12 Fascinating Facts About Ancient Civilizations That Even History Lovers Might Not Know

year ago

Everything we see from Hollywood about historical events or past civilizations needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Although film sets often include various consultants, historical inaccuracies still arise. Whether because otherwise, plots wouldn’t be as thrilling without treasure hunts or because filmmakers want to emphasize the actors’ beauty, the portrayals sometimes don’t match reality.

Cleopatra’s representations aren’t accurate.

Queen Cleopatra is considered one of the most famous Egyptian women in the world and is famous for her beauty. However, presumably, she couldn’t boast a perfect appearance because the queen’s portraits made during her life were oftentimes idealized.

Historians believe that she was small, had masculine features and an aquiline nose, and that people would represent her differently than she actually was, according to the region the art was made in (sometimes she’s curvy and feminine, and other times she’s masculine and thin, for instance). And judging by the images, Cleopatra had a bun of hair. She didn’t have any wigs with silver and gold. The powerful queen likely captivated everyone with her charm, sharp mind, and speaking skills.

They had to be savvy during their periods.

Perhaps, in ancient times women’s periods were less frequent than today due to their diet. However, the Roman and Greek ladies hoped for an abundant discharge, as they feared that they might have bad consequences if the liquid remained inside.

As a rule, women would stay at home during periods and put cotton, sheep wool, or rags between their legs that were later washed and used again. Also, scientists believe that women who had their periods were wearing special pants called — subligaculum.

A woman needed to leave home for 3 days to get rid of her husband.

In those days, there were 3 types of marriages according to archaic Roman law: “confarreatio,” which was a marriage between Patricians or high-class Romans, and the second type was called “coemptio,” marriage by purchase.

And the third type was known as “usus” by mutual cohabitation — a woman who lived in her de facto husband’s home for one year was recognized as his legal wife. Therefore, in marriage by usus, if a woman was absent for 3 consecutive nights at least once a year, she would avoid her husband establishing legal control over her.

Traps and treasure in the pyramids were rare and few.

The people who constructed the pyramids did try to protect the tombs, but they didn’t have the rich fantasies that many scriptwriters do. For example, they would construct a fake room next to the real one and make it look robbed to baffle looters. Also, they would build deep wells that a person wouldn’t be able to get out of alone. According to Professor Lehner, the system of a “primitive machine” that was found in the Great Pyramid of Giza was quite complicated for those times. It blocked the way to the Pharaoh’s chamber with giant granite units, which made it difficult for robbers to get inside.

Treasures, in their turn, would often remain a dream because only a few of the tombs excavated by archaeologists contained jewelry. In most cases, any treasure present had a historical and cultural value, not material.

They had to go to baths to have a chat.

Compared to other ancient cities, hygiene in ancient Rome was at a fairly high level. The city had a well-developed sewage system, public toilets, and baths that kept Roman people from smelling bad, however, the benefits they brought were pretty dubious as well as public places were a perfect place to catch diseases. That’s why a Roman woman had to be very cautious when visiting the baths.

However, there were positive sides as well. Baths were a kind of get-together place. Roman women visited them to talk to their friends, to listen to poems, and meet their lovers. Although it was not common for men and women to bathe together in Rome, later Bishop Augustus forbade women to bathe naked at all. Even in the bathhouse, the Roman ladies had to wear special togas.

It was not common to breastfeed.

Wealthy Roman women did not breastfeed their kids. Newborns were handed over to their wet- nurses. Soranus, a powerful doctor of those times, figured that a mother was too exhausted after childbirth to breastfeed a kid.

Also, this Roman doctor believed that one of the advantages of getting a Greek wet nurse is that she could transfer the gift of her native language to the baby together with her milk.

Archaeologists can’t actually understand the language of Ancient Egyptians.

Almost every movie about Ancient Egypt contains a scene where the main character (usually an adventurous archaeologist) finds an ancient scroll and starts reading the text on it. But the thing is, there was no such thing as the Ancient Egyptian language. Egyptians spoke a lot of different dialects. So no matter how educated the scientist is, they can’t know all the dialects.

Another problem is that we don’t know what the language actually sounded like.

Free morals were not that free.

In general, Ancient Rome was famous for its free morals. And although marriages based on mutual love did exist, Roman poets more often were extolling the relationship between lovers. At the same time, it was men who would most often get a lover because cheating, from a woman, was considered inappropriate.

The state would interfere in close relationships only if the union was a threat to someone’s status quo. However, there were times in the history of Rome when female treason was followed by criminal punishment.

The father was the head, even after marriage.

In the early Roman Empire, a daughter would stay under her father’s power even after getting married and her husband didn’t have any legal power over her. It was expected from a daughter that she would remain faithful to her father even if that meant going against her husband’s will. Also, a woman would retain her maiden surname after getting married.

They had to use non-standard cosmetic ingredients.

Women of Ancient Rome took good care of themselves. Pale and pure skin was a trend in those times. Lanolin, a substance obtained from sheep’s wool, was one of the popular recipes for masks. At the same time, the smell was not nice and men often complained about it. Roman women also used other strange ingredients such as plant juices, animal dung, sulfur, vinegar, ground oyster shells, onions with bird fat, and donkey milk.

Wealthy women used crocodile dung and snail ash for whitening their skin. Romans would also make artificial teeth from ivory.

Women didn’t have personal names.

For the most part during the history of Ancient Rome, women did not have their own names. They were named according to the clan they belonged to (Cornelia came from the gens, Cornelia). If a family had several daughters, a cognomen, such as Tertia (third), could indicate birth order. Also, newborn girls were named according to their father’s name (Vipsania, the daughter of Vipsanius).

Later, a girl was given 2 names by combining the surname of her father and the name of the place where she was born. In late antiquity, girls were often named after their mothers or other female relatives, who, in turn, were often named after saints.

The unibrow was a trait highly valued by women.

Long before Frida Kahlo popularized the unibrow, in ancient Rome, it was already considered a desirable attribute, as it was believed to be possessed by the most intelligent and coveted women. Such was their appreciation for the unibrow; those who did not have it naturally had it made up with black paint.

Which elements from the past seem most incredible to you?

Please note: This article was updated in December 2022 to correct source material and factual inaccuracies.


Get notifications
Lucky you! This thread is empty,
which means you've got dibs on the first comment.
Go for it!

Related Reads