How Often Do You Think About the Roman Empire?

If TikTok is anything to go by, all roads lead to Rome, at least if you're a member of the not-so-fair sex. A trend circulating on social media involves women asking the men in their lives how often they think about the Roman Empire. It turns out that these fellas contemplate Ancient Rome much more frequently than the ladies anticipate. Like "girl dinner," a trend that gendered snacking, how often you think about the Roman Empire doesn't necessarily depend on whether you're a male or a female. Still, there's no doubt that guys are more often the target audience for violent, battle-centric shows like "Spartacus" full of alpha males, patriarchy, and notions of world domination during antiquity. Close to two millennia after its zenith, the Roman Empire continues to have vast influence over modern Western society, from language and culture to architecture, law, and politics, and you could be thinking about the Roman Empire without even knowing that you are. So, imagine a countdown in Roman numerals, and let's get cracking with the classics.

History lesson

How did the Romans make cement?

The ancient Roman Empire, with its grand aqueducts, majestic temples, and sprawling amphitheaters, is a testament to architectural and engineering prowess that has stood the test of time. Central to these enduring structures was a unique building material that has intrigued historians and scientists alike: Roman concrete, also known as opus caementicium. This material, distinct from its modern counterpart, was the bedrock of Roman construction, and its resilience and durability have left an indelible mark on the annals of architectural history.

Roman concrete's foundation lay in its ingenious composition. Unlike the Portland cement that forms the basis of modern concrete, Roman concrete was a blend of hydraulic-setting cement and an aggregate. The cement itself was a combination of slaked lime and a volcanic ash known as pozzolana, particularly abundant in regions like the Bay of Naples. This ash, when mixed with lime and water, underwent a chemical reaction that resulted in a robust binding agent. The aggregate, on the other hand, was diverse, often comprising rock fragments, ceramic tiles, and even brick rubble from previously demolished structures. In certain regions, tuff, a type of rock formed from volcanic ash, was a popular choice for the aggregate. This combination of locally sourced materials not only made the concrete versatile but also gave it a unique ability to set underwater, a property that was invaluable for marine constructions like bridges and harbors.

However, the true genius of Roman concrete lay in its ability to self-repair and resist the ravages of time. Recent studies have unveiled the mystery behind this self-healing property. When water seeped into the tiny cracks in the concrete, it reacted with the lime clasts within, producing reactive calcium. This calcium, in turn, facilitated the formation of new calcium carbonate crystals, effectively sealing the cracks and bolstering the concrete's strength. Another fascinating discovery is the presence of a rare crystal called tobermorite within the concrete. As seawater infiltrated the minuscule fissures in Roman marine concrete, it reacted with another mineral, phillipsite, found in the volcanic rock. This reaction birthed the tobermorite crystals, which are believed to enhance the concrete's resistance to fracturing. Such intricate chemical interactions, coupled with the Romans' empirical observations and construction techniques, resulted in a building material that was not only robust but also sustainable. In a world grappling with the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, the Roman approach offers invaluable lessons in harnessing natural resources innovatively to create structures that harmoniously coexist with nature for millennia.

Did you know?

What's the deal with gladiators?

The movie Gladiator won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2000, making it much easier to imagine professional combatants duking it out, sometimes to the death, in legendary amphitheaters. Here's a fun fact: There were female gladiators, too. Originally, gladiators were present at funerals because it was believed that the dead needed bodyguards for the afterlife. By the time of the emperor Trajan in 107 CE, as many as 5000 pairs of fighters engaged in months-long contests. Different classes of gladiators fought with different uniforms and weapons. For example, some challenged their opponents blindfolded for that extra entertainment factor. The crowd of spectators sometimes could decide on the fate of a gladiator. Each bout lasted approximately 15 minutes, and survivors could be discharged after multiple combats. The sport lasted nearly 1,000 years before being banned by Constantine the Great, the first emperor to convert to Christianity. Estimates suggest that 400,000 individuals may have lost their lives at the Colosseum.

How to Play?

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