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“History… is an aggregation of truths, half-truths, semi-truths, fables, myths, rumors, prejudices, personal narratives, gossip, and official prevarications. It is a canvas upon which thousands of artists throughout the ages have splashed their conceptions and interpretations of a day and an era. Some motifs are grotesque and some are magnificent.”—Philip D. Jordan

When people talk about ancient history, images of gladiators, pharaohs, and Alexander the Great most frequently come to mind, but those topics just barely scratch the surface—it turns out that history is much bigger than that! What we call “ancient history” covers a vast period from basically the beginning of time until the start of the Early Middle Ages sometime around the fifth century, and it’s full of strange and little-known facts from east to west.

Turns out some truly inconceivable things happened over that span—and not all of it managed to make the history books. So if you consider yourself a history buff, or if you’re just into learning about the most bizarre things that people have ever done, read on and discover 42 weird and secret facts from the depths of ancient history.


Facts About Ancient History

1. Shake On It

The tradition of greeting another person by shaking hands dates at least as far back as the Ancient Greeks. One column at the Acropolis even shows the Greek goddess of marriage, Hera, shaking hands with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena.

2. A Little Pick-Me-Up

Nowadays we have Viagra and Cialis, but Pliny the Elder suggested a bevy of ancient Roman aphrodisiacs that reads more like a witch’s shopping list than a doctor’s prescription. To put the pep back in your step, Pliny suggested the yolks of pigeon eggs, in honey, mixed with hog’s lard, or sparrows eggs, or a lizard drowned in one’s own urine.

If that didn’t work, you could always wear “the right testicle of a cock.” I’ll pause long enough for you to stop giggling.

3. For The Ladies

Got it out of your system? Ok, moving on: For ladies with low libido, Pliny advised ingesting a vulture’s tongue, or wearing a patch of wool soaked in bat’s blood on top of the head. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

4. Just ’Browsing

Nothing made a Greek woman feel more attractive than having a thick, swarthy unibrow. To the Greeks, the unibrow signaled a combination of beauty and brains. Greek women would go to great lengths to get that perfect forehead mustache, lining their brows with kohl or soot, or even using tree resin to affix fake eyebrows made of goats’ hair to their foreheads.

5. Of Corset Was!

You probably associate the fitted corset with those breathless Victorian women who, though they maintained their figure, looked constantly on the verge of fainting, but they weren’t the first to wear them. The corset goes all the way back to the Ancient Minoan women of Crete, who wore similar restrictive bodices. The Minoan corsets were likely the first fitted garments ever worn.

6. To Be Taken With A Grain Of Salt

Popular superstition states that, if one should spill some salt, one can counteract the bad luck by throwing a pinch of salt over the shoulder. That practice actually goes all the way back to the ancient Assyrians. The superstition was passed on from them to the Egyptians, and then the Greeks, and the Romans, all the way to today.

7. Stairway To Heaven

The same is true of walking under ladders—the Egyptians came up with that one. Because a ladder leaning against a wall formed a triangle, representative of the holy trinity of Egyptian gods, to walk through was considered sacrilegious. Naturally, that superstation lent itself perfectly to the early Christians. I always just thought it was because you’re likely to get something dropped on you if you walk under a ladder.

8. As It Nappens

Just like the Spaniards with their customary siesta, the Ancient Greeks would insist on taking a quick mid-day nap throughout the summer. One 5th century medical text advised that a brief nap around noon kept the body from “drying out.”

9. Ground-Breaking Discovery

Recently, archaeologists working in Italy’s Caverna delle Arene Candide found a heap of interesting rocks.  Not exactly headline news, but these rocks had been carried up from a nearby beach and broken in a consistent, uniform fashion, and similar-sized pieces had been taken from each one. It appears that Neolithic Italians broke the rocks as a funerary rite—the rocks themselves may have represented lost loved ones, and breaking them symbolized the person dying.

10. The Hogs Of War

The Greeks and Romans employed an unlikely ally when they went to war: Because their rivals in the east typically employed elephants, the Greeks and Romans enlisted the help of war pigs, whose squeals terrified the giant beasts.

11. Pour One Out

Even if you’re completely out of touch, you’ve probably seen a rapper “pouring one out” in a music video. Feel free to pour one out in memory of Pac or Biggie, but you should know the practice actually began with the Ancient Egyptians, who first spilled their drinks as a tribute to their god of death, Osiris.

12. The Good Book

The practice of libations was continued by the Greeks. There is even mention of “pouring one out” in the Old Testament: Genesis 35:14 states “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him [God], even a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.”

13. Beer For Breakfast

While the pharaohs had no shortage of delicacies to choose from—fruit and honey and wine and cured fish and all manner of roasted beasts—the Egyptian working class had a significantly shorter menu. The typical Egyptian breakfast consisted of bread, beer, and onions.

14. Sand Gets Everywhere

And sand. Lots of sand. Keeping sand out of their food was a huge problem for Egyptians, and coupled with their rough, fibrous diet and the fact that they had no real culture of dental hygiene, it meant that Egyptians of modest means usually suffered severe dental issues.

15. Chickening Out

Roman navies always kept chickens on board their ships, but they never intended to eat the birds. Rather, the chickens were offered cake. If the chickens pecked the cake, the Romans were sure to have luck in their upcoming battle. One Roman admiral, furious that his chicken wouldn’t peck, shunned superstition by throwing his chicken overboard and declared, “If it won’t eat, it can drink instead!”

