What Has Archaeology Taught Us about Ancient Roman Life?

What Has Archaeology Taught Us about Ancient Roman Life?

Photo: Luka Lojk, Unsplash

Learning about history is important for the development and survival of humans. Understanding what helped ancient civilizations, and ultimately what caused them to end, can help us to learn from their mistakes, so that we do not repeat them.

History also helps us understand how humans have developed, how key elements of our existence have evolved over millennia.

This can assist archaeologists in more accurately predicting how our society and culture may change in the future.

Unearthing artifacts from hundreds and thousands of years ago can help us discover details about the way humans lived that would not have otherwise been recorded.

For example, a hair comb or a key may not seem very significant to people at the time, and therefore would not have been written about. However, these can reveal a lot about a society and the way it functioned.

One civilization that has been better understood thanks to archaeology is the Roman Empire. Here are some things we learned about Roman life.



Whilst we may think of wagering through card and casino games as a modern activity, archaeology has taught us that wagering has been around in just about every civilization in the history of humankind.

For example, we know that wagering was a popular activity in Ancient Rome. Although they didn’t have access to the online slots and poker games available to 21st century humans, they did partake in wagering on dice games.

The discovery of dice made from animal bones has helped to confirm the Roman love of wagering. Romans also played something called the “game of 12 lines”, which is very similar to modern day backgammon.

Photo: Hulki Okan Tabak, Unsplash


They Loved All the Mod Cons

If you live in a modern house, you may have under-floor heating installed. Modern systems can work in a number of ways, including pumping water from a central heating system under the floor, or by extracting heat from the earth and bringing it to the surface. If you thought this was a modern invention, you are very much mistaken.

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of Roman hypocausts in a number of sites across the former Roman Empire, with some dating back to at least the year 15 BC.

Hypocausts were mainly limited to public buildings due to their costs, but the wealthiest people could have them installed in their homes. Instead of pumping water, they worked by moving warm air around an under-floor void.

This air was generated by a furnace located somewhere centrally in the building. Using vents, the temperature of the heating could be controlled in a similar way to central heating systems today.


They Loved Comics

Modern comic fans may not agree that they are the same as modern comics like those produced by Marvel, but it seems that the Romans also used a format similar to modern comics to tell stories.

In 2016, during some major roadworks a large Roman tomb was discovered. It was found to contain a tapestry featuring around 260 figures that have been painted on multiple colorful panels.

These Roman comics depict Roman gods banqueting whilst humans bring them offerings, tend fields and construct buildings. It is thought that these Roman comics were painted around 2,000 years ago, in approximately the 1st century AD.

The Roman Empire was a diverse nation that spanned a vast area of the world. Whilst they may not have been blessed with semiconductors and other devices that have helped to build the modern civilization we find ourselves in, they used relatively simple technologies to create many things we would recognise today.

Complex underfloor heating systems that helped keep their buildings at a comfortable temperature demonstrates the maturity of their society.

Their use of dice and comics also shows that the way the Romans relaxed and entertained themselves is very similar to the way humans in the 21st century find enjoyment.

In the 2,000 or so years since the Romans walked the earth, the underlying interests and desires haven’t changed much.

Only the tools we use to work, rest and play have changed, and archaeology has been crucial in unearthing and understanding this information.