If you’re visiting Rome or simply want to know the most interesting facts about Rome, we’ve put together this list for you the astonishing facts to spark your interest in Rome. Rome is magnificent city with a rich, long and complicated history spanning 3 Millennia! Choosing 50 facts about Rome is easy. The challenge is narrowing them down to the most important! Our team of Roman historians got together and boiled it down to our 50 favourite Rome facts. Taa-daa!
Facts about Rome 1-10
1. Rome was the first city in the world to record a population of 1 million. The first census was in the 2nd Century BC. This mass of a million people came from 3 different continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. The next city in Europe to have a population of this size was Victorian London in the 19th Century!
2. There were over 200 amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, but the largest was the Colosseum, built in Rome in 80AD. It took just 8 years to construct the Colosseum. It was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre and in its prime, held up to 85,000 bloodthirsty spectators.
3. The Colosseum is a nickname given to the stadium long after its use – the first written evidence of the name we have is the Venerable Bede in the 7th Century CE. Originally, it was called the Flavian Amphitheatre because it was built by the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian). Back in the day most Romans would have just called it the emperors amphitheatre.
4. Rome dominated Europe for over 700 years – not to mention areas of north Africa and Asia as well. By the end the Roman Empire it amounted to just over 2 million² miles and it stretched all the way from Syria over to Scotland. The Emperor Hadrian tried to conquer Scotland but failed. It was extremely cold and the native people terrified the Romans with their guerrilla tactics… Subsequently, he built a giant wall across the top of England to keep the barbaric Scots out.
5. Rome’s birthday is the 21st of April 753bc first mentioned by Varro in the 1st century BC. We know from archaeological evidence that people before that date. Nevertheless, the city comes alive on the 21st of April every year. People flock to the historical centre in honour of Roman tradition and celebrate Rome’s birthday to pay homage to their ancient ancestors.
6. The Cloaca Maxima is the first complex sewer system in the world which was located in Rome. The origins of the Cloaca Maxima go all the way back to the 6th Century; however, it wasn’t very complex in the beginning. It was an outdoor ditch which helped drain the Forum when there were floods. Over time it was rebuilt and scaled up until it provided sewage most of the ancient city. Not to residential houses though… for things like the Emperor’s Palace, Bathhouses, and Public lavatories.
7. Rome is the only city in the world that has another country inside it. Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world covering an area of just 44 hectares; nestled right in the heart of Rome. Governed by the Pope and has a population of just over 800, its own army, its own currency and its own post office!
8. Italy is an extremely new country… It was only founded in 1871 when the Italian army took Rome back from the Pope. Italy’s first king was Vittorio Emanuele I. Before this, the peninsula was made up of city states governed by the Pope, Spain, France, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
9. Rome’s History can be broken down into three periods. The regal period which dates from the city’s beginnings. The Republic 509-27BC, when Rome was governed by elected officials – senators and the consuls. The Imperial period 27bc-476ad when Rome was ruled by the Emperors. They still had a senate but in comparison to the Republic the politicians had very little power and their main role was the administration of the Empire.
10. During the imperial period, which lasted over 500 years, more than 70 emperors ruled. In the year 69ad four emperors ruled but the Emperor who ruled the longest was in fact, the first. Augustus ruled Rome for 44 years and maintained peace for a whopping 30 years. Another record for the Empire!
Facts about Rome 11-20
12. Rome had the first legal system. Known as the Twelve Tables these were first written down in the 5th Century BC. By the 3rd Century BC there were many written laws. The Romans can be called the fathers of bureaucracy as many who live in the modern city of Rome can confirm.
13. The Roman’s loved a victory, as anyone who has been to Rome knows from the numerous arches. In Rome it was called a Triumph and included an extravagant parade and a street party that could last for days. In the beginning Triumphs were given to generals and later exclusively to victorious emperors.
14. Ancient Rome was home to the largest stadium ever built in its day. And it isn’t the Colosseum. The Romans were obsessed with entertainment and the most popular was chariot racing. The Circus Maximus was the chariot racing track in Rome, dating back to the 6th Century BC. Far larger to the Colosseum and open to a wider section of the population, including women. By the 2nd Century AD, it is estimated that Circus Maximus could hold 250,000 people on race day. That is a quarter of the population of Rome in one place at one time!
