Categories: History

45 Little-Known Facts About the Ancient Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was among the largest empires in Ancient Times, but our knowledge about it is still scarce.

The Ancient Rome was arguably one of the most interesting civilizations. Its heyday started on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. As its empire expanded, its significance immediately became one of the largest in the archaic times. During its early existence, the Roman Empire was all about the monarchy. But as time passed by, it evolved into a classical republic.

While most of us know a thing or two about Ancient Rome, our knowledge about it is still vague. And if we picture this great empire in our minds, most of us think it’s all about gladiatorial fighting. Although this is true, there’s still a lot of interesting facts around it – and below are some of them.

#1. Gladiatorial fighting wasn’t the most popular sports.

Believe it or not, the Romans were not just fond of the gladiatorial stuff. This type of fighting wasn’t even considered the most popular entertainment. They were in fact in love with chariot racing – their version of formula racing. Archeologists estimate that the Colosseum could hold at least 50,000 people. And as this form of racing grew bigger, the estimate went to 250,000.

#2. Their life expectancy.

Source: List Ogre

The Ancient Rome believed that a person’s life could only last 20 to 30 years. This was due to the number of women dying while giving birth. For them, reaching maturity (age 35 to 40) was already considered immortality.

#3. Size really mattered to them.

Contrary to popular belief, the Roman Empire wasn’t the largest empire in history. At its peak, it only compromised 12 percent of the world’s total population – making it the 28th largest empire. In reality, it was the British Empire that obtained the rank. They were followed by the infamous Mongol Empire.

#4. They just love war.

Calling the Romans war freak would be an understatement. These guys just love waging war. For them, seeing blood was like Christmas. In fact, the wars involving the Romans and the Persians (their greatest adversaries) lasted around 721 years. Again, that’s 721 stronghold years. This easily became the longest conflict in all of human history.

#5. Introducing Saturnalia.

The Romans had a very interesting notion when it comes to the master-slave relationship, and they called this “Saturnalia.” It was a festival in which the masters and the slaves would switch places. The latter would be treated to a banquet of food and luxury, just the way their masters enjoyed it.

#6. A proof of virginity.

Virginity during the heyday of Ancient Rome was as significant as one’s life. It was during the 7th century BC when the empire introduced the so-called “vestal virgins.” Virgins were basically required to keep their hymen intact, which was proof to their virginity until age 30. Vestal virgins who, in one way or another, engaged themselves in sexual conduct would be buried alive.

#7. Just too crowded.

As mentioned above, the Roman Empire wasn’t the largest empires in the ancient world. But despite this, their population peaked to the nth level. They were at least six times more densely populated than any present-day city like New York City.

#8. They prayed for a good poop.

Yes, you definitely read that right. The Romans had this bizarre belief over a sewer goddess, a toilet god, and a god of excrement. For them, the gods frequent the latrine in very large numbers. They even believed about poop being a food for the dead. Hence they always prayed for the gods to make their poop “eatable.”

#9. Dental hygiene was so important.

The Romans were quite like the Victorians. When it comes to clothing or fashion, they always made sure they looked their best. Apparently, though, they had a very strange way of washing clothes. They basically used urine. But this wasn’t just their weirdest techniques. They also used it to – wait for it – whiten their teeth.

#10. Atheists, atheists, and atheists.

For the Romans, the early Christians were nothing but a bunch of “atheists.” This was simply due to the fact that they didn’t pay tribute or respect to the pagan gods. The Empire would also consider them cannibals, as they would eat the body of Christ and drink His blood. Of course, the Christians never meant it in a literal way. It even got to a point where the believers of the faith would invite Roman authorities just to showcase the communion.

#11. Their income gap…

It holds true that the Roman Empire achieved a lot of success in the ancient times. But in terms of economy, they weren’t an epitome. Ancient Rome in 150 CE has less, less income inequality. It was so unfortunate that America’s income generation today could be deemed a huge success.

#12. A horse became a senator.

Source: Pinterest

The Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula wasn’t just known for his principle and views. He was also known for the first person to make a horse a senator. And this wasn’t just his “accolades” actually. He also committed incest (considered as the greatest controversy in Ancient Rome) with his sisters. He also fed his prisoners to wild beasts. But perhaps the lowest of all was his number of conversations with the moon.

#13. Salt and blood were a “thing.”

Salt became a currency for the Romans. They used it to buy slaves, though they weren’t the first ones to apply it. The Ancient Greeks also did the same thing. Apparently, though, salt was also deemed an important ingredient in making a good antiseptic.

#14. The sweat of the gladiators.

Ancient Roman women had this very peculiar way of improving beauty. They used the sweat of the fiercest gladiators, believing it would give them a fair and satisfying complexion. Romans also believed that by drinking the blood of these warriors, they could become strong and fierce. They even got to the point where said blood became a medicine for curing epilepsy – of course, we all know it’s not true.

