What did ancient Romans use instead of shampoo?

What did ancient Romans use instead of shampoo?

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Urban Romans, we're told, took a bath every day. They did not use soap. Instead, they oiled themselves and scraped off the oil, along with the dirt, with strigils. What did they do about their hair, though? You can't use a strigil on your hair. Simply rinsing it in water would have resulted in plenty of dandruff and not much else: the hair would still be dirty and hanging in greasy strands. What did they use to get it clean?

They used lye soap which is made by combining ashes with lard or other oils and fats. This kind of soap was known from ancient Egyptian times. It was customary in Rome to always wash your hair on August 13th in honor of Diana, but they washed it other times as well, obviously. The Romans bathed a lot and they (especially the women) would wear little caps to prevent any unwanted water or oil from getting into their hair.

Caesar commented on the barbarians he fought in Gaul that they washed their hair with lime water which made it very coarse.

Roman hairstyles

Hairstyle fashion in Rome was ever changing, and particularly in the Roman Imperial Period there were a number of different ways to style hair. As with clothes, there were several hairstyles that were limited to certain people in ancient society. Styles are so distinctive they allow scholars today to create a chronology of Roman portraiture and art we are able to date pictures of the empresses on coins, or identify busts depending on their hairstyles.

Soaps & Detergents History

This history of soap is a long one, dating back thousands of years to Ancient Babylon. Humans have built on that knowledge to create the soaps and detergents we use to clean dishes, laundry, our homes and ourselves today.

Evidence has been found that ancient Babylonians understood soap making as early as 2800 BC Archeologists have found soap-like material in historic clay cylinders from this time. These cylinders were inscribed with what we understand as saying, “fats boiled with ashes” (a method of making soap).

When was soap invented? 2800 BC

Records show ancient Egyptians bathed regularly. The Ebers papyrus, a medical document from about 1500 BC describes combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to form a soap-like material used for treating skin diseases, as well as for washing.

Many other ancient civilizations also used early forms of soap. Soap got its name from an ancient Roman legend about Mount Sapo. Rain would wash down the mountain mixing with animal fat and ashes, resulting in a clay mixture found to make cleaning easier.

By the 7th century, soap-making was an established art in Italy, Spain and France. These countries were early centers of soap manufacturing due to their ready supply of source ingredients, such as oil from olive trees.

But after the fall of Rome in 467 AD, bathing habits declined in much of Europe leading to unsanitary conditions in the Middle Ages. The uncleanliness of that time contributed heavily to illness, including the Black Death, which occurred in the 14th century.

Still there were areas of the medieval world where personal cleanliness remained important. Daily bathing was a common custom in Japan during the Middle Ages in Europe. And in Iceland, pools warmed with water from hot springs were popular gathering places on Saturday evenings.

The English began making soap during the 12th century. Commercial soap making began in the American colonies in 1600, but was for many years a household chore rather than a profession.

It was not until the 17th century that cleanliness and bathing started to come back into fashion in much of Europe, particularly in the wealthier areas.

Well into the 19th century, soap was heavily taxed as a luxury item in several countries. When the tax was removed, soap became available to most people, and cleanliness standards across societies improved.

A major step toward large-scale soap making occurred in 1791 when a French chemist, Nicholas Leblanc, patented a process for making soda ash from common salt. Soda ash is obtained from ashes and can be combined with fat to form soap. This discovery made soap-making one of America's fastest-growing industries by 1850, along with other advancements and development of power to operate factories.

The chemistry of soap manufacturing stayed essentially the same until 1916. During World War I and again in World War II, there was a shortage of animal and vegetable fats and oils that were used in making soap. Chemists had to use other raw materials instead, which were “synthesized” into chemicals with similar properties. These are what are known today as “detergents.”

Today, most things we call “soap” are actually detergents. It has become so common to call detergents “soap,” that most people would be confused if you asked for a “liquid hand detergent” when shopping.


The term "Roman" is typically used interchangeably to describe a historical timespan, a material culture, a geographical location and a personal identity. Though these concepts are obviously related, they are not identical. Although modern historians tend to have a preferred idea of what being Roman meant, so-called Romanitas (a term rarely used in Ancient Rome itself), the idea of "Romanness" was never static or unchanging. [8] What being Roman meant and what Rome itself was would have been viewed considerably different by a Roman under the Roman Republic in the 2nd century BC and a Roman living in Constantinople in the 6th century AD. Even then, some elements remained common throughout much of Roman history. [8]

Unlike other ancient peoples, such as the Greeks or Gauls, the Romans did not see their common identity as one necessarily based on shared language or inherited ethnicity. Instead, the important factors of being Roman were being part of the same larger religious or political community and sharing common customs, values, morals and ways of life. [3] What an individual believed and did was far more important to the concept of Roman identity than bloodlines and shared descent. [4] The key to "Romanness" in the minds of some famous Roman orators, such as Cicero, was keeping with Roman tradition and serving the Roman state. They did not, however, by any means dismiss the importance of blood kinship and its influence on the character of individual Romans to do so would, paradoxically, be un-Roman in itself. Instead, they made frequent appeals to their noble contemporaries to live up to the greatness of their forefathers. [9] Genealogy was typically only invoked by individual illustrious families other important Roman traditions emphasize the collective descent of Rome. Rome was uniquely capable of incorporating other peoples, a sentiment originating from the city of Rome's foundation myths, such as the city functioning as an asylum opened up by Romulus and the rape of the Sabine women, [5] used to represent the commingling of peoples that featured in their city's history from the very beginning. [10] Cicero and other Roman authors sneered at peoples such as the Athenians, who prided themselves in their shared descent, and instead found pride in Rome's status as a "mongrel nation". [6] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian who lived in Roman times, even embellished the multicultural origin of the Romans, writing that Romans had since the foundation of Rome welcomed innumerable immigrants not only from the rest of Italy, but from the entire world, whose cultures merged with theirs. [6]

Though some Roman authors, such as Tacitus and Suetonius, expressed concerns of Roman "blood purity" as Roman citizens from outside of Roman Italy increased in number, their ideas of "purity" differed significantly from modern ideas of race and ethnicity. [11] Voicing their concerns, neither suggested stopping the naturalization of new citizens, but instead limiting the number of citizenships granted. [11] Based on their writings, ancient authors do not appear to have closely associated traits such as physical features or skin color with ideas of blood purity, descent or "race". [11]

Political history Edit

One of the most important aspects of ancient Roman life was warfare the Romans went on military campaigns almost every year, rituals marked the beginning and the end of the campaigning seasons and elections of chief magistrates (commanders of the army) generally took place on the Campus Martius ("Field of Mars", Mars being the Roman god of war). All Roman citizens were liable for military service, with most serving for several years during their youth. All soldiers could earn honors and rewards for valor in battle, though the highest military reward of all, the triumph, was reserved for commanders and generals. [12] Roman warfare was not overwhelmingly successful for the first few centuries of the city's history, with most campaigns being small engagements with the other Latin city-states in the immediate vicinity, but from the middle of the 4th century BC onwards, the Romans won a series of victories which saw them rise to rule all of Italy south of the Po river by 270 BC. Following the conquest of Italy, the Romans waged war against the great powers of their time Carthage to the south and west and the various Hellenistic kingdoms to the east, and by the middle of the second century BC, all rivals had been defeated and Rome became recognized by other countries as the definite masters of the Mediterranean. [13]

Although Roman technological prowess and their ability to adopt strategies and technology from their enemies made their army among the most formidable in the ancient world, the Roman war machine was also made powerful by the vast pool of manpower available for the Roman legions. This manpower derived from the way in which the Romans had organized their conquered land in Italy. By the late 3rd century BC, about a third of the people in Italy south of the Po river had been made Roman citizens (meaning they were liable for military service) and the rest had been made allies, frequently called on to join Roman wars. [13] These allies were eventually made Roman citizens as well after refusal by the Roman government to make them so was met with the Social War, after which Roman citizenship was extended to all the people south of the Po river. [14] In 49 BC, citizenship rights were also extended to the people of Cisalpine Gaul by Julius Caesar. [15]

