Rome Facts
Rome Facts

94 Interesting Rome Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published February 11, 2017Updated October 4, 2019
  • Some linguistic possibilities for the origin of the word “Rome” include the Etruscan word rhome, meaning “strength” or “river.” It may also be related to the root rum meaning “teat,” referring to the wolf that suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. Another theory is that Roma was the daughter of Aeneas, a mythical founder of Rome.[10]
  • Because there were apparently few women in early Rome, Romulus (c. 771-717 B.C.) kidnapped neighboring Sabine women. Most of the girls were prizes of whoever got them first, while a few of the more beautiful ones were brought to leading senators by special gangs.[8]
  • Rome has a sovereign state located entirely in its city limits, the Vatican City, which is also the world’s smallest state.[10]
  • Nero’s reign had many memorable moments, including killing his mother Agrippina and his wife Octavia. When he died, he said, “What an artist I die!” (“Qualis artifex pereo!”).[3]
  • Several religious sources claim that Nero was the Antichrist and will return as the Antichrist. Some scholars claim that the numbers 666 in the biblical Book of Revelation is a code for Nero.[7]
  • Some ancient Romans placed a phallic symbol over a door as a symbol of good luck and fertility, and miniature phalluses were often worn as lucky charms.[10]
  • Interesting Cappuccino Fact
    Cappuccino is named after the Roman order of monks, the Capuchin, who wore a hood or cappucio
  • The Capuchin Crypt in Rome consists of five chapels and a corridor 60 meters long—and it is decorated with the bones of 4,000 deceased monks. The coffee drink Cappuccino takes its name from this order of monks who were known by their custom of wearing a hood or cappuccio with their habits.[9]
  • The abbreviation SPQR can be found on many Roman statues, buildings, and military standards. It stands for “senatus populusque romanus.” meaning “The senate and people of Rome.”[1]
  • Rome’s population of more than a million was not matched by any other European city until London finally overtook it in the nineteenth century.[3]
  • Roman physicians had a wide range of surgical tools, including catheters and speculums. Many modern medical terms still have Latin roots. The knee cap, for example, is the patella, which is Latin for “shallow dish.”[10]
  • In English, to “decimate” means to completely destroy. The word comes from the Latin decimare, which evolved from the practice of killing every tenth Roman soldier if they tried to mutiny.[1]
  • The first-ever shopping mall was built by the Emperor Trajan in Rome. It consisted of several levels and more than 150 outlets that sold everything ranging from food and spices to clothes.[10]
  • With nearly 3,000 years of rich history, Rome is often called the “Eternal City.” Though Rome dates back to possibly 625 B.C., the oldest continuously populated city in the world is widely to be considered Byblos in present-day Lebanon dating back to 5000 B.C.[10]
  • Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.

    - Giotto di Bondone

  • The snake was a common image in Roman art and jewelry and was believed to have powers over a family’s well-being.[2]
  • Emperor Claudius’ third wife was once said to have donned blond wigs, gilded her nipples, and entered a competition with a local prostitute to see who could bed the most men in one night. Claudius had her executed.[8]
  • Togas were unique to Rome and were worn by free-born Roman men as a mark of distinction. Ironically, the only women who wore togas were prostitutes because they were not allowed to wear stolas, the traditional garment of Roman women.[10]
  • Purple, the most expensive dye from Murex seashells, was reserved for the emperors’ clothes or senators. It became treason for anyone other than the emperor to dress completely in purple.[10]
  • Sometimes gladiator blood was recommended by Roman physicians as an aid to fertility.[10]
  • A fasces, which was a bundle of tied rods with a red ribbon that often included a bronze axe, symbolized the power and unity of Rome. Italian “fascism” derives its name from fasces.[1]
  • The Vestal Virgins were women priests who tended the sacred fire of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire. If they lost their virginity, even as a result of rape, they were buried alive in an unmarked grave. In the 1,000-year history of the temple, only 18 Vestals received this punishment.[8]
  • Interesting Vestal Virgin Facts
    The priestesshood had survived for well over 1,000 years

