7 Odd Things the Romans Used To Do

August 23, 2015

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

Gladiator Blood
The Romans made great strides in the area of medicine and the understanding of the human body, but one such belief went way out on a limb.  The Romans believed that by 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.

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.

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 the 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.

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 bath houses 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, just like it acted as a bleach for laundry, gave Romans a pearly white smile.

The Romans were well ahead of their time in 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.  To clean up, the Romans would use a sponge on a stick, 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 that were covered on the skin and then scraped off using a strigil to clean up.  A strigil was a metal tool with a curved end and a handle they would use to get rid of dirt and oil from the skin.

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.

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Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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