45 Cool Facts About the Roman Empire

45 Cool Facts About the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire is a fascinating time in our history that greatly impacted and influenced the society we live in today. Let's take a deep dive into the past to explore these amazing, interesting facts that will for sure knock your socks off. You won't believe how different their lives were!

Dario-Veronesi-Luo-Bjcizea-UnsplashPhoto by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash

1. Shortened Years

We didn't always have 12 months in a year. In fact, the Roman calendar initially only had 10 months, with just 304 days in total. It was in 713 BC that January and February were added, transforming it into the 12-month calendar we're all familiar with.

1024px-General_Roman_Calendar_1960.jpgPhoto by Maksim Fomich on Wikimedia Commons

2. Sweat Scrapers

Turns out Romans were pretty hygienic for their time! They used a tool called a "strigil" to scrape off any sweat, oil, and dirt after exercising or taking a bath.

1024px-Strigil_LACMA_M.80.203.94.jpgPhoto by Unknown Author on Wikimedia Commons 

3. The Flaming Colosseum

Contrary to popular belief, naval battles, called "naumachia," were sometimes staged in the Colosseum. If you're wondering how that's possible, the arena would be flooded and ships battled amidst flames and roaring crowds. It sure sounds like a spectacle!

Naumachia_Domitiani.jpgPhoto by Lauro, Giacomo on Wikimedia Commons

4. Gladiators and Vegetables

Many Roman gladiators were known as the "barley men," mainly eating a vegetarian diet consisting of barley, beans, and dried fruit. This healthy plant-based diet is what helped them maintain a healthy physique ready for combat.Jean-Leon_Gerome_Pollice_Verso.jpgPhoto by Jean-Léon Gérôme  (1824–1904) via Wikimedia Commons


5. No Pants Allowed!

Wearing trousers in ancient Rome was considered to be barbaric. Romans predominantly wore togas or tunics, with pants viewed as "uncivilized". Oh, how the times have changed!

Statue_of_a_Roman_in_a_Toga.jpgPhoto by MumblerJamie on Wikimedia Commons

6. Whistling Means Death

In a rather serious turn of events, in ancient Rome, whistling could be punishable by death. It was believed back then that some whistles could summon evil spirits, which is why there were strict bans against it. 512px-whistlingindixie19421.jpgPhoto by unknown (MGM) on Wikimedia Commons

7. A Salty Salary

Roman soldiers were at times paid just in salt! But don't worry, they weren't being ripped off - salt was a highly valuable commodity back then. In fact, the term "salary" originates from the Latin word "salarium," which refers to a payment made in salt. 

faran-raufi-u_Mwofs_zu0-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Faran Raufi on Unsplash

8. Where's the V?

Here's a fun fact: the letter "V" didn't originally exist in Latin. It was the letter "U" that served a dual purpose, being used as both "U" and "V" in writing. 

Wax_writing_tablet_with_part_of_a_Roman_will.jpgPhoto by Mx. Granger on Wikimedia Commons

9. Imported Delicacies

The Romans loved exotic animals not just for the Colosseum, but also their dining tables. Flamingos, peacocks, and even giraffe meat were considered delicacies that were greatly enjoyed.rigel-2BRecxZzDm4-unsplash.jpgPhoto by rigel on Unsplash

10. Amazing Dentistry

Romans were known for their fantastic dental hygiene, even creating and using toothpaste made from ingredients like crushed bones and oyster shells. On the other hand, they also formed a mouthwash consisting of urine due to its ammonia content. Yes, it's absolutely disgusting but we suppose it worked?