15. Ancient Rome was a patriarchal society, in fact women weren’t even considered citizens. On the hand they were treated like second class citizens, they couldn’t attend political assembles or vote and were under the control of their fathers or their husbands. However, on the other hand, thanks to Roman law, in some ways, women were more emancipated than in some cultures today. They could own their own property, inherit money, and divorce.
16. Rome was the first society to have a free grain allowance for its citizens – and not just for the poor. To be eligible for the ‘grain dole’ for you had to be a Roman citizen. Records tell us that as many as 200,000 citizens benefitted from this. Feeding the city of Rome would become a major problem for the Empire. With countries like Sicily, Sardinia, Spain and Egypt dedicated to growing grain for the city of Rome.
17. Julius Caesar was never an emperor. He was a powerful general who would eventually rule as a dictator (emergency leader in times of war). However, he was perhaps the first Roman to have almost sole control of the Empire. After his death he was deified (made into a god). His name thereafter would become synonymous with the title of Emperor. Later many emperors used Caesar in their titles.
18. According to tradition St Peter, apostle to Jesus, was executed in Rome by the Emperor Nero in 64CE. Nero was trying to avert blame for the great fire that destroyed the city in 64ad. Writers of the time claim Nero blamed the Christians and executed them in his stadium (which today lies underneath Vatican City). St Peters Basilica lies on top of the circus and what is believed to be Peter’s final resting place.
19. The trade in wild animals became big business in Rome! Way before the Romans started watching gladiators, they held wild animal hunts in the forum, the Circus Maximus, and later in the amphitheatres. Fun fact: the first Elephant was displayed in Pompey’s theatre in 56 BC. The Venationes were a real, live animal hunt. People particularly loved to see exotic animals coming from far flung places. Like lions, tigers, crocodiles and ostriches.
20. The Appian Way was the first paved highway in Europe, constructed in 312bc from Rome to Capua and later down to the end of the boot. It was designed to facilitate the movement of men and goods, originally used by government officials and troops. By the time of Augustus in the 1st century ad a vast road network spread through Italy to North Africa.
Facts about Rome 21-30
21. Having a luxury tomb became a fashion symbol in ancient Rome. By the first century ad large ornate tombs had started to be built. The Romans spent a fortune on their Mausoleums and tombs which were placed on the side of main roads. Why? They wanted to be remembered and so their tombs were grand to show off their status and to tell their story to the people that passed by. Like the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way and the pyramid of Gaius Cestius on via Ostiense.
22. Rome has been a city of water for over 2000 years. Early on the Romans concentrated on bringing fresh water into the city, to drink and to bathe. Ancient Rome boasted more than 2,300 fountains and had numerous public baths. By the 1st Century AD, the wealthy could pay for water to be brought to their houses in lead pipes. The Emperor Domitian had huge spurting fountains on the Palatine Hill that would rival those of Las Vegas today.
23. Today the modern city of Rome still supplies water for free to the public. There are over 2,000 fountains, grand, elegant ones like the Trevi Fountain to small drinking fountains known as nasone. The Nasone (big nose) are drinking fountains with a pipe that resembles a big nose, they are dotted around the city and there is even an app to find the nearest water supply!
24. The Romans were the cleanest civilisation in their day. Everyone else had lice. Early on the Romans realised keeping yourself clean relates to good health. They are the inventors of the modern Spa and took their baths seriously. Sana Per Acquam (Health through water). Took their public baths seriously and built the ones in Rome of grand proportions. In ancient times most people used the public toilets and baths because they couldn’t afford plumbing at home. The baths were accessible to all members of society and huge complexes were built with luxurious facilities.
25. Rome was full of ancient skyscrapers. Rome’s image is often aggrandised. We often think impressive temples and elaborate villas. But most of the population lived in ancient apartment blocks called Insula that were upto 7 floors high. Unlike today, the conditions on the highest floor were the most cramped and a fire hazard because they were made of wood. There could be as many as 100 to 200 steps to the top of the building…. That’s a long way down for a trip to the toilet.
26. We still use Roman numbers today! The Roman numeral was not only invented in Ancient Rome but used all over Europe into the middle ages. Roman numerals are used on clock faces and are still taught in schools today. They are adapted from the Latin alphabet, also invented by the Romans
27. The Romans knew their current affairs. Dating back to 1st century BCE the Romans started display news in the roman forum. News like the Senate’s debates, people’s assemblies, court trials, executions, marine and military news, and even weddings, births and obituaries were included. These could be painted on walls or if they were important edicts from the senate or the emperor they were etched into stone and displayed for everyone to see.
