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Urbs Aeterna: The Eternal Roman City

As a lover of ancient history, I figured I ought to jot down a thing or two about what I’ve learned from previous readings on the Romans.


SPQR “Senatus Populusque Romanus”, which means the Senate and the People of Rome.

Legends

Firstly, it should be noted that the true history of the origins of Rome is a complex and debated subject among most historians. While the traditional story of Romulus and Remus is a well-known legend, there is little historical evidence to support it. This legend, however, is the earliest known anecdote about the foundation of Rome, as are several others that are found in Roman mythology and traditional accounts. This story, which tells of the twin brothers who were abandoned as infants and raised by a she-wolf, later go on to found Rome and have a tragic disagreement over where to locate the city; ultimately, Romulus kills Remus and the city is thus named after Romulus.

The brothers were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of the king of Alba Longa, and they were fathered by the (idolatrized) god Mars. After they were born, they were abandoned on the banks of the Tiber River and left to die, but they were found and raised by a she-wolf who suckled them. When they grew up, the brothers decided to build a city where they had been saved, but they had a dispute about where to build it. Romulus won the argument and founded the city of Rome, naming it after himself. Remus mocked the walls Romulus built around the new city and jumped over them, which Romulus saw as an act of treason and killed Remus for it.

A Statue Depicting the Twins

Another early foundation story is the story of Aeneas, a Trojan prince who fled the fall of Troy and eventually arrived in Italy. According to Roman legend, Aeneas was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus and the founder of the Roman people. The Aeneid, an epic poem by Virgil, tells the story of Aeneas’ journey and the founding of Rome.

Some legends attribute the foundation of Rome to other figures, such as the demigod Hercules or the Trojan prince Demaratus.

Keep in mind that many ancient peoples and cultures had foundation myths, which served to legitimize their ruling class and their right to govern. These myths were often used to give an origin story, to explain the ancient origins of a city and its inhabitants, and to stress the continuity with the past. These stories could be heavily modified over time and could be contradictory, but they often served as a way to identify with the past and the history of a city.

The traditional story of Romulus and Remus was likely a way for Romans to explain their city’s ancient origins and link it to the mythical founders. Furthermore, similar to our situation today in neo-colonized countries, stories and legends similar to Romulus and Remus are common in many cultures; they serve to legitimize the ruling class and their right to govern.

These legends usually serve a metaphorical and symbolic purpose. Moreover, in another metaphorical sense, the Romulus and Remus gave the Romans of yesterday (as well as the Romans of today) an origin story that emphasizes the importance of fratricide as well as a sense of continuity with the past that emphasized the Romans as fierce warriors.

Regardless of any legend or theory about the foundation of Rome, much of the early history of Rome is uncertain and debated among scholars, and these legends should be viewed in the context of the time they were created and the purpose they served. One of the best ways to read about different periods throughout history is to read the original (or original translations) of manuscripts written by chroniclers of the time.


Logic

It is believed by historians that Rome was most likely founded by a group of Indo-European peoples known as the Latins in the 8th century BCE. These people established a number of small settlements on the banks of the Tiber River, one of which grew to become the city of Rome. The earliest archaeological evidence of a permanent settlement on the site of Rome dates back to the 8th century BCE.

An Engraving Depicting Ancient Latins

Over time, Rome grew in size and power, and it eventually came to dominate the other Latin cities in the region. In the 6th century BCE, Rome was ruled by a monarchy, which was eventually replaced by a republic in the 5th century BCE. This republic lasted for several centuries and saw the expansion of Roman territory through military conquests. There are certainly other theories (other than the ones mentioned above) about the origins of Rome, yet many aspects of the city’s early history are still unknown to Romanologists and so many (or perhaps most) of these theories are mere theories until proven facts.


Rise of the Latins

The Roman civilization was one of the most influential and powerful empires in human history. It began as a small city-state in central Italy, but over time it expanded to become a Mediterranean superpower that controlled much of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

One of the most remarkable achievements of the Romans was the creation of a legal and administrative system that allowed them to govern a diverse and far-flung empire effectively. They developed a complex system of laws and institutions that was adopted by many cultures after the fall of the Roman Empire. This system included the concept of citizenship, the use of written law, and the separation of powers among different branches of government. The Roman Republic, which lasted from 509 BCE to 27 BCE, was a key development in the history of democracy, being one of the first known examples of a republic in history.

