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Romans drank pig dung
as an energy drink. Emperor Nero was a big fan of the drink, which was made by soaking roasted dung in vinegar.Wikmedia Commons
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Phallic art was extremely common in Ancient Rome. Penis-inspired mosaics, sculptures, amulets, and the like served as tributes to the god Fascinus.Vassil/Wikimedia Commons
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Roman arenas let crowds of people watch as
criminals, tied to seesaws, were mauled to death by wild animals. There would be two men on each seesaw, and while one hung 15 feet up in the air, the other would be stuck down on the ground with the lions.Wikimedia Commons
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The Romans sometimes used urine to whiten their teeth. The ammonia in urine acted as a stain remover.Public Domain
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Flamingo tongue was a delicacy devoured by Roman emperors. It was often served alongside pheasant brains, parrotfish livers, and lamprey guts.Public Domain
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Julius Caesar was never emperor of Rome. He was a military leader and dictator who controlled Rome between 49 and 44 B.C., but he was never technically emperor.Wikimedia Commons
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The Romans would use a communal sponge on a stick to clean themselves after pooping in open-air public toilets.Public Domain
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Gladiators rarely fought to the death. They were celebrities who brought in big money and thus their handlers didn't want to see their investments die.Public Domain
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Sweat from popular gladiators would be bottled and sold to women as an aphrodisiac and beauty treatment.Public Domain
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Romans were hardly cleaner than those who lived during the Middle Ages. While Roman plumbing and hygiene is widely praised as superior to what followed in the medieval period, research shows that unclean Roman bathhouses and toilets were havens for parasites.Flickr
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There were female gladiators. By the first century A.D., the practice was common among both slaves forced to fight and female citizens who did so of their own free will.Wikimedia Commons
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Many Roman emperors knowingly poisoned themselves on a daily basis. They drank a concoction called mithridatium, which contained small amounts of known poisons, foolishly hoping that it would eventually all but immunize them against those poisons in the event of an assassination attempt.Wikimedia Commons
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Roman charioteers earned more money than the best-paid athletes of today. Experts estimate that, when adjusted for inflation, some charioteers' fortunes were as much as 15 times greater than those of today's wealthiest athletes.Public Domain
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Ancient Romans celebrated a festival called Saturnalia during which slaves and masters would sometimes switch places. Customs associated with this annual winter festival held in honor of the god Saturn allowed slaves to be set free and even criticize their masters, who would wait on their own slaves during meals.Wikimedia Commons
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In 211 A.D., Emperor Caracalla had his brother murdered in front of their mother and forbade her from crying. The brother, Geta, was Caracalla's rival for control of the empire.Wikimedia Commons
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If a person was found guilty of killing their father, they would be tied up in a sack with wild animals and tossed into a river to drown.Public Domain
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Rome doesn't even rank among the 20 largest empires in history, according to many estimates. In terms of land area, well over a dozen empires like the British and the Mongol rank higher.Public Domain
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Contemporaneous reports state that the Romans would often fill the Colosseum with water and stage bloody naval battles for the amusement of enormous crowds.Public Domain
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Emperor Claudius changed Roman law so he could marry his niece. He wed Agrippina, mother of Nero, in 49 A.D.Wikimedia Commons
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Emperor Trajan Decius, the first Roman emperor to die in battle against a foreign enemy, perished after his army got stuck in a swamp. When fighting the Goths in present-day Bulgaria in 251 A.D., he and his army suffered a brutal defeat because they'd gotten stuck.Wikimedia Commons
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In about 67 A.D., Emperor Nero married a boy named Sporus, had him castrated, treated him as a woman, and referred to him by the name of his deceased wife, Sabina. Some claim that Nero himself had killed a pregnant Sabina by kicking her to death in a fit of rage.Wikimedia Commons
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Historians agree that Emperor Caligula never actually made his horse a consul. Not all of the infamous rumors about this purportedly insane emperor were true.Public Domain
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Emperor Caligula once requisitioned hundreds of merchant ships to form a floating bridge three miles long. He then spent two days galloping back and forth across it.Wikimedia Commons
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Emperor Commodus actually thought he was a reincarnation of Hercules. He even demanded that the Senate declare him a living god and address him as "Hercules, son of Zeus."Wikimedia Commons