28. The Romans had hundreds of gods. The Ancient Romans were polytheistic which basically means they worshipped multiple gods for different reasons. Mars was the Roman God of War. Jupiter was the king of the gods. They even went as far as adopting gods from other cultures like the Greek and Egyptian gods and often renamed them. Isis was an Egyptian goddess whose worship spread throughout the Roman world, like Mithras who came from Persia but protected Roman soldiers from Hadrian’s wall to the Eastern empire.
29. The Romans died from bad air. Malaria was rife in Rome in ancient times, and was the biggest killer up until the 20th Century. Malaria literally means bad air (mal-bad, aria-air). The ancient Romans knew that September and October brought the bad air. Little did they know it was the mosquitoes who thrived in the humid conditions.
30. Roman slaves were protected by law and could actually buy their freedom. Unlike more recent forms of slavery, Roman slaves were paid a small amount of money given board and lodgings. Over time if they could save enough money, they could buy their freedom. Many slaves were granted freedom by their masters for services well done. Freed slaves often went on to become successful businessmen with the help of their masters
Facts about Rome 31-40
31. All roads lead to Rome. The Roman’s reinvented the road by literally constructing it. Roads had been in use by other civilizations going back to the Bronze Age. But they weren’t paved. Roman roads were 10ft deep and layered with stone, sand, gravel and topped with volcanic rock. They were extremely resistant and dead straight. Many of the modern highways throughout Europe today are built on top of Roman roads.
32. The Romans invented the first aqueduct the Aqua Appia in 312 BCE which brought water into the city through underground pipes. The aqueducts brought water from mountain streams and rivers as far as a 100kms away. They became so important to the Romans that over time there were 11 major aqueducts constructed bringing water into Rome. Not to mention the hundreds that were constructed throughout the Roman Empire – many of which still stand today!
33. The Trevi Fountain is supplied by an Ancient Aqueduct. The Aqua Vergine was constructed in 19bc over 2000 years ago. 15 kilometres of it still survive today underground. The Trevi Fountain sits on top of where the aqueduct ended. There has always been a fountain on the site. The water of the Aqua Vergine was considered the cleanest and freshest in ancient Rome.
34. The Romans had underfloor heating. It wasn’t quite central heating as we know it today, but was based on the same idea. Hot air was heated by a furnace and distributed underneath the floor by terracotta pipes. This was called a hypocaust system and the same principle was also used for the Baths. On the palatine hill in Domitian’s Palace pieces of the Hypocaust can still be seen underneath a coloured marble floor.
35. St Peter’s Basilica is the tallest building in Rome. The top of the ball on Michelangelo’s dome is 136.6 metres high. No building in the city of Rome can be higher. However, this law was made when the city was enclosed by the ancient roman walls. Outside the walls there are some modern skyscrapers but still today no building can top the basilica.
36. Not all Romans were born in Rome. You could be a Roman citizen and never go to Rome. Thanks to the Empire there was a constant influx of people coming to Rome from the outside world. If you adopted Roman virtues and went through the right legal processes it was possible to become a roman citizen.
37. Rome’s mortality rate was much higher than its birth rate. Although the Romans had lots of children more than half of them were dead by the age of 2. In fact, Rome was filled with teenagers as the average life expectancy was between 25 and 30. Women mostly died in child birth and infant mortality was high. Disease, seasonal illness, an accident, or even a simple tummy ache could be deadly.
38. Romans loved fast food. Most of the population lived in overcrowded accommodation without cooking facilities. Unlike today it was the lowest level of society that ate out the most. There were numerous take-outs in Ancient Rome like the thermopolia, snack bars where you could buy hot take-away food, and popina, middle class wine bars.
39. Gambling was popular ancient Rome. In a society where lots of people were very poor, everyone hoped for a big win! Whether it was betting on their favourite Charioteer at the Circus Maximus or their favourite gladiator in the Colosseum; or betting on dice and knucklebones the Romans loved to gamble. Not only did they like to gamble, they cheated too! Weighted dice have been found and can be seen in Naples Archaeological Museum and games boards have been found scratched into the seating of the Colosseum, paving on the Roman Forum, anywhere where people had time to waste
40. Ancient Rome wasn’t as white classically white as we imagine. In fact, it was bad taste colour everywhere! Columns and statues were brightly coloured. Today when we visit museums all we see is white marble because the paint has washed off over the centuries. The Romans made colours using organic materials (plants and minerals). The trade routes from the East brought exciting new colours. Blue was one of the most sought after even upto the 1500’s and it came from Lapis lazuli from Egypt and Afghanistan. Purple was extremely and expensive and could only be worn by those of high status
Facts about Rome 41-50
41. The Romans wore Togas to show their status. Togas worn by everyone and they weren’t worn daily. Togas were a status symbol showing your rank in Roman society. If you were senior you could wear a purple stripe on your Toga. The width of the purple strip depended on how important you were. Only the Emperor could wear a purple toga.
