Skip to Content

17 Interesting Facts About the Romans That Might Surprise You 

As one of the most impressive civilizations in history, Ancient Rome has undoubtedly left its mark on our world. This unique society and its inhabitants have captivated people for centuries.

When you think of Rome today, you might picture delicious food, vibrant city life, and breathtaking feats of creativity (after all, the Mona Lisa originated in Italy). However, this city is inseparable from its historical role as the heart of Ancient Rome

Discover more about this extraordinary society through these 17 fascinating facts about Ancient Roman citizens and their lives. 

roman-architecture-colosseum

Image by krystianwin from Pixabay

17 Interesting Facts About the Romans

Read on to explore some of the Ancient Romans’ most interesting inventions and exploits that range from brilliant to bonkers. 

1. Calendars Are Linked to Roman history

Let’s start with something we’re all familiar with: time. In the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar adjusted the Roman calendar to be more accurate. This Julian calendar had 12 months and incorporated leap years. It was also the basis for the Gregorian calendar, widely used throughout the Western world today. 

Similarities between the two calendars are seen not only in time measurements but also in month names. For example, ‘July’ and ‘August’ used to be called ‘Quintilis’ and ‘Sextilis’ However, the Roman Senate renamed them to honor the statesman, Julius Caesar, and emperor, Augustus, respectively. 

roman-emperor-augustus-statue

Image by Clemens van Lay on Unsplash

2. Rome Didn’t Always Have Emperors

Speaking of emperors, did you know they only entered the picture during the last 500 years of Roman power? Initially, Rome was under the rule of kings and, later, the upper class of Roman society. 

However, in 31 BC, Augustus became Rome’s first emperor after defeating his rival, Mark Antony. Despite his important historical role, Antony is often best known for his famous love affair with Cleopatra. 

Next Read: If you’re interested in this torrid romance, why not check out these interesting facts about Cleopatra?

3. Romans Quenched Their Thirst Through Innovation 

Although they originated in the Middle East, aqueducts (freshwater transportation systems) are synonymous with Ancient Rome. This is a result of innovative Roman engineering that transformed basic aqueducts into large-scale structures that spanned the entire Roman Empire. 

These new-and-improved aqueducts transported fresh water to city centers. Their effective design meant they provided an abundance of water. This was used for drinking, watering crops, improving sanitation systems, and filling Roman baths and fountains. Even today, Rome’s breathtaking Trevi Fountain still receives water from an ancient aqueduct. 

roman-aqueducts-arches

Image by Ira Gorelick on Pixabay

4. Rome Was One of the Most Hygienic Ancient Societies 

With easy access to fresh water, Ancient Rome was one of the most hygienic civilizations of its time. The city had sewage systems, meaning the streets were not the main dumping ground for bathroom-related waste. 

Romans also had access to public toilets and bathhouses. People recycled the water from the baths and used it to ‘flush’ the toilets. Citizens from all classes of society would use the baths regularly. A visit to a bathhouse was not just a way to get clean but also a large part of Roman social life. 

roman-bath

Image by Hulki Okan Tabak on Pixabay

5. Romans Had a Weird Alternative to Toilet Paper

While Roman hygiene practices were impressive for their time, they still had many flaws and were nowhere near today’s standards. A key example is the tersorium (a sponge attached to the end of a stick). 

People in public toilets would use this instrument as a handy alternative to toilet paper. However, there was only one tersorium to go around, so everyone would have to share. While people did ‘clean’ this communal sponge by dipping it in water between uses, the whole practice would still be a big no-no according to modern hygiene standards. 

6. Hair-Dyeing Was Common in Ancient Rome

Many people think of hair dyeing as a modern pastime, but the Ancient Romans did it too. Once Rome had expanded into an empire, citizens had both the resources and foreign inspiration for some funky hair changes. 

Both men and women dyed their hair, with the most popular color choices being blond, black, and red. However, the dye itself was less than appealing. Common ingredients included vinegar, wood ash, berries, leeches, and animal fat. 

Thankfully, society has developed better methods over time, and now you can dye your hair without any pungent side effects.

berries-roman-hair-dye

Image by PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

7. Romans Exfoliated Their Skin

Believe it or not, Ancient Romans had a bathing routine involving exfoliation (removing dead skin cells). Before the 3rd century AD, Roman citizens used oil instead of soap when washing themselves. 

Once they were ‘lathered up,’ they would gently scrape a curved blade called a strigil along their skin. The strigil would remove excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. While this isn’t an ideal skincare technique, it still left Romans with some of the most exfoliated skin in the ancient world.

roman-strigil

Image by on Wikicommons

8. Ancient Rome Had the World’s Oldest Shopping Mall

Just opposite Rome’s famous Colosseum is the less well-known but equally historically important Trajan’s Market. Built during the 2nd century AD, this multi-storied complex was the birthplace of the modern shopping mall. 

Trajan’s Market was home to numerous stores where citizens could buy products from throughout the Roman Empire. These included fresh produce, alcohol, and various fabrics or cloth. You can still see the unique commercial setup of Trajan’s Market through the grocery and clothing stores in today’s shopping centers.

trajans-market-roman-ruins

Image by Serge Jové from Pixabay

9. Chariot Races Were Extra Popular For a Reason

Roman chariot racing was a sport like no other. Contestants would compete for glory by riding horse-drawn chariots around a large circular track at break-neck speeds. These competitions were extremely popular and drew massive crowds (even larger than those of gladiator fights). 