#15. The titular “spongia.”

Toilet paper wasn’t a thing in the past and, thus, the Romans had to improvise. They came up with a tool called “spongia,” which was basically a sponge on a stick. They used it to clean themselves after pooping. Public facilities during that time had a long marble bench with holes on top and at the front. The latter was where the “spongia” would enter. The restrooms didn’t even have dividing walls or something. They poop right next to each other.

#16. They actually loved their slaves.

Source: Brewminate

Unlike other ancient civilizations, the Romans cared and loved their slaves. They did their best to avoid being cruel to them. They treat them very nicely by giving bonuses and even branding. They believed that by doing so, their slaves’ productivity would be consistent.

#17. The ruler who got tired.

Cincinnati was among the well-known dictators of the Roman Republic, but not because of his works. Although he did help Rome in battling crisis, they decided to retire to his farm. This was simply because he got tired of ruling.

#18. They were great builders.

Source: Imgur

The Romans were really among the smartest when it comes to constructing infrastructures and whatnot. In fact, two of their dams in Spain still exist after 1900 years. These dams are well-known for their strength, extraordinary height, and toughness. This is why scientists are trying to unravel the secret formula the Romans used in building dams and other structures.

#19. The polar bears.

This is perhaps one of the most interesting facts about Ancient Rome. During the 1st century AD, polar bears were known to battle seals in Roman amphitheaters. These structures, however, were flooded with water to keep the creatures alive.

#20. The Statue of Liberty

Source: NYCgo

If you think it was the Americans who really thought of the Statue of Liberty, then you’re completely wrong. The statue was actually inspired by the Romans’ very own Pagan Goddess Libertas.

#21. The concrete technology

Much of the Roman Empire’s success was because of their concrete technology. Their construction of walls was so effective that they withstand countless attacks for over 2,000 years. This is really long compared to the lifetime of modern concrete structures. But as the ancient empire fell, the technology of creating solid infrastructures got lost.

#22. They were shopaholics.

The Romans were really fond of shopping. They even had a 4-story tall shopping mall that they called “Trajan’s Market.” It was said to have a least 150 shops and offices.

#23. The price of the Colosseum.

If the Ancient Rome’s Colosseum was built today, it would cost around $380 million. This further proves the Romans’ dedication in building stuff. They didn’t settle for mediocrity and would go the extra mile just to guarantee toughness and strength.

#24. The death penalty during their time.

If you killed your father in Ancient Rome, your punishment would’ve been the death penalty. And this wasn’t just a petty punishment, so to speak. You would be sewn up in a sack along with the deadliest of creatures (e.g. vipers, wild monkeys, a dog, and a cock). This was called “poena cullei,” though it would vary depending on the ruling emperor.

#25. Making their urine smell nice.

Since they were to use their urine in brushing their teeth, the Romans found a way to make it look “healthy.” They would drink turpentine, as they believed it would make their urine smell sweet like roses.

#26. Their ancient drugs.

Source: GoUNESCO

The Salema Porgy is known for being a fish that can produce hallucinations but only when devoured. Apparently, the Romans consumed this creature for the sake of having fun. They considered the fish as a recreational drug. Interestingly, over the course of years, Salema Porgy’s ability to cause hallucination was debunked. Heck, in 2006, people started to cook and eat this fish without experiencing any alteration in their state of consciousness.

#27. Here’s how they managed time.

Modern society follows the same time process as the Ancient Romans. We also have sixty minutes just like them and they also divided their day into 24 hours. However, the length of their hours varied greatly because they wanted to ensure the existence of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. So when high summer hit, they would have longer daylight hours than in midwinter.

#28. Just how ancient the Romans were?

Source: Wikipedia

Well, actually, the Romans weren’t that ancient. To put it simply, the Pyramids of Giza were far more archaic compared to them. Now just do the math.

#29. Flamingo tongues were yummy.

Oh, yes, the Romans had a unique approach in cuisines. In fact, they considered flamingo tongues as the best all-time delicacy. If you lived in Ancient Rome, you could easily flatter a Roman with this meal.

#30. Their storage technology was so robust.

The Romans were among the ancient civilizations that perfected the art of storing food. In fact, in 2012, divers discovered a Roman shipwreck from 2,000 years ago. And believe it or not, everything was destroyed except the storage jars and their contents.

#31. How to pronounce Julius Caesar’s name.

Source: Famous People

If your professor taught you differently, then he/she was a fraud. Just kidding. In reality, Julius Caesar’s name was mistakenly pronounced as the years went by. But the correct way to pronounce his name is this: “YOO-lee-us Kye-sahr.” Now go and correct your prof.

