33 Ancient History Facts You Definitely Didn’t Learn In School

Published September 6, 2018
Updated September 10, 2018

From China and Egypt to Rome and Greece, these ancient history facts are too raunchy, outrageous, and weird for any textbook you've ever read.

Ancient History Roman Mouthwash
Ancient Romans used urine as mouthwash. Urine contains ammonia, which is one of the best natural cleaning agents on the planet. Wikimedia Commons

Meroe Sudan Pyramids
There are more pyramids in one small area of Sudan than in all of Egypt. The Meroë pyramids of the Sudanese desert were also built for royalty — between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago — for the Nubian kings of Kush. The empire of these pharaohs stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to present-day Khartoum.Fabrizio Demartis/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient History Sword Of Goujian
The ancient Sword Of Goujian — despite being buried for over two millennia — is almost completely preserved. Found in a damp tomb in Hubei, China in 1965, the sword (thought to belong to King of Yue) is still razor sharp.Siyuwj/Wikimedia Commons

Stonehenge Facts
An unknown ancient civilization brought stones 150 miles to help build Stonehenge. An early European people known only as the Bell-Beaker civilization likely moved the bluestones which each weigh four tons to the Wiltshire, England monument sometime between 2600 and 1600 B.C. Experts aren’t sure why they would do this but theorize that the stones could have been used for their healing powers. Pixabay

Egyptians Invented Toothpaste
The Ancient Egyptians invented toothpaste. It was made of rock salt, pepper, mint, and dried iris flowers.All That's Interesting

Sati Ritual
The ancient Indian practice of “sati” entails a widow being burned alive on her late husband's funeral pyre. This was a Hindu custom in which a dutiful wife would follow her husband into the afterlife. This supposedly “voluntary” ritual existed from 320 A.D. to 1829 — with many accounts of women who were drugged or thrown into the fire against their will. It even still happens today on rare occasions, though it has been outlawed.Wikimedia Commons

Chinchorro Mummies
Ancient South Americans, not Egyptians, invented the mummification process. The Chinchorro people of Chile’s Atacama Desert had been mummifying their dead for 2,000 years prior to the Egyptians. They peeled back the corpse’s skin, removed the muscles and organs, and filled the body with plants before sewing the skin back on and placing a mask over the face.Insights/UIG via Getty Images

Tiberius Bust
According to the ancient biographer Suetonius, the Roman Emperor Tiberius was a depraved pedophile. The biographer insists that Tiberius arranged for secret orgies with deviant sex experts at his palace (which also boasted an erotic library) and had underage children perform fellatio on him while he bathed. Wikimedia Commons

Night Soil Fertilizer
Romans spread their own feces in their gardens. Known as “night soil,” the fertilizer they made from excrement did nourish plants, but also aided in the spread of disease.Wikimedia Commons

Silphium Plant
Ancient Roman women used a natural contraceptive: the herb called Silphium. They used the Silphium plant so much, in fact, that it went extinct.Richard Baker/Getty Images

Pompeii Skeleton Boulder
This man survived the first wave of Pompeii's destruction in 79 A.D., only to have a boulder fall on his head. On May 29, 2018 archaeologists at the Pompeii excavation site uncovered the skeleton of the world’s unluckiest man.Soprintendenza Archeologica Pomp/KONTROLAB /LightRocket via Getty Images

Oldest Beer Receipt
This is the world's oldest surviving beer receipt. This Sumerian (modern-day Iraq) tablet created in 2050 B.C. confirms that a scribe named Ur-Amma “... acknowledges receiving from his brewer, Alulu, 5 sila (about 4 1/2 liters) of the 'best' beer." The process now recognized as beer brewing began in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran) between 3500 - 3100 B.C. — but fermented beverages were being made as early as 7000 B.C. in China.Wikimedia Commons