16. The Stash

According to Herodotus, certain tribes to the east liked to throw bushels of marijuana on bonfires and enjoy a nice stone. As with a lot of stuff that Herodotus said, historians took this with a grain of salt, but in 2008 archaeologists discovered the tomb of a 2,700-year-old mummy in the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

In addition to the mummy—presumably, a shaman of the Yuehzi people—was nearly 800 grams of marijuana, worth about $8,000 to modern consumers. Also found in the tomb, a stack of Bob Marley records and a poster bearing the phrase “Legalize It.”

17. A Different Period

To cope with severe menstrual symptoms, Roman women used tampons soaked in opium, while Egyptian men were allowed—and even encouraged—to take time off work to care for their menstruating wives or daughters.

18. Don’t Sweat It

After a big day at the Colosseum, Roman fight-goers liked to celebrate the trip by buying souvenirs. Gladiator sweat was a favorite, as was lard from the animals who had been killed during the show. The sweat was mixed with olive oil and sold as a perfume. It was also considered a powerful aphrodisiac. I’ll pass, thanks.

19. Decisions, Decisions

According to Herodotus, the rule of thumb among the Ancient Persians was if something was decided upon while drunk, all people involved must wait until they’ve sobered up, and decide again. Later writers added that, if something were decided while sober, the Persians would again put the decision under scrutiny by getting drunk and seeing if the idea held up.

At least they covered all their bases!

20. Puking Party

As everyone knows, the Romans loved to party, but of course one can only party so much. The idea of any Roman feast was to eat and drink as much as physically possible. When a Roman began to feel too full, or too drunk, it was socially acceptable, and even encouraged, to induce vomiting, thereby making room for more. It should be said, however, that it’s a misconception that they had special rooms called “vomitoria” for this purpose.

Vomitoria did exist, but they were special passages in theaters or auditoria designed to efficiently allow many people to exit at once. The name comes from the Latin word vomo, which means “to spew forth.”

21. No Pants Allowed

The Greeks and Romans had pants, they just didn’t wear them. The Greeks thought they looked silly, and the Romans considered them “for the barbarians,” since they were customarily worn by Germanic peoples to the north.

22. Spitting Image

It wouldn’t be unusual to see a Roman spit on himself; it was something they did any time they encountered a mentally ill person or someone with epilepsy. Not only were these traits undesirable, they were considered contagious as well. By spitting on himself, a Roman was protecting himself from the spread of a disease—an action that had no basis, even in Roman medicine, but remained a widely held superstition.

23. The Cure-All

For everything that spitting couldn’t cure, the Romans swore by “theriac.” The compound, invented by Nero’s personal physician, was made of 64 different ingredients, including opium and viper flesh, and was said to cure everything from poisoning to plague. Theriac remained a common item in apothecaries and pharmaceutical shops well into the 19th century, because if nothing works anyway, you might as well eat some snake parts.

24. Ancient Times

Punctual Romans carried around portable sundials, not unlike our more modern pocket watches. Each sundial came with specific instructions on how to use it based on one’s geographical coordinates and the season. But the Romans didn’t rely on a regular 60 minute hour like we do: rather, they followed the Egyptian example of keeping a 45 minute hour through the summer and a 75 minute hour in the winter. How could that not have confused people?

25. Fast Food

The Romans were a busy, on-the-go people, so it’s not surprising that, just like us moderns, they loved fast food. There were restaurants all over the Rome, many of them with windows that opened onto the street so customers could just order their food and go. I wonder if they had drive-thru windows for chariots?

26. Pompeiians Can’t Cook

There were more than 200 take-out restaurants in Pompeii alone. Taking dinner out was so common that many Pompeiian homes didn’t even have kitchens.

27. Vend Diagram

The Romans even had vending machines. Or at least they had the technology—the only known example, built by Roman-Egyptian inventor Hero of Alexander, was coin-operated and dispensed holy water.

28. Cone Heads

Long before the spray bottle was invented, the Egyptians developed a unique way to apply perfume. They wore tall cones of resin or ox fat on the top of their heads. The cones would be infused with aromatic oils and myrrh. As the balmy night wore on, the cones melted, leaving the Egyptians coated in fragrant oil. It was considered good hospitality to offer these cones to guests at a party.

29. The Best Part Of Waking Up…

Coffee came from Africa, tea from the far east. Neither seemed to have caught on among the Romans. Given the dearth of caffeinated beverages, the Romans began their mornings with a beverage made of goat feces and vinegar. I’ll stick to my bean juice, thanks.

30. Just Do It

According to Pliny the Elder (this guy again…), the goat dung and vinegar beverage was especially popular among chariot racers; it was kind of like an ancient version of Gatorade. The emperor Nero personally endorsed the drink, saying that it gave him extra strength.

31. Urine Luck

The Romans used human urine in industries like leather tanning, and some of these companies even paid a “urine tax” for the privilege. But that’s not all: Urine was used by the Romans as a laundry detergent, a fertilizer, and even as a mouthwash. Because, you know, nothing makes your mouth cleaner than…

32. A Brush With The Egyptians

In this instance, at least, the Egyptians were centuries ahead of the Romans, and even ahead of pre-20th century Westerners. The Egyptians invented the toothbrush, and used it in conjunction with a toothpaste made of gum arabica, soot, and water that actually would have done an OK job.