#32. Their early form of air conditioning.

The Ancient Rome actually had a peculiar way of cooling themselves. They ran cold aqueduct water in pipes all the way to their houses in an early form of air conditioning. These aqueducts were responsible for supplying water to the general public facilities such as latrines, fountains, baths, and private households. As for the wastewater, this was efficiently removed by their improvised sewage systems and released into nearby bodies of water. This approach helped the town clean and smelling fresh.

#33. Meet Nero.

Nero was among the Roman Emperors who lived a very, very strange life. First and foremost, he married not a woman but a man named Sporus. While he can be applauded for his bravery to promote same-sex marriage (which was a very controversial act in the ancient times), his darker actions overwhelmed it. Remember: He castrated Sporus. He even murdered his mother, Aggripina the Younger, his first wife, Octavia, and his second wife, Poppaea Sabina. Nero was a psychopath of sorts.

#34. A sign of leadership.

The Romans believed in symbols and signs. For leadership, they believed that a man who had a crooked nose was worthy of leading them. Well, actor Owen Wilson could’ve been an emperor, so to speak.

#35. Romans and suicide.

Source: FACTSlides

Suicide during that time was socially acceptable. Romans didn’t give a damn or two about those who decided to kill themselves. But when it began to affect the empire’s economic cost, it was considered a crime. I seriously laughed at this. How could you even condemn a person if he already committed suicide?

#36. Filling the Colosseum with water.

Source: City Wonders

In 86 AD, the Colosseum became a swimming pool. It was actually filled with water in order to stage a full naval battle.

A Roman writer by the name of Cassius Dio said,

Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians.”

#37. Here’s how rich the Roman charioteers were.

The charioteers in Ancient Roman lived a very dangerous life. After all, there was always the risk of falling down and getting ditched by a chariot and a bunch of horses. Interestingly, there was a reason why they chose to do it despite the risks. The reason? They actually earned huge amount of money. In fact, the Roman charioteers earned more than the best-paid footballers and other international sports superstars of today. A well-known charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, was said to have accumulated $15 billion USD in his entire career.

#38. Soldiers committing suicide.

Source: BBC

In 117 A.D., Emperor Hadrian declared that any attempted suicide by soldiers would be deemed desertion. And this would mean a capital offense to mother Rome. So for those who were caught attempting suicide, they were killed… anyway.

#39. The Roman celebrities.

For the Romans, you’ve reached celebrity status if you’ve become a proven gladiator. That means either fighting against another gladiator or creature to death. While this was such an achievement, most gladiators were not really fond of it. Besides, they were just forced to do so, as they were merely slaves following the orders of their masters.

#40. The great Attila

Attila was among the fiercest and smartest barbarian leaders in ancient history. He was known for accepting an enormous amount of gold. He even received a huge subsidiary from Ancient Rome just to prevent him from attacking the Roman Empire. But probably he got bored, he decided to attack anyway.

#41. Slaves didn’t row the boats.

Source: The Loaded X-Ray Gun

This is among the misconceptions Hollywood has for the Roman Empire. In reality, warships during this ancient time were not rowed by slaves. It was believed that the free citizens of the empire engaged themselves in battle, not the slaves. If the latter would go to war, their masters must first strip them off of slavery and duty. And as soon as they wage war, they were deemed free people.

#42. No honeymoon just yet.

After wedding night, a Roman wife must not let her husband see her naked body. And this meant no sex. They were not to engage in any sexual activity until the next day.

#43. Emperors poison themselves.

Source: Vision Times

Yes, they actually did it – and it was on a regular basis. The emperors believed that by doing so, they would gain immunity from all sorts of poison. This practice was called “Mithridatism.” Although this was effective in some types of poisons, it didn’t work in all of them. Some emperors went ill, but others fatally died.

#44. The Great Fire of Rome.

Remember Nero? Well, his part of this again. During the infamous Great Fire of Rome, much of the empire was burned. From houses to walls to buildings, all were consumed by fire. But as it all happened, Nero allegedly sang and played his fiddle. Later on, though, this was debunked by various historians. They believed that the next emperor did this as a propaganda to oust Nero. The latter wasn’t even in Rome when the fire happened.

#45. Marcus Aurelius and his revenge.

Marcus Aurelius was largely known for his humanitarianism and philosophy, but he faced an interesting dilemma later on. His wife named Faustina had an affair with a combatant, though she would eventually confess her misdeed to Marcus. The latter, however, didn’t take it very nicely – of course. She ordered Faustina to be stripped and have sex with the gladiator. And when they did the act, the warrior was killed while he was still on top of her. She was then obliged to bathe in his lover’s blood and make a quick cleanup to have sex with Marcus.

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