Here are 22 facts about ancient Rome that’ll keep you occupied the next time you’re thinking about it:
1.Rome wasn’t built in a day. Like any epic, the city boasts dramatic origins, starting when the king of Alba Longa, Amulius, grew paranoid and defended his claim of the throne by killing his brother’s sons and exiling his daughter, Rhea, who would go on to have a pair of twins through divine intervention.
Amulius viewed the twins, Romulus and Remus, as a threat as well, and so he killed their mother and abandoned the babes in the Tiber river. However, the fates seemed to be on the twins’ side, because a she-wolf saved and raised them before a shepherd later adopted them.
According to the legend, Romulus and Remus would go on to establish the city of Rome on the very river they were left to die in. However, a spat over the city’s borders would lead Romulus to kill Remus, name the city after himself (Rome), and then, ruling alone, Romulus grew Rome’s population by abducting women from the nearby tribe Sabine.
2.According to National Geographic, the legend of Rome’s origins is likely untrue and a bit dramatized. (I mean, the she-wolf part is super dope, but come on.) In actuality, it appears as though the first Romans were shepherds and farmers who lived in huts located on Palatine Hill, which still stands in Rome today.
The Sabines are expected to have arrived later, after they became internally divided and groups resettled with the Romans.
3.Remember Romulus and Remus’ mother Rhea? Well, according to legend, she served as a Vestal Virgin before her death. If you don’t know, Vestal Virgins were real roles in Rome. Chosen between ages six and 10 from Rome’s most prominent families, young girls were designated to serve life-long terms as virgin priestesses to the goddess Vesta. Most important among their duties was watching over the flame of Vesta — a fire burning in a temple located in the city.
The flame symbolized not only the goddess Vesta, but also the status of Rome itself. If the fire were to ever burn out, Romans saw this as a sign that the city could be in danger. So, in these inevitable cases, the Vestal Virgins were punished harshly — sometimes by being buried alive.
4.Similar to Vesta, the Romans worshipped many gods and goddesses who were largely modeled after Greek gods due to their close proximity, National Geographic says. Most prominent among the Roman gods was Jupiter, the god of all gods who is thought to have been inspired by the Greek god Zeus.
5.Other notable gods believed to have been modeled after the Greeks include Venus, the goddess of love and beauty (aka Aphrodite)…
6.…and Pluto, god of death and ruler of the Roman underworld (aka Hades).
7.Outside of temples for gods and goddesses, one of the most famous architectural wonders in Rome is the Colosseum. According to thecolosseum.org, the Colosseum was originally built by Emperor Vespasian — kind of serving as an apology gift to the people of Rome for all they endured under the previous Emperor, Nero.
Emperor Nero is famed for being a tyrant. He was previously believed to have killed several women close to him, including his mother — who was sometimes his lover — as well as his adoptive step-sister, who was also his wife, and his second wife.
It was even rumored that he burned Rome to the ground so that he’d have an excuse to build himself a new palace. All of this, according to the New Yorker, is being reconsidered by historians as new discoveries show he may have been bad, but not all-out evil.
8.Before we get back to the Colosseum, here’s a little on that whole “Rome burning” part. In 64 C.E., a fire broke out in Circus Maximus arena — famed for chariot races and entertainment. According to National Geographic, the inferno blazed for six days and ultimately burned down 10 of Rome’s 14 districts. This was the fire blamed on Nero, who in turn blamed it on a “rising cult,” aka Christians.
Today, historians view Rome as a hotbed for fires and say the Great Fire of Rome could have easily been an accident.
9.Alrighty, back to the Colosseum! When most think of the Colosseum, their mind goes to its intended purpose: hosting a myriad of “entertainment” in the form of gladiator battles, staged naval battles, and hunts.
10.Seating between 50,000 to 80,000 people, spectators flocked to the Colosseum to watch gladiators fight in what many today believed to be gruesome free-for-alls. However, according to the History Channel, they weren’t as overtly chaotic as you’d think. Gladiators were often organized by weight class, experience, and fighting style.
11.And, battles between gladiators weren’t always to the death. Sometimes referees would step in if someone was seriously injured and, in rare cases, both gladiators were allowed to leave if they both showed extraordinary valiance. Other times, the final fate of a defeated but living gladiator was left up to the crowd and emperor. Sadly, most gladiators lived only until their mid-20s.
12.One of the most famous depictions of gladiators in the present day is Ridley Scott’s 2000 Gladiator movie, in which the emperor’s son Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix), seeks revenge after his father chooses a celebrated general, Maximus (played by Russell Crowe), to succeed him on the throne. The movie certainly dramatizes the life of Commodus, a real emperor, but it gets one thing particularly right — Commodus did indeed have a passion for gladiators but, similar to his fight with Maximus in the film, he didn’t play fair.
According to the History Channel, Commodus fought against men who had lost their feet or offered them sponges instead of rocks as weapons.
13.And though it was rare, women were gladiators, too. (If you’re a director, please, please, please make this into a movie!)
14.Earlier I mentioned that the Colosseum was also used to house staged naval fights, and if you’re wondering how that worked, well, research shows that they basically flooded the arena with five to seven feet of water during the inaugural games.
Most participants are thought to have been prisoners already condemned to death.
15.The Colosseum, which sees millions of visitors a year, is recognizable to many — especially because it’s missing a chunk. Around the fifth century CE, the already deteriorating structure was further damaged by earthquakes that are believed to have crumbled its wall.
16.Moving away from the Colosseum, let’s get into what life was like for Romans. For one, Alberto Jori, a professor of ancient philosophy at the University of Ferrara in Italy said that if you were invited to a dinner party, wealthy Romans ate while lying horizontally on a chaise. This was believed to help aid digestion and reduce bloating.
17.While recipes for soap can be found dating back to ancient Rome, our understanding of its importance has evolved since then, so Romans didn’t exactly emphasize its use. Instead, researchers at the University of Chicago say Romans used to mix water and urine to wash their clothes.
And, perhaps more shockingly, laundry workers managed to boast large collections of urine by setting large vessels on the street for people to pee into and fill.
18.Though Rome started off with kings holding the reigns, it transformed into a republic in 509 B.C.E. Early on, prominent, wealthy families made up those represented by the established senate, and the interests of the upper class were upheld. However, after lower-class citizens protested — many of whom were Roman soldiers — the senate expanded government to include other assemblies that could draft laws for them to implement.
19.It is said that the founding fathers of the United States were inspired by ancient Rome’s republic, but our government structure is not the only similarity we have with the past. In fact, back in the Roman days, marriages were also sealed with a kiss.
According to PBS, a formal ceremony was held between the families of couples intending to marry. At the ceremony, known as a betrothal, the price of the bride’s dowry would be agreed on, the terms contractually written, signed, and sealed with a kiss between the lovebirds.