Though Rome had throughout its history been continually generous with its granting of citizenship than other city states, granting significant rights to peoples of conquered territories, immigrants and their freed slaves, it was only with the Social War that a majority of the people in Italy became recognized as Romans, with the number of Romans rapidly increasing throughout the centuries that followed due to further extensions of citizenship. [15]

Roman citizenship Edit

Though it could be explicitly granted by the Roman people to non-citizens, Roman citizenship (or civitas) was automatically granted to children whose parents consisted of either two Roman citizens or one citizen and one peregrinus ("foreigner") who possessed connubium (the right to a Roman marriage). Citizenship allowed for participation in Roman affairs, such as voting rights. By the time of the 3rd century BC, Romans of all social classes held nominally equal voting rights, though the value of your vote was tied to your personal wealth. In addition to voting rights, citizenship also made citizens eligible for military service and public office, both of these rights also tied to wealth and property qualifications. [16]

The Latin Rights, which originally encompassed Latium but was then extended to encompass most of Italy, ensured that most of the people in Italy enjoyed the benefits of Roman citizenship but lacked voting rights. Because they were bound to Rome and often called upon for military service but lacked the rights of the Roman citizens, Rome's Italian allies rebelled in the Social War, after which the Latin Rights in their traditional sense were more or less abolished in favor of a complete integration of the people in Italy as Romans. [16]

Typically, a non-citizen could acquire Roman citizenship through five different mechanisms:

  • Non-citizens who served in the Roman army were typically granted citizenship. [17]
  • Men without citizenship could obtain it through holding office in cities and other settlements with the Latin right. [17]
  • Specific individuals could be granted citizenship directly. [17]
  • Whole communities could receive "block grants", with all their inhabitants becoming citizens. [17]
  • Slaves freed by Roman citizens became Roman citizens themselves. [17]

Extensions of citizenship Edit

The populace in the early Roman Empire was composed of several groups of distinct legal standing, including the Roman citizens themselves (cives romani), the provincials (provinciales), foreigners (peregrini) and free non-citizens such as freedmen (freed slaves) and slaves. Roman citizens were subject to the Roman legal system while provincials were subject to whatever laws and legal systems had been in place in their area at the time it was annexed by the Romans. Over time, Roman citizenship was gradually extended more and more and there was a regular "siphoning" of people from less privileged legal groups to more privileged groups, increasing the total percentage of subjects recognized as Roman citizens (e.g. Romans) though the incorporation of the provinciales and peregrini. [18]

The Roman Empire's capability to integrate peoples in this way was one of the key elements which ensured its success. In Antiquity, it was significantly easier to become a Roman than it was to become a member or citizen of any other contemporary state. This aspect of the Roman state was seen as important even by some of the emperors. For instance, Emperor Claudius pointed it out when questioned by the senate on admitting Gauls to join the senate:

What else proved fatal to Lacedaemon or Athens, in spite of their power in arms, but their policy of holding the conquered aloof as alien-born? But the sagacity of our own founder Romulus was such that several times he fought and naturalized a people in the course of the same day! [19]

From the Principate onwards, "barbarians" (peoples from beyond Rome's borders) settled and integrated into the Roman world. Such settlers would have been granted certain legal rights simply by being within Roman territory, becoming provinciales and thus being eligible to serve as auxilia (auxiliary soldiers), which in turn made them eligible to become full cives Romani. Through this relatively rapid process, thousands of former barbarians could quickly become Romans. This tradition of straightforward integration eventually culminated in the Antonine Constitution, issued by Emperor Caracalla in 212, in which all free inhabitants of Empire were granted the citizenship. [20] At this point, Roman citizenship in the empire was not as significant as it had been in the republic, chiefly due to the change from a republican to an imperial government invalidating the need for voting rights and because service in the Roman military was no longer compulsory. [16] Caracalla's grant contributed to a vast increase in the number of people with the nomen (name indicating familial association) Aurelius (Caracalla was a nickname for the emperor, whose actual name was Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus). [21]

By the time of Caracalla's edict, there were already many people throughout the provinces who were considered (and considered themselves) Romans through the centuries of Roman expansion large numbers of veterans and opportunists had settled in the provinces. Colonies founded by Julius Caesar and Augustus alone saw between 500.000 and a million people from Italy settled in Rome's provinces. Around the time of Augustus's death, four to seven percent of the free people in the provinces of the empire were Roman citizens. [15] In addition to colonists, many provincials had also become citizens through grants by emperors (who sometimes granted citizenship to individuals, families or cities), holding offices in certain cities or serving in the army. [22]

Romans in Late Antiquity Edit

By Late Antiquity, many inhabitants of the Roman Empire had become Romani, with the term no longer simply being a civic designation for a citizen of the city of Rome, but referred to a citizen of the orbis Romanus, the Roman world. By this time, the city of Rome had lost its exceptional status in the empire. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, definitely one of the Romani, hailing from modern-day Greece, wrote in the 4th century and refers to Rome almost as a foreign city, full of vice and corruption. Few of the Romani probably embodied all aspects of what the term had previously meant, many of them would have come from remote or less prestigious provinces and practiced religions and cults unheard of in Rome itself. Many of them would also have spoken "Barbarian" languages or Greek instead of Latin. [19]

The prelevant view of the Romans themselves was that the populus Romanus, Roman people, represented a "people by constitution" as opposed to Barbarian peoples such as the Franks or Goths, who were described as gentes ("people by descent" ethnicities). To the people of the empire, "Roman" was just one layer of identification, in addition to local identities (similar to local and national identities today, a person from California can identify him/herself as a "Californian" within the context of the United States and an "American" in the context of the world). [19] If a person originated from one of the major imperial regions, such as Gaul or Britannia, one might have been viewed as a Roman, but still distinct from Romans of other major regions. It is clear from the writings of later historians, such as the Gallo-Roman Gregory of Tours, that such lower levels of identity, such as being the citizen of a particular region, province or city, were important within the empire. This importance, combined with there being clearly understood differences between local populations (the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus comments on the difference between "Gauls" and "Italians" for instance) illustrates that there were no fundamental differences between the local Roman identities and the gentes-identities applied to Barbarians, though the Romans themselves would not have seen the two as equivalent concepts. In the late Roman army, there were regiments named after Roman sub-identities (such as "Celts" and "Batavians") as well as regiments named after gentes, such as the Franks or Saxons. [23]

Religion had been an important aspect of Romanitas since Pagan times and as Christianity gradually became the dominant religion in the empire, Pagan aristocrats became aware that power was slipping from their hands as times changed. Some of them began to emphasize that they were the only "true Romans" because they preserved the traditional Roman literary culture and religion. This view enjoyed some support by poets and orators, such as the orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who saw these Pagan aristocrats as preserving the ancient Roman way of life, which would eventually allow Rome to triumph over all of its enemies, as it had before. This movement was met with strong opposition from the leaders of the church in Rome, with some church leaders, such as Ambrose, the Archbishop of Mediolanum, launching formal and vicious assaults on paganism and those members of the elite which defended it. Followers of paganism viewed Rome as the greatest city in the empire because of its glorious Pagan past, and though Christians accepted Rome as a great city, it was great because of its glorious Christian present, not its Pagan past. This gave Romanitas a new Christian element, which would become important in later centuries. Though the city would be important as the source of auctoritas and the self-perception of the imperial elite, it was not as important politically during the late empire as it had been before. [24]

Romans in the post-Roman west Edit

The end of direct imperial control in Western Europe did not mean an end to the Roman identity, which remained somewhat prominent for centuries. [19] The predominant socio-political situation in Western Europe between the death of the last Western emperor, Julius Nepos, in 480 and the wars of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century was a more or less completely Barbarian military but also a more or less completely Roman civil aristocracy and administration, a situation different, but clearly evolved, from the situation that existed in Late Antiquity. The Romans in Western Europe at the time appear to have been somewhat confused they were well aware that the Western Roman Empire was no longer functioning but seem to have been unaware that it had ended. [23]

