Ancient Rome lies in the cradle of one of the biggest civilization in the human history. It started off as a small town on the bank of the Tiber River in central Italy, at the beginning of the eighth century BC. Soon, after countless wars and military campaigns, it encompassed the entire continental Europe around the Mediterranean basin, all of Britain, and a huge part of western Asia and northern Africa. Even more interesting are the various facts and facets about the Roman civilization and the lifestyle of ancient Roman people. From the spectacular battles of gladiators, to the elaborate dinner parties, to the famous and infamous emperors – a walk through the Roman history is always an amusing experience. Here is the list of top 10 facts about Ancient Rome that you will find rather fascinating.
10. Medical practices
Although many of their medical exercises were fairly misguided, people in ancient Rome did come up with some revolutionary medical practices that put them at least on par with a skilled medical professional from ancient Greece. Roman medical practitioners displayed impressive ingenuity when it came to healing bodily wounds and injuries. They developed some rather bizarre, but useful medical tools like the weirdly named and fearsome looking ‘Vaginal Speculum’. Not all the Roman ‘doctors’ were highly regarded by common people – most of them were considered frauds and liars. However, the surgeons in the Roman legions were much respected for the skills they displayed in healing the injured soldiers in the battlefield.
They came up with bandages made of cobweb, vinegar and honey – a combination that proved to be vital in speedy recovery. In fact, their medical achievements was made up the base for subsequent military medical practices for nearly two millennia.
9. Popular clothing
In ancient times, the popularity of a clothing was directly related to its simplicity and ease to wear. Generally, two types of clothes were popularly worn by ancient Romans – tunic and toga. The Tunic was the standard dress for people – usually worn by slaves and non-citizens all the time and worn by Roman citizens in their leisure within the comfort of their homes. The toga was taken as a distinct Roman apparel which only true Roman citizens were allowed to wear in public. It was especially worn on state occasions and hence could be taken synonymous to modern day tuxedos. Given their design and texture, togas obviously weren’t the most comfortable of dresses, but the ancient Romans loved to show off the status and power that they gained on wearing togas in public.
Togas came in two primary colors – white and purple. Purple clothing used to be a symbol of royalty and was reserved only for emperors and senators with big influences. For anyone else, wearing a purple toga was considered a highly punishable treason.
8. Great Architects
Ancient Rome was known for the foundations, it laid, and advances it made in contemporary architecture – effectively making Rome a forerunner civilization in inventing and implementing breakthrough architectural techniques to best use. The primary architectural achievements that stand out are the modified arches (used in creating structures like the Colosseum, aqueducts and sewers), and the extensive network of roads throughout Rome that proved to be pivotal in establishing far reaching business routes across the empire.
Roman concrete was known for its strong and lasting built. Moreover, on analyzing pieces of Roman concrete that had been buried deep in the Mediterranean Sea for more than 2000 years, researchers found that it was more durable and environmentally friendly than its modern day sibling. At a time when modern concrete structures are designed to last for at most a couple of centuries, those ancient Roman concrete slabs were able to withstand more than two millennia of seawater corrosion.
7. Shopping mall
To put it in short – ancient Romans were the first to invent and use the concept of a supermarket. There already were all kinds of shops in Rome that sold all kinds of items, but a complex of buildings was constructed in 107-110 CE during the reign of Trajan. A fine example of decorative architecture in Imperial Rome, the complex housed a whole market within its premises, along with small shops in the front and a residential apartment block. At the peak of its popularity, Trajan’s market had more than 150 shops in the complex.
The primary products sold at the Trajan’s market used to come from areas all across the Roman Empire. The most popular were food items such as fruits, vegetables, fish, wine, oil and various spices. Since this structure was built using Roman engineering techniques and a whole lot of ancient Roman concrete – it stands to this day as a testimony to durability of ancient Roman architecture.
6. The Rich Dine
For an average citizen of ancient Rome, the regular diet consisted of common staple food such as wheat, barley, bread and posca. Meat and fish used to be rare delicacies for the poor. But the rich Romans could afford pretty much anything and almost all of them loved showing off their riches and lifestyles. So they would host extravagant dinner parties where their slave cooks would prepare amazing cuisines and delicacies for the invited guests.
The dining room used to be primary reception space full of attractive decorations such as floor mosaics, wall paintings and other luxury artworks and showcases. Then the dinner would be prepared in three fancy courses and such lavish cuisines were served more with the purpose to add flamboyance to the dinner party than to satisfy the appetite of guests. In fact, it mattered far more to the rich Romans that their meals reflected a grand spectacle, the taste was almost always a secondary affair.
