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10 Truly Bizarre Facts About Life in Ancient Rome

 We associate Ancient Rome with its many pivotal achievements - democracy, city-building, philosophy, and art. To this day, we can relate to the wise words uttered by Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, appreciate the realism of their sculptures, and stand in awe of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. No wonder why many consider the Hellenistic civilization as a major origin of modern Western culture.
With that said, there is also a great number of Ancient Roman customs and ideas we would surely find strange or even bizarre today. The truth is that Romans were a completely different society with completely different ideas and mentality. Chances are, you would be shocked if you traveled through time and suddenly appeared in Ancient Rome, as these 10 bizarre facts surely prove.
 

1. Roman bathhouses had no soap

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome roman bathhouse
Romans took great pride in their hygienic practices, and a trip to bathhouses called Thermae was considered a must (alas, only men were allowed). Some of these bathhouses survived to this day, like the one in Bath, England, seen in the photo above. These bathhouses were indeed very advanced at the time and had several pools with both cold and heated running water, but there was one thing missing in these spas - soap. Instead, they used oils to clean and scrape off the dirt and grime from their bodies, and we're not sure how effective that was at getting rid of germs, really.

2. Gladiators' sweat and blood were sold as medicine

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome amphora
Gladiators weren't just forced to fight wild animals and each other as a means of public entertainment, their sweat and blood was apparently an important medicinal ingredient, too. Gladiators' sweat was carefully collected using a special tool called a strigil after every battle. It was then stored in vials and sold to men as an aphrodisiac, and as a perfume and cosmetic ingredient to women. Drinking gladiators' blood was also believed to be a remedy for various ailments, such as infertility or even epilepsy, yuck!

3. The left hand was considered evil

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome wedding ring
To all the fellow lefties reading this right now, we have bad news for you. In Ancient Rome, you would be considered unlucky, as Romans believed that evil forces were linked to the left hand. Actually, that's exactly how the tradition of wearing a wedding ring on the left hand had originated. It was supposed to serve as a protection symbol against evil.

4. Romans thought that Christians were cannibals

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome church window art
Christianity as a religion emerged around the 1st century, and it eventually spread to Ancient Rome, where it had been met with a lot of opposition at first. Christianity challenged Roman polytheism and so several Roman leaders tried to ruin the reputation of the new religion by spreading false rumors. Probably the worst lie of this kind was the belief that Christians were cannibals. This comes from the Christian tradition known as the “Last Supper” where Christians eat bread that represents the body of Christ and wine, which represents his blood. Romans took this tradition way too literally.

5. Energy drinks were kind of terrible

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome athletes
Let's put it this way, Ancient Roman energy drinks were far from tasting like fruit. Historical records show that Roman athletes used a mixture of boiling goat dung and vinegar. Athletes, especially charioteers drank these "sports drinks" to regain their strength. What can we say? The placebo effect goes a long way, apparently.

6. Romans had odd delicacies

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome flamingo
Odd delicacies are hardly a thing of the past, and throughout history, the rich were willing and able to pay a pretty penny for the oddest foods. But today's delicacies like truffles, caviar, and saffron are pretty tame compared to the delicacies of Roman emperors and leaders, as the creme de la creme delicacy in those days were apparently flamingo tongues. You read that right - flamingo tongues. This food was an elite status symbol, and the rich were also said to feast on the rest of the bird.

7. Privacy was scarce, even in the restroom

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome toilet
Most people don't realize that the city of Rome actually had a pretty intricate sewage system, with the first underground sewers in the city having been laid by the Etruscans at around 500 BC! Still, these advancements weren't enough to supply every home with a private restroom, and so all toilets in Rome were 100% public. Citizens sat side by side, and over time, restrooms became a location for social gatherings where people would meet up and chat. I don't know about you, but we prefer a good old-fashioned cafe to catch up with friends!

8. The first and the last Roman ruler had the same name

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome Romulus Augustus
Legend has it that the city of Rome was founded by a man named Romulus. Romulus was one of two brothers who had been abandoned as infants and nursed by a she-wolf. During a disagreement as to who would become the ruler of a city they founded, Romulus ended up killing his brother Remus and became the first king of Rome. Coincidentally, the last emperor of the Roman Empire was also called Romulus, formally Romulus Augustus. He was known by the nickname Little Augustus, and he only ruled for 10 months. In the year 476, Romulus gave up his throne to a Barbarian soldier named Odoacer, who became the first king of Italy, and with this event, history turned full circle.

9. Their cleaning products and toothpaste smelled pretty bad...

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome colosseum
Unfortunately, poor Ancient Roman citizens didn't have bleach or toothpaste either. So instead, they collected urine due to its high ammonia content and processed it into a cleaning agent. This "cleaning agent" was then used to bleach and clean all sorts of things, including clothing. But if that doesn't sound bad enough, let us also add that they used the same stuff to whiten their teeth.
Related Article: Weird Ancient Practices

10. Life expectancy was pretty low

Strange Facts About Ancient Rome roman statue
We barely touched on the topic of Roman medicine in this article, but what has been mentioned is probably enough for you to understand that Romans pretty much shared everything starting from baths and toilets to gladiator sweat drinks, so it's safe to say that infectious disease and a lack of sanitation was a widespread issue. According to BBC History, the life expectancy of an Ancient Roman citizen was only 27 years. Women were especially vulnerable and often died in childbirth. So let's all say thanks for advanced medicine and sanitary standards!
Share these strange facts with those interested in history!
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