Ancient Rome has contributed to modern society in numerous ways. We see their influence in our architecture, we see it in many of our customs, and the existing government of several nations is based on the Roman Republic.
We mimic the Roman Empire for good reason as they were incredibly advanced for their time. Amazingly, they had things like indoor plumbing and even performed brain surgery during their ancient time.
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They understood the importance of sanitation which allowed Ancient Rome to reach a population that exceeded one million citizens — which was incredible. The one million population level wasn’t ever reached again until London did it in the mid-1800s.
7 Insane Ancient Roman Laws
Despite their amazing accomplishments, the Ancient Romans had some quirky laws and customs as well. In many ways, their philosophies and their view of society differ considerably from modern views. Let us examine 7 amazing laws that the Ancient Romans passed and enforced.
It Was a Crime to Wear Purple
In Ancient Rome, the color purple was reserved for the elite class only. The act of forbidding common people to wear the color purple as part of the sumptuary laws that were observed during those times.
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Sumptuary laws were passed to prevent ordinary citizens from obtaining clothing or goods made of certain materials to reinforce social hierarchies. In the case of purple garments, they were incredibly expensive to produce because of the dyes required. Therefore, purple clothing was reserved for the most powerful¹.
Women Weren’t Permitted to Cry at Funerals
Civilizations throughout history have used professional mourners at funerals. Even today they are used in some societies.
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The assumption was that when more people are mourning the death of a person, then that person was more popular and had more status. To impress their friends and neighbors, wealthy families would hire lots of mourners to honor their dead family members.
This practice got so bad in Ancient Rome that they passed a law to prevent women from crying at funerals. The law didn’t need to address men because it was considered a public disgrace for men to cry in public².
Prostitutes Were Required to Dye Their Hair Blonde
In Roman society, it was expected for ladies to have permanent black hair. A natural blonde was typically associated with a barbarian culture or someone who came from the Gaul. Either way, it was undesirable and no Roman lady would ever have blonde hair.
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This was why sex workers like prostitutes were vividly marked in Roman society by dying their hair blonde. There weren’t allowed to be associated with the dignity of Roman women in any way³.
People Killed By Lightning Weren’t Allowed to Be Buried
Believe it or not, the Romans were very superstitious. Because of this, they viewed lightning strikes as an act of God — more specifically an act of the god Jupiter.
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This meant that if a person got struck by lightning, then Jupiter must have hated that person. If that person was your family member, then you were forbidden lift to lift that body above the knees. And you certainly couldn’t bury your dead family member.
They viewed burying a dead person who’d died from a lightning strike as stealing a sacrifice from Jupiter. Anyone doing this would be sacrificed to replace them⁴.
Fathers Could Temporarily Sell Their Kids Into Slavery
Roman fathers were given “paterfamilias” status which gave them absolute power over his household⁵. This included family members as well.
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Because of this power, a Roman father could sell their children into slavery based on an agreement with a buyer. The buyer would take possession of the child for a defined time — at which the child would be returned to the father.
Women Became the Legal Property of Their Husbands
Roman laws specifically stated that if you possessed something a certain time, then that possession became your legal property. This law applied to people as well — such as wives⁶.
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Many Roman wives took advantage of a loophole in this law. If they wished to remain free from becoming their husband’s legal possession, then each year they would need to leave their house for at least three straight days.
Fathers Could Legally Murder Their Entire Family
As paterfamilias of his household, a father in Ancient Rome could pretty much do as he wished with his family members. And Roman law protected his ultimate right to do so⁷.
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This meant that Roman fathers could dish out any kind of punishment or abuse of his family that he desired without justification. He included legally murdering his entire family. And Roman fathers held on to these rights even after his children were grown!
: Kerry Sullivan. (November 6, 2016). Only the Roman Elite Could Wear Tyrian Purple to Keep the Peasants in Their Place. https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/only-roman-elite-could-wear-tyrian-purple-keep-peasants-their-place-021060
: Mark Oliver. (October 14, 2016). 10 Insane Laws People Had To Live By In Ancient Rome. https://listverse.com/2016/10/14/10-insane-laws-people-had-to-live-by-in-ancient-rome/
: fyeahhistory. (January 13, 2018). The Horrifying History of Hair Dye. https://fyeahhistory.com/2018/01/13/the-horrifying-history-of-hair-dye/
: BleacerBreaker. (August 27, 2019). Facts About The Roman Empire That Will Shock And Amaze You. https://www.bleacherbreaker.com/trending/facts-about-the-ancient-roman-empire/
: PBS. (2006). Family Life. https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/family.html
: WikiPedia. Women in ancient Rome. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_ancient_Rome
: Richard Saller. (2001). Family Values in Ancient Rome. http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777121908/