Blood-filled coliseums and squares crowded with philosophers and scientists: that’s the mental picture that comes to mind when we envision Ancient Rome. Shows like Rome set the bar for the new generation of hyper-fictionalized historical television, that while heavily dramatized, led us to think of the empire as a scantily-clad, gorgeous, and promiscuous society full of constant, sensuous flirtation. This fantasy might work for our modern perspective, but it’s quite far removed from what actually went down in 753 BC.
Other filmic depictions of this ancient culture have left us believing that life back then was almost romantic. Not everything was philosophy on the streets, marble pillars, or gardens with naked women eating grapes. Rome was like any other civilization: full of contradictions, inequality, and bad habits. We hold it in our imagination as a legendary place, full of epic heroes and glamour. Well, what you’re about to find out about this wondrous era is as disgusting as it is fascinating.
They’d use feces as energizing agents
Given the lack of caffeine products, Romans would prepare a concoction of goat waste to use when they found themselves particularly tired.
They’d throw up to keep eating
This not exactly news. Anyone who’s read Seneca will remember the vomitorium. It was customary to throw up during a banquet in order to continue enjoying the food.
They were the first to expose themselves as insults
That extremely European act of mooning or exposing themselves as a form of protest, mockery, or offense, actually began with the Roman army. They’d do this to anger the Jews of Jerusalem.
They believed in obscene protection
This figures would be featured on necklaces, talismans, or any sort of personal accessory or home decor. This body part was worshiped in ancient Rome. According to old writings, having this shape in a house or as part of clothing was a call for good fortune.
Pompeii was decorated with obscene imagery
Archaeological findings in the city buried under volcanic lava shows the Roman reverence towards pleasure, lusty mysticism, and different amorous orientations.
Women would use gladiator sweat to care for their skin
Those who failed in the coliseum were met with death. But the victorious were seen as symbols of honor and virility. So it is obvious why the competitor’s natural oils were collected and sold as a coveted cosmetic to women.
Gladiator blood was medicinal
Well, that’s what they believed. Romans believed this blood could cure epilepsy and other ailments, so they would collect it after battle. The more savage citizens would actually remove the liver of the fighter and eat it raw.
Deaths by methane explosions
Now we know that the Romans’ versions of toilets were explosion hazards. The collection of methane gas in these pits left few possibilities for these gases to escape, making their destruction imminent and a constant death toll highly likely.
Despite many of their scientific advances in water systems, the citizens of the empire failed at a particular situation: public toilets. This place, were hundreds of people would relieve themselves each day, only had one sponge to wipe everyone’s bottom.
Urine and teeth cleaning
Aside from other uses for urine, such as medicine or detergent, some would use the bodily fluid as mouth wash. They believed it held a natural emollient to keep teeth white and shiny.
We may have broken your heart, but these facts not only tell us more about ancient civilizations, but are also a way to see how we have evolved since then. If you’re interested in other gross facts check out the hygiene habits and debunked myths from the Middle Ages.
Translated by María Suárez
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