A major reason for this vast audience was the location of races at the Circus Maximus arena. This structure was (and still is) one of the world’s biggest stadiums, with a massive seating capacity of 250,000 people. 

roman-chariot-race

Image by Franck Barske on Pixabay

10. Ancient Rome Had Some of the First Apartment Buildings 

In an ever-growing world, apartments are an increasingly common way of saving space by creating accommodation that grows upwards instead of outwards. But did you ever stop to think about where this architectural idea originated? 

The Roman Empire’s expansion led to the development of insulae (precursors to modern apartment blocks) in densely populated urban areas. With second-rate construction and limited water supply, these buildings housed only lower- and middle-class citizens. 

While apartments have undoubtedly improved over the centuries, the structural idea of a space-saving insula has remained unchanged.

roman-insula-ruins

Image by Chabe01 on Wikicommons

11. Central Heating is a Roman Invention 

The Ancient Roman hypocaust is considered the earliest form of central heating. This ingenious invention relied on engineering principles that are still used in central heating today. Simply put, a hypocaust would spread heat from a furnace under the floor and through the walls of a room. 

The design utilized flues for air circulation that extracted dangerous gasses like carbon monoxide (a by-product of burning wood). Unfortunately for the majority of Romans, hypocausts were not very widespread. They were expensive to maintain and generally only found in upper-class homes and public baths. 

hypocaust-roman-ruins

Image by Pradigue on Wikicommons

12. Romans Enjoyed Fast Food As Much as We Do 

An especially surprising fact about Ancient Roman society is their taste for fast food. On busy days, Romans often grabbed a quick takeaway from their nearest thermopolium (a street-facing restaurant that served to-go meals). 

Thermopolia mostly catered to lower- and middle-class citizens and sold various foods, including meat dishes, vegetables, cheeses, and bread. When considering modern Rome, you can see how this ‘food-on-the-go’ mindset has remained. For example, think of Italian pizza — a meal people can quickly grab a slice of in a rush. 

13. Wealthy Romans Enjoyed Some Unusual Delicacies 

Romans generally enjoyed a relatively basic diet of vegetables, eggs, grains, meat, and cheese. However, as with any society, there were culinary connoisseurs who pushed the boundaries of food. 

The upper class had money to spend and liked to indulge in exotic delicacies like flamingos. Ancient Romans had various recipes for flamingo-based dishes. However, truly decadent meals only contained parts of the flamingo. The tongue and brain, in particular, were considered delicious treats.  

flamingo-roman-delicacy

Image by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels

14. Romans Liked to Dine Horizontally 

Actual food aside, your class in Roman society also determined how you ate. The upper class is famous for eating meals while reclining (usually leaning on their left side). This dining position both emphasized their luxurious lifestyles and reinforced their social status.

Historians have also suggested Ancient Romans thought eating on your left-hand side helped with digestion. And, with the number of elaborate feasts the upper class attended, any digestive aid was appreciated. 

fruit-ornate-platter-roman-feast

Image by cottonbro studio on Pexels

15. Gladiator Strength Came From Veggies

In 2014, The Medical University of Vienna and the University of Bern published a joint archeological study of Roman gladiator remains from Ephesos. Bone analysis data showed that most of these warriors had a predominantly vegetable- and grain-based diet. 

Do you find this surprising? You’re not the only one. The Western world often connects strength (which gladiators had in abundance) with a high-protein, meat-based diet. However, the above evidence contradicts this idea. While it’s not certain all gladiators avoided meat, the study is definitely something to chew on. 

roman-gladiator-closeup

Image by Maria Dolores Vazquez on Unsplash

16. All Roads Lead to Rome for a Reason

You’ve probably heard of the phrase, All Roads Lead to Rome, but do you know the origins of this proverb? The expansion of the Roman Empire brought an increased need for easy travel between regions. 

Ancient Romans used complex engineering methods to design sturdy, long-lasting roads. Rome was the social, cultural, and economic hub of the empire. For ease of access, most roads led to this bustling city (similar to modern-day highways). So, in both a figurative and literal sense, all roads in the empire did lead to Rome. 

roman-road-design

Image by pascal OHLMANN on Pixabay

17. Romans Took News-Sharing to The Next Level

Last, but not least, we can thank the Romans for creating the world’s first newspaper. The Acta Diurna began as a stone tablet engraved with important daily news. Its location in a prominent public space meant Roman citizens could view it daily. 

Over time, the Acta Diurna became more like a modern newspaper. Scribes copied the information (usually onto papyrus paper). This allowed for easier distribution throughout the populace. 

The scope of news also expanded to include more general matters of interest like birth, marriage, and death announcements. There was even a sports section so citizens could keep up with the latest in gladiatorial combat. 

roman-acta-diurna interesting facts about the romans

Image by Jl FilpoC on Wikicommons

Clicky

Like this post? Why not share it?

Help spread the word. You're awesome for doing it!