Romans were also known for their military prowess. Roman soldiers were highly trained and organized, and their armies were able to conquer and subjugate many other peoples and cultures. Roman generals such as Julius Caesar and Augustus made a significant territorial expansion and solidified Roman rule. The Roman military was based on the principle of “citizen soldiers,” in which free men from all classes were conscripted to serve in the army. Since the subject of the Roman military is extremely deep and wide, I’ll be writing about that in another blog some other time; the same goes for gladiators, which you can read more about by clicking here.

Another significant achievement of the Romans was their engineering and architectural accomplishments. The Romans were master builders and engineers and constructed many monumental structures such as the Colosseum, aqueducts, and roads that are still used today. Their system of roads enabled the rapid movement of troops and goods throughout the empire, and their aqueducts provided clean water to the cities. They also had a great architectural influence on the Western world which can be seen in public buildings, private houses, and religious buildings. Their structures still exist in most parts of the world where they were present back in the day (Jordan, Turkey, North Africa, Spain, etc.)

One of the most notable aspects of Roman culture was its ability to assimilate and absorb the cultures of the people they conquered. This cultural fusion produced a diverse and cosmopolitan society that was known for its literature, art, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Roman literature and art are celebrated for their realism and attention to detail, and Roman philosophy had a profound influence on the development of Western thought.

Despite the decline of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century CE, the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure in one form or another for another thousand years. With its capital at Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire would go on to preserve and transmit much of ancient Greek and Roman culture to the modern Western world.

Overall, the Roman Empire was one of the most important and long-lasting empires in world history. Its political, legal, and administrative systems had a profound impact on the development of Western civilization, and its engineering, architectural and artistic achievements are still visible in the world today. Even though the Western Roman Empire fell, the Eastern Byzantine Empire and the cultural heritage of Rome would continue to shape the development of Europe and the world for centuries to come.


Food of the Romans

Before I dig into a plethora of interesting facts about the Roman civilization, let’s talk a little about their eating habits.

The ancient Roman diet was diverse and varied depending on factors such as wealth and geographical location within the empire. Food from all corners of the Roman Empire was imported to the bustling capital city of Rome to feed its large population. Romans typically had three meals throughout their day: the first, known as the “ientaculum,” was eaten around sunrise and typically consisted of bread and fruit. The second meal called the “prandium,” was a small meal typically eaten around 11 AM. The main meal of the day, known as the “cena,” was enjoyed in the afternoon and can sometimes get carried into the late night; afterward, “comissatio” followed – it’s the name given to an after-dinner drinking bout.

The dietary habits of the poor in Rome were vastly different from those of the wealthy. The staple food of the lower classes was a porridge called “puls,” which was made by mixing ground wheat and water. This was often accompanied by vegetables or fruit, but meat was a rarity in the diets of the poor. In contrast, the wealthy enjoyed a much more luxurious culinary experience, often hosting elaborate dinner parties that lasted for hours and featuring a variety of dishes such as fruits, eggs, vegetables, meats, fish, and cakes. Cakes and fruit were often considered desserts (secunda mensa); literally, a mensa was a table, which also came to refer to a meal course.

The Ancient Romans had a unique dining culture, where they would recline on couches and eat from a low table using their right hand at formal dinner parties. However, for less formal meals, they would sit on stools or even stand while eating; children usually sat on stools while the adults (usually the wealthy) reclined on couches. The main utensil used by Romans during meals was the spoon, but they also frequently used their hands. They occasionally used a knife or a fork-like utensil for cutting or spearing food.

The Roman Empire was known for its delicious and diverse cuisine. One of the most iconic dishes of ancient Roman cuisine was Bruschetta, a traditional first course made with grilled bread, garlic, salt, and coated with olive oil. This dish could be topped with a variety of ingredients such as tomato, beans, vegetables, pork, or cheese, and was typically made using a unique grill called the brustolina grill. It was said that olive producers would enjoy this dish with their newly squeezed olive oil at the market. Another classic Roman dish is Carciofi Alla Romana, which means “Roman-style artichokes.” This dish is still made in every household in Rome today and is typically served as a special meal during the spring season.