Nazca Lines
There are giant, 2,000 year-old hieroglyphics etched into the ground in Peru and nobody knows what they mean. The Nazca Lines can only be seen in their entirety when viewed from above. More glyphs have been discovered as recently as 2018 by low-altitude drones in the adjacent province of Palpa.Pixabay

Ancient History Mesopotamian Wedding
If a Mesopotamian bride failed to become pregnant on her wedding night, the groom could “return” the flawed merchandise to her family. The marriage could also be invalidated by the lack of a feast at the ceremony.Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin/Ancient History Encyclopedia

Mayan Head Binding
Ancient Mayans forced their kids' heads to look like ears of corn. They bound their infant’s heads to achieve the pointy shape. The Mayans were obsessed with corn, as they believed humans were actually made from it.Wikimedia Commons

Mayan Chocolate
The Mayans first consumed chocolate as early as 600 B.C. An archaeological site in northern Belize yielded several ceramic vessels that contained the earliest known residue of Theobroma cacao. Earlier civilizations may have ingested the bean prior to this, but the Mayans thought to mix this early chocolate with water, honey, chili peppers, and cornmeal to make a foamy drink.Yelkrokoyade/Wikimedia Commons

Longyou Caves
Massive man-made caves in China dating back to 200 B.C. are still a complete mystery. The ancient Longyou Caves were discovered in 1992 when a local man innocently tried to drain a deep pond. There is no historical record of the caves’ construction — or of their purpose.Zhangzhugang/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient History
Between 300 B.C. and 300 A.D., the ancient Japanese buried people in jars. The pottery jars would vary in size, and the quality of trinkets placed in or around the jars would denote upper- from lower-class citizens. Excavation and research continues at Japan’s Yoshinogari Historical Park, which has been meticulously reconstructed to resemble what a settlement of that era would look like.Pekachu/Wikimedia Commons

Sushruta Rhinoplasty
Successful rhinoplasty surgeries date back to the sixth century B.C. in India. With a lot of noses lopped off in ancient Indian society (for offenses like adultery and war crimes) there was a substantial need for reconstructive surgery. Sushruta was the premier surgeon for such occasions; he took flaps of skin from either the cheek or forehead to fashion a new nose for his patients.Hiart/Wikimedia Commons

Gobekli Tepe
Gobekli Tepe in Turkey is the world’s oldest temple at over 11,500 years old. This pre-agricultural structure wasn’t discovered until 1994.Teomancimit/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Egyptian Healthcare
Ancient Egypt had the earliest documented governmental health care plan. Egyptologists have evidence of these health care benefits in preserved records from the site of Luxor, where the craftsmen of the 12th century B.C who built the Egyptian pharaohs' tombs could take a paid sick day or receive a free health checkup.Wikimedia Commons

Ancient History
We know very little about the ancient Druids because they banned everyone from writing Their knowledge down. this doesn’t mean that they were illiterate; in fact they were extremely intelligent — enough to realize they didn’t want their knowledge falling into the wrong hands.Wikimedia Commons

Egyptian Baboon Pets
Ancient Egyptians kept baboons as pets. However, they didn’t appear to take very good care of them. Research finds that mummified remains of the animals often showed signs of defensive arm fractures, other broken bones, malnutrition, and deformities associated with living in cages.Karen Green/Wikimedia Commons

Great Wall Of China
As many as 400,000 people died during the construction of the Great Wall of China in the third century B.C. Many of these workers were convicts and soldiers, and were buried within the wall itself. The wall has been in various states of disrepair and fortification ever since, and the wall as it stands today was re-constructed mainly during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).Jakub Hałun/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Swastika Symbol
The swastika was a symbol of spirituality and good fortune across the ancient world. It has been found among hundreds of the cultures around the world; carved onto 30,000-year-old mammoth tusks, found on Neolithic Serbian tablets, and used during the period of Roman Christianity. The once-positive symbol was perverted by the anti-Semite assistant of a German businessman-turned-archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann in 1871, and the rest is unfortunate history.Wikimedia Commons

