top of page
Historical Facts: Ancient Rome

Roman soldiers were paid partly in salt, giving rise to the saying, “He’s not worth his salt.” Posted 9/01/2010

There had to be at least 10 witnesses to the ancient Roman marriage ceremony to make it legal. Posted 6/01/2012

Ancient Roman political candidates powdered their togas with white chalk dust to make them appear more “pure.” Posted 11/01/2013

Most marriages in ancient Rome took place in June, in honor of Juno, the goddess of marriage. Posted 6/01/2016

The ancient Romans built 52,000 miles of roads. Posted 7/01/2016

In ancient Rome a man running for office would cover his toga with white chalk dust to make it whiter and to symbolize the purity of his reputation. Posted 11/01/2017

The most popular holiday in the Roman calendar was Saturnalia, an ancient Roman midwinter festival and holiday in honor of the god Saturn, held between December 17-23, where all things serious were barred. During Saturnalia, work and business came to a halt. Schools and courts of law closed, and normal social patterns were suspended.


Instead of working, Romans spent Saturnalia gambling in public (even slaves were allowed to gamble), singing in the streets (sometimes while naked), playing music and trivia games, feasting, socializing, going to chariot races, and giving gifts. Wax taper candles called cerei were often given during Saturnalia to signify light returning after the solstice.


During Saturnalia, the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. Masters served their slaves during a feast, and adults served children. Unlike other Roman holidays, which were mainly celebrated by the upper classes, Saturnalia was for everyone. This meant that slaves got the chance to participate in the festivities and even received gifts from their masters or sat at the head of the dinner table while their masters served them.


However, despite the appearance of a reversal of social order, there were still some fairly strict boundaries. A master might serve his slaves dinner, but the slaves were the ones who prepared it — this kept Roman society in order, but still allowed everyone to have a good time.


The aristocracy, who usually wore conservative clothes, shed their traditional togas in favor of colorful clothes known as synthesis. Some people also wore caps of freedom – the pilleum – which was usually worn by slaves who had been awarded their freedom to symbolize they were ‘free’ during the Saturnalia.


There were public feasts and celebrations everyone could attend. People stayed out late into the night, drinking and partying with friends. The largest public feast was held at the oldest temple in Rome, the Temple of Saturn. Afterward, rowdy participants spilled out into the streets, shouting the traditional Saturnalia greeting, "Io, Saturnalia!" with "Io" pronounced as "Yo.” Bands of naked revelers often roamed the streets, singing, carousing, and calling, “Io, Io, Io!”


People decorated their homes with wreaths and other greenery, and even hung small tin ornaments on bushes and trees.


Each household elected the Saturnalicius princeps, (the “leader of Saturnalia” or “Lord of Misrule”) who was the head “Mischief Maker.” This mock king got to lord it over the rest of the house for the week and create chaos inside the home. The Saturnalicius princeps was chosen by fate: a small coin was hidden in a cake served at the beginning of the festivities. Everyone in the household, including slaves, was given a piece of the cake. Whoever found the object in his piece of cake became the king of Saturnalia.


A good Saturnalicius princeps did the following:


Insult guests.

Wear crazy clothing.

Chase people around the house.

Plan scandalous party entertainment.


Saturnalia celebrations remained popular in Rome well into the 8th century of the Christian era. Posted 12/02/2021

In ancient Rome marriages did not take place in the month of May because that was the month they honored their dead. Posted 5/01/2011

In ancient Rome, women were considered citizens.  They could own property, businesses, and had control over their own monies, but they could not run for political office, vote, or represent themselves in a court of law. Posted 3/01/2013

Gaius Marius, Roman general and seven times consul, created a pension for veterans in the form of an allotment of land to be given to legionaries at the time of their demobilization.  He thus gave every legionary a prize to look forward to at the end of his service. Posted 11/15/2014

In ancient Rome, consent to the marriage had to be shown by both the bride and groom.  One way to show consent was for the future bride and groom to appear in public holding hands. Posted 6/01/2017

The Colosseum could seat around 50,000 people, whereas the Circus Maximus, which was for chariot racing, could seat up to a quarter of a million people! Posted 1/01/2019

The Statue of Liberty was inspired by the Roman pagan goddess, Libertas. Libertas is the Roman goddess of freedom, and she represents the freedom of action, freedom from restraint, and also signifies independence, personal rights, along with personal and social liberty. Posted 7/15/2019

The most famous charioteer in Ancient Rome was Gaius Appuleius Diocles, whose signature move was the strong final dash. Of the 4,257 four-horse races he competed in the 2nd Century AD, he won 1,462 races and placed in an additional 1,438 races (mostly finishing in second place). In the 24 years he raced he earned the staggering sum of 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money, close to today’s equivalent of 15 billion dollars. Though many charioteers died in their mid-twenties, Diocles retired at the age of 42 and was able to buy land near the small town of Praeneste (modern-day Palestrina). Posted 10/01/2019

The first shopping mall opened in Rome in 113 BCE. Trajan’s Market was so large that it contained over 150 shops and offices. Posted 12/25/2020

In Ancient Rome, women used a heated curling iron called a calamistrum to curl their hair. The calamistrum is an instrument made of iron, and hollow like a reed (calamus). It was heated in wood ashes. Posted 5/15/2022

On January 1st, 45 BC, the Julian calendar takes effect as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire, establishing January 1 as the new date of the new year. This came about when Julius Caesar was visiting Cleopatra in Egypt. At one of her parties, he met Sosigenes, an astronomer. Egypt had the best calendar of the Mediterranean world. Sosigenes said it was different from the Roman calendar in three main ways:


(a) It kept in step with the seasons, not the phases of the moon--(the Roman calendar tried to do both and failed); (b) its months added up to 365 days; (c) every fourth year had a leap day added. Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar accordingly.

Posted 1/01/2023

In Ancient Rome during the time of the Republic and into the early Empire, the Paterfamilias (male head of the family) had the power of life and death over everyone in the family: even adult sons had to be given formal “emancipation” before they could make wills, own property, or enter into contracts Posted 6/15/2024

bottom of page