Trippa Alla Romana is another famous dish of ancient Roman cuisine. This meal is made with tripe from beef, pork, and sheep, white onions, carrots, skinned tomatoes, Pecorino Romano cheese, pennyroyal leaves, and white wine. It was said to have arisen from poor, rural households as part of Quinto quarto, meaning “the fifth quarter,” or the offal of butchered animals after the elite took the first four portions.

Hardtack, also known as Bucellatum in Roman script, is a simple cookie made from wheat, water, and salt. It was a low-cost and long-lasting cracker that was cooked twice at a low temperature for a long time to ensure no moisture was left inside. It was used as the main meal during prolonged voyages and military conflicts and was also a more prevalent food supply in ancient Greece as a substitute for a three-course meal.

Some of the foods that the Ancient Romans ate would be considered unusual by today’s standards. At fancy banquets, they would indulge in delicacies such as flamingo tongues, lamb brains, roast peacocks, parrots, and stewed snails. One of the strangest foods they ate was dormice, which were considered a delicacy and were sometimes served as appetizers. One Roman recipe called for the dormice to be dipped in honey and rolled in poppy seeds.

Aside from comissatio after cena, wine was the main drink of the Romans, and it was often watered down for daily consumption. Romans also dressed up their meals with various sauces, the most popular being a fermented fish sauce called garum, which was also used as a healing remedy for various diseases such as dog bites, chronic diarrhea, ulcers, and constipation. Fish was more common than other types of meat, and oysters were particularly popular, with large businesses devoted to oyster farming.


Interesting Facts

Here are some basic and lesser-known facts about the ancient Romans:

  • Romans believed in a wide variety of gods and goddesses, many of which were borrowed from other cultures. The Roman pantheon included gods from Greek, Etruscan, and Egyptian mythology. The Roman gods had many similarities to their counterparts in other cultures but had different names, functions, and characteristics.

  • Romans were known for their love of luxury and comfort and they were ahead of their time when it came to home heating; they developed complex systems of heating and cooling for their homes and public buildings, including the use of hypocausts (underfloor heating) where hot air was heated by a furnace and circulated through terracotta pipes under the floors of homes and public buildings, such as the baths. The Romans also used a dormice (a type of edible rodent) as a form of air conditioning.

  • The Roman Colosseum was the site of countless brutal battles, where an estimated 500,000 people and 1 million wild animals lost their lives. The last recorded gladiator fight took place in 435 CE. Despite popular belief, Roman gladiators were not always forced to fight to the death. In fact, many were considered celebrities and were treated as such. However, their fame did not negate the harsh reality of their lives, as many gladiators were slaves and suffered greatly. The brutal conditions even led to rebellions, such as the famous rebellion led by Spartacus. The Roman Empire was home to over 200 amphitheaters, but the Colosseum was by far the largest and most impressive. Built in Rome in 80 CE, it only took 8 years to construct this architectural marvel, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. The Colosseum had the capacity to hold up to 85,000 spectators, though it typically held around 50,000.

  • Roman society was highly stratified, with slaves at the bottom of the social hierarchy and wealthy patricians at the top. However, a slave or a commoner could have had a chance to rise to a high position of power and prestige through the cursus honorum, a series of government and military offices that one had to hold in order to reach the highest office of Consul. I’ll share more relevant points on social hierarchy and slavery in a bit.
  • Roman education was mostly for the elite, boys were educated in literature, grammar, and rhetoric, often taught by Greek slaves and freedmen. Girls were also educated, but their education was focused on domestic skills such as spinning, weaving, and managing a household.

  • Romans also had a well-developed system of medicine, which included both traditional and practical knowledge. They made significant contributions in the fields of surgical instruments, surgical procedures, and public health. They also had a well-organized system of public health, with a network of hospitals and physicians to care for the sick and injured.

  • Roman engineers and builders were famous for their ability to construct impressive architectural and engineering projects, such as roads, aqueducts, arches, and even a system of underground tunnels to manage water and sewage in the city of Rome. Roman concrete was one of the most spectacular Roman inventions which I’ll talk about later on. As for sewage, we’ll also take a look at some interesting facts on that shortly.