The Barbarian kings in Western Europe often assumed imperial powers and took over imperial institutions, this practice was especially prominent in Italy since it was the empire's ancient heartland. [25] The early Barbarian kings of Italy, first Odoacer and later Theoderic the Great, acted ostensibly as viceroys to the remaining Roman emperor in Constantinople. Like the Western Roman emperors had done before them, these Barbarian kings continued to appoint western consuls which would in turn be accepted by the emperors in the east and by other Barbarian kings throughout Western Europe. [26] Although the Romans in centuries prior detested kings, a holdover from the anti-monarchical sentiment that had led to the foundation of the Roman Republic almost a thousand years prior, the title of rex, assumed by the Barbarian kings, formed a useful basis of authority that Barbarian rulers could use in diplomacy with other kingdoms and with the surviving imperial court in Constantinople. [23] Though Procopius described it as a "Barbarian term", the title of rex had at points been used to describe the Roman emperors. It clearly indicated that the Barbarian kings held authority, while still continuing the pretense of the rulers effectively being Roman client kings. [27]

Theoderic was careful to maintain the loyalty of his Roman subjects (which represented the majority of the people in his kingdom) and he deliberately likened himself to the old emperors, minting coins in much the same way, wearing purple clothing in public and during official ceremonies and maintained his court at Ravenna in imperial splendor. Theoderic's laws, the Edictum Theoderici, were also clearly connected to Roman law in both content and form. [24] Emperor Anastasius I returned the Western Roman imperial regalia, held in Constantinople since they had been sent there by Odoacer in 476, to Italy, then ruled by Theoderic. [25] These imperial regalia appear to have been worn by Theoderic and there are references by Roman senators to Theoderic as an emperor, indicating that the citizens of Rome itself viewed these Barbarian kings as taking on the traditional role of the emperor. An inscription by Caecina Mavortius Basilius Decius (western consul in 486, Praetorian prefect of Italy 486–493) titles Theoderic as dominus noster gloriosissimus adque inclytus rex Theodericus victor ac triumfator semper Augustus, but Theoderic himself appears to have preferred to title himself simply as "king". [28] Theoderic's unwillingness to assume the imperial title may have been mainly due to being careful not to insult the emperors in Constantinople. [24]

The style dominus noster, previously only used by Roman emperors (since about the 4th century) was used by all of the new Barbarian kings throughout former Roman territory, including prominently by the rulers of Italy. The usual styles were dominus noster rex [name], dominus noster [name] rex or rex [name] dominus noster. Coins of Italian rulers as late as Desiderius ( r . 756–774), the last Lombard king of Italy, use this title formula, titling him as dominus noster Desiderius rex. [29] In contrast to many other Barbarian kings, the rulers of Italy rarely used ethnic qualifiers in their titles (as opposed to, for instance, Frankish kings beginning to use the title rex Francorum rather than just rex). Odoacer and the Ostrogothic kings never assumed any ethnic qualifiers, and the Lombard kings are only titled as rex Langobardorum in legal documents, with royal charters and other sources omitting any ethnic qualifiers. [30] Additionally, some of the Barbarian kings used the praenomen Flavius, borne by virtually all Roman emperors in Late Antiquity. The Frankish kings did not use the name, but it was prominently used by the Visigothic rulers in Hispania and by nearly all Barbarian rulers of Italy, including Odoacer, the Ostrogoths and the Lombards. [31]

Roman law continued to be in use and be important in Western Europe through the early Middle Ages. Both the Visigoths and the Franks issued law collections which either explicitly mention, or presuppose, the existence of a large population of Romans within their territories as Barbarian laws distinguish between the Barbarians who live by their own laws and the Romans, who live by Roman law. [19]

It was still possible to become a "Roman citizen" in the west in the 7th century, as indicated by Visigothic and Frankish works referencing the benefits of doing so. There is preserved letters from both East and West around this time which reference the act of freeing slaves and making them Roman citizens Pope Gregory the Great is recorded as having freed slaves and made them cives Romanos and there is documentation in Bari, part of Byzantine Italy, on a slave who was freed and thus became a politēs Rōmaiōn. Roman status could also be conferred on people who weren't slaves, a 731 law by the Lombard king Liutprand specifies that if a "Roman" married a Lombard wife, that wife and all children of the couple would become Roman and the wife's relatives would no longer have the right to sue her, perhaps an idea which seemed attractive to Lombard women who wanted to escape the control of their relatives. [19]

Possibility of reunification and Justinian's wars Edit

Western Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was not destined to develop into what later historians have referred to as the Dark Ages. One of many possibilities for Europe's future at the time was reunification through military action. In 510, most of Western Europe was under the control of two Barbarian kings Clovis I of the Franks and Theoderic of the Goths. Both of these kings were called by the title Augustus by their Roman subjects, though neither formally adopted the title, and they were poised to war against each other. To their contemporaries, the looming conflict between the Goths and Franks might have looked like the next, perhaps decisive war in the struggle between the Gallic and Italian factions which had dominated inter-imperial relations in the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century (such as the war between Emperor Honorius and the usurper Constantine III). Had the war happened, and been as decisive as other battles in this period typically were, it is likely that the victorious king would have re-established the Western Roman Empire under his own rule. [23]

The war between Theoderic and Clovis never transpired, but the idea that a powerful Barbarian king might restore the Western Roman Empire under Barbarian rule saw the court at Constantinople beginning to emphasize its exclusive Roman legitimacy. Through the remaining part of its thousand-year history, the eastern empire would repeatedly attempt to assert its right to govern the West through military campaigns. A key development was what later historians have termed the "Justiniaic ideological offensive" a re-writing of 5th century history which portrayed the West as lost to barbarian invasions (rather than the true situation, that the Barbarian rulers had been gradually given power by the Western emperors themselves and worked within a fundamentally Roman framework). This ideology is prominently seen in Procopius's Wars and Marcellinus Comes's Chronicle. [23]

A fundamental turning point in what it meant to be Roman was the eastern emperor Justinian I's wars aimed at reconquering the lost provinces of the Western Roman Empire. By the end of his wars (533–555), the Justiniaic ideology that the west was no longer part of the Roman Empire had been asserted. Though Italy and North Africa were restored to imperial control, there could be no doubt in the aftermath of the wars that areas beyond Justinian's authority were no longer part of the Roman Empire and instead remained lost to Barbarians. This resulted in a dramatic decline in Roman identity beyond the regions controlled by the Byzantine Empire and led to the decisive end of the "Roman world" that had existed since the days of the Roman Republic. [23]

The Roman Senate continued to function during Gothic rule of Italy and senators dominated the politics within the city of Rome well into the Gothic Wars, during which the senate in the city eventually disappeared and most of its members moved to Constantinople instead. The Senate as an idea achieved a certain legacy in the west. In Gaul, members of the aristocracy were sometimes identified as "senators" from the 5th century to the 7th century and the Carolingian dynasty claimed to be descended from a former Roman senatorial family. In Spain, references to people of "senatorial stock" appear as late as the 7th century and in Lombard Italy, "Senator" became a personal name, with at least two people known to have had the name in the 8th century. The practice of representing themselves as "the Senate" was revived by the aristocracy within the city of Rome in the 8th century, though the institution itself was not revived. [19]

"Disappearance" of the Romans Edit

There is substantial evidence that the meaning of "Roman" changed significantly during the 6th century. In the East, being Roman became defined not only by loyalty to the emperor but also increasingly by religious orthodoxy (though what that explicitly meant also changed through the ages). The Gothic Wars in Italy had split the Roman elite unto those who supported the Goths and later enjoyed Lombard rule and those who supported the emperor and later withdrew to regions still governed by the empire. With this, Roman identity no longer provided a sense of social cohesion. This, combined with the abolition of the senate in Rome itself, removed groups of people who had previously always set the standard for what "Roman" was supposed to mean. Through the centuries that followed, the division between the non-Roman and Roman parts of the population faded in the west as Roman political unity collapsed. [19]