  • Roman towns were provided with forica, or public lavatories. In lieu of toilet paper, Romans would use a wet sponge. Running water carried the waste to the main drains.[4]
  • On his journey through the Alps to invade Rome in 218 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal lost 14,000 men and 25 elephants. Yet, it took Roman soldiers 17 years to defeat him. Hannibal so frightened the Romans that Roman parents would tell their children that unless they behaved, Hannibal would come after them.[10]
  • In response to a 73 B.C. revolt against Rome by Spartacus the gladiator, 6,000 slaves were crucified.[10]
  • The Romans were the first civilization to use concrete and the arch with any notable skill.[5]
  • The St. Pietro (St. Peter’s Basillica) currently displays the chains that supposedly held St. Peter while imprisoned (with St. Paul) in the Carcere Mamertino (Mamertine Prison).[10]
  • Rome’s first university, La Sapienza (est. A.D. 1303), is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world.[10]
  • After the death of an emperor, an eagle (symbol of the god Jupiter) was released to bear his soul to heaven.[5]
  • Interesting Eagle Fact
    After the death of an emperor, an eagle was released to carry the emperor’s soul to the afterlife

  • By the early fourth century, the Romans had built a road network of 53,000 miles throughout the empire. Each Roman mile was about 1,000 paces (about 4,800 feet) and was marked by a milestone.[5]
  • Romans were highly superstitious and feared anything to do with the left, which is why their words for “left” and “left-handed” were sinister and sinstra, giving us the modern meaning of “sinister.”[1]
  • Ancient Romans believed that seeing an owl was a bad omen, sniffing cyclamen flowers would prevent baldness, and ringing bells eased the pain of childbirth. The presence of bees, which were considered sacred messengers of the gods, were seen as a sign of good luck.[10]
  • The Cult of Mithra (spreading from India to Persia to Asia Minor to Rome) was popular among Roman soldiers. Mithra was supposed to have slain a bull whose blood is the lifeblood of the universe. Mithraism has ties to Christianity, with Rome usurping Mithra’s supposed December 25th birthday as Christ’s birthday, in no small part to appease the large Mithraic following whose pagan religion had been outlawed.[10]
  • On the day the Colosseum officially opened, 5,000 animals were killed. During its history, it has been estimated that over 500,000 people and over a million animals were killed there.[6]
  • Interesting Colosseum Fact
    The Colosseum is considered an architectural feat and represents both the beauty and excess of ancient Rome