  • The Romans made significant advances in military technology. Their weapons and armor, such as the gladius sword, pilum spear, and lorica segmentata armor were some of the most effective in the ancient world. They also had a unique system of field fortification known as the “testudo” or turtle formation, in which the soldiers would hold their shields overhead to form a protective cover.
  • Roman clothing varied depending on the social class and occasion, wealthy citizens had a lot of clothing options such as silk, linen, and wool, and both men and women would use jewelry and make-up. Clothing was also used to indicate a person’s status, rank, or occupation. Furthermore, male citizens often wore a toga, and the females wore a stola.
  • Romans enjoyed various forms of entertainment, such as theater, music, and games. They also had a popular form of entertainment called munera, which included gladiatorial contests and public executions. To dig deeper into the entertainment aspect of Roman life, the gladiatorial and chariot racing events that are depicted in films were a popular form of entertainment for Roman citizens all over the empire. However, chariot racing was far more popular than gladiatorial combat. Archaeologists estimate that the Colosseum in Rome, the premier arena for gladiatorial combat, could only accommodate an average of 50,000 people. This is small in comparison to the Circus Maximus, where some 250,000 spectators could watch chariot racing. Here’s a fun fact about charioteers: to regain their strength, they drank an ancient version of an “energy drink” (or sports drink), which was made by boiling goat dung in vinegar.

  • The ancient Romans took their entertainment to new heights with the invention of the naumachia, a stadium dedicated to reenacting naval battles. Hosted by Julius Caesar in 46 CE to celebrate his quadruple triumph, these spectacles featured full-size ships and were held in a permanent stadium filled with water called the stagnum, located in the modern-day neighborhood of Trastevere. Though these sea battles were the most expensive of all the games, they were held only occasionally.

  • Roman society was polytheistic and had many religious festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. Some of the most well-known include Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of the god Saturn, and Lupercalia, a fertility festival in mid-February.

  • Romans had a complex system of calendars and timekeeping. Their calendar was based on the lunar cycle, and they added an extra month to their calendar every two years to keep it in sync with the solar year. They used sundials and water clocks to measure time, and the Roman hours were not of equal length, being shorter in summer and longer in winter.

  • Romans believed in a variety of afterlife beliefs and had a diverse range of rituals and ceremonies for the dead. They had specific funerary customs and would often leave offerings at tombs and shrines. They also believed in the concept of the “shade” or “manes” of the deceased, which they thought could be invoked or propitiated by ritual or offerings.

  • Speaking of spirituality, superstition, and the like, the phallus, an image of an erect penis, was a prevalent symbol in ancient Rome. It was believed to bring good luck and prosperity, as well as assert ownership over homes and properties. The phallus was also worn as a charm on necklaces and hung in doorways to ward off evil spirits. Despite its association with sexuality today, in ancient Rome the phallus was viewed as a multi-faceted symbol with a wide range of meanings. It was commonly depicted in art, on jewelry, and even used in religious practices. The phallus was so widely used, that it was even adopted as a way of swearing oaths in some cultures.

  • Slavery was an integral part of Roman society, and slaves were used in a wide range of occupations. Many were used in agriculture, mining, and domestic service, while others were trained as artisans, craftsmen, and even professionals such as doctors and teachers. Slavery in the Roman world could be harsh but it was also possible for a slave to gain their freedom and even become part of the upper class. Roman slavery was also a unique system where slaves were protected by law and had the opportunity to earn their freedom. They were paid wages and provided with lodging, and many were freed by their masters for exceptional service. Freed slaves often went on to become successful businessmen with the support of their former masters.

  • Roman society was patriarchal, but Roman women had more rights and social freedom than women in many other ancient cultures across their part of the world. They could own property, inherit and also make a will, unlike the ancient Greek women who were allowed to own/inherit property but not sell it. Although women were not able to participate in politics, some were able to gain power through their families.
  • Roman law had a significant impact on the Western legal tradition, the concept of legal personalities, obligations, rights, property, and other legal concepts was developed by the Romans and was adopted by later civilizations. Roman law laid the foundations for civil law, which still forms the basis of legal systems in many countries today.

  • Romans had a rich tradition of religious and philosophical thought. They drew heavily from Greek philosophy and had a syncretic approach that fused different schools of thought. This syncretism gave rise to a number of unique philosophical and religious movements such as Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism that would go on to have a significant impact on the development of Western thought.

