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12 Terrifying Realities for People Living During the Roman Era

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The Roman Empire was one of the largest in history, stretching territories into Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. While Rome is at the top of the list of successful empires, it also has the distinction of being quite a terrifying era due to many of the behaviors and events that took place. It was marred by severe brutality and the forceful use of the military on its citizens.

Rome was a two-sided coin of splendor and misery. It boasted some of the grandest architecture and a strong military; however, the sanctity of life was not on its agenda as it is now. The fall of Rome was as spectacular as it was chaotic, and the world felt the aftershock.

The wars, political instability, and the rise of Christianity contributed to its gradual collapse, and by 476 AD, the Roman Empire was no more. What were the most terrifying facts about life in that Era?

1. Constant Wars

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War in Rome wasn’t news; someone was always spoiling for a fight. There were civil wars within the Empire, especially during contested succession. Rome also fought to expand its Empire, while other ancient states, such as Carthage, often waged war (and lost) against the Empire.

On top of the inevitable loss of loved ones, living in war means living in fear, uncertainty, and hardship. Living under the fear of the looming threat of disaster must have been distressing. Sadly, people today in some parts of the world know this fear too well.

2. Women Had Almost No Rights

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Feminists today would be mortified to know how the women of the Roman Era lived. The society was highly patriarchal, and women had little choice over anything—not even who they could marry. Women were under the fathers’ or male guardians’ authority from birth, and this control was usually passed to their husbands when they got married.

There should be a collective eye-roll at the way women were treated. They were viewed as morally and intellectually inferior to men. Women were frequently portrayed as incapable of independent thought or judgment.

3. Rampant Slavery

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Slavery during the Roman Era wasn’t a human rights issue; it was customary that people captured from war automatically became slaves. The enslaved people were employed in a variety of jobs, from domestic service in affluent homes to agricultural work in the countryside. They worked under challenging circumstances, and most were horribly mistreated.

No, comparatively, your sadistic boss is not a slave driver; he’s just a lousy boss. In the Roma Era, an enslaved person was treated like property, much like the couch in your house. While a small percentage of slaves had relatively privileged jobs and non-homicidal masters, the majority endured extreme oppression and had no rights.

4. Public, Brutal Punishments

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As their dealings with crime reveal, the Romans seemed to have perfected the art of summoning their inner Neanderthal. The enemies of the state would be crucified, or if the emperor was having a good day, he’d have them thrown off a cliff. Other punishments included being fed to wild animals in arenas or subjected to public torture.

The Romans didn’t have police; they had vigiles to deal with criminals. If the crime was beyond them, the Roman guards would step in. Despite its seemingly barbaric laws, many countries have borrowed some of the (more human, organized) laws from the Roman Empire.

5. Gladiatorial Combat

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In ancient Rome, gladiatorial combat was a common source of entertainment, but it was also extremely cruel. Gladiators engaged in death-defying combat in arenas, frequently pitting themselves against untamed beasts or one another. It was considered common enjoyment to see individuals kill each other for sport.

What do humans going to such levels of thrill-seeking tell us? Gladiatorial combat shows how brutal people can be. Gladiators fighting to the death shows how tempting it is to focus on excitement rather than caring about others or doing what’s right.

6. Abandoning of Infants

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Not even infants were spared by the mercilessness of the Roman Era. Weak and sickly infants, or those born with disabilities or deformities, were often considered burdensome. As such, they’d be abandoned outside the city gates and left to die of exposure.

It’s hard to fathom such acts of inhumanity. However, they had their reasons—this practice was seen as a way to rid families of perceived weaknesses or deficiencies. Nevertheless, no reason seems sufficient.

7. Exploitation of The Lesser Humans

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Remember gladiators? Well, not everyone was subjected to fatal fighting. Most gladiators were enslaved people who were made to fight for other people’s entertainment. War prisoners and soldiers captured in war were also used. A few times, free people signed up for various reasons.

It clearly shows how systems can be unfair and exploitative, especially to those not in power. Is it right to use vulnerable people for the benefit or entertainment of a few? Absolutely not, regardless of the Era.

8. Serious Overcrowding

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Overcrowding was a big problem in Rome during the Roman Era. People lived close together in tight spaces, which made life challenging. Streets were narrow, and buildings were tall, so there was little room. With so many people crammed into the city, there needed to be more resources like water and sanitation to go around.

This overcrowding caused tensions and conflicts as groups fought over limited resources and space. Rival factions competed fiercely within the city, causing more social unrest. This phenomenon is common in most densely populated places today—more people and crime.

9. Very High Infant Mortality Rate

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About 25% of the babies born in the Roman Empire in the first century didn’t survive their first year. Compared to modern times, infant mortality rates in ancient Rome were alarmingly high. This was primarily because of common infections, malnutrition, and abandonment.

Infant care presented enormous hurdles for families, who frequently found it difficult to provide enough food and medical attention. As a result, a large number of infants passed away from disease or exposure. The world today is a wonderful time for infants.

10. Sexual Deviancy and Perversion

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It’s not without reason that Ancient Rome was called a pervert’s paradise; lewd graffiti, public depictions of sexual organs, and unusual acts such as pederasty were normal. Sexual practices such as org*** and promiscuity were common among the wealthy.

In ancient Rome, the prevailing culture held a liberal view on intimacy and pleasure. Where social norms and restrictions existed, they were mainly directed to women’s conduct. Widespread prostitution was practiced, and sleeping with a slave wasn’t considered adultery.

11. Their Army

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The Roman army was a significant factor in the success and fall of the Roman Empire. It was one of the most disciplined but mean and terrifying forces. Their formation alone in war was formidable; they stuck together and moved like an advancing wall of shields and spears.

Facing the Roman army was like ants facing a hose pipe; your chances of winning were slim. They were exceptionally organized and disciplined; most swore allegiance to their commanders. Even the emperors needed the army on their side to succeed.

12. Lack of Hygiene and the Communal “Toilet Paper”

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Maintaining cleanliness is a beautiful thing that can be elusive for some communities. However, the unsanitary conditions of Rome during the Roman Empire were legendary. Their toilets had a communal sponge soaked in brine to act as toilet paper. In addition, most of them used urine as a cleaning agent.

Diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and dysentery were common and could spread rapidly in crowded urban areas. Although some initiatives to improve sanitation, such as building public baths and aqueducts, were taken in ancient Rome, overall hygiene was still poor.


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