33. Mint Condition

In fact, one 4th century Egyptian text offers a complete—though different—recipe for toothpaste: one drachma of rock salt, one drachma of iris flowers, 20 grains of pepper, and, of course, two drachmas of mint for kissably fresh breath. Hey, if it’s not human urine, I’ll take it! 

34. Getting Around To It

Let’s talk about bad habits for a minute. Here in the modern world, many of us have trouble getting motivated—we tend to put off starting things, even if they’re important or good for us. But don’t feel so bad, even our ancient ancestors struggled with procrastination. Putting off crucial business was so common in Ancient Greece that the Greeks had a word for it: akrasia, “the state of acting against one’s own interest.”

35.  So Stupid, It’s Smart

One Greek statesman discovered a trick to help him defeat akrasia: Demosthenes shaved one side of his head (seriously). Funny, but how does it help? Demosthenes reasoned—rightly, perhaps—that he would be less tempted to go outside if he knew people would make fun of his stupid haircut. Rather than risk the mockery and taunts of his fellow Athenians, he stayed home and studied. Something to remember next time you’ve got a big exam coming up.

36. Moldy Medicine

The Ancient Egyptians applied moldy bread crusts to burns. This practice has also been found in ancient Greek, Chinese, and Serbian cultures. While none of these ancient cultures had any way to know specifically, they did seem to intuit that the microbes and antibodies active in the mold were good for fighting off infections.

37. An Eyebrow Raising Habit

Eyebrows were important to the Ancient Egyptians, as well. The death of a household cat was a serious tragedy—the Egyptians literally worshipped the furry felines—and families would often demonstrate their grief by shaving their eyebrows off.

38. The Cat’s Pyjamas

Cats were idolized by the Egyptians because of their skill at killing vermin like rats and snakes, and because they also represented fertility. When a cat died, even the cat of a laborer, it was given a noble burial, mummified, and laid to rest surrounded by pots of milk and mummified mice. We should all be so lucky.

39. Pretty Disrespectful

The practice of mummifying cats was so common that, over the course of the 19th century, British industrialists were able to import nineteen tons of mummified kitties for use as fertilizer.

40. Not Monkeying Around

Cats weren’t the only pets loved by the Egyptians; they were also known to keep monkeys. Big monkeys. Really big monkeys, like baboons, in fact. Baboons don’t live in Egypt—they had to be imported to Egypt specifically—but their popularity led them to develop a wealth of cultural and religious significance to the Egyptian people, and one was considered lucky indeed to have one of the simians in their home.

42. That Sucks!

In ancient Ireland, one showed submission to tribal kings by sucking their nipples. Bog-bodies (ancient corpses found well-preserved by the chemicals in a bogs) have been found with slashed or mutilated nipples, indicating that they had been driven from the throne.

43. The Romans Treated Their Kids Like Garbage

Roman families did have adoption practices—even Julius Caesar adopted his great-nephew Octavian, later known as Augustus—but it was mostly a way for the wealthy Roman elite to ensure they had an heir. For poorer families, unwanted children were often just left at the dump. If those unwanted babies didn’t die, they were usually taken to be raised as slaves.

44. Another Day at The Salt Mines

We’re not sure how salt mines became the go-to metaphor for a dull, tedious job, but clearly the medieval salt miners of Poland didn’t feel that way. They spent their downtime decorating the salt mines with elaborate friezes and sculptures. Their idle carving and sculpting eventually evolved into the construction of a full-blown cathedral, hundreds of miles below what is now the city of Krakow.

45. Lots of Time

To carve an entire cathedral—complete with chandeliers and a life-size replica of “The Last Supper”—must have taken up a lot of lunch breaks. Luckily, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was in continuous operation from the 13th century until 2007.

46. The Bunker

The subterranean French city of Naours was built to provide refuge from invasion and enemy attack. The city’s 300 rooms, connected by 200 miles of tunnels, provided ample hiding space for besieged medieval villagers. The city lay forgotten for hundreds of years before reprising its military role during the First World War, when Allied soldiers recovered there following the Battle of the Somme.

47. Up on the Rooftop

Not much is known about the people who built the ancient Turkish city of Ҫatalhöyuk, but their unique approach to architecture has captured the attention—and imaginations—of archaeologists since the city’s first excavation in 1958. Houses in Ҫatalhöyuk were built in a cluster, with each home sharing its walls with many others. The 10,000 citizens of Ҫatalhöyuk walked across the city’s rooftops, and visited each other through small passages cut into the roofs.

48. Going Underground

Not far from Ҫatalhöyuk lies the underground city of Derinkuyu, whose citizens seem to be the antithesis of those in Ҫatalhöyuk. Where Ҫatalhöyuk’s citizens never set foot on the ground, the citizens of Derinkuyu need never rise above it—Derinkuyu operated eight levels below the surface, with shops, houses, and even stables and wineries.

49. Traded

Derinkuyu was initially built by the Phrygians, but was expanded by Cappadocian Greeks who used the city to evade attacks by invading Mongol and Arab armies. The citizens of Derinkuyu continued to use the site in times of crisis all the way into ‘20s, when they were expelled as part of the Greek-Turkish population exchange.

50. The Underground Province

Derinkuyu connects to another underground city, Kaymakli, via a five-mile tunnel. In fact, Nevşehir Province, where both Derinkuyu and Kaymakli lie, is something of a hotspot for underground cities. There are more than 200 in this region of Turkey, made possible by the area’s soft volcanic rock.