This decline in people identifying as Romans in the west can be prominently seen in northern Gaul. In the 6th century, the personnel of churches in northern Gaul had been dominated by people with Roman names, for instance only a handful of names of non-Roman and non-Biblical origin are recorded in the episcopal list of Metz from before the year 600, a situation that is reversed after 600 when bishops had predominantly Frankish names. The reason for this change in naming practices might be a change in naming practices in Gaul, that people entering church services no longer adopted Roman names or that the Roman families which had provided the church personnel dropped in status. [23]

In Salic law, produced under Clovis I around the year 500, the Romans and the Franks are two parallel major populations in the Frankish kingdom and although the Franks have somewhat of an advantage, both have well-defined legal statuses. A century later in the Lex Ripuaria, the Romani are just one of many smaller semi-free populations, restricted in their legal capacity. This legal arrangement would have been unthinkable during the rule of the Roman Empire, and even under the reign of Clovis. [23]

Through the Early Middle Ages, the legal significance of having Roman status also faded away in Western Europe and spoken Latin fragmented and split into what would develop into the modern Romance languages. The unifying and sometimes contradictory Roman identity was replaced with local identities based on the region one was from (such as Provence or Aquitania). Where Romans had once been accepted as making up the majority of the population, such as in Hispania and Gaul, they quietly faded away as their descendants accepted other names and identities. [19] The benefit of abandoning the identity as Roman and reverting to more local identities was that local identities were not binary opposed to the identity as a "Frank" or "Goth" and could exist together with them, providing legal advantages that "Roman" no longer did. [23] Furthermore, it is possible that people who identified as "Romans" were victims of anti-Roman sentiments, as experienced by the 7th century Saint Goar of Aquitaine. [a] Although Roman identity would linger on in Western Europe in some places, mostly being restricted to a few minorities in the alpine regions, some residual meanings of "Roman" would remain important through the Middle Ages, such as "Roman" as a citizen of the Byzantine Empire or "Roman" as a citizen of the city of Rome or representative of the Roman Catholic Church. [19]

The significance of being a Roman thus eventually completely disappeared in Western Europe, together with the Roman identity itself. 8th century sources from Salzburg still reference that there was a social group in the city called the Romani tributales but Romans at this time mostly merged with the wider tributales (tributary peoples) distinction rather than having a separate Roman distinction in Frankish documents. Throughout most of former Gaul, the Roman elite which had lingered for centuries merged with the Frankish elite and lost their previously distinct identity and though "Romans" continued to be a dominant identity in regional politics in southern Gaul for a while, the specific references to some individuals as "Romans" or "descendants of Romans" indicates that the Roman status of some people in Gaul was perhaps no longer being taken for granted and needed pointing out. The last groups of Romani in the Frankish realm lingered for some time, especially in Salzburg and Raetia, but seem to fade away in the early 9th century [19] (except for the Romansh people in southeastern Raetia). [32]

By 800, when Charlemagne was crowned as a new Roman emperor in Rome, the first time an emperor was crowned in Rome itself since antiquity, self-identification as a Roman was largely gone in Western Europe. The meaning of the term Romanus had gained a strong religious connotation, which in the late eighth century referred to the Christian Church and Christianity with an unmistakable claim to Christian guidance, a connotation with a strong integrative force of identification and the capacity to expand imperial authority over the entire populus Christianus. [33] Concurrently, the Franks since the later eighth century had adopted the papal habit to consistently call the Byzantines "Greeks", a terminology that provided a useful tool, from a Frankish perspective, to redefine a Western identity that was clearly distinguished from the East by emphasising its own qualities to the detriment of the Byzantines. It thus allowed the Franks to distinguish the Byzantines from their ancient Roman past, and thereby to (re-)connect Western identities with both ancient and present papal Rome. [34] Thus, the name of Rome was to remain a source of power and prestige throughout history, becoming associated with the two most powerful figures of the Catholic Western Europe (the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor). It was also invoked by later aristocratic medieval families, who sometimes proclaimed and were proud of their alleged Roman origins. [19]

Reversion to association with the city of Rome Edit

As the seat of the Pope, the city of Rome continued to hold significance despite the fall of the Western Roman Empire and sack of the city by both the Visigoths and the Vandals. [19] Although the glorious past of Rome was remembered in the Middle Ages, whatever power Rome had once held was completely overshadowed by the city being the seat of the Papal see. In the 6th century writings of Gregory of Tours, Rome is always described as a Christian city, first being mentioned once Saint Peter arrives there. The longest discussion on Rome is about the election of Pope Gregory the Great, and Gregory of Tours appears indifferent to Rome at one point having been the capital of a great empire. [24]

Through the Early Middle Ages, the term Romani became more and more heavily associated by authors in Western Europe with the population of the city itself, or the population of the larger Duchy of Rome. The change from an identity applied to people throughout Italy to an identity applied to the city itself can be pinpointed to the 6th century Cassiodorus, who served the Gothic kings, use the term Romani to describe Roman people across Italy and Pope Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, uses Romani almost exclusively for the people in the city. The Historia Langobardorum, written by Paul the Deacon in the 8th century, postulates that the term civis Romanus ("Roman citizen") is applied solely to someone who either lived in, or was born in, the city of Rome and it could for instance be applied to the Archbishop of Ravenna, Marinianus, only because he had originally been born in Rome. This indicates that the term at some point ceased to generally refer to all the Latin-speaking subjects of the Lombard kings and became restricted to the city itself. [19]

After the Byzantine Empire restored imperial control over Rome, the city had become a peripheral city within the empire. Its importance stemmed from being the seat of the Pope, the first in order among five foremost Patriarchs of the Church, and the city's population was not specially administered and lacked political participation in wider imperial affairs except for its interactions with the papacy. [35] Under Byzantine rule, the Popes often used the fact that they had the backing of the "people of Rome" as a legitimizing factor when clashing with the emperors. The political implications of the name and citizenry of Rome thus remained somewhat important, at least in the eyes of the westerners. [19]

When the temporal power of the popes was established through the foundation of the Papal States (established through the Frankish king Pepin granting control of former Byzantine provinces conquered from the Lombards to the Pope), the population of the city of Rome became a constitutional identity which accompanied and supported the sovereignty of the popes. In the minds of the contemporary popes, the sovereign of the Papal States was Saint Peter, who delegated control to his vicars on Earth, the popes. However, the popes were too deeply rooted in the Roman imperial system to imagine a worldly government established only on religious relationships. As such, the "Romans" became the political body of this new state and the term, once used for all the inhabitants of Byzantine Italy, became increasingly used to exclusively refer to the inhabitants of the city. After Pepin's donations the Popes also revived the concept of respublica Romanorum as something associated with, but distinct from, the Church. In the new version of the idea, the Pope was the lord of the Romans, but the Romans themselves, as citizens of Rome, had a share in the public rights connected to the sovereignty of the city. [35]

Medieval sources on the "Romans" as the people living in Rome are generally quite hostile. The Romans are frequently described as being "as proud as they are helpless" and as speaking the ugliest of all the Italian dialects. Because they repeatedly attempted to take a position independent from the Papacy and/or the Holy Roman Emperors (both of whom were considered as more universal rulers whose policies extended much further than the city itself), the Romans were often seen as intruders in affairs that exceeded their competence. The Roman people were in turn overwhelmingly negatively oriented towards the Franks, whom they identified as "the Gauls". The Frankish emperors from Charlemagne onwards decreed that Frankish law could be used in the courts of their empire when demanded. This soured relations, and Frankish nobility who visited Italy and Rome would often speak in their own Frankish language when they did not want the Romans to understand them. Roman sources from this time typically describe "the Gauls" as vain, aggressive and insolent. The Roman dislike for the Franks sometimes turned into fear, as the Franks would more and more frequently appear outside their gates with armies. [35]