1024px-Roman_dental_forceps_found_1894_Wellcome_M0013704.jpgPhoto by Unknown Author on Wikimedia Commons


11. Ancient Firefighters

Fires were a problem back in ancient Rome too! To deal with these dangerous accidents, Augustus established a dedicated firefighting crew called the "Vigiles". They not only fought fires, but they also served as a form of city watch or police. They're basically the Avengers, right?

roberthubert-incendiearome.jpgPhoto by Hubert Robert (1733–1808) on Wikimedia Commons

12. Shoe Status

The colour of your shoes meant a lot back in ancient Rome - it could tell someone everything they need to know about your social status. Senators wore red shoes, while the emperor would wear completely purple ones. Way to show off your royal status!

romanshoessaalburgmuseumsaalburgromanfortlimesgermanicusgermaniagermany7957367558.jpgPhoto by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany on Wikimedia Commons

13. Blood is the Cure

We have no idea how this came to be, but gladiator blood was believed to be a cure for epilespy and other ailments. Some Romans would drink it straight or buy it to apply as a treatment. Medicine has certainly come a long way.

Gladiators_from_the_Zliten_mosaic_3.jpgPhoto by Unknown Author on Wikimedia Commons

14. Forget About Water!

Wine was a major staple in the Roman diet and was consumed by people of all classes. In fact, drinking wine was so prominent in daily life that drinking water was sometimes looked down upon. We can't imagine how dehydrated the Romans might've been!

conditumparadoxum-ancientredwinefromapicius16822363595.jpgPhoto by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany on Wikimedia Commons

15. The Daily Newsletter

The Romans were way ahead of their time and even had a daily gazette called "Acta Diurna" displayed in public places. It's similar to our newspapers, providing news on legal proceedings, public announcements, and even notable marriages. It was a great way to stay in the loop!

adayinancientromebeingarevisionoflohrsausdemaltenromwithnumerousillustrationsbyedgarsshumway188514778099202.jpgPhoto by Lohr, Fr Shumway, Edgar Solomon, ed. (and) tr on Wikimedia Commons

16. Fertility Festivals

Every February, Romans would celebrate a festival called Lupercalia. It's a day meant for ensuring fertility, where men would strip naked and sacrifice a goat to please the God of Fertility. There weren't any chocolate and flowers involved, but it's believed that this tradition (somehow) influenced modern Valentine's Day celebrations.

Camasei-lupercales-prado.jpgPhoto by Andrea Camassei (1602–1649) on Wikimedia Commons


17. Roman Tattoos

Tattooing existed in the Roman Empire, but it was mainly used to mark criminals and slaves. Soldiers also sometimes got tattoos as symbols of loyalty to their units. 

1024px-ancientcivilizationanintroductiontomodernhistory191614585038357.jpgPhoto by Wolfson, Arthur Mayer, 1873 on Wikimedia Commons

18. Ancient Shopping Malls

The Romans built the world's first shopping mall, known as Trajan's Market, during Emperor Trajan’s reign. It had multiple levels with various shops and offices, much like today's malls. 

Trajans_market_01.jpgPhoto by User:MatthiasKabel on Wikimedia Commons

19. A Peaceful Reign

During the reign of Antoninus Pius, he was able to accomplish an amazing feat - a peaceful reign that lasted 23 years with no rebellions or military operations. Given what we usually hear about the Roman Empire, that's a pretty cool fact!

portraitbustofantoninuspius2ndcentadaaams24361-2-2020.jpgPhoto by George E. Koronaios on Wikimedia Commons

20. A Dying Population

At its height, Rome's population was over a million people! But by the Middle Ages, this had dwindled to just around 20,000 due to invasions, disease, and economic decline.512px-Cornelis_van_Poelenburch_-_Ruins_of_Ancient_Rome_-_WGA18014.jpgPhoto by Cornelius van Poelenburgh  (1594/1595–1667)  on Wikimedia Commons

21. Naming the Weekdays

Here's another way the Roman Empire has impacted our daily lives: the Roman calendar contributed to our days of the week. For instance, Saturday is named after Saturn ("Saturn's Day"), and Sunday was the "day of the Sun." The_Seat_of_Saturn_MET_DP874707.jpgPhoto by Mathäus Küsel on Wikimedia Commons

22. The Power of Purple

The color purple was associated with power and wealth in Rome. Extracting the dye from a specific sea snail was expensive, making the color exclusive to the elite. So if you're a fan of the colour purple, seems like you've got good taste!luke-chesser-eICUFSeirc0-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Luke Chesser on Unsplash