  • Roman statesman Cato the Elder urged that babies should be bathed in the warmed-up urine produced by an adult who had eaten cabbage. If a child would not settle to sleep, he recommended placing goat dung in its diaper.[4]
  • In ancient Rome, an infant was placed at the father’s feet shortly after birth. If the father took the child into his arms, it showed he accepted responsibility for its upbringing. If the baby was not accepted, it was be abandoned and left to die.[2]
  • Contraception and abortion were well known in Rome. For example, a woman might insert olive oil, honey, or any clogging fluids into the vagina or use pessaries of wool. One doctor suggested “wearing the liver of a cat in a tube on the left foot.”[2]
  • One of Rome’s most famous and significant archaeological feats was the Cloaca Maxima (Greatest Sewage), which was an ancient sewer system. It was thought to be presided over by the goddess Cloacina (literally “sewer” or “drain”). As well as controlling the sewers, she was responsible for protecting sexual intercourse in marriage.[10]
  • While abortion and contraception were almost certainly limited to the rich, all classes, particularly the poor, resorted to “exposure.” Some people found it profitable to look for exposed infants in the town dumps and raise them as slaves or for sale. In legal documents, slaves are frequently designated as being “from the dump.”[2]
  • Random Rome Fact
    January is named after the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who has two faces—one looking back to the old year and the other looking forward to the new year
  • The month of August was originally named Sextillis (from sextus) but was renamed in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus. January is named after the Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who has two faces—one looking back to the old year and the other looking forward to the new year. April is from the Latin aperire which means “to open,” perhaps referring to the opening of flowers.[1]
  • The word “palace” comes from the Palatine Hill, where Augustus established the emperors’ tradition of building their palaces.[1]
  • The Colosseum had a large sun roof that could be stretched over the crowd to keep the spectators in the shade. The Colosseum took 12 years to build, and the exit time for all 70,000 spectators was only three minutes.[6]
  • The Circus Maximus could seat nearly 250,000 fans. In its passageways and arches under the seats, cooks and prostitutes catered to the fans’ other needs.[2]
  • Wealthy Roman women would smear lead paste on their faces to look fashionably pale. They might also use ass’ milk or crushed snails as a facial moisturizer. Crushed ant eggs were often used to highlight women’s eyebrows.[8]
  • The Romans did not use soap. To get rid of sweat and grime, they would cover themselves with oil and then scrape off the oil with special a scraper made of metal, wood, or bone called a strigil.[10]
  • Some men were advised to use hippopotamus skin to make hair grow. Men and women would remove hair with bat’s blood or hedgehog ashes, or keep hair from turning gray by coloring their hair with oil mixed with earthworm ashes.[2]
  • Romans invented central heating and would warm rooms from under the floor using what was called a hypocaust, literally “heat from below.” Homes of some rich people had both running water and central heating.[10]
  • Some wealthy women often wore wigs made from the blond hair of foreign slaves. Slaves could also dye a woman’s hair blond or red by blowing powder onto it. Slaves could be tortured for a styling hair poorly.[2]
  • Toothpaste was regularly used by those who could afford it. Nitrum, probably either potassium or sodium carbonate, was burned and rubbed on the teeth to restore color.[10]
  • Cincinnati, Ohio, is named after a great figure of Rome, Cincinnatus (519-438 B.C.). While plowing his fields, he was made dictator and placed in charge of the war against the Vosci and Aequi. He did the job in 16 days, left his powerful position, and went back to the plow.[1]
  • Interesting Rome Facts
    Cincinnati, Ohio, is named after a great figure of Rome, Cincinnatus (519-438 B.C.)

  • The Romans had special toga cleaners called fullers. They would hang the togas over a round wooden frame, bleach them with burning sulfur, and press them in a large vat of water to get them clean.[2]
  • When Romans would visit the temple of Aesculapius (the god of medicine and healing), they would leave offerings shaped like the part of their body which is afflicted, such as an ear or a leg.[6]
  • Some common girl names in ancient Rome included Julia, Livia, Drusilla, Antonia, and Claudia. Common boy names included Marcus, Julius, Antonius, Titus, Caius, Didius, Marius, and Septimus.[4]
  • Wealthy Romans might enjoy exotic foods such as stuffed flamingo. Fish sauce called liquamen or garum made from fish intestines was also popular.[2]
  • Girls were expected to marry at the age of 13 or 14 in arranged marriages. Strewing nuts, symbolic of the casting off of childish toys and of fertility, was an important part of the wedding. The bride wore a saffron-colored wedding gown with a flame-red veil over her hair.[1]
  • A man could lose Roman citizenship if he deserted the army, mutilated himself so he could not serve, or dodged a census to evade taxation.[5]
  • After the Romans deposed the last of their kings in 509 B.C., they created the Law of Twelve Tables in 450 B.C., a rule of law that remained in force for 800 years until the end of the western empire.[3]
  • Interesting Roman Battle Fact
    Ancient Romans often used the testudo or tortoise formation during battles
  • In battle, Romans sometimes grouped together and held their shields all around them in a move called “the tortoise.”[5]
  • On Capitoline Hill (one of the Seven Hills of Rome) at noon on April 21 every year, a special bell called Patarina rings to celebrate the founding of Rome.[10]
  • In Roman custom, a bride was carried over a threshold for good luck with the words “Ubi ti Baius, ego Gaia.” (“Where you [are] John, there I [am], Mary.”) Tripping over a threshold was considered bad luck.[1]
  • Romans thought that not owning slaves was a sign of extreme poverty. Many people would take three slaves with them just to go to the baths.[2]
  • Land ownership was so important that almost all Roman citizens owned at least a small plot. The practice of agriculture was said to have developed the hardy nature of the typical Roman.[5]
  • The Greeks thought that when non-Greeks spoke, they were mumbling words that sounded like an indeterminate “barbar,” which led to the Roman word “barbarian.”[1]
  • When the Roman Empire began to fall, inflation dramatically increased. Between A.D. 200 - 280, the price of a bale of wheat rose from 16 to 120,000 drachmas.[10]
  • Careers for Roman women outside the home included priestesses and lamp makers. There were also professional midwives, hairdressers, and even a few female doctors.[8]
  • The Romans trained some female slaves to fight as gladiators.[8]
  • For the Romans, a “circus” was a chariot racetrack, not the tented entertainment venue of today.[1]
  • Built by the emperor Hadrian (118-125), the Pantheon (“Temple of the Gods”) is remarkable because its massive dome is made of concrete that has withstood the elements for almost 2,000 years—with no steel reinforcing. The Pantheon was the largest concrete curved dome in existence until the nineteenth century.[1]
  • Interesting Pantheon Facts
    The word Pantheon is a Greek adjective meaning “honor all Gods”