42. The ancient Romans had a stadium for naval battles! Naumachia were spectacles with full size ships that re-enacted famous sea battles. The first naumachia in Rome was hosted by Julius Caesar in 46CE to celebrate his quadruple triumph. Later, Augustus would build the stagnum, a permanent stadium filled with water in the modern-day neighbourhood of Trastevere. These legendary Sea Battles were the most costly of all the games and were only held occasionally.
43. Rome has more churches than any other city in the world. Within the ancient city walls there are over 300, but the number in the extended city is over 900. This may not come as a surprise considering Rome is heart of Christendom. The papal basilicas are the most important and they were built by Constantine in the 4th century when he legalized Christianity.
44. The Romans gave us our calendar. In 46BC when Julius Caesar was in Alexandria, he marvelled at their calendar which was based on the solar year. After Caesar’s trip he instated the new Julian calendar which would be 365 days with an extra day at the end of February every 4 years – the leap year! It wasn’t until after Caesars death that a month was named after him. Originally July was actually named Quintilius.
45. Ancient Rome had a fire brigade. Apart from the grand temples, Rome was mostly made of timber, especially on the upper floors of apartments and fires frequently devastated the city. In 22BC Augustus created the first fire brigade, dedicating 600 slaves to protect the city. The worst fires in Rome’s history occurred under Nero in 64AD and Domitian in 80AD and they destroyed large parts of Rome.
46. The Romans washed their clothes with urine. Just like us today, the Romans needed ammonia to bleach and deep-clean their clothes. Laundries called Fullonica provided this service. Urine is a natural source of ammonia and so was in demand by the laundries. The Emperor Vespasian was a particularly shrewd manager of imperial finances. After noticing that laundries were collecting free urine (by leaving a chamber pot outside for passers-by to pee in), he introduced a tax on urine. When someone complained that he was taxing urine, he famously said “Pecunia non olet – Money doesn’t smell”.
47. The first palace ever built was in Rome. The name for a huge, grand residence today is palace, which comes from the first grand houses ever built on the Palatine Hill. Today the word palace and the adjective palatial recall the grand, stately homes of the early emperors. In fact, Domitian later kicked everyone else off of the hill reserving the palatine hill only for himself.
48. Rome is an archaeological lasagne. Ever wondered why archaeology is so deep underground? Because over time the ground level of any city rises, particularly in Rome because of the river. Frequent floods over millennia have changed the ground level of Rome. Every time the city flooded, the water deposited silt, mud and muck all over the city. When it dried the ground, level was higher and so new roads were paved on top. If we dig down through the modern city, we will find layers and layers of time, perfectly preserved.
49. The pantheon in Rome is the most unique Roman building that survives, it is the only one of its kind in the world! It is famous for its enormous, unsupported concrete dome with a huge hole in the middle. Pantheon was a nickname for the building, (pan=all, Theos=God) we have no idea what its original name was. Many people say it was a temple to all the gods referring to statues of the gods that were displayed inside, but there is no other temple to all the gods in the Roman world.
50. Rome has the largest number of catacombs in the world. These underground tunnels, dug by the first Christians were to bury their dead. There are more than 60 Catacomb complexes (that we know of) stretching over 400 kilometres under the suburbs. If we lined them up end-to-end, we could get to Florence and back underground!
51. The city of Rome has more Obelisks than the whole of Egypt! After Cleopatra and her lover, the Roman general Anthony were defeated, Egypt became Roman territory. The Obelisks were a symbol of power for the Egyptian pharaohs, they represented a ray of sun from the sun-god Ra. They were brought to Rome by the emperors to decorate the city and the stadiums, they were even used as time-pieces, acting as a huge sundial. Many of the 53 obelisks stolen by the Romans are lost, buried under the modern city – but still today, 13 obelisks, large and small, decorate the city.