Popular media has done a splendid job in making sure our depiction of history is as inaccurate as possible. Just look at the classic examples of horned Vikings and Napoleon’s short stature. Roman history is no exception. We picked 7 of these myths about the Romans, which we deemed to be……
Myth #1: Galley slaves
The poor lots chained to their seats, condemned to slave away in the roman war galleys until their death.
Reality was nothing like this misconception popularized in Ben-hur. In Roman times, galley crews were comprised entirely of trained, paid fighting men, who when necessary were expected to grab a sword and join in the melee. The Romans, for obvious reasons, generally didn’t arm slaves. In only times of pressing manpower demands did Romans employ slaves, even then they were generally freed before being put to the oars.
Myth #2: Caesars’ last words
“Et Tu, Brute?” spoke Julius Caesar with his dying breath to his former friend who just had literally stabbed him in the back.
Caesar never said that phrase. In fact, we really aren’t sure what his true last words were. The closest source we have comes from Suetonius who himself was born a century after Julius Caesar. He, along with Plutarch, believed that in his dying moment Caesar said nothing. Others report his last word to be “Kai su, teknon?” meaning “You too, child?” The famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” was cooked up by William Shakespeare for his theatrical play of the event.
Myth #3: Thumbs Down
As the mighty Gladiator crippled his foe, he looked up towards the Emperor for his final decision. The Emperor listened to the jeers of the crowd and gave thumbs down, condemning the defeated to a premature death.
There was no such thing. Instead, the Emperor would give a close palm, giving the permission to kill, or an open one, ordering that the defeated be spared. Furthermore, no gladiator could kill his opponent without the Emperor’s permission as only he had the authority to end someone’s life.
Myth #4: Monochromatic statues
White marble sculptures gleaming in the sunlight in the glorious city of Rome.
They weren’t originally white. Historians have identified pigments of various colors on Roman sculptures, the remnant of paint bleached away by time. Romans statues weren’t bone white but rather vibrant and multicolored.
Myth #5: Evil Atia
Oh that evilly evil scheming Atia. How much I hate her even though my only knowledge of her comes from a show made by HBO.
She was not nearly as self-absorbed and manipulative as the show makes her to be. Tacitus, the Roman historian and Senator, had this to say about here:
In her presence, no base word could be uttered without grave offense, and no wrong deed done. Religiously and with the utmost delicacy, she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but also their recreations and their games.
In fact, in her time, she was widely admired for her exceptionally high religious and moral standards.
Myth #6: Toga-wearing citizens
At the center of the city was the Forum, where one may see many of Rome’s citizens gathered clad in Togas.
Roman togas were a very impractical wear for everyday activities. They were only reserved as an accessory for formal occasions such as religious events and funerals. For everyday wear, the Tunic was preferred by both genders alike similar to how T-shirts and jeans are today. Probably in a dozen centuries or so, we can expect future people to assume that the British all wore monocles, top hats and tailcoats.
Myth #7: Nero sang as Rome burned
As the great city of Rome burned, Nero the Psycho donned on his stage costume and sang the Sack of Ilium.
According to the contemporary historian of the time, Tacitus, Nero wasn’t even in Rome at the time of the fire; he was in Actium. Upon hearing of the calamity, Nero returned to Rome and organized a relief effort with his own funds and provided food and shelter to the survivors. After the fire, people were searching for a scapegoat to put the blame on. All sort of rumors against the Emperor quickly spread, including this particular legend.