Despite this fear, the population of Rome and people in most other parts of Italy (with the exception of Southern Italy, still under Byzantine influence) saw Charlemagne and his successors as true Roman emperors. [36] The reasons for this were many. Although the Romans accepted that there was continuity between Rome and Constantinople, and saw the Carolingian emperors as having more to do with the Lombard kings of Italy than the ancient Roman emperors, [36] the Byzantines were often seen as Grieci ("Greeks") rather than Romans and were seen as having abandoned Rome, the seat of empire, and lost the Roman way of life and the Latin language thus the empire ruling in Constantinople had not survived, but had fled from its responsibilities. This disconnect shows that the city of Rome and the Byzantines had grown very far apart from each other. [37] To the citizens of Rome and other Italians of the 8th and 9th century, the original Roman Empire was a thing of the past. There definitely used to be an empire, such as during the time of Constantine the Great, but it had now transferred itself to the Eastern Mediterranean and ceased to be properly Roman, now inhabited by "Greeks". Rome was no longer a city of emperors, but was the city of Saint Peter only. A real Roman Empire could have only one capital, Rome, and its possible existence rested on the man who ruled in Rome, the Pope. As such, the new emperors in the West (an office that eventually developed into the Holy Roman emperors) could be emperors only because they were crowned and anointed by the Pope. [36] The support of what was perceived by Western Europe as the populus Romanus was a highly important factor during Charlemagne's coronation. Charlemagne himself actively hoped to suppress the idea of Romani as an ethnicity, in an effort to avoid the possibility of the population of Rome proclaiming an emperor in the same way that the Franks could proclaim a rex Francorum (King of the Franks). [19]

Romans in the Byzantine Empire Edit

In stark contrast to the catastrophic collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire (frequently called the Byzantine Empire by modern historians) survived the 5th century more or less intact and its predominantly Greek-speaking population continued to identify themselves as Romans (Rhomaioi), as they remained inhabitants of the Roman Empire. The name Romania ("land of the Romans"), a later popular designation by the people of the Byzantine Empire for their country, is attested as early as 582 when it was used by the inhabitants of the city of Sirmium for their country. Although rarely expressed as an idea before the 9th century, the earliest mention of the Byzantine Empire as being "Greek" is from the 6th century, written by Bishop Avitus of Vienne in the context of the Frankish king Clovis I's baptism "Let Greece, to be sure, rejoice in having an orthodox ruler, but she is no longer the only one to deserve such a great gift". [19] To the early Byzantines (up until around the 11th century) the term "Greeks" or "Hellenes" was offensive, as it downplayed their Roman nature and furthermore associated them with the ancient Pagan Greeks rather than the more recent Christian Romans. [38]

The idea of the res publica remained an important imperial concept for centuries. In the Frankish king Childebert II's letters to Emperor Maurice, the emperor is called the princeps Romanae reipublicae and through the 6th and 8th centuries, terms such as res publica and sancta res publica was still sometimes applied to the Byzantine Empire by authors in Western Europe. This practice only ceased as Byzantine control over Italy and Rome itself crumbled and "Roman" as a name and concept became more heavily associated by Western authors with the city itself. The use of the term Romani was somewhat similar, usually often used in reference to the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire by early Medieval western authors when not used for the population of the city itself. In Isidore of Seville's History of the Goths, the term Romani refers to the Byzantine Empire and their remaining garrisons in Spain, and the term is never applied to the population of the former western provinces. [19]

References to the Romans as a gens, like the Barbarian gentes, begin to appear around the time of Justinian's conquests. Priscian, a grammarian who was born in Roman North Africa and later lived in Constantinople during the late 5th century and early 6th century, refers in his work to the existence of a gens Romana. Letters written by the Frankish king Childebert II to Emperor Maurice in Constantinople in the 580s talk of the peace between the two "gentes of the Franks and the Romans". The 6th century historian Jordanes, himself identifying as a Roman, refers to the existence of a Roman gens in the title of his work on Roman history, De summa temporum vel de origine actibusque gentis Romanorum. The idea of Romans as a gens like any other didn't become generally accepted in the East until the 11th century. [19] For instance, Emperor Basil I ( r . 867–886) still considered "Roman" to be an identity that was defined as an opposite to being of a Barbarian gens. [37] Before the 11th century, the "Romans" discussed in Byzantine texts usually refer to individuals loyal to the Byzantine emperor who followed Chalcedonian Christianity. As such, the Romans were all the Christian subjects of the emperor. [19]

In the 27th chapter of Emperor Constantine VII's 10th century political treatise De Administrando Imperio, the emperor expressed the idea that the Imperium had been transferred from Rome to Constantinople once Rome stopped being ruled by an emperor. The 12th century historian John Kinnamos expresses similar views, seeing the rights to the imperium as having disappeared from Rome and the west since power passed there from the last Western Roman emperors to Barbarian kings who had no claim to being Roman. As such, the ruler in Constantinople was the sole ruler in Europe who could claim to be a true Roman. As such, the transfer of power from Rome to Constantinople that had begun under Constantine the Great had been finished once the last few Western Roman emperors were dethroned or killed. This view was important in Byzantine ideology as it served as the basis for their idea of unbroken continuity between Rome and Constantinople. [39]

The population within the Byzantine Empire saw themselves as living within the Roman Empire but were aware that their empire was no longer as powerful as it once had been. The 7th century text Doctrina Jacobi, set in Carthage, states that the territory ruled by the Romans had once stretched from Spain in the west to Persia in the east and Africa in the south to Britain in the north, with all the people in it having been subordinated to the Romans by the will of God. Though the old borders were still visible through the presence of monuments erected by the ancient emperors, the author of the Doctrina Jacobi stated that one could now see that the present Roman realm (the Romania) had been humbled. [40]

The losses that the empire had experienced, in particular the loss of the Levant, Egypt, and Northwest Africa in the Muslim conquests in the 7th century, were typically blamed on the heresy of the emperors (e.g. iconoclasm) and the Christians who had once lived in these lost regions ceased to be recognized by the Byzantines as "Romans". This eventually led to "Roman" being applied more to the dominant Greek-speaking population of the remaining empire than to inhabitants of the empire in general. The late 7th century was the first time (in the writings of St. Anastasios the Persian) that Greek, rather than Latin, was referred to as the rhomaisti (Roman way of speaking). [40] In Leo the Deacon's 10th century histories, Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas is described as having settled communities of Armenians, Rhomaioi and other ethnicities on Crete, indicating that Romans by this time were just one of the groups within the empire (for instance alongside the Armenians). [41] By the late 11th century, the transformation of "Roman" to an identity by descent rather than political or religious affiliation was complete, with references to people as "Rhomaios by birth" beginning to appear in the writings of Byzantine historians. The label was now also applied to Greek-speakers outside of the empire's borders, such as the Greek-speaking Christians under Seljuk rule in Anatolia, who were referred to as Rhomaioi despite actively resisting attempts at re-integration by the Byzantine emperors. [42]

Late Byzantine identity Edit

After the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople in 1204 and shattered the Byzantine view of unbroken continuity from Rome to Constantinople, new alternative sources were required for the legitimacy of the Byzantines as Romans. The Byzantine elite thus began to increasingly detach their self-identity from the Roman Empire as a unit and look to Greek cultural heritage and Orthodox Christianity as the markers of what Romans were, and connected the contemporary Romans to the ancient Greeks as the precursors who had once ruled the current homeland of the Romans. Ethnic Romanness became increasingly identified as someone who was ethno-culturally Hellenic, an idea which was taken a step further by Emperors John III and Theodore II (who ruled at Nicaea while the Crusaders and their descendants occupied Constantinople), who stated that the present Rhomaioi were Hellenes, descendants of the Ancient Greeks. [43]

