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VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
The Roman Empire, so hot right now. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the craziest little-known facts about ancient Rome! Our countdown of facts about the ancient Roman Empire school doesn't teach you includes Not Everyone Wore Togas, Patricide Was Punished with Poena Cullei, Christians Were Seen as Cannibals, and more!

#10: Not Everyone Wore Togas

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Picture ancient Romans lounging about a triclinium (or dining room). Are you imagining them all in togas? Well, not everyone wore togas. And not all the time. As a symbol of Roman citizenship, togas were generally only worn by free-born, Roman men. They were a no-go for non-citizens, and women wore stolas. The ancient version of a suit and tie, togas were reserved for formal occasions, such as public ceremonies. There were many different types, based on age, status, occupation, and custom. If we just made you overthink your next toga party outfit … well, blame the Romans!

#9: Chariot Racing Crowds Were HUGE

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Mention ancient Roman sports, and for many of us, gladiator contests and the Colosseum are the first things to come to mind. But chariot races had even broader appeal - and bigger crowds. The first and largest stadium for chariot-racing was the Circus Maximus, not far from the Colosseum, which could accommodate an incredible 150,000 spectators! Compare that to Super Bowl stadiums, which generally accommodate between 60,000 to 100,000. Other games and public events also took place in the Circus Maximus, but chariot-racing was the main draw.

#8: Ancient Romans Used Hair Dye

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Do blondes have more fun? Some ancient Roman women thought so. Most Romans had naturally dark hair, and like the Greeks, saw blonde hair as a symbol of youth, beauty, and divinity. It was also associated with ‘barbarians’ to the north, and as such had a certain exotic allure. Blonde hair became common among sex workers, who dyed their hair or wore wigs. Some wealthy Roman women also went blonde. The color could be achieved with saffron and lemon juice. Hair could also be dyed red using henna, or darkened through various means, such as boiled walnut shells, or fermented leeches. Yeah, we’d take the walnuts.

#7: A Horse Was Almost Made Consul … Maybe

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There are plenty of colorful stories about Caligula, who served as Roman Emperor from 37 CE until his assassination just four years later. According to ancient sources, he was an insane tyrant who indulged in sexual perversion and sadism. And he wanted to make his beloved horse, Incitatus, a consul. Allegedly, Incitatus lived in a marble stable and had 18 servants. However, modern scholars generally take these claims with a considerable pinch of salt. This particular story may have been made up to disparage Caligula, or just to excite readers.

#6: Patricide Was Punished with Poena Cullei

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What do a dog, a rooster, a monkey, and a snake have in common? They were all sewn into a sack with an ancient Roman found guilty of killing their father, and thrown into a river or the sea. Yeah, don’t worry if you didn’t guess that one. Known as poena cullei, this punishment is mentioned in legal sources, but how often it was actually carried out is unclear. Reportedly, it saw a revival in medieval Saxony in modern-day Germany, where it was practiced until the first half of the 18th century! What did the poor dog, rooster, monkey, and snake do to deserve all that, you ask? Well, we’d like to know that too!

#5: Public Toilets Were Hangout Spots

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You’d probably walk into one of these … and walk right out. Roman public toilets were way ahead of their time. Many even had running water beneath the seats! But they were a far cry from modern facilities. The latrines were communal - just seats, without partitions. In fact, people would socialize and even conduct business, while they did their business. When, uh, business, was concluded, they’d wipe using a sea sponge on a stick in a bucket of water. We don’t ever want to say ‘pass the sponge’ in a restroom. But in ancient Rome, you wouldn’t have a choice. They might have been great places to seal a deal, but they were also great places to pick up typhoid and cholera.

#4: Fathers Could Sell & Kill Their Children

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Talk about daddy issues - because these dads had issues! In ancient Rome, the oldest living male, or paterfamilias, was considered the head of the household. This patriarchal system even gave him the legal right to sell his children into slavery. Having said that, this would have been a last resort, such in the case of extreme debt. A father could sell his child up to three times. He could also just kill ‘em - although again, this would have been frowned upon, and seldom done. As Roman society developed and norms changed, these patriarchal ‘rights’ were gradually mitigated.

#3: Roman Concrete Can Heal

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Rome was built to last! Even today, Roman structures thousands of years old remain relatively intact. This remarkable durability owes a lot to Roman concrete. The exact composition of Roman concrete remained mysterious until the 2010s, when researchers puzzled out the key ingredients: volcanic ash, lime, and seawater. A mineral called phillipsite in the volcanic ash reacts with seawater to form the crystal tobermorite, which strengthens the concrete and even fills in cracks - effectively ‘healing’ it. While modern concrete is stronger, Roman concrete is more durable, and has a smaller environmental footprint - and proponents are calling for a comeback.

#2: Christians Were Seen as Cannibals

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Early Christians faced persecution in ancient Rome, where they were often regarded as atheists. Public religious rituals were intertwined with civic life and seen as preserving social order. Christians refused to recognize Roman deities, or participate in public religious ceremonies. This aroused suspicion and resentment, and Christians became popular scapegoats. In fact, Christians were even accused of being in a cannibalistic cult. In the Eucharist, the bread and wine that Christians consume symbolizes the body and blood of Christ. Some Christian communities understood this as literal - and so did other Romans, fuelling the cannibal rumors.

#1: Ordinary Folk Couldn’t Wear Purple

Feel like adding a splash of purple to your ensemble? Think a dash of violet would liven things up? Better think again! At least, if you ever find yourself in ancient Rome. Purple was reserved for high-ranking officials and emperors. Why? Because sea snails, of course! Purple dye was extremely expensive, made from the glands of sea snails. In fact, it took thousands of snails just to produce enough dye to color even the trim of a single garment. If you rocked up to a public gathering in purple, ancient Romans would think that you thought you were the emperor. Best just to stick with a plain colored toga … or maybe not a toga, actually … it depends … you might want to look into the details before you time travel! How often do YOU think about the Roman Empire? Tell us honestly in the comments!

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