51. Gotta Catch ’Em All

The Yonaguni Monument, 60 miles off the coast of Taiwan, has been the subject of debate, with some scientists claiming the mysterious stone steps and altars formed naturally, and others suggesting they could be the remains of an ancient city. While people may not have ever set foot on Yonaguni, the site has been known to host its share of Pikachus and Blastoises: the Abyssal Ruins, featured in Pokemon Black and Pokemon White, are based on Yonaguni.

52. An A-Maze-Ing Tale

Egypt, it shouldn’t surprise you, is home to all sorts of mysterious ancient sites, but perhaps the most intriguing is the labyrinth which unwinds beneath Hawara. Modern scholars have yet to find the ancient maze but mentions of the Labyrinth of Egypt appear in the writings of Pliny, Herodotus, and Diodorus.

53. Big Secret

Writing more than 1,300 years after the labyrinth’s supposed construction, Herodotus claimed the labyrinth contained more than 3,000 rooms (half of them underground), and six separate courtyards. If true, the labyrinth would have been larger than the temples at Karnak and Luxor combined.

54. A Dead End

In 2008, a team of archaeologists scanned the ground near Hawara. What they found was astonishing: walls, several meters thick, joined together and forming several closed-off rooms. Could this be the ancient labyrinth? We might never know, as Egyptian authorities immediately halted further exploration.

55. A Grand Discovery

Every year millions of people flock to the Grand Canyon. An even more impressive site might lurk just below the canyon’s floor. In 1909, the Arizona Gazette announced that the ruins of an ancient city had been found by explorer GE Kinkaid.

56. Unbelievable

News of Kinkaid’s discovery disappeared as suddenly as it was announced, and most modern scholars consider it a hoax. Among Kinkaid’s more dubious discoveries at the Grand Canyon site were tablets bearing hieroglyphics and tombs filled with Egyptian-style mummies.

57. Don’t Look at Us!

Kinkaid claimed to be working with the prestigious Smithsonian Institute. If true, that would lend his discovery much more credibility. Alas, the Smithsonian denied, and continues to deny, any involvement.

58. Know-How

Archaeologists haven’t figured out just how the ancient Pohnpeians built Nan Madol, a massive stone city linked by canals and spread over nearly a hundred tiny islets in Micronesia. Modern Pohnpeians have one solution, however. According to legend, Nan Madol was built by two wizards, who came over the sea in a canoe and built the city with the help of a giant dragon.

59. Do You Have a Better Idea?

The Pohnpeian legend might sound far-fetched, but it’s still our best guess as to how Nan Madol was built. Otherwise, the Pohnpeians would have to move the city’s giant stone blocks at a rate of 2,000 tonnes a year for 400 years, without the use of pulleys.

60. Giant Coincidence

The mythic origins of Nan Madol sound spookily similar to those of another site half a world away. Ggantija, “the Giantess’s Tower,” is a massive stone structure in Malta. Like Nan Madol, it was built before metal tools and wheels and pulleys existed in the local culture. And like Nan Madol, Ggantija is said to have been built by a mythic creature, a giantess named Sasuna, who carried Ggantija’s massive stone pillars on her head.

61. I Come Bearing an Explanation

Excavation of Ggantija, however, has presented a better real-world explanation than anything found at Nan Madol. While the ancient Maltans didn’t have the wheel, they did have the sphere. Archaeologists have found perfectly round pebbles—much like modern ball bearings—which might have helped to move the stones of Ggantija.

62. Prehistoric Pilgrimage

First discovered in modern-day Turkey in 1963, serious excavation on Gӧbekli Tepe did not begin until 1996. The site, which predates Stonehenge by more than 6,000 years, is believed to have been a religious epicenter for worshippers from as far as 100 miles away in all directions.

63. The Seeds of Civilization

Gӧbekli Tepe would have been a site of ritual importance for people who had yet to invent the wheel, writing, or agriculture. In fact, some have suggested humans harvested wheat for the very first time at Gӧbekli Tepe.

64. Old Time Religion

If Gӧbekli Tepe was indeed an ancient religious site, that begs the question: what did those ancient pilgrims worship? Carvings of lions, deer, snakes, and scorpions all point to animal worship, but the real answer may be downright scary. Human skulls, each marked with ritualistic incisions, have also been found at the site.

65. No Tools Required

But what is most surprising about Gӧbekli Tepe? Despite its massive stone walls and pillars—some weighing as much as 50 tonnes—no stone-cutting tools have ever been found near the site.

66. No Escape

Taklamakan is a vast, unforgiving desert in China’s northwest corner. Its name, in the Uighir language, means “You can go into it, but you can’t come out.” With a floor of sand 1,000 feet deep, and a yearly precipitation of just 0.4 inches (most of it snow), Taklamakan appears to be an impossible place to build a city. But such a city lies beneath the deep sands of Taklamakan.

67. Beneath a Thousand Feet of Sand

Trade routes passed around the Taklamakan desert for centuries, but beginning in the 19th century, explorers began to find evidence of houses buried beneath the sand. By 1914, archaeologists Sven Hedin and Aurel Stein had found houses, clothing, tools, and fragments of texts which led them to believe that the Taklamakan was the site of the city of Loulan, capital of the short-lived Loulan Kingdom.