  • The ancient city of Rome was a true metropolis of its time, boasting a population of over 1 million people in the 2nd century BCE, as recorded in the first census ever taken. This diverse population was made up of individuals from three different continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. At its peak, the city housed between 4 to 5 million people.

  • Romans were known for their impressive monumental architecture and engineering projects, like the Colosseum, but they also had a long-standing tradition of urban planning. They developed a grid system that was used to plan many of their cities, and they also had complex zoning laws and building regulations. Despite popular imagery of grand temples and villas, the majority of Roman citizens lived in towering apartment blocks known as insulae. These structures could reach up to seven stories in height, and the conditions on the upper floors were often cramped and dangerous, as they were made of wood. Imagine climbing as many as 200 steps to reach your apartment, or to make a quick trip to the toilet!

  • The city of Rome was also equipped with its very own fire brigade. In 22 BCE, Emperor Augustus established the first organized firefighting force, dedicating 600 slaves to protect the city from the frequent fires that often devastated the timber-constructed upper floors of apartments. Some of the worst fires in Rome’s history occurred under emperors Nero in 64 CE and Domitian in 80 CE, resulting in extensive damage to the city. Furthermore, Rome also had its own police force, postal service, and a sewer system that swept away more than 55 tons of waste a day.

  • Aside from all the grand constructions, the Romans were also pioneers in infrastructural engineering, designing the first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, in 312 BCE. This groundbreaking feat brought water into the city through underground pipes from distant sources such as mountain streams and rivers. Over time, 11 major aqueducts were constructed to supply Rome with water, and hundreds more throughout the Roman Empire, many of which still stand today as a testament to the ingenuity of Roman engineering.

  • The Roman Empire was not as monochromatically white as commonly believed. In fact, the columns and statues of Rome were once adorned with a vibrant array of colors, created using organic materials such as plants and minerals. Trade routes from the East brought new and exotic hues, with blue being a particularly sought-after shade made from Lapis lazuli imported from Egypt and Afghanistan. Purple, on the other hand, was reserved for the elite due to its exorbitant cost. In another article, I wrote a brief account about how the Phoenicians dominated the trade of Tyrian purple back in the day. Click here to check out the vividly-detailed article on the entire history of Phoenicia.

  • Romans had a strong tradition of metalworking and metal technology, such as the production of bronze, gold, and silver. Roman metalworkers were known for their skills in casting, forging, and engraving. Roman metalworking techniques and innovations such as the use of alloys and the invention of the water-powered trip hammer had a lasting impact on metalworking technology.
  • Roman society had a well-developed system of commerce and trade. They had a diverse range of goods and services and a sophisticated system of currency and coinage. Roman merchants and traders were known for their business acumen and had significant economic influence. Roman trade networks extended throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, connecting them with many different cultures and societies.

  • The fast-paced lifestyle of ancient Rome was reflected in its love for fast food. With a majority of the population living in cramped quarters without access to cooking facilities, it was the lower classes who frequented take-out establishments such as thermopolia and popina, where they could buy hot street food and enjoy a drink.

  • Some more insight into the complex system of Roman social status and class: it was divided into two main categories: free citizens and non-citizens. Free citizens were divided into two main groups: the upper-class Patricians and the lower-class Plebeians. The latter group had limited political rights, but over time they gained more rights and privileges. Unfortunately, this sort of social hierarchy, and others similar to it, plague the world today; by combining itself with capitalism, societies, cultures, dignity, and honor have been wrecked in the name of personal gain, personal growth, and cronyism (as well as favoritism, etc.).

  • As I’ve mentioned several times how the Romans were brilliant engineers and architectural geniuses, they were also renowned for their advanced sewage infrastructure which included the widespread use of public latrines. Although the concept of toilets was invented in Mesopotamia around 4,000 BCE, Roman public toilets as we know them today date back to the first century BCE, these public restrooms were a common feature in Roman cities and were similar in design to their Greek counterparts. They typically consisted of stone or wooden bench seats with round holes on top, and a narrow keyhole-shaped slit that extended forward and downward. These slits were likely used to insert a sponge-tipped stick for cleaning. The bench seats were often accompanied by small gutters running parallel to them, where users could wash their cleaning sponges. Unlike modern restrooms, these public latrines did not have barriers between the toilet seats, but privacy was likely maintained due to the long garments worn by the Romans and the limited number of windows. On the other hand, private toilets were often located near kitchens and were used to dispose of food scraps. These toilets were flushed using buckets of water, but they were not connected to sewers. When the pits filled up, they were emptied into gardens or fields outside the city. However, Roman toilets had a number of deficiencies, one of the major being the lack of traps or S-shaped bends in the pipes beneath toilets to keep out flies.

