Feb 21, 2014

'Pompeii:' 10 Strange Facts About the Roman Empire

Strange Finds and Other Buried Facts
The historical action movie "Pompeii," opening Friday in theaters, is actually two movies rolled into one. The first film is a standard-issue gladiator picture, with our hero Milo the Celt (Kit Harington) fighting his way through a procession of increasingly scary bad guys. Milo's adventures take place in the slave pits and arenas of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city that was famously buried in volcanic ash around 79 A.D.

The second movie kicks in about halfway through, when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupts in a spectacular display that provides all that historically accurate ash. Also: pillars of fire, rivers of lava, flaming boulders, several earthquakes and even a giant Mediterranean tidal wave. What began as a B-movie gladiator flick ends as a disaster picture of epic proportions, with eye-popping 3-D effects.

History nerds should enjoy all the big-budget production values detailing the ancient Roman Empire. Before the fiery destruction, the movie depicts life at the height of the Pax Romana era -- the period of relative peace after Rome's initial expansion and before its eventual decline.

Watch the corners of the frame in "Pompeii" and you can glean some interesting tidbits -- for instance, some colosseums had a kind of partial and primitive retractable roof for shading the VIPs. Here are 10 more details about the ancient Roman empire that you might not know.

Those Roman Colosseums Were Built to Last

 The amphitheater of Pompeii is among the oldest surviving pieces of ancient Roman architecture. As depicted in the film, the colosseum was made of stone and plaster -- same as the larger Roman Colosseum -- and was designed to safely facilitate the gathering of large crowds for sporting events. That didn't always work to calm the hooligans, though. The Roman historian Tacitus writes of a huge riot in 59 C.E., between the Pompeians and visitors from the neighboring city of Nuceria, that resulted in a ban on colosseum events for several years.

Roman Buildings Had Central Heating

 Rome's famous public baths and many private villas of the rich were heated by what's called a "hypocaust" system. The floor of the building was raised off the ground with pillars and the space below sealed off and insulated with ceramic tiles. Hot air from the furnace or fireplace was routed into the enclosed space beneath the floor, and sometimes into hollowed-out walls. A system of flues circulated the hot air and vented out the smoke.

 The Toga Was a Status Symbol

While the college toga party may be an egalitarian affair, in ancient Rome the toga couldn't be worn by just anyone. In fact, the toga was restricted to Roman citizens -- a status governed by a complex system of laws. Togas weren't just sheets, either. The material, usually wool, was semi-circular in shape and draped by way of a complex method of tucks and folds. In later years, particular patterns and colors signified specific ranks and functions in Roman society.

Romans Wore Underwear, Too

Romans seldom went commando under those togas. Both men and women wore a loincloth called a subligaculum, made from wool or linen, although silken undergarments were prized by the wealthy. Women also sometimes wore a kind of strapless proto-brassiere called a mamillare or strophium. It was common for younger women especially to bound their breasts tightly, sometimes with soft leather.

Read more at Discovery News

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