68. All Dried Up

Described in the Book of Han as “weak and easy to destroy,” the Loulan Kingdom faced a series of sieges and political subjugations before the arid climate finally forced the Loulan people to abandon the kingdom in the 5th century CE.

69. Strangers

Further exploration of the Taklamakan site in the ‘80s turned up bodies which had been mummified by the dry desert air. Several of these mummies bore some surprising characteristics, including blond-red hair and European facial features. Their presence at Taklamakan suggests that Loulan was a cultural crossroads, and may have played a more pivotal role in the global community than anyone had previously suspected.

70. A Big Misunderstanding

The climate of Taklamakan punishes those who try to cross the desert. And the meaning of its name, “You can go into it, but you can’t come out” provides ample warning to any adventurer who would try. But what if the name Taklamakan isn’t meant to be ominous at all? Archaeologists have long assumed the name comes from the Persian “Tark makan”—“a place to abandon.” But the Turkish language also has a phrase, “Taqlar makan.” Those words mean “Place of Ruins,” an interpretation that lends further credence to the idea that Taklamakan was once home to an ancient oasis.

71. Ruins and Racism

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe give evidence of a mighty ancient empire, whose wealth and influence spread as far as China. One would think any modern country would be proud to inherit such a legacy. Not so with the Rhodesian government which ruled Zimbabwe through the 20th century. The white Rhodesian government restricted archaeological work on the site and suppressed any evidence that such a worthy empire was ever built by native Africans.

72. Worth Its Weight in Gold

The city of Great Zimbabwe was likely built by the Gokomere in the 4th century CE, and survived into the 16th century. Artifacts found at the site point to a diverse economy—there are tools for working copper, ivory, and iron, as well as pottery and textiles, and proof of very large herds of cattle—but Zimbabwe’s great wealth was built on gold. More than 20 million ounces of the stuff could have been mined from the area during the empire’s reign.

73. Important Importers

Also found at the site were shards of Chinese pottery, coins from Arabia, and glass beads of unknown origin. All of these suggest that Great Zimbabwe was part of a highly developed, international trade network.

74. Something to Write Home About

Letters from Portuguese traders tell us what became of the once-mighty empire. João de Barros, writing in 1538, recounts a visit to Great Zimbabwe, remarking that the country is an ancient, formerly successful one, built on gold, which they have not mined for many years because of constant wars. But perhaps de Barros’ words should be taken with a grain of salt: he also believed the massive stone houses of Great Zimbabwe to be “the work of the devil.”

Ancient Cities FactsPixabay

75. Credit Where Credit Is Due

European attempts to build a history of Great Zimbabwe fell to great political pressure. At various times, the ruins were ascribed to the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, Arabic peoples, and even the biblical King Solomon—anyone, it seems, but the native Zimbabweans themselves. It wasn’t until 1929, after findings by Gertrude Caton-Thompson, that arguments that the site was built by Zimbabweans began to gain support.

76. Fly-Over State

Another site mentioned by Herodotus, Heracleion, was said to have collapsed into the sea. The ancient Egyptian port was thought to be just another myth until 1933, when a British air force pilot spotted the undersea ruins near Abu Qir.

77. Slow and Steady

Though the ruins of Heracleion were first spotted in the ‘30s, it wasn’t until 1999 that archaeologists precisely located the city and began exploring. To date, they’ve visited less than 5% of the Heracleion site, but findings have been surprising. In addition to coins and tools, statues of the usual Egyptian gods, are several statues of an Egyptian pharaoh no one seems to recognize.

78. Cheaters Never Prosper

Heracleion figures prominently in the story of the Trojan War. Paris and Helen were said to have stopped there on their way to Troy, after absconding from Greece. The two lovers, however, were turned away by the city guard, who feared the wrath of Helen’s husband, Menelaus.

79. Celebrity Sighting

According to Herodotus, Heracleion was so named because it was the first Egyptian city visited by Hercules (or Heracles).

Ancient Cities FactsPixabay

80. The Mesoamerican Metropolis

Teotihuacan, a 32-square-mile city near modern-day Mexico City, predates the Aztec period by more than a millennium. At one point, Teotihuacan had a population of over 125,000 people, which would’ve made it one of the largest cities in the world.

81. Rooms for Rent

To house its hundred thousand citizens, Teotihuacan depended on a “modern” solution. The city is ringed by apartment complexes, tall multi-dwelling buildings which would have housed several families.

82. Advanced Planning

Teotihuacan is notable for its advanced, mathematically precise architecture. At its center sits the Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world. Together with the Temple of the Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun forms a row of buildings which aligns exactly with Orion’s Belt. Aerial observers have noticed a similarity between Teotihuacan and a more modern image: with the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon serving as large microchips, Teotihuacan bears an uncanny resemblance to a circuit board.

83. Whatchamacallit

The name Teotihuacan comes from the Aztecs; it means “the Birthplace of the Gods.” The city seems to hold special significance for the Aztecs, who based their creation myths in the city. Mayans called the city the less-impressive “Place of the Reeds.” To this day no one knows what citizens of Teotihuacan called their hometown.

84. Ghost Town

What became of the people of Teotihuacan? No one knows. The city was an important political and industrial center in Mesoamerica, and its architectural style had a major cultural impact on both the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Despite a conspicuous absence of citadels or fortifications, there is no evidence the city was ever attacked by foreign armies. Rather, the city’s collapse seems to have come from the inside.