23. The Poison Prevention Squad

Some Roman emperors, paranoid of being poisoned, employed food tasters. They'd taste meals before the emperor did, ensuring it was safe to eat. Sometimes, it never hurts to double check!romanwallpaintingfromthehouseofgiuseppeiipompeii1stcenturyaddeathofsophonisbabutmorelikelycleopatraviiofegyptconsumingpoison.jpgPhoto by Ancient Roman painter(s) on Wikimedia Commons

24. Fast Food Existed Way Back Then!

"Thermopolia" were ancient Roman fast-food establishments. Busy city-dwellers could purchase ready-to-eat food, similar to our modern takeaway restaurants. Looks like people wanted quick and easy options way back then too!oneof150thermopoliafoodshopspompeiiprowalktours.jpgPhoto by Isaac Harjo of ProWalk Tours on Wikimedia Commons

25. Weird Cosmetics Concoctions

Roman women, like today, valued beauty and would use various cosmetics to change their appearance. Even resorting to using lead-based foundation or ant egg facial treatments, it's safe to say they took beauty is pain to another level.Women_at_the_well_by_Luigi_Bazzani_before_1927.jpgPhoto by Luigi Bazzani on Wikimedia Commons

26. Unibrows in Style?!

Different from today's standards, unibrows were considered a sign of intelligence and beauty in ancient Rome. Women would either paint them on or use hairpieces to create the desired connected brow look.Polyphemos-MuseumOfFineArtsBoston-March25-07.pngPhoto by Captmondo on Wikimedia Commons

27. First is Always Best

Augustus was ancient Rome's first ever emperor, and he did the job so well, the Romans declared him a god after his passing. He was so successful the Augustan age was named after him, and he was able to create a peaceful period (called the Pax Romana) that lasted a whole two centuries. That definitely sounds god-like!

1024px-Octavius_Caesar_Augustus_from_Twelve_Caesars_on_Horseback_MET_DP-1341-001.jpgPhoto by Abraham de Bruyn on Wikimedia Commons

28. A Love for Burgers

Looks like some things never change - the Romans enjoyed a dish resembling a modern-day hamburger. Made of minced meat, pepper, wine-soaked bread, and pine nuts, it was shaped into a patty and roasted.

ilya-mashkov-mkVa2hLJgnI-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Ilya Mashkov on Unsplash

29. The Key to Secret Messages

Pliny the Elder was a Roman author who wrote about the use of milk as invisible ink. When the milk dried, the message written down would disappear, only to be revealed when heated. Pretty neat, eh?

1024px-invisibleuvink2946865249.jpgPhoto by Felix E. Guerrero on Wikimedia Commons

30. A Wig's Status

While Roman men showed their status by the color of their shoes, Roman women wore different coloured wigs to indicate their social status. For instance, blonde wigs, often made from the hair of Germanic slaves, were especially fashionable. 

romanladyasvenusmc245-palazzonuovo-museicapitolini-rome2016.jpgPhoto by Jose Luiz on Wikimedia Commons

31. A City of Marble

Augustus, the first Roman emperor, has famously been noted to say he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble. Whether this is true or not, it's difficult to say. But, it's been said he initiated multiple construction projects, transforming the cityscape into the grand spectacle it was.

1024px-The_Roman_Forum_Rome_italy.jpgPhoto by Kirk F on Wikimedia Commons

32. Exotic Ice Cream Flavours

Romans enjoyed early versions of ice cream and snow chilled with flavors. Emperor Nero reportedly sent runners into the mountains to retrieve snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices.courtney-cook-66IZaW9LIpI-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

33. An Early Banking System

Romans had shockingly complex banking systems, including "mensae argentarioe" or silver banks. Clients could keep deposits, take loans, or even transfer money.

