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15+ Facts That Prove They Didn’t Tell Us the Coolest Things About Ancient Rome in School

The words ’Ancient Rome’ evoke images of the Colosseum, gladiators, and patricians in snow-white togas. But do we really know how people used to live back in those days? You’d be surprised at how many things they didn’t teach you about the Romans in school. Of course, many of the particulars of that civilization are too far removed from our reality. But, oddly enough, it had cultural features that would look very familiar to any modern person!

Today, Bright Side presents some intriguing facts about the ancient Romans that will make you want to carefully re-read history books!

  • Rich people in Ancient Rome owned houses or villas, while the poor lived in apartment buildings. These dwellings were built in rows — a similar approach is used today, for planning residential complexes.
  • In Ancient Rome, a freed slave became a citizen, but did not gain full liberty. In return for the favor shown, the former slave was required to serve his ex-master free of charge, vote for him in elections, accompany him in public places, and bequeath him part of his property. If these conditions were not met, the person could become a slave again. However, a former slave’s children were born perfectly free citizens.
  • In the heyday of the Empire, Rome was a true metropolis, which housed more than 1 million people.
  • Ancient Roman families were run by the father — he had complete control over the lives of all the members of the household. The head of the family could even disown a newborn and leave the child out in the street, citing an inability to feed too many mouths.
  • Ancient Rome had its own fast food eateries, called ’thermopolia’. Diners would either have their meals on the spot or order take-away. A typical thermopolium had a counter with large built-in jars full of prepared food. These places were looked down upon by the upper class, and the main clientele was made up of people with small incomes.
  • Ancient Romans were the first to adopt the practice of taking a purchase back to the store to get a replacement or a refund.
  • Just like us, people in Ancient Rome divided their days into 24 hours. However, the hours themselves were not of equal length. 12 hours were allocated to the period from dawn till sunset, while the other 12 comprised the time from sunset till dawn. Due to seasonal variations, a Roman daytime hour could’ve been as long as 75 minutes in the summer, and as short as 45 minutes in the winter.
  • The Romans came up with the design of the amphitheater, which is still used for building stadiums and theaters today.
  • Instead of toilet paper, people in Ancient Rome used a sponge on a stick. This hygienic utensil was called ’xylospongium.’
  • The emperor Titus had the Colosseum filled with water to stage a mock naval battle. He also ordered bulls to be taught to swim for the entertainment of the crowd.
  • Trajan’s Market — an ancient Roman shopping center — featured private shops, numerous taverns, and even outlets that provided free food to the needy.
  • In Ancient Rome, a criminal could be sentenced to a duel in the Colosseum. There, a person could face various adversaries, including wild animals (like for instance, a lion). Such was the fate that the emperor Gallienus chose for a merchant who sold the ruler’s wife fake jewelry. As the merchant stood in the arena, a chicken came out of the cage instead of a lion, to everyone’s merriment. Gallienus declared: "He’d practiced deceit and then had it practiced on him!’. After this, the merchant was allowed to go home.
  • During gladiator fights, a thumbs-up from the spectators didn’t imply a pardon. In fact, this gesture proclaimed that the defeated fighter should die. A thumb bent in any direction (up or down) indicated that the loser must leave this world. To grant life to a gladiator, you had to show a plain clenched fist!
  • In Ancient Rome women had no personal names. They received only a nomen (а name that indicated the gens to which a person belonged). For instance — Julia, if the woman was of the lineage of Julius. If there were several daughters in one family, ordinal praenomina were added to their nomens: Secunda (second), Tertia (third), etc.
  • In Ancient Rome, special kiosks outside the gladiatorial arenas sold gladiator sweat and the fat of the animals killed in the duels. Women used these substances as cosmetics!
  • Large eyes with long lashes were as fashionable in Ancient Rome as they are now. Back then, many believed that eyelashes fell out due to a promiscuous lifestyle. Therefore, it was especially important for girls to cultivate full eyelashes to emphasize chastity.
  • The most lavish celebrations in Ancient Rome were the Saturnalias, festivals in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. On these days, the slaves were granted many freedoms. According to some sources, they dined at festive tables together with their masters. Other accounts describe how the slaves ate first, and the masters waited on them diligently. Also, during a Saturnalia, all slaves had the right to freely criticize their masters without the risk of punishment.
  • Eyebrows joined at the bridge of the nose were held in high esteem by both men and women. This feature was thought to be a sign of extraordinary intelligence. To appear smarter, the Romans drew in a ’monobrow’ or used false eyebrows.

Which fact from this article amazed you the most? Do you know any other cool details about life in Ancient Rome? Share them in the comments!

Preview photo credit Wikipedia
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