10 Interesting facts about ancient Rome: did you know?

The Mouth of Truth was a manhole cover. Of a sewer!

Today, people line up everyday to put their hand inside the Mouth of Truth for its fame as "lie-detector" (according to the common belief, if you tell a lie with your hand in the stony mouth it gets bitten off!). But...

...do they know that in ancient Rome through those holes (mouth, nostrils, eyes) wastewater flowed to the biggest sewer of Rome, the Cloaca Maxima? The mouth of truth was, in fact, a big manhole cover decorated with the image of a fluvial deity.


The emperor Elagabalus liked to dress up as a woman

While his fame as eccentric and fanatic has probably been exxaggerated by his successors, there's no doubt that the emperor Elagabalus was a real character.

Very young, handsome and charismatic, during his reign Elagabalus had five wives and two "husbands", he was familiar with orgies, and he liked to dress up as a woman. Accurately shaved, with makeup and wig, he used to sell himself as a prostitute in the brothels of the city. Sometimes even in the imperial palace, generating a lot of scandal.

It's said that Elagabalus offered half of the roman empire to the doctor who would have been able to provide him with female genitalia.


Public latrines: they pooped and chatted with the neighbors

In ancient Rome few people could afford private bathrooms, public latrines were very common instead.

Today, the idea of pooping and chatting relaxedly with someone sit next to us it's almost inconceivable, but ancient Romans had a complete different relationship with their body and its functions, that were not seen as "oscene" as it's for us today.

The public latrines were actually very airy, full of tools for cleaning and scented oils. There were even statues of deities and sacred decorations inside.

In front of the toilet seats a trickle of fresh water flowed continuously to wash the sponges and the tools used for cleaning the body.


Not only the gladiators in the Coliseum: the naumachie!

The shows with the gladiators in the Coliseum are surely more famous, but ancient Romans had also the naumachie: naval battles in huge artificial pools with thousands of men fighting on board of ships.

The naumachie were huge events, much more expensive and bloody than the Coliseum shows. The fighters were not trained athletes as the gladiators, they were usually sentenced to death.

The famous phrase morituri te salutant is often erroneously attributed to the gladiators, instead it was only pronounced by the naumachiarii during emperor Claudio's naumachia, as recorded by Svetonius.


Romans did not use socks

Only in the northern regions they used some wool bands to protect from cold, but they were not real socks. In the streets of the urbe instead they used to walk with naked feet inside the shoes.

The shoes were closed like boots or open like sandals, made with many leather strips, and sometimes they had iron shoeing to prevent sole consumption.


Female gladiators existed

Despite rare, there is evidence in archaeology and literature supporting the fact that gladiatrices existed in ancient Rome.

The emperor Domitianus used to organize venationes (fights against animals) and gladiatorii shows with gladiatrices particularly at night, at the light of the torches. Paintings suggest that most gladiatrices used to fight shirtless and without helm.


The Colossus of Nero was as big as the Colossus of Rodhes

The Colossus was a bronze monument in ancient Rome, created by the architect Zenodorus, originally representing the emperor Nero. The statue was placed just beside the Coliseum (to which it gave its name), and it was comparable in height to the colossus of Rodhes (98-114 feet).

Nero's Colossus was impressive, very shiny, and it could be seen from several areas of Rome. It represented Nero with a crown made of rays, holding a silver ball in his right hand, which represented the Sun.

The monument was destroyed in the V century and only the stadium survived.


Caligula's senator horse was a provocation

It's one of the most notorious facts about ancient Rome: the emperor Caligula elected senator his horse Incitatus. But contrarily to the common belief, he didn't do that just because he was crazy, but as sign of disrespect to the Senate, with which he had a controversy.

In fact, in a joke Caligula said that he wanted to declare his horse as senator, since it was more able than the senators themselves.


The Spintriae, pornographic Roman coins

Among the many coins of ancient Rome there were also the spintriae, showing sexual acts on one side, and numbers on the other side.

Very likely these coins were used as tokens to pay the prostitutes (both male and female) in the several brothels of the city. They were particularly useful for the travellers who didn't speak the local language, because they could use the images on the coins to clarify the type of service they desired.

...as they say, an image is worth a thousand words!


Nero's rotating dining room

To impress his guests, Nero built in his domus the Coenatio Rotunda, a wonderful rotating dining room.

The room, which has been completely lost today, was originally placed on the Palatine hill. It had an enormous circular pillar which held, through arches, a rotating platform with lots of spherical structures. The movement of the room was not casual, but inspired to the cult of the Sun, respected by Nero.


048 Notes: Updated last time May 26, 2014.

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