Aesillas_Macedon_Roman_Province.jpgPhoto by EttuBruta on Wikimedia Commons

34. Stinky Perfumes

While Romans loved perfumes, the methods to make some of these fragrances were less than appealing. For instance, a popular ingredient was the glandular secretions from certain animals, especially the musk deer. Is it even possible for that to smell nice?ulysse-pointcheval--j6LLsAehUo-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Ulysse Pointcheval on Unsplash

35. A Rather Dangerous Position

Out of all the Roman emperors to ever exist, only 20 of them died a natural death. Sadly, 23 were assassinated during their reign, while 8 were suspected to have been assassinated. On the other hand, 5 were forced to commit suicide, 9 bravely died in battle, and 3 were executed for their wrongdoings.1024px-ancientromanbustsofemperorsandempressesatthealtesmuseuminberlingermany.jpgPhoto by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) on Wikimedia Commons

36. The Scandalous Belly Button

Romans considered belly buttons to be scandalous. When statues depicted nudes, artists often avoided detailing this particular feature to maintain decency. So if you're ever looking at a Roman statue and wondering where the belly button is, this is why.ancientromanstatueatthekunsthistorischesmuseumvienna.jpgPhoto by Yair Haklai on Wikimedia Commons

37. God of the...Sewers?

Cloacina was the Roman goddess of the sewer system. It’s a testament to how the Romans revered and personified almost every aspect of their life, including sanitation.

Coins-venus-cloacina.jpgPhoto by CNG on Wikimedia Commons

38. A Massive Empire

At the height of their power and glory, Roman Emperors ruled over a massive amount of land that covered one sixth of the earth's surface. This was a population of almost 60 million people! And that's including over a million people living in the city of Rome itself. Truly a large feat.1024px-Giovanni_Pauolo_Panini_-_Fantasy_View_with_the_Pantheon_and_other_Monuments_of_Ancient_Rome_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgPhoto by  Giovanni Pauolo Panini on Wikimedia Commons

39. The Longest Battle

The wars between the Romans and the Persians were a long one - it lasted a total of 721 years, also known as the longest conflict ever in human history. Don't worry though, it wasn't a constant bloodbath. In fact, it was more of a longstanding stalemate if anything.

laysofancientromewithivryandthearmada190414784998215.jpgPhoto by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 on Wikimedia Commons

40. Mobile Libraries

The Romans were so innovative for their time. To make knowledge more accessible, there were mobile libraries in Rome. Books (or scrolls) were transported in carts around the city, enabling wider access to literature. 

giovannipaolopanini-ancientrome.jpgPhoto by Giovanni Paolo Panini on Wikimedia Commons

41. Social Media: The Ancient Way

Romans had a form of social networking called "album." Individuals would inscribe messages or news on white boards placed outside their homes, sharing updates with passersby. 

1024px-Gustave_Boulanger_-_Theatrical_Rehearsal_in_the_House_of_an_Ancient_Rome_Poet_-_WGA2930.jpgPhoto by Gustave Boulanger on Wikimedia Commons

42. Did the Romans Recycle?

At Monte Testaccio in Rome, there's a huge mound composed of broken amphorae (containers). This is evidence of early recycling where Romans would discard and sometimes repurpose used containers. 

Monte_Testaccio.jpgPhoto by Tyler Bell on Wikimedia Commons

43. A New Location for the Government

You would think the Roman government would be located in Rome itself, but that isn't always the case. Emperor Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople and now Istanbul) in 330 AD, making it the new center of Roman politics. 

denhaag-mauritshuis-peterpaulrubens1577-1640-thetriumphofrometheyouthfulemperorconstantinehonouringromec1622-1623.jpgPhoto by Peter Paul Rubens on Wikimedia Commons

44. The Oldest Ever Shopping List

A Roman soldier named Apollonius left behind what’s considered the oldest surviving shopping list. The tablet, discovered near Hadrian’s Wall, included items like socks and warm clothing. 

adayinancientromebeingarevisionoflohrsausdemaltenromwithnumerousillustrationsbyedgarsshumway188514775329771.jpgPhoto by Lohr, Fr Shumway, Edgar Solomon, ed. (and) tr on Wikimedia Commons

45. Exotic Pets are the Best

Wealthy Romans kept exotic animals as pets, including cheetahs and lions. Some were paraded on leashes during events to showcase their owner’s affluence.david-groves-bcJUbYd5gTo-unsplash.jpgPhoto by David Groves on Unsplash