This is not to say that the Byzantines stopped identifying as Romans. The Byzantine view changed from Constantine the Great bestowing the empire to Constantinople to Constantine the Great bestowing the empire to the Hellenes and as such a Roman and a Greek was the same thing. This in no way invalidated them as Romans though the Nicaean emperors explicitly referred to their lands and subjects as Hellenic, they also identified themselves as the only true Roman emperors. "Greek" and "Roman" were not contrasting or distinct identities, but building blocks of the same identity as Rhomaioi. This double-identity lasted beyond the 1261 reconquest of the city under Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos and remained the main view on the issue by the time of the last few Byzantine emperors. In the text Comparison of the Old and the New Rome by Manuel Chrysoloras, addressed to Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, Rome is presented as the mother of the daughter Constantinople, a city founded by the two most wise and powerful peoples in the world, the Romans and the Hellenes, who came together to create a city destined to rule the entire world. [44]

Romans in the Ottoman Empire Edit

Rhomaioi survived the 1453 Fall of Constantinople, the end of the Byzantine Empire, as the primary self-designation for the Christian Greek-speaking inhabitants in the new Turkish Ottoman Empire. The popular historical memory of these Rhomaioi was not occupied with the glorious past of the Roman Empire of old or the Hellenism in the Byzantine Empire, but focused on legends of the fall and the loss of their Christian homeland and Constantinople. One such narrative was the myth that the last emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos (who had died fighting the Ottomans at Constantinople in 1453), would one day return from the dead to reconquer the city. [45]

In the early modern period, an educated, urban-dwelling Turkish-speaker who was not a member of the military-administrative class would often refer to himself neither as an Osmanlı (Ottoman) nor as a Türk (Turk), but rather as a Rūmī (رومى), or "Roman", meaning an inhabitant of the territory of the former Byzantine Empire in the Balkans and Anatolia. [46] Originally, Muslims had used Rūmī to refer to Christians in general, though the term Firangī ("Franks") would later be used for Western Christians, Rūmī becoming restricted to the Byzantines. [47] After the Fall of Constantinople, Rūmī was used to refer to Turkish-speakers by the other Muslim peoples, both within the empire and in other Muslim states. [46] The term Rūm (Rome) was also sometimes used as a name for the Ottoman State. [48] Portuguese sources from the 16th century refer to the Ottomans they battled in the Indian Ocean as "rumes". [48] The Chinese Ming dynasty referred to the Ottomans as Lumi (魯迷), a transliteration of Rūmī, and to Constantinople as Lumi cheng (魯迷城, "Lumi city"). [49] The modern Chinese name for the city of Rome is Luoma (羅馬). [50] As applied to Ottoman Turkish-speakers, Rūmī began to fall out of use at the end of the 17th century, and instead the word increasingly became associated with the Greek population of the empire, a meaning that it still bears in Turkey today. [51]

In the centuries between the Fall of Constantinople and the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829), there was widespread hope and belief that the old empire would eventually be restored, or "resurrected". In the 17th century, the chronicler Gaza Paisios Ligaridis wrote that "it is a great comfort to us thrice-miserable Romans to hear that there shall come a resurrection, a deliverance of our Genos". One prophecy held that the empire would be restored 320 years after Constantinople's conquest, in 1773, but when the ongoing Russo-Turkish war (Russia had for centuries hoped to capture Constantinople, viewed as the symbolical heart of Orthodox Christianity, and "liberate" Greece) at that time fell short of prophetic expectations, many Greek chroniclers commented on their disappointment. Kaisarios Dapontes wrote that "the empire of the Romans will never be resurrected" and Athanasios Komninos-Ypsilantis wrote that "if therefore, in the time appointed by the prophecies, the Romans have not been liberated, then it will be very difficult for the resurrection of the Roman empire to take place". [52]

Happy plants and laughing weeds: how people of the ancient world used – and abused – drugs

The few references to drug taking in the ancient world that do exist are few and far between. Where they do appear, drugs are mentioned in passing, and focus on medicinal and religious aspects, passing hastily over any recreational use. Yet there was an international drug trade as far back as 1000 BC, and archaeology has combined with science to clarify a picture that seems to have been carefully obscured by ancient writers and their later translators.

There were more than a dozen ways of altering reality in the ancient world of the Mediterranean, but two drugs dominated – opium and hemp. Careful investigation over the past two decades has begun to reveal patterns in the use of these drugs, previously unsuspected even by 20th-century Classical historians.

Opium’s emergence

One of the first clues that the ancients considered the poppy to be more than just a pretty plant comes from its prevalent use as a motif on statues and engravings. Archaeologists have found that, as early as 1600 BC, little flasks were being made in the shape of poppy ‘capsules’ – the bulging ball under the flower’s petals that yields opium. The shape of these artificial capsules allowed for a reasonable guess as to what was contained within, but until recently it was impossible to be certain.

In 2018, the journal Science reported that new techniques for analysing the residues in excavated capsules had revealed that the plant material within contained not just opium, but sometimes other psychoactive substances. These jars and capsules have been found throughout the Levant, Egypt and the Middle East. Their uniformity suggests that they were part of an organised system of manufacture and distribution.

Yet even earlier, opium was grown in Mesopotamia. Some researchers have no doubt that the Assyrians were aware of the plant’s properties. Indeed, the Assyrian name of the poppy can be read (depending how one interprets the cuneiform tablets which mention it) as Hul Gil, meaning ‘Happy Plant’.

Jugs containing opium residue have also been found in Egyptian tombs, which is unsurprising given that the poppy was extensively cultivated in Egypt. In the Classical era, the extract of the plant was known as ‘Opium Thebiacum’ after the city of Waset, which the Greeks knew as Thebes. Another version was named Opium Cyrenaicum, a slightly different version of the plant, grown to the west in Libya.

Sleep eternal

There is a highly suggestive passage in Homer’s The Odyssey, in which Helen of Troy dopes wine with a drug “that took away painful memories and the bite of pain and anger. Those who took this drug dissolved in wine could not shed a tear even at the death of a parent. Indeed not even if his brother or son were put to the sword before his eyes”. This drug, said Homer, had been given to Helen by Polydamna, wife of Thon – a woman of Egypt.

The name Thon is significant, because the Roman doctor Galen reports that the Egyptians believed that the use of opium was taught to mankind by the similarly named god Thoth. The Greek writer Dioscorides describes his harvesting technique: “Those who make opium must wait until the dew has dried away to cut lightly with a knife around the top of the plant. They take care not to cut the inside. On the outside of the capsule, cut straight down. As fluid comes out wipe it with a finger onto a spoon. Returning later one can harvest more of the residue after it has thickened, and yet more the following day.

Dioscorides also warns against overdosing. “It kills,” he says bluntly. In fact, many Romans purchased opium for just that reason. Suicide was no sin in the Roman world, and many people suffering from old age and disease chose to instead float from life on a gentle wave of opium. It is unlikely that the Greek divinities Hypnos (the god of sleep) and “anatos (his twin brother, the god of death) are both depicted with wreaths or bouquets of poppies by coincidence. Opium was a common aid to sleep while, writes Greek philosopher Theophrastus, “from the juice of the poppy and hemlock comes easy and painless death”.

The Romans used an opium-based drink called ‘cretic wine’ as a sleep aid, and also ‘mekonion’ from poppy leaves – which was less potent. The opium could be purchased as small tablets in specialist stalls in most marketplaces. In the city of Rome itself, Galen recommends a retailer just off the Via Sacra near the Forum.

In Capua, drug sellers occupied a notorious area called the Seplasia, after which ‘Seplasia’ became a general name for mind-altering drugs, perfumes and unguents. Cicero makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to this, remarking of two dignitaries: “They did not display the moderation usually found in our consuls … their gait and behaviour were worthy of Seplasia.”

6 more ways the ancients altered their reality

Known of as early as 600 BC, Ergot was not taken voluntarily. The fungus was common in rye and sometimes found in other cereals, causing delirium, hallucinations and – frequently – death.

Immortalised in Homer’s The Odyssey, in which the titular hero has to drag his crew from the ‘land of the lotus eaters’. The psychoactive alkaloid in blue lotuses causes mild euphoria and tranquillity, combined with increased libido.

Honey from rhododendron flowers contains neurotoxins that cause altered consciousness, delirium and nausea. It was taken recreationally in Ancient Anatolia and occasionally by careless beekeepers elsewhere.

