Seven Odd Things the Romans Used To Do

Daniel Ganninger
May 3, 2023
The Pantheon in Rome

The Romans were incredibly adept and revolutionary with many aspects of their daily lives, but they also had some beliefs and actions that were more on the stranger side. Here’s a quick look at seven of those rather odd items.

Roman Gladiators

Gladiator Blood

The Romans made great strides in medicine and the understanding of the human body, but one such belief went way out on a limb. The Romans believed that consuming the blood of a gladiator, or even their liver, could cure epilepsy, a seizure disorder. When a gladiator was killed, a vendor would even sell their blood outside the venue to anyone who wanted it. After 400 AD, when gladiator combat was prohibited, the Romans turned to those who had been executed, particularly those that had been beheaded, to take the place of the gladiator blood that they believed cured epilepsy.


Being left-handed throughout history has come with its own share of problems. In ancient Rome, it was no different. If a person was left-handed, they were considered untrustworthy or unlucky. The word “sinister” even came from the Latin word that defined “left” but became associated with evil. The Romans actually had no problem with the left side of things in the beginning but eventually came to the Greek way of thinking, who considered the right side to be the lucky side. That’s one reason why a wedding ring is worn on the left side on the third finger. It could ward off all the evil from left-handed people.

roman charms
Roman Charms Vassil/Wikimedia

Good Luck Phallus

The Romans used the phallus, or penis-shaped objects, as good luck charms. They used them in their homes as adornment, wore them as necklaces, and even used them as wind chimes. They were believed to fend off evil spirits and were objects that represented good health and good luck.



The Romans took their use of urine very seriously. Emperor Vespasian in the first century AD even enacted a tax on urine. The urine tax came about because urine was used for cleaning laundry. That made it a commodity like detergent would be today. The ammonia in the urine bleached clothes, so it was gathered from bathhouses to be used and subsequently taxed for its use. The Romans also used urine to clean and whiten their teeth. That same ammonia in urine, like it acted as a bleach for laundry, gave Romans a pearly white smile.

roman bath
Roman Bath


The Romans were well ahead of their time dealing with sewage and used flowing underground water to move waste away from the public bathhouses. The bathhouses of Roman times were public meeting spaces, and they would conduct business while doing their business. There were no stalls like we know today, only a row of places to sit in the room with holes that ran to the sewage system. The Romans would use a sponge on a stick to clean up, which was a public sponge, as only the wealthy had their own private sponges on a stick. It was washed in a gutter that flowed water continuously down near their feet, which made it ready for the next user. Keep in mind that it wasn’t like they had many other options available at the time.


The Romans were indeed hygienic, but they didn’t use soap. They would use perfumed oils and fine sand, which were covered on the skin and then scraped off using a strigil. A strigil was a metal tool with a curved end and a handle, and it scraped the sand and oil from the skin into a channel that was part of the tool.

Dyed Hair

The Romans had many different techniques for dyeing their hair. They would use vinegar, berries, or crushed nutshells. They also used the henna tree, a plant that would produce a reddish-brown dye. One of the stranger concoctions for dyeing hair was made from leeches mixed with vinegar. The mixture would be allowed to ferment, and after two months, they would apply it to their hair. After letting it bake in the sun, it would turn the hair black.