85. The Revolution

Teotihuacan faced several years of famine and population decline; juvenile skeletons show signs of severe malnutrition. Archaeologists have noticed that Teotihuacan’s most damaged buildings tend to be large, single-family dwellings and palaces. Could Teotihuacan’s working class have risen up against an ancient 1%? It could’ve happened, but the question remains—where did they go from there?

86. Ancient Cheese

Feta Cheese, made from the milk of sheep and goats and a staple of Greek cuisine, is one of the oldest cheeses in the world. The cheese dates back to ancient times and is believed to be referenced in Homer’s Odyssey when Cyclops prepares a cheese made from sheep’s milk. It’s also awesome in salads and pasta, so the ancient Greeks were definitely onto something!

87. Lead Head

Ancient women didn’t have the luxury of walking into the pharmacy and picking up some hair dye. Some civilizations used plant materials to die their hair, but some used far less appealing concoctions. The Ancient Greek/Roman version of a permanent die was a chemical concoction that consisted of sulfur and lead. Seeing as they didn’t really know much about chemistry, the dyes caused some pretty severe health problems, but at least their hair looked good!

88. Unbreakable Blades

The Aztecs were fierce warriors and they had a weapon known as a macuahuitl that had a pretty killer design. The sword-like instrument was made of wooden club with obsidian blades around its edge, and was used for close combat. The blades were intermittently arranged with gaps along the sides, or close together forming a single edge. The design of the blade was so clever because it was extremely difficult for the blades to be be pulled out or broken, giving the wielder a serious advantage!

89. Throwing Stones

The Ancient Celts have something of a reputation for being barbarians, and some historical sources claim that they sacrificed humans and animals. Ironically, these “sources” tend to be of Greco-Roman origin, and let’s just say that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The Ancient Greeks organized games that had humans fighting each other to the death, and the Ancient Romans made their prisoners fight each other or vicious animals inside public arenas. For that matter, King Agamemnon of Greece is said to have sacrificed his own daughter, so the Celts look pretty tame by comparison.

90. Criminally Famous

The expression “Herostratic fame” means achieving fame by criminal or disreputable means, and is derived from the ancient Greek arsonist Herostratus/Erostratus. This nutjob is known for burning down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and bragging about it after! Now you may be wondering why he would deliberately burn down one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the reason is simple—fame! His main goal was to go down in history, which he definitely did, but not by any honorable means.

91. Improving Cleavage

For all of time women have been finding ways to improve their looks, and it turns out that ancient women were just as obsessed with making their boobs look bigger as modern women are today. In ancient times, women would put homemade growth creams on their breasts to make them bigger or massage coconut oil into their skin. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that breast enlargement surgery became a thing, so these women had to get creative!

92. It’s Her Time of the Month!

Ancient Egyptian health care was pretty sweet, and archaeological evidence suggests the workers who were hired to build the pyramids were well-taken care of. In fact, there is even an indication that the men got time off to look after their wives and daughters when they had their periods, which is definitely unheard of today! So next time your boss tells you “Hey, it’s not like you’re building the pyramids!” you can remind them that that actually would have been a pretty sweet gig!

93. Chinese Da Vinci

Predicting and monitoring earthquakes is pretty easy today thanks to the seismograph, but a little-known fact about this modern instrument is that its ancestor, the seismoscope, was invented by a Chinese astronomer and literary scholar by the name of Zhang Heng. In AD 130 Heng invented the first instrument for monitoring Earthquakes, and it could even pinpoint the general location of a quake. It turns out that Heng invented a lot of cool stuff and made serious contributions to astronomy and math, but it wasn’t until after his death that he received the bulk of his honors.

94. Profiting from Pee

In ancient Rome, human urine had a lot of applications and was a pretty valuable product, but Emperors Vespasian and Nero figured out a way to make a profit from people’s pee. They imposed a tax on acquiring urine, and Vespasian took things a step further, ordering public pay toilets to be built. The urine from the toilets was collected for tanning leather and cleaning clothes, though I have no idea how they kept the clothes from smelling like pee!

95. Roman Barbie

Despite getting married before they even reached their teens, ancient Roman girls still had a little bit of time to play with toys, and particularly dolls. At the end of the 19th century, a wooden doll was discovered in a sarcophagus belonging to a second century Roman girl along with a little box of clothes. The doll had a much fuller figure than the modern Barbie, but was otherwise pretty similar.

96. Crocodile Cure

In ancient times it was pretty common to use animal dung as a treatment or a cure for various diseases. In ancient Greece, crocodile poop was used as a female contraceptive, and in ancient Egypt, warriors used animal dung to treat battle wounds. Sheep droppings were used by the Scots to treat smallpox, and pig dung was used to stop nosebleeds. Thank goodness someone invented Kleenex!

97. East Meets West

Alexander the Great was one of the first Western rulers to introduce India to Greek culture and to the rest of the Western world. After his death the link fell apart for centuries, only being restored in 1498 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, India.

98. Respect-Not Ridicule

In modern movies/television, dwarves are often depicted as outcasts or in a comical way, but in ancient Egypt, dwarves were revered and even worshiped. Dwarves held official jobs in all facets of society and the Egyptians had several dwarf gods such as the god of luck, dreams and dancing and the god of arts, crafts, and creativity.