Pliny described the effects of this plant as similar to drunkenness, when either breathed as smoke or ingested. It was typically taken as part of a cocktail of hallucinogenics for magical or medicinal purposes.

Deadly nightshade

Poets such as Ovid suggest that witches used nightshade in spells and potions. While the most common symptom following consumption is death, carefully measured doses can result in hallucinations that last for days.

Native to the Mediterranean, this species of sea bream produces vivid hallucinations when eaten, and may have been consumed in Ancient Rome.

More than old rope

Hemp has a longer history than opium, brought to Europe before records began. It came from Central Asia along with the mysterious Yamnaya people, and the plant has been in northern and central Europe for over 5,000 years. Doubtless it was appreciated for its uses in making rope and fabric, but braziers have been found containing charred cannabis, which shows that the less practical aspects of the plant were also explored. It is known that the Chinese were cultivating cannabis significantly stronger than the wild plant at least 2,500 years ago, and both the product and knowledge of how to make it would have travelled along the Silk Road.

In the Middle Eastern city of Ebla, in what is now Syria, archaeologists found what appears to have been a large kitchen not far from the city palace. There were eight hearths used for preparations, and pots capable of containing up to 70 litres of finished product.

There were no traces of food remnants, as is usually the case in ancient kitchens analysis of the containers found there leaves little doubt that this room was used solely for the preparation of psychotropic pharmaceuticals. In other words, the ancient world had largescale drug factories 3,000 years ago.

The Greek physician Dioscorides was also familiar with cannabis and reported that extensive use tended to sabotage the user’s sex life, to the point that he recommends using the drug to reduce sexual desire in persons or situations where such impulses might be considered inappropriate. Another Classical author interested in better living through chemistry was Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. His Natural History lists the properties of many plants, among them “laughing weed”, which he says is “intoxifying” when added to wine. Galen describes how hemp was used in social gatherings as an aid to “joy and laughter”. Half a millennium beforehand, Greek historian Herodotus reported something similar.

It appears the Scythian people living near the Black Sea combined business with pleasure. Herodotus – who was an extraordinarily good anthropologist, as well as the world’s first historian – remarks that they made garments of hemp so fine that it was impossible to distinguish them from linen.

“The Scythians thereafter take seeds from the hemp and throw them on red-hot stones, where [they smoulder] and give off fumes,” writes Herodotus. “They cover this with mats and crawl under while fumes emerge so densely that no Greek steam bath could produce more. The Scythians howl with joy at their vapour bath.”

Blind to the truth?

This passage is rather typical of mentions of drug usage in the ancient world. Was Herodotus really so naive that he didn’t recognise the drug’s influence? Or was there a taboo about discussing the subject – either in the Classical world or in the monasteries where the ancient texts were copied and preserved?

It seems strange that while archaeological finds suggest recreational drug use was far from uncommon in antiquity, all references to it are at least as oblique as that of Herodotus, and vanishingly rare in even such cases.

Even medicinal uses of cannabis are hard to find in ancient texts – but are being found now that archaeologists know what to look for. For example, a fourth-century AD Roman tomb of a 14-year-old girl who had died in childbirth was found near the city of Beit Shemesh (near Jerusalem) in the 1990s. A substance found in the skeleton’s abdominal area was assumed to be incense, until scientific analysis revealed it to be tetralydrocannabinol – a component of cannabis. It seems likely that the drug was used to ease the girl’s travails, and eventually to aid her passing from life itself.

When it comes to drugs in ancient world, we need to read between the lines – as is the case with so much of history.

Philip Matyszak has a doctorate in Roman history from St John’s College, Oxford and is the author of many books on classical civilisation.

What did ancient Romans use instead of shampoo? - History

Salvete Omnes! With the start of the new year there are plenty of us who have made some New Year’s Resolutions. One of the most popular resolutions people make today is the resolution to either lose weight or to spend more time on fitness. So, while this subject is on some of our minds, let us look at the different ways the Ancient Romans thought about weight, health, fitness, and exercise.

Mosaic floor with slaves serving at a banquet, found in Dougga (3rd century AD). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Ancient Romans were, of course, generally thinner than the average man or woman today. Citizens of the Ancient Roman Empire ranged in economic classes, but many of those who lived in the lower, more populous, economic strata might have found it to be something of a challenge or a chore to locate the food for the day. Ancient Romans typically ate cereals, fruits, vegetables, and sauces. It was very difficult for many Romans to find meat for their meals. The consumption of meat was something that made festivals and the days following ceremonial sacrifices, of which there were many, even more extravagant and fun for the typical Roman. During festivals and after sacrifices for offerings, Ancient Romans could partake in more meat than any other times. Otherwise, the Romans typically had diets consisting of produce, sauces, and grains.

Galen and Obesity

GALEN Engraving: ‘portrait’ of Galen, head and shoulders by G. P. Busch, n.d. S 10 S 10. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although we would not necessarily think of Ancient Rome, or most Ancient civilizations, as having the environments to promote weight gain, if the historian thinks back to the lavish festivals and banquets of Ancient Rome it might not actually be that difficult to conceive of excessive weight gain in the incredibly rich heart of the empire .

Galen was a Greek physician who had settled in Ancient Rome to practice and learn more about the human body. Galen is one of the first physicians, while working in Ancient Rome, to investigate the conditions of obesity, particularly, the condition we would call “morbid obesity”.

Pliny the Elder on Weight Loss

After talking about the state of weight gain in Ancient Rome, it could be enlightening to see how Ancient Romans sought to reduce their body mass.

According to Pliny the Elder, who was aware of the fact that many people wanted to put on pounds, gave a tip for everyone. He says “To put on weight (corpus augere) drink wine during meals.
For those who are slimming (minuentibus), avoid drinking wine during meals.”

He also remarks that “A civilised life is impossible without salt.”

Seneca the Younger and Exercise

Seneca, part of double-herm in Antikensammlung Berlin. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Seneca the Younger, on the other hand, was completely devoted to his philosophical pursuits. He would rather spend his time working with his mind instead of his body. For anyone who is not a fan of exercising might want to fulfill their New Year’s resolution by following the “Seneca the Younger Workout Routine”.

Seneca the Younger scorned exercising for long periods of time. He believed it was a waste of time. Time that could be better spent philosophizing. He said, “There are short and simple exercises which will tire the body without undue delay,” he conceded, “[such as] running, swinging weights about, and jumping—either high jumping or low jumping… But whatever you do, return from body to mind very soon.”

So, if you wanted a low-stress workout routine maybe a short running or swimming session followed by some philosophizing on the nature of New Year’s resolutions is best for you.

Gladiators and Fitness

The Gladiator Mosaic, on display at the Galleria Borghese, is one of the earliest known examples of contemporary art with gladiators as subjects. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re more concerned with getting fit and gaining muscle mass you are probably more curious about the ancient warriors and how they gained muscle to give their hits more impact in the ring. Besides soldiers, there were men who made and earned their literal “living” by fighting for their lives and staying fit was a very important part of ensuring that. So gladiators had tough workout routines and schedule to observe very closely.

Different ludi (gladiator schools) organized their training regimens differently, however at the time of the Roman Empire, the most popular organization of training was based on the “tetrad” system developed by the Ancient Greeks. This divided training into 4-day cycles:

  • Day 1 – day of preparation, which consisted of toning and short, high intensity workouts
  • Day 2 – day of high intensity, which consisted of long, strenuous exercise
  • Day 3 – day of rest (short, very light workouts were also done, but it was mostly about resting)
  • Day 4 – day of medium intensity

Thankfully, our lives do not rely on our New Year’s resolutions so if you are more of a Seneca than a gladiator you can rest easy on your days off from exercising and instead work your brain on studying your Latin!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.