  • Did you know that the Romans are responsible for introducing rabbits to Britain? Recent archaeological evidence has revealed that when the Romans invaded Britannia, they brought rabbits with them to farm for food and fur. Some of these rabbits inevitably escaped and colonized the British Isles, but they were not established in the wild until the 12th century.
  • The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the construction of the first-ever shopping mall, known as the Mercatus Traiani, between 107 and 110 CE. The architect behind the project was Apollodor of Damascus. The mall contained multiple levels and over 150 outlets selling a variety of goods, from food to clothing. It was located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali opposite the Colosseum. The construction of the mall required leveling a portion of the Quirinal hill. The complex also featured a basilica, shops, and offices, spread across six levels. The halls were primarily used as a market, but some rooms also served an administrative role for the emperor. The first level, referred to as tabernae, featured shops adjacent to the rocks of the slope. The second level featured two large halls with windows, topped with two half-domes. These buildings could have been used as schools. On the third floor, there was a steep road known as the Via Biberatica, which was lined with shops and taverns. The lower part of the square featured two large halls where shows and speeches were likely held. At the end of Trajan’s Halls, there is a grand balcony offering a stunning view of Trajan’s Forum and the Altar of the Fatherland in Rome.

  • The Roman Empire was a vast and powerful civilization that stretched 2 million square miles from the shores of Britain to modern-day Syria. At its peak, it is estimated to have had a population of around 65 million people. Despite Latin being the official language of the empire, many of the people who were incorporated into the empire continued to speak their native tongues, from Celtic to Syriac, and many languages in between. The Roman elite was also bilingual, speaking both Latin and Greek, with knowledge of the latter being seen as a badge of status.

  • Rome’s relationship with water is an integral part of its history, spanning over 2000 years. The Romans were dedicated to bringing fresh water into the city, and early on they built an impressive network of fountains and public baths, with over 2,300 fountains throughout the city. By the 1st century CE, the wealthy could even have water piped directly into their homes. Emperor Domitian went even further, building huge, spectacular fountains on the Palatine Hill that would rival those of modern-day Las Vegas.

  • The Romans were also known for their advancements in the field of spa culture. Building on the ideas of the ancient Greeks, who believed that bathing and spas had therapeutic benefits, the Romans constructed thermal baths at natural mineral and hot springs, creating the modern spa concept – “Sana Per Acquam” or “Health through water.” Baths were accessible to all members of society, and huge complexes were built with luxurious facilities, even for those who couldn’t afford plumbing at home.
  • Although I talked about how the city of Rome was theoretically named after its legendary founder, Romulus, it wouldn’t be quite complete if I didn’t mention that the empire also came to an end under the rule of an emperor with the same name: Romulus Augustulus, also known as “Little Augustus.” By the time he took power, the Roman Empire was already in decline, having been invaded and weakened. Despite his imperial title, Romulus Augustulus’ rule was short-lived, lasting only 10 months before he was deposed and sent into exile. In ancient Rome, this was a fate that many leaders feared, as it was considered a great humiliation to be removed from power in such a manner.

  • Gambling was a beloved pastime in ancient Rome, as people from all walks of life sought to strike it rich. Whether it was betting on chariot races at the Circus Maximus, gladiatorial contests in the Colosseum, or games of dice and knucklebones, the Romans were passionate about gambling. Even cheating was not uncommon, as evidence of weighted dice and scratched-in game boards have been found in various locations, such as the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Here’s another fun fact for you: criminals were often tied to giant seesaws where all sorts of exotic animals would devour them once they were released onto the stadium; spectators would often make bets on whoever would survive the longest.