99. I Wish We Hadn’t Done That

The Ancient Greeks are responsible for inventing the medium of live theatre, but a study of classical texts revealed that they actually regretted their creation. While theatre was originally devised as a means of honoring the gods, it evolved into a lot of vain, self-obsessed idiots creating absolute drivel, making them wish they’d never conceived of it. Oh boy, if they could only have seen Hollywood…

100. Sleep With my Wife—Please!

The Ancient Arabs practiced a custom called wife-lending which was an early form of genetic selection for reproduction. Lower-ranking families would lend their wives to a man of great distinction to bolster their family line. She’d stay in his house until she got pregnant, and the husband would abstain from sex with any other women in order to claim the child. She gets a baby, and the family improves their line. Win-Win right?

101. Original Aryans

The Ancient Persians were actually the original Aryan race, and Iran is Persian for Land of Aryans. One of the Aryan tribes were the Magi, the most famous of whom are the three wise men sent to bring gifts to the newborn Christ in the New Testament.

102. Let it Out!

In the Ancient world, you’d probably be wise not to admit to having a headache among other things as doctors might attempt to cure you by drilling a hole in your head. The practice of trepanation was used to cure convulsions, headaches and infections, and doctors believed that they were caused by evil spirits being trapped inside your head that needed to be let out. An exorcism would probably have been less painful!

103. Protecting their Protectors

Spiked dog collars were an invention of the ancient Greeks, but not to make their dogs look mean or scary. Farmers kept dogs to guard their assets (namely their livestock) and the leather collars were studded with nails to protect the dog’s neck from a wolf attack while they did their jobs.

104. A Sticky Mixture

Finding ways to increase sexual performance was a specialty of the ancient Greeks, and one of them involved smearing a honey/crushed pepper mixture on their penises to make their erections “stick” around for a long time. Makes perfect sense!

105. To Your Health!

Toasting at weddings, parties and special occasions is common place today, but the tradition of toasting dates back to ancient Greece. The host of a dinner party would take the first sip of wine to make sure there was no poison in it, which is where the phrase “drinking to one’s health came from.” In ancient Rome, they would literally drop a piece of toast into each wine glass in order to dilute any bad tastes and flavors, thus giving the practice its current name. Salud!

106. Anyone’s Game

In most kingdoms, the heir to the throne was usually the son, but in Ancient Egypt, either gender could inherit the throne. Men and women enjoyed almost equal rights, and the family line was drawn from the mother’s side and not the father’s. Talk about forward thinking!

107. Bride for Sale!

Marriage in ancient Babylon had nothing to do with happiness and everything to do with ensuring procreation, so there was no reason for a couple to meet before their marriage. At marriage markets, young women were lined up in front of the men and auctioned off to the highest bidder. The prettiest girls went to the wealthiest men and the ugly ones went to the commoners- mostly because the commoners weren’t even allowed to bid on the pretty brides.

108. Trajan’s Market

Modern shopping malls have movie theatres, food courts and amusement parks and shops of all varieties, and we have Emperor Trajan of Rome to thank for it. Trajan’s market, built around 100-110 AD, is the world’s oldest shopping mall and consisted of several levels, drinking establishments and of course, shops! The only thing it needed was an ATM!

109. Does it Make Sense When I’m Drunk?

Most people would think that it’s wise to make important decisions when they’re sober, but the Ancient Persians had a different view of the matter. Whenever they made an important decision, they’d get drunk immediately after and then debate it to determine whether or not it was the right choice. They believed that a person couldn’t lie when they were drunk, so if they still felt the same way about their decision after consuming copious amounts of wine, then they figured it was the right one.

110. Controlling the Flow

The Sumerian people were some of the earliest occupants of Mesopotamia (modern day Iran and Iraq) and the first people to be able to put down permanent roots thanks to an important technological invention: They figured out how to build levees to control the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which in turn gave them access to a steady food supply, which meant they didn’t have to move around and could settle down and form the first civilization. It would more than a thousand years later before civilization would reach Europe.

111. Technically Legal

In Greek and Roman Society there was nothing taboo about prostitution, but the money earned was considered taxable income and was controlled by the State. While male/male prostitution was technically legal, any men caught performing sexual acts for money were subject to certain punishments. They would lose all of their civil rights and be banned from public speaking or serving as a magistrate. Since that would pretty much ruin the lives of ordinary citizens, most prostitutes were either slaves or foreign residents who didn’t have any of that stuff to begin with.

112. Get Out!

Divorce in ancient Greece was far simpler than it is now and there were no lawyers and court cases involved. If the woman wanted a divorce, all she needed was a guy to represent her and make a deal for her. If it was the man who wanted the divorce, all he had to do was kick his wife out of the house and the deed was done.

113. Sacred Duty

Prostitution in ancient Babylon was a sacred act that women performed for the goddess Mylitta. The women would go to the goddess’ sacred temple where she would have sex with a stranger for a fee, but there was a catch: She couldn’t go home until a stranger had tossed silver into her lap and had sex with her outside of the temple. If the woman was attractive, this could happen pretty quickly, but if she was unattractive, it could be years before she could fulfill her duty. It literally paid to be beautiful.

114. King of the World (or at least half)

Cyrus the Great was a pretty amazing conqueror, and he managed to amass so much territory that by 486 BC, the Achaemenid Empire consisted of almost half of the entire world’s population. They may not have been the first people to settle in Iran, but their quick expansion made them the largest empire in the ancient world at the time.