  • Roman divorce was quick and easy. Either party merely uttered to the other the Latin phrase “Tuas res tibi habeto.” (“Keep what’s yours for yourself.”) If there were any children, they remained with the father, though the dowry was returned to the woman provided she had not committed adultery.[1]
  • Crimes such as treason or desertion were punishable by beheading or crucifixion. But only criminals without Roman citizenship (such as Jesus Christ) were crucified because that death was so slow and painful.[6]
  • After criticizing Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire, the famous philosopher/rhetorician Cicero was murdered and had his head and hands displayed on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum. It is rumoured that Fulvia, the wife of the influential Roman politician, Antony, pulled out Cicero’s tongue and stabbed it repeatedly with her hairpin.[1]
  • Romans generally were affectionate toward their pets, especially their cats and dogs. Some Roman dogs even wore identity tags in case they got lost. One bronze tag read: “Hold me if I run away, and return me to my master Viventius on the estate of Callistus.”[3]
  • The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, took its name from the Latin word colossous, which means “giant statue.” A huge statue of Nero stood near the stadium, giving it its nickname.[6]
  • After the fall of Rome, Latin continued in a variety of dialects which later developed into the Romance languages such as Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, French, and Spanish. Though not directly related, Latin has also significantly influenced English.[1]
  • The early Romans thought Christians were literally practicing some sort of cannibalism when the word was out that they consumed bread and wine as symbolic representations of the body and blood of Christ.[4]
  • Interesting Roman Fact
    The early Romans thought the Christian sacrament was literally a form of cannibalism