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When Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates in 75 B.C., he reportedly laughed at their low ransom for such an important person and insisted that they more than double it. After the ransom was delivered and he was released, he captured them and had them crucified.Public Domain
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Mark Antony's romance with Cleopatra was an extramarital affair. During their affair starting in the middle of the first century B.C., he was married to Augustus Caesar's sister, Octavia.Wikimedia Commons
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Emperor Nero tried to kill his domineering mother, Agrippina, in 59 A.D. by having her drown in a sabotaged boat. The plot failed after she was able to swim to shore — only to be killed by Nero's soldiers not long afterward.Wikimedia Commons
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Rome's wars with Persia lasted approximately 721 years. By some measures, their fighting over territory between the first century B.C. and the seventh century A.D. represents the longest sustained military conflict in human history.Fabienkhan/Wikimedia Commons
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Tradition holds that the Roman Republic was founded because a woman was raped. Sextus Tarquinius, son of King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, raped a woman named Lucretia in about 509 B.C. She then killed herself and the people were so outraged that they launched a rebellion and overthrew the monarchy, which allowed the republic to come into being.Wikimedia Commons
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Emperor Domitian had a governor executed in the late first century A.D. simply for having a lance named after himself.Wikimedia Commons
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Emperor Petronius Maximus was murdered in 455 A.D. by an angry mob of his own people after he was caught trying to flee from a Vandal attack.Wikimedia Commons
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If a Vestal Virgin was found to no longer be a virgin, she would be buried alive. These priestesses of the Roman goddess Vesta were to take their vow of chastity very seriously.Wikimedia Commons
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At the height of its power, the Roman Empire contained only 12 percent of the world's population. In comparison, at the height of their powers, the British Empire contained 23 percent of the world's population in the early 20th century and the Mongol Empire contained more than 25 percent of the world's population in the 13th century.Tataryn/Wikimedia Commons
33 Ancient Rome Facts That Will Change The Way You See History
For many of us, Ancient Rome holds a special place in our imagination. As schoolchildren, we learn all sorts of Ancient Rome facts that leave our minds brimming with visions of emperors, legionnaires, and gladiators that called this revered civilization home.
There are a few details, however, that most of our teachers were too polite to mention when presenting this idealized image of Rome. So we picture the Colosseum without the smell of blood, the legions without the sweat and mud, and the emperors without the fresh glimmer of urine on their teeth.
The Land Before Hygiene
Your teacher surely never told you that last fact about Roman dental care, but that's one of those Ancient Rome facts that really brings the history alive. Indeed, in some parts of Ancient Rome, people kept their smiles shimmering with a daily scrubbing of urine.
And this is just one of many Ancient Rome facts that few seem to know. We hear story after story about gladiators and emperors, for example, but nobody ever talks about the fact that some Romans liked to wear metal-winged penises around their necks for good luck.
We hear story after story about Roman wars and conquests, but we never hear about the troubles of the common people. Few know of their daily concerns, like whether the last person to use the communal poop sponge had really cleaned it properly, or whether a parasitic worm was climbing through your toilet.
Families That Were A Little Too Close
And we likewise seldom hear about the close family connections that were so important to the Romans, like the story of Emperor Carcalla, who comforted his mother when his brother died by reminding her that, if she cried, he'd kill her next.
Nor do we hear much about the families that grew a little too close for comfort. Consider the story of Emperor Claudius, whose devotion to his family ran so deep that he changed the very laws of Rome so that he could marry his niece.
We might hear about Emperor Nero, but rarely do we hear the love story between him and his wife, Sabina. He loved her so dearly that, when she died, he castrated a young boy, brought him to his bedroom, and made him pretend to be his dead wife.
The Ancient Rome Facts That Nobody Shares
And it's a shame that facts like these seldom get repeated because the image of Rome we're otherwise left with is simply incomplete.
As so often when happens when looking backward into history, we see Rome as a mirror of our own time. We look into history and see the people we are today, dressed up in togas and armor but otherwise more or less the same. But we first must understand just how far off that image really is.
Ancient Rome was a part of the ancient world. It was a different country in a different time and a different place. They had their own unique sets of beliefs and ideas. They lived completely different lives from our own and saw the world in completely different ways — more different than you likely ever expected.
Check out the gallery of Ancient Rome facts above for yourself and see how just how unusual this storied civilization could truly be.
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.