  • The Romans were well-informed about current events, dating back to the 1st century BCE. News such as Senate debates, court trials, executions, military updates, and even social announcements was displayed in the Roman Forum for all to see. Important edicts from the Senate or Emperor were etched into stone for permanent display.

  • The ancient Romans faced a significant threat from malaria, which was a leading cause of death in the city until the 20th century. The term “malaria” itself comes from the Italian words “mal” meaning bad and “aria” meaning air, reflecting the belief that the disease was caused by bad air. The Romans were aware that the disease was more prevalent during the months of September and October, but they didn’t know that mosquitoes were the vectors for the disease. Additionally, the high mortality rate in Rome was also due to a low life expectancy, with most people dying before the age of 30. Many women died during childbirth and infant mortality was also high, with disease, accidents, and even minor illnesses often proving fatal.

  • Rome is home to more obelisks than the entire country of Egypt! After the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Egypt became a Roman territory and many of the obelisks that adorned the Egyptian cities were brought to Rome by the emperors as a symbol of their power. They were used to decorate the city, stadiums, and even as timepieces, acting as giant sundials. Although many of the 53 obelisks stolen by the Romans have been lost and are buried beneath the modern city, 13 obelisks, both large and small, can still be found decorating Rome today.

  • Ever wondered how the Romans kept their clothes bright and clean? They used urine! Laundries, known as Fullonica, utilized the natural source of ammonia found in urine to bleach and deep-clean garments. Emperor Vespasian, known for his shrewd management of imperial finances, even implemented a tax on urine collected by laundries. When confronted with complaints, he famously declared, “Pecunia non olet” (Money doesn’t smell). The collected urine was recycled for different chemical uses (mostly to be used as bleach and so on). Similarly, the Romans used to crush mice brains to use as toothpaste for cleaning their mouths. Interestingly, sometimes the ashes of donkey teeth and donkey heads were also mixed with dried mouse brains to be used as toothpaste as well.

  • Believe it or not, the sweat of gladiators was a hot commodity in ancient Rome. After a fierce battle in the Colosseum, a curved metal tool called a strigil was used to scrape the sweat off of the gladiators’ bodies, which was then bottled and sold to fans in the audience. Some even believed that sweat had medicinal properties, such as the ability to cure epilepsy. And for those who wanted an extra boost, it was even used as an aphrodisiac. Many wealthy women used it as a cosmetic (i.e., face cream) or perfume.

  • The ancient Romans held a negative perception of left-handed individuals, seeing them as unlucky and untrustworthy. However, left-handed gladiators were considered a special element in the arena, as they brought a unique and exotic fighting style to the shows. The Latin word “sinister,” meaning “left,” eventually took on connotations of “evil” or “unlucky” during the Classical Latin era.

  • Hair dyeing was a popular trend among Roman women, with red, black, and blonde being the most sought-after colors. Blonde hair was especially in demand due to the increasing contact with Germans and Gauls. Prostitutes were even legally required to dye their hair blonde as a way to distinguish themselves. Ancient Romans used a variety of ingredients to achieve their desired hair color, including goat fat, beechwood ash, henna, saffron, and bleach. Emperor Commodus even adorned his hair with golden sprinkles. Some Romans also used pastes made of powder and natural soaps to dye their hair. Pliny the Elder suggested using soaked and rotten leeches kept in red wine for 40 days to achieve a black color, while a mixture of animal fat and beech ash was recommended for red. Ovid mentioned herbs and saffron were ideal for dyeing.

  • Ancient Rome was a culture in which sexuality and marriage were strongly linked to religion and the gods. Sex was celebrated publicly in religious festivals, such as the Floralia in honor of the goddess Flora, where nude dancing and sexual plays were commonplace. Despite the popular notion of romantic love in the Roman Empire, for most citizens marriage was more about procreation and financial matters than sexual gratification or romance. Marital sex was expected to be one-sided, with the man taking the lead. Infidelity was tolerated in men while it was harshly punished in women, with adultery even legally punishable in some cases. Widows were expected to remarry after ten months had passed, and divorce was free of any stigma.

