieval Latin si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre; si fueris alibī, vīvitō sīcut ibī (if you should be in Rome, live in the Roman manner; if you should be elsewhere, live as they do there), which is attributed to St Ambrose.

Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) uses the phrase “When they are at Rome, they doe there as they see done.”[1]


when in Rome, do as the Romans do

  1. (strictly) When in a foreign place, suit behavior or appearance to the local culture.
    • 1834, Thomas Staunton St. Clair, A Soldier's Recollections of the West Indies and America, with a Narrative of the Expedition to the Island of Walcheren, volume 1, London: Richard Bentley, page 345:
      [] but, as I seated myself at table, I thought how my friends in Scotland would stare to see stewed monkey, roasted mermaid, and a pepper-pot of macaws, set down on table for their repast. But my plan always has been when in Rome to do as Rome does; and we found our food both delicate and cooked in such a manner, with every savoury spice, that it would have tickled the palate of the most fastidious gastronome.
    • 1846, “A Letter from Mehemet Ali to Ibrahim Pacha”, in Punch, or the London Charivari, volume 11, London, page 35:
      It will be observed that the document is written in the ordinary style of English correspondence, for Mehemet Ali endeavours to adopt European habits as far as he possibly can, and, as when in Rome he would do as Rome does, so his son, being in this country, is addressed as an Englishman.
    • 2003 May 8, “Forget Asylum-Seekers: It's the People Inside Who Count”, in The Economist:
      But it is hardly an act of hostility to make people improve their social or work skills; it happens to all schoolchildren. And to most of the native Dutch, this was simply a reasonable “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, and a recognition that this acculturation was not happening fast enough, but needed to be pushed.
  2. (loosely, idiomatic) Adapt to the circumstances; follow common custom.
    • 1842 July, “The Opinion of the Apostle Peter Respecting Trifles”, in Barton W. Stone, editor, The Christian Messenger, volume 12, number 9, Jacksonville, IL, page 282:
      But my friend says, ‘when in Rome, we must do as Rome does,’ Ah! this is the very principle of an ungodly world; and Christians have caught the spirit, and are acting up to it. Peter and Paul were in Rome.—If they had done as Rome did, they would not have suffered death there. If we were in Rome, and must do as Rome does, we must become idolaters, and papists, or lose Rome's favor, and suffer her displeasure. But we must separate ourselves from Rome, and from the world, and their wicked and God-robbing practices. We must not be conformed to the world. We must be Christians in deed and in truth.
    • 1857, Austin Steward, Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman; Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce Colony, London, Canada West, Rochester, NY: William Alling, page 101:
      I know of many instances where such persons have been under the necessity of buying or hiring slaves, just to preserve their reputation and keep up appearances; and even among a class of people who profess to be opposed to Slavery, have I known instances of the same kind, and have heard them apologize for their conduct by saying that “when in Rome, we must do as the Romans do.”
    • 1873, J. W. Phelps, editor, Secret Societies, Ancient and Modern; an Outline of Their Rise, Progress, and Character with Respect to the Christian Religion and Republican Government, Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, page 224:
      The good intentions of the individual cannot control the evil operations of an organization which is essentially wrong. Men when in Rome are apt to do as the Romans do, however evil it may be; and the member of a Lodge is not likely to remain for a long time better than the Lodge itself.




  1. ^ Democritus Junier [i.e. Robert Burton] (1621) The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With All the Kindes, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Severall Cures of it, Oxford: Henry Cripps, part. 3, sec. 4, memb. 1, subs. 3, page 768
  • Seferyan, S. S., Hovhannisyan, L. V., Lazaryan, A. A. (1986) Angleren-hayeren darjvacabanakan baṙaran [English–Armenian Phraseological Dictionary], Yerevan: University Press, page 179