The original showers were neither indoor structures nor man-made but were common natural formations: waterfalls. [3] The falling water rinsed the bathers completely clean and was more efficient than bathing in a traditional basin, which required manual transport of both fresh and waste water. Ancient people began to reproduce these natural phenomena by pouring jugs of water, often very cold, over themselves after washing. There has been evidence of early upper class Egyptian and Mesopotamians having indoor shower rooms where servants would bathe them in the privacy of their own homes. [4] However, these were rudimentary by modern standards, having rudimentary drainage systems and water was carried, not pumped, into the room. The ancient Greeks were the first people to have showers. Their aqueducts and sewage systems made of lead pipes allowed water to be pumped both into and out of large communal shower rooms used by elites and common citizens alike. [5] These rooms have been discovered at the site of the city Pergamum and can also be found represented in pottery of the era. The depictions are very similar to modern locker room showers, and even included bars to hang up clothing. [6] [ page needed ] The ancient Romans also followed this convention their famous bathhouses (Thermae) can be found all around the Mediterranean and as far out as modern-day England. The Romans not only had these showers but also believed in bathing multiple times a week, if not every day. The water and sewage systems developed by the Greeks and Romans broke down and fell out of use after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Modern showers

The first mechanical shower, operated by a hand pump, was patented in England in 1767 by William Feetham, [ citation needed ] a stove maker from Ludgate Hill in London. His shower contraption used a pump to force the water into a vessel above the user's head and a chain would then be pulled to release the water from the vessel. Although the system dispensed with the servant labour of filling up and pouring out buckets of water, the showers failed to catch on with the rich as a method for piping hot water through the system was not available. The system would also recycle the same dirty water through every cycle.

This early start was greatly improved in the anonymously invented English Regency shower design of circa 1810 (there is some ambiguity among the sources). [3] The original design was over 10 feet (3 m) tall, and was made of several metal pipes painted to look like bamboo. A basin suspended above the pipes fed water into a nozzle that distributed the water over the user's shoulders. The water on the ground was drained and pumped back through the pipes into the basin, where the cycle would repeat itself. [ citation needed ] The original prototype was steadily improved upon in the following decades until it began to approximate the shower of today in its mode of operation. Hand-pumped models became fashionable at one point as well as the use of adjustable sprayers for different water flow. The reinvention of reliable indoor plumbing around 1850 [7] allowed free-standing showers to be connected to a running water source, supplying a renewable flow of water. [ citation needed ] Modern showers were installed in the barracks of the French army in the 1870s as an economic hygiene measure, under the guidance of François Merry Delabost, a French doctor and inventor. [8] As surgeon-general at Bonne Nouvelle prison in Rouen, Delabost had previously replaced individual baths with mandatory communal showers for use by prisoners, arguing that they were more economical and hygienic. [9] First six, then eight shower stalls were installed. The water was heated by a steam engine and in less than five minutes, up to eight prisoners could wash simultaneously with only twenty liters of water. The French system of communal showers was adopted by other armies, the first being that of Prussia in 1879, and by prisons in other jurisdictions. They were also adopted by boarding schools, before being installed in public bathhouses. The first shower in a public bathhouse was in 1887 in Vienna, Austria. In France, public bathhouses and showers were established by Charles Cazalet, firstly in Bordeaux in 1893 and then in Paris in 1899. [10]


Domestic showers are most commonly stall showers or showers over a bathtub. A stall shower is a dedicated shower area which uses a door or curtain to contain water spray. The shower over a bathtub saves bathroom space and enables the area to be used for either a bath or a shower and commonly uses a sliding shower curtain to contain the water spray. Showers may also be in a wet room, in which there is no contained shower area, or in a dedicated shower room, which does not require containment of water spray. Most domestic showers have a single overhead shower head, which may be adjustable.


Many modern athletic and aquatic facilities provide showers for use by patrons, commonly in gender segregated changing rooms. These can be in the form of individual stalls shielded by curtains or a door or communal shower rooms. The latter are generally large open rooms with any number of shower heads installed either directly into the walls or on posts throughout the shower area. Open showers are often provided at public swimming pools and at popular beaches. Military forces around the world set up field showers to enable the washing away of dangerous residue from modern weapons such as caustic chemicals, deadly biological agents, and radioactive materials, which can harm forces on both sides of a conflict. [11]

5. Sauces and Spices

The ancient Romans were inexplicably fond of sauces and spices with their meals. For the poor Romans, meals were bland and consisted of the boiled paste of available staples like wheat, barley, and vegetables. So adding a little sauce and spice into the mix helped them have a cuisine that excited the taste buds. Again, a rich Roman’s dining habits included pretty much every popular variety of sauce and exotic spice he could purchase.

One fish-based sauce by the name of garum was particularly famous among the Romans. They would first make a brine of fish intestines, then crush the mixture and leave it to ferment for weeks until it was ready to serve. They also used a wide range of spices such as pine kernels, leeks, celery seeds, parsley, capons, dried mint, safflower, coriander, dates, honey, vinegar, and broth to season their food.

From Seashells to Communal Sponges

Through history, local customs and climate often dictated how anal hygiene was carried out. Social hierarchy also had in impact on toilet habits. What’s clear is that humans in all time periods have used a variety of natural tools and materials to clean themselves. In very ancient times, wiping with stones and other natural materials and rinsing with water or snow was common. Some cultures opted for seashells and animal furs.

A sponge on a stick, known as tersorium or xylospongium.

“The most famous example of ancient ‘toilet paper’ comes from the Roman world [during the first century A.D.] and Seneca&aposs story about the gladiator who killed himself by going into a toilet and shoving the communal sponge on a stick down his throat,” says Erica Rowan, an environmental archaeologist and a lecturer in classical archaeology at the University of London. The sponges, known as tersoriums, may have been used once or cleaned in a bucket of vinegar or salt water and reused, or they may have been used more like toilet brushes than toilet paper.

Beyond the communal sponge, Greco-Romans also used moss or leaves and pieces of ceramic known as pessoi to perform cleansing. Pieces of pessoi may have started as ostraca, broken bits of pottery that often had the names of enemies inscribed on them𠅊 proverbial way to soil upon adversaries. 

Small fragments of cloth found in a sewer in Herculaneum, Italy, one of the towns buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., could have been used as another form of toilet paper, although Rowan points out, 𠇌loth was made by hand in antiquity so using cloth to wipe your bum would have been quite a decadent activity. It&aposs the equivalent to using the softest and most expensive three-ply today.”

In 1992, archaeologists discovered 2,000-year-old hygiene sticks, known as salaka, cechou and chugi, in latrines at Xuanquanzhi, a former Han Dynasty military base in China that existed along the Silk Road. The instruments, cut from bamboo and other wood, resembled spatulas. The ends were wrapped in cloth and contained traces of preserved fecal matter.

Ancient Roman Flag

There was no such thing as an Ancient Roman Flag. What the Romans used instead of a flag were battle standards of various sorts and forms. Many public buildings had inscriptions on their facades. The letters S.P.Q.R. Senatus PopulusQue Romanus stood to tell everyone that what they had before them belonged to the Senate and [&hellip]



There was no such thing as an Ancient Roman Flag. What the Romans used instead of a flag were battle standards of various sorts and forms. Many public buildings had inscriptions on their facades. The letters S.P.Q.R. Senatus PopulusQue Romanus stood to tell everyone that what they had before them belonged to the Senate and the People of Rome.

Ships used no flag either and given the relative similarity of the vessels of different cultures such as Roman, Greek and Carthaginian distinction between them was by means of a statue at the front or indeed up on the mast.

The Romans did make extensive use of symbols and banners, particularly for military purposes to rally the troops. These had a particular and almost mystical significance so much so that when they were lost in failed military campaigns great efforts would be placed into retrieving them, preferably by winning them back.

The military insignia would be held by nominated individuals called “signifer” within each century, there were therefore two such men within each manipulus, 60 in a legion. In fact, before joining battle, each centurion would nominate a backup signifer to ensure there was always someone ready to hold the standard.

Initially it is likely that these insignia were not so much a flag but rather a bundle of straw tied to the top of a post. Gradually this evolved into a broad variety of symbols and shapes such as eagles, hands (manus) and other to denote the specific manipulus to which that standard belonged.

Watch the video: Die Sklaven im Römischen Reich (August 2022).