  • Moreover, male sexuality was seen mostly as a source of entertainment and recreation, with extramarital affairs and visits to brothels viewed as acceptable. However, there were still certain moral standards in place, such as mos maiorum – an unwritten code of conduct that characterized masculinity through self-control and avoiding excess. Legal and religious restrictions were also present; for instance, the crime of Incestum – sexual relations with a family member or someone who had taken a vow of celibacy – was punishable by death. Along with this, the rape of a free Roman citizen could also lead to the death penalty.

  • While not officially recognized, same-sex relationships did occur in Roman culture, and sex between powerful, free men and male slaves or prostitutes was accepted. However, the penetrated man was seen as weak in comparison to the dominator, and on the other hand, lesbian sex was highly condemned (for both females). With the onset of Christianity, “passive” homosexuality became punishable by burning, and, towards the end of the Justinian era, all forms of homosexuality were declared punishable by death.

  • Ancient Rome was a complex society with different levels of power and status. Prostitution was an accepted part of Roman life, but it was widely seen as morally questionable and carried a negative stigma. It was primarily men who visited the brothels, but wealthy women were also known to indulge in liaisons with dancers and gladiators of lower social class. There was a power dynamic at work in Roman sex life, where upper-class men had a license to engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage with people of lower social rank. However, much of the Roman population frowned upon the sexual debauchery of the elite classes and tended to have more conservative views and practices when it came to sex.

  • Kissing has been an intrinsic part of human expression for centuries. The practice of kissing dates back to around 1500 BCE, when it was first documented in the Vedic Sanskrit texts of India. However, it was the ancient Romans who truly embraced the power of a kiss, bringing the tradition to the far-reaching corners of their empire as a result of their military conquests. Roman law and social customs codified the act of kissing, with Roman men even developing an oral fixation where they became obsessed with how and when kissing should be done. In Roman weddings, passionate kisses were exchanged in front of a large crowd of people – a tradition that continues to this day.

As with any civilization from the past, there is a lot more to know about the Romans and their culture than the points which I’ve mentioned in a few short sentences; I tried my best, however, to showcase the most interesting of these points. The Romans were truly a fascinating society with a multi-faceted culture that accomplished many great things during their days of glory; their rich customs and traditions had a lasting impact on our world today. Personally, I’m mostly impressed by Roman concrete, which is so marvelous that it still baffles scientists today. To that end, I’ll sum up this article by sharing some interesting details on Roman concrete.


Opus Caementicium

Roman concrete, also known as opus caementicium, was a revolutionary building material developed by the ancient Romans that allowed them to construct monumental and durable structures. Roman concrete is known for its strength and durability, and many of the structures built with it, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon, still stand to this day.

One of the key ingredients in Roman concrete was volcanic ash, known as pozzolan, which was abundant in the Italian region. The ash was mixed with lime and water to create a mortar that could be poured into molds and formed into blocks. These blocks were then used to build the structure. Once the concrete was set, it was extremely hard and durable and could withstand the forces of weathering and erosion.

Roman engineers and builders also discovered that they could reinforce the concrete with a special type of rock called tuff, which was also abundant in the region. The tuff was added to the concrete mix, providing a network of pores and cracks that allowed the concrete to absorb and distribute stress more evenly, making the structures even more durable.

Another unique feature of Roman concrete is that it continued to harden over time, gaining strength and resistance, unlike modern concrete which hardens through a chemical reaction. Roman concrete also has a low carbon footprint, because the lime used in the production process was made by burning limestone, which consumes very little energy compared to the production of cement, which is one of the key ingredients in modern concrete. This, combined with the fact that many of the structures built with Roman concrete have lasted for thousands of years, has made Roman concrete a subject of much interest and research in recent years.

The Romans also used this concrete not only for buildings but also for infrastructure such as roads and harbors. They built thousands of kilometers of roads using this concrete, which was vital for their army, trade, and communication. Also, the durability of their harbors allowed the Roman navy to control the Mediterranean and the ports became a hub for trade and commerce.

In conclusion, Roman concrete was a revolutionary building material that allowed the Romans to construct monumental and durable structures. Its unique properties, such as its strength, durability, and low carbon footprint, have made it the subject of much interest and research in recent times. The Roman’s innovative use of a local resource, pozzolan, and their understanding of the properties of concrete made it possible for them to construct impressive structures, infrastructure, and engineering projects that still stand today.


Thank you for reading, dear reader – fair fortune to you.