Catullus 16
Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus wrote a poem in the first century B.C. that was so obscene that it wasn’t translated into English until fairly recently. Catullus' "Carmen 16" is fantastically vulgar and threatening with graphic references to sodomy and rape. We won’t reprint the entire 20th century translation here — just Google it.Wikimedia Commons

Crocodile Dung Contraception
In ancient Egypt, women inserted a paste made with crocodile dung into their vaginas as a contraceptive. Medical texts from 1850 B.C. tell of this recipe — which may have been used because of the alkaline nature of the excrement, or perhaps the crocodile’s association with Seth, the Egyptian god of hemorrhage and miscarriage.Pixabay

Roman Colosseum Lift
Romans had an elaborate system of elevators and trap doors to lift ferocious beasts onto the Colosseum floor. Investigations in the early 1990s revealed that there were up to 28 man-powered lifts designed to transport up to 600 pounds each — and using the negative space from the holes and grooves, a German archaeologist recreated a functional lift and trap-door mechanism. It was donated to the Colosseum after being put in place by a crane.Wikimedia Commons

Code Of Hammurabi
The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi outlined grotesque punishments for crimes. Written between 1792 to 1750 B.C., such punishments included a son’s hands being cut off for striking his father, or the killing of one’s daughter for retribution of another woman’s murder. Haider Adnan/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Sea Peoples
A mysterious group known as the "Sea Peoples" ransacked the ancient world — and we still don't know who they were. In the late Bronze Age, the Sea Peoples battled the Egyptians and others around the Mediterranean, then disappeared from the historical record as strangely as they'd come.Wikimedia Commons

Bread Dildo
Ancient Greeks used olisbokollikes: dildos made entirely out of bread. It’s unknown if they were enjoyed during rituals or everyday pleasure, but artwork dating back to the fifth century seems to confirm their use.Wikimedia Commons

Asians Invented Trousers
Horse-riding nomadic herders in Central Asia invented pants. The ancient wool trousers were unearthed in western China and carbon-dated to between the 13th and the 10th centuries B.C. They have straight-fitted legs, a roomy crotch, and strings for fastening at the waist.Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Egyptian Women
Ancient Egyptian men and women of similar social status were lawfully treated as equals. This meant that women could own, earn, buy, sell, and inherit property, and also had the right to divorce and remarry.Wikimedia Commons

Turns out school doesn't teach us all we need to know about ancient history. Beyond the well-known — the pyramids, kings, and wars that fill our textbooks— the history of our world is full of incredible stories, societies, and lives that most of us will never hear about.

These stories, the raunchy ones or the unsavory ones that we haven't heard of in the classroom, can give us a more intimate glimpse into what it was really like to have lived in a totally different time — better than a censored version of history ever could.

Some of the most illuminating facts about ancient history have been censored out of textbooks because they can appear disgusting or disturbing or offensive in the context of our modern world. But to the people of the ancient world, such facts were merely the hard realities of everyday life.

Yet, as many of these facts as we can compile, the truth is that much of ancient history was simply never recorded. Ancient scribes would write down the names of kings and conquests but rarely much more than that. The everyday lives of everyday people and the ways they lived were hardly ever recorded, and more often than not, have been condemned to be forgotten.

What we have learned about everyday people from ancient history has come from piecing together whatever scattered clues we can uncover, like from the ruins they left behind, the tombs they were buried in, and the objects and artifacts that they held dear.

Thus, when we learn about ancient history, we essentially explore a lost world of long, long ago. Of course, just how long ago remains up for debate. The term "ancient history" has almost no hard limits. But according to most, it covers thousands of years, from 3,000 B.C. to 500 A.D. — from the beginning of writing to the fall of Rome — in every corner of the world. There's an almost limitless world to uncover and some of the things we share here are beyond anything you could imagine.

See for yourself in the gallery of ancient history facts above.


After this look at ancient history, discover some interesting history facts you won't learn anywhere else. Then, learn all of the most fascinating facts about Ancient Egypt.

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.