  • Gladiatorial combat probably dates back to the Etruscans or Samnites who made prisoners fight to the death during the funerals of aristocrats. It perhaps served as a kind of a substitute for old human sacrifices.[1]
  • The Roman Emperor Gaius (nicknamed Caligula after a type of military boot) tried to make his horse a consul, which was the most important job in the government. He also dressed in women’s cloths, presented himself as a god, had incestuous relations with his sisters, and had a habit of giving the manly Praetorian Guards watchwords like “Kiss me quick.”[1]
  • In A.D. 64, a huge fire destroyed half of Rome. Some claim Nero purposely set it so he could rebuild the city how he wanted it. The saying “Fiddling while Rome burns” comes from the story that Nero played his lyre while Rome burned.[1]
  • To die honorably, the defeated gladiator would grasp the thigh of his victor who would then hold his opponent’s head or helmet and plunge a sword in his neck. To make sure the gladiator was not faking his death, an attendant dressed as Mercury would touch him with a hot iron rod and another attendant dressed as Charon would hit him with a mallet.[10]
  • Roman days were divided into 12 hours, measured by a sundial.[2]
  • The Monte Testaccio is a vast, nonbiodegradable garbage dump where an estimated 53 million amphorae (ceramic vases) were thrown. It is one of the largest and most organized dumps found anywhere in the ancient world.[1]
  • Roman coins were used to publicize the emperor, his achievements, and his family in a world with no mass media.[1]
  • There seems to be no evidence that a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” was used in Roman gladiatorial games.The editor or judge of the game (such as an emperor) would more likely gesture with a thumb turned horizontally, probably in a striking motion toward the heart, or cover or compress his thumb to signal “put away the blade.”[5]
  • Interesting Roman Gladiator Fact
    There seems to be no evidence that a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” was used in Roman gladiatorial games

  • Some scholars speculate that pagan Romans would have been happy to add Christ to their list of gods, and that some did. The Christians, however, would have none of it.[10]
  • The Romans had gods for doors (Forculus), hinges (Cardea), and thresholds (Limentinus).[2]
  • The diet of ordinary Romans consisted mostly of starchy food and did not include many green vegetables, fresh meat, or fats. Hence, many children suffered from malnutrition.[2]
  • At its peak, Rome included more than one million people. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city’s population fell dramatically to less than 50,000 people. In 2007, there were over 2.7 million people living in the greater Rome area.[10]
  • In order to escape her forced engagement to a senator, the emperor Valentinian II’s sister Honarias sent Attila the Hun her engagement ring as a plea for help in the spring of A.D. 450. He interpreted it as a marriage proposal and demanded Rome as a dowry.[3]
  • Rome’s last emperor was Romulus Augustus, whose name recalls both the founder of Rome and Rome’s first emperor. He was deposed by Odoacer, the leader of the Barbarians.[1]
  • After the fall of Rome, the Colosseum became overgrown with exotic plants—seeds had inadvertently been transported with the wild animals that were used for fighting. During the Middle Ages it became a fortress for the city’s two warrior families.[9]
  • Founder of classical humanism, Petrarch (1304-1374) discovered many manuscripts from ancient Rome, and by the fifteenth century, Florentines were modeling their embattled republic on the Roman republic. During the Renaissance, Rome was second only to Florence as a major force of influence.[10]
  • Interesting Roman Aqueduct Fact
    The aqueducts stand as a testament to the excellence of ancient Roman engineering
  • Most Roman aqueducts were over 55 feet high. Their great height not only controlled the flow of water but also made it more difficult for someone to steal water and for enemies to put poison in it. The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia was built of stones with no mortar and is still used to carry water today.[10]
  • If not for the painstaking work of medieval monks who copied and illustrated the works of Roman writers and philosophers, many keystones of western culture would have been lost forever.[1]
  • Theories as to why Rome fell include political weakness and corruption, immorality, Christian pacifism and superstition, racial mixing, class conflict, environmental problems, a divided capital (Rome and Constantinople), plagues, and mass migrations of wild Germanic people. Another theory is that water supplied by lead pipes caused widespread health problems including brain damage and impaired intelligence. Some scholars speculate that Rome never fell, it just adapted to a changing world.[10]
  • Now assumed to be an ancient Roman manhole cover or part of a first-century statue, past generations thought Rome’s “Mouth of Truth” (La Bocca della Verità) to be a sort of ancient lie detector. Allegedly, it would cut off a person’s hand if it was placed in the mouth while the person spoke a lie. Later, priests in the Middle Ages would put scorpions in it to help perpetuate the myth. The Mouth of Truth also appeared in the film Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.[9]
  • In 44 BC, "the Ides of March" became notorious as the date of Julius Caesar's assassination, which was a dramatic turning point in Roman history. The word "ides" simply refers to the middle of the month.[2]

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