The city of Rome grew from a small and insignificant town on the banks of the River Tiber into the birthplace of an empire that would stretch the length and breadth of Europe and into Asia and North Africa. This expansion allowed the Romans to spread their religion, culture and art over a large part of the globe. The empire lasted for 507 years, ending in 476 AD when it fell to the Goths. The influence of Romans, however, has lived on long after their demise. We owe several crucial elements of modern society to the Roman Empire and the advances in science and art it made. The Romans were responsible for many aspects of law, language and architecture in contemporary culture. If you ever plan on visiting Rome or Italy (and it will soon become much easier to do so with the introduction of ETIAS, the new visa waiver for Europe), the following incredible facts will make your trip a whole lot more enjoyable.

1. The Romans Had Shopping Malls

If you think that shopping malls are a new invention, think again. There is strong evidence that a form of shopping mall was common in Roman times. Buildings thought to have been the sites for these centers have been found to contain over 150 different stores with products sourced from all over Europe and beyond. As far as we know, the Romans were the first to invent this type of mall complex.

2. Urine Tax

Have you ever wondered exactly where the money goes that you put into the machine to gain admittance to a public toilet? Nobody really knows, but there is one thing that we can be certain of, and that is that we have the Romans to blame for their invention. The first public toilets were located next to the Cloaca Maxima sewage treatment plant in Rome, where the urine of toilet-goers was collected and then, incredibly, sold for its many uses, including for curing animal hides and bleaching purposes. Emperor Nero and his successor Vespasian levied an official tax, vectigal urinae, on the bodily fluid.


3.Left-Hand Prejudice

Being born left-handed has consistently been seen as some kind of oddity throughout history, with some cultures shunning those who write or eat with their left hands. The Romans, however, took their persecution to the next level. Lefties were seen as evil or a bad omen as a result of having been “touched by the Devil”. The word “sinister” actually has its roots in the Latin word for left-handed. In many Latin-based languages, the word for “left-handed” is still the same as the word for “sinister”.

4. Founders

Most Romans believed that the founder of their capital city was a king named Romulus. He was understood to have had a twin brother named Remus. Legend has it that the two brothers were abandoned and then raised by wolves. When they grew up, Romulus was purported to have killed Romulus after he perceived his brother to have disrespected the newly built city of Rome by jumping over one of its city walls. If this story sounds familiar, it is probably due to its similarities with the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, which some scholars claim to have been inspired by the story of the violent sibling rivalry in the legend of Romulus and Remus.  

5. Naumachia

The fact that the Romans, or rather their slaves, used to engage in gladiatorial battles to the death in front of packed crowds at the Colosseum is well known. Lesser known is that they also sometimes organized entire marine battles inside stadiums filled with water, life-size battleships and real men. Full-scale naval conflicts were fought out for the baying audiences involving around 30 ships and around 2000 combatants at different special occasions throughout the year, often with multiple deaths and casualties. The very idea goes to show the wealth and opulence of the Roman Empire as well as the brutality of its leaders and traditions.

I don’t know about you, but all this talk of the Romans has given me an urge to visit the majestic Italian city in the near future. As luck would have it, getting a visa will soon become a lot more straightforward with the introduction of the visa waiver scheme for American citizens. Check out an ETIAS guide for information on how your life is about to be made much easier if you are planning a trip to Europe. New adventures await – what are you waiting for?