115. A Woman’s Battle

In the Aztec civilization, childbirth was treated with the equivalence of going into battle. Expectant mothers were assigned midwives who treated successful births like winning a battle. If a woman died in childbirth, she was treated the same as a fallen warrior, and given special honors in death. The Aztecs also believed that women who died giving birth could come back to Earth and haunt the living, so sending them off to heaven happy was a wise idea.

116. Not Just a Pretty Face

The majority of girls in ancient Rome were given a basic education in reading and writing, but families who wanted their daughters to get a wider education would hire tutors to give them advance lessons in grammar and Greek. The better educated a girl was, the more interesting and better a companion she was, and the more influence she wielded. In other words, there were definite advantages to exercising their brains!

117. Who Built it?

The Great Sphinx of Egypt is one of the great mysteries of the ancient world. While scholars have learned a great deal about how it was built, they still have no idea exactly when it was built. Egyptologists believe that it was built around 2500 BC for the Pharaoh Khafra, but new archeological and geological research suggests that it is much older than that. As of yet there have been no texts, symbols or inscriptions discovered that shed any light on why exactly it was built and what it was for, so that too remains a puzzle.

118. Before Pythagoras

1,000 years before Pythagoras figured out his famous mathematical theorem, a Babylonian not only discovered it first, but mapped a series of trigonometry tables with a clay tablet and a reed pen that are more accurate than anything they teach you in math class. The 3700-year-old tablet is believed to have been used to plan out the construction of monumental structures, and is an example of the high degree of sophistication of Babylonian mathematics.

119. Taking the Sting Out of It

For thousands of years, the Mayan people kept stingless bees as pets in hives around their homes. The hives, which could last for over 80 years were passed down from generation to generation and were thought to represent their bee-god Ah-Muzen-Cab. Stingless or not, the handlers had to be extremely careful not to damage the hives or else they wouldn’t get any honey and the hives would be useless.

120. The Lost Ark

How does an ancient, sacred artifact disappear from history without a trace? This is the question that archeologists have been asking for centuries. The Ark of the Covenant wasn’t exactly small. It was described in the bible as being about the size of a 19th century pirate’s chest, was made of gold-plated wood, and had two large golden angels on top. The Israelites carried it everywhere they went by inserting poles on its sides (handy), and it was linked to several miracles. When the Babylonians conquered the Israelites around 597 BC, it simply vanished, and nobody knows what happened to it. While there does seem to be some historical evidence for it actually existing, real-life Indiana Joneses have been searching for it without any luck for centuries.

121. Silk Road City

In the winter of 2018, scientists uncovered the ruins of a 2,200-year-old lost city which they believe was connected to the Silk Road—a series of trade routes that connected the East and West in the ancient world. The city was found in the Koyuk Shahri area of China and was believed to have been used as a Chinese army base and was a major hub before it was lost. Not much is known yet about what caused the city to disappear, but thanks to the wonders of technology, the answer should be revealed as researchers get more time with the site. Even today, there still remains plenty of lost history to be discovered by science!

122. Three Times Only

Men in Ancient Rome had complete authority over their wives and children, and it was completely their prerogative to decide whether or not he wanted to keep a newborn baby. If he wanted to, he could sell his son into slavery, but with a particular caveat. If the purchaser no longer wanted or needed his slave, the father could take him back and sell him again, but he could only do it three times. If he really wanted to, he could have the unwanted sons put to death, but luckily for them, it wasn’t a frequent occurrence.

123. Nothing to Brag About

In modern society, being well-endowed is something most men hope to lay claim to, but in Ancient Rome, it was quite the opposite. Rather than being considered highly masculine or making them highly adept at sex, a person with a large penis was seen as a barbarian or a fool. Large penises were mostly used as good luck charms, as something to laugh about, or to guard against evil, but all art and sculpture of Roman heroes depicted them with small and compact packages.

124. Keeping Out the Riffraff

Today, if someone wants to keep out trespassers they build a fence or a wall, or maybe just get a guard dog, but in ancient Rome, they had a rather unique way of dealing with unwanted intruders. Statues of the god Priapus, complete with erect penises, were placed in market gardens throughout Rome. The Romans believed that Priapus would impose severe sexual punishments on anyone who entered without permission, and whatever that entailed, it was a good enough deterrent to be effective.

125. Underwater City

At the bottom of China’s Fuxian Lake lie the remains of an ancient city that covered an area of 2.4-2.7 square km and is estimated to be around 1,750 years old. The city might have been part of the lost Dian Kingdom, which was an advanced civilization that mysteriously disappeared after 86 BC. There are many theories about how it ended up at the bottom of the lake, including earthquake, but until more of the area is properly explored, we may never truly know what happened.

126. Chemical Warfare

Many people think that the use of chemical warfare originated in WWI, but there is archaeological evidence to prove that the Ancient Persians knew about it and used it as far back as 2,000 years ago. During the 721-year war between the Persians and Romans, the Persians released toxic gas into a Roman tunnel, killing 20 Roman soldiers almost instantly. The Romans tried to counterattack, but those crafty Persians used the bodies of their victims to hold back their attackers.

127. Even Death Shall Never Part You

Becoming widowed in ancient India did not mean that the widow could mourn and move on—or at least not in life. A practice known as Sati was based on the belief that a woman basically had no entitlement to live without her husband, and she would either have to be burned alive in her husband’s funeral fire or be buried alive next to his corpse. Both were pretty gruesome ways to go, so women probably prayed that they died first (of natural causes of course).

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


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