5. Sinister lefties
Throughout history, left handed people have faced social bias since almost all daily life tools are made keeping right handed comfort in mind. But this prejudice against left handed people goes beyond that. They were considered unlucky or evil by the right-handed majority of people (who make up for about 90% of population). In ancient Rome too, you were prejudged to be unlucky and untrustworthy if your dominant hand was left. Even the word sinister is an iteration of the original Latin word used to define left but soon became synonymous with ‘evil’ because of the contemporary superstition.
Though history books suggest ancient Romans actually favored the left side in the beginning, but eventually switched to the Greeks who considered the right side to be lucky. In no time, the left hand had attained such a bad symbolism that the ancient Greeks and Romans actually wore the wedding ring on the third finger of left hand to ward off the evil that came with lefties.
4. The cross dressing Emperor
“Little Boots” Caligula’s reign as the Emperor of imperial Rome lasted for only a few years, but stories of his various antics and notorious have lived to this day. Even though he started out as a popular emperor, and in fact was revered by all in the first few months of his rule , soon his behavior became so immoral and unreasonable that almost everyone believed he had gone insane. That happens when you are the supreme leader of such a vast empire, but your primary concern is to instate your pet horse as a priest and counsel in the Roman senate.
He made frequent appearances in public dressed as a woman, and abandoned the customary toga for silken gowns. He even had directed his guards to use obviously feminine hand-signs when signaling each other. He also met a horrendous end when he was murdered at the hands of Praetorian Guards and some senators who left his body to rot in the street.
3. Urine tax
Even at present, it is such a hassle to pay for using public toilets – why should one be charged to perform a natural bodily function? But even the common citizens in ancient Rome had to pay a certain amount of tax for using public urinals. As it happens, back in those days, urine was taken as a commodity for its various uses. All the urinals would lead to the cesspools from where liquid used to be collected (along with from the cesspools of private toilets in upper class Roman residents) and then recycled for various chemical purposes.
Animal skins used to be dipped and soaked in urine to remove hair fibers. Processed urine was extensively used for laundry purposes since it was a source of ammonia, which came very handy in bleaching and cleaning woolen garments. So consequently, first Emperor Nero and then Vespasian levied the vectigal, urinae or the urine tax.
2. The phallus charm
The ancient Romans may have made some huge advances in architecture and medical sphere but they were blatantly superstitious – in fact as downright superstitious as it can get. One of the popular superstition among the Romans was that good health and luck came along with phallus – making it an ever present amulet or effigy in the ancient Roman culture.
It was popular among Roman households to hang wind chimes that bore various phallic amulets to ward of any evil and sinful influences to their families. Not that all the wind chimes bore phallic chimes only – other chiming amulets such as lion’s feet and wings of birds were also used as chimes. There also used to be a sacred phallus that the priestesses of goddess Vesta (Roman god of hearth) would keep as a vital testimony to the security and goodwill of Roman state.
1. Founders of Rome
The foundation of ancient Rome is more a stuff of legend and myth than fact. One of the most popular legends establishes that ancient Rome originated on April 21, 753 BC – a myth that gets backed by the archaeological finding of early settlement traces in Palatine Hill which dates back to around 750 BC. Two very interesting founding legends exist in the ancient Roman mythos – ‘Romulus and Remus’ and Aeneas.
The first one states that two demigod brothers, Romulus and Remus, laid the foundation of Rome. But then they had an ugly argument about who gets to rule the city. Romulus ended up killing Remus and named the new settlement after himself. It is arguably the best known folklore on the origin of Rome, but there is also the legend of Aeneas. Aeneas of Troy folklore does no contradict Romulus and Remus, but rather states Aeneas of Troy as their ancestor, linking the myths of Rome and Troy together.
These facts symbolize the very perception we have about ancient Rome and the lifestyle of contemporary Romans. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day – it all started with a small settlement and eventually became one of the greatest Empires to have ever existed in the history of human civilization. The Romans were much influenced from the Greek lifestyle, but they also differed from the ancient Greeks in many ways. They enjoyed the spectacle and grandeur, but mostly despised overload of philosophy. Their doctors weren’t as influential as their Greek counterparts, but they made giant leaps in battlefield medics. And they did leave a legacy of their own that lives to this day.