Rome was the first city on the planet to have an extensive and efficient municipal water system, thanks to the empire's ambitious aqueduct system that's still found throughout Europe. But that infrastructure was also pumping ancient Romans with lead—up to 100 times the amount of lead found in local spring water.
Ever since Neil DeGrasse Tyson mentioned the "lead in the water" theory of why Rome fell on Cosmos, scientists and historians have been tearing up the internet to explain all the problems with this idea.
Third-century China got around the ancient world. They even made it to the Roman Empire, and wrote down their thoughts on these strange foreigners in the Weilüe, a third-century C.E. account of the interactions between the two nations. Here's what China had to say about their imperial neighbors!
Ever wondered how long it would take to travel from Rome to Constantinople at the peak of the Roman Empire? Or from Luna to Larissa? Or Parma to Thessalonica? This map of the Roman World created at Stanford University is awesomely realistic — all the ancient transportation lines on it actually existed 2,000 years ago.
As far as the people of ancient Pompeii were concerned, dead bodies and trash were basically the same thing, at least in terms of where they ended up. And that isn't even the grossest place Pompeii put its trash.
Climate has been the secret driver of history, particularly in the preindustrial world. Empires and kingdoms rose to power when it was warm and wet and toppled when it became cool and dry...and climate might not be done guiding history.
An ancient Roman cemetery in northern England is home to 80 corpses of strong, muscular men who quite literally lost their heads. These decapitated skeletons leave behind a 2000-year-old archaeological mystery that spans all of Europe.
Nobody is entirely sure who first had the privilege of sitting on a toilet. Evidence of advanced plumbing systems in the ancient world abounds, but it's a strange, meandering path from antiquity to checking your inbox on the can.
The Roman Empire has given speculative fiction authors plenty of fodder for alternate history tales. There are dozens of stories in which the fall of Rome is delayed or prevented, and technology advances at an alarming pace.
This could very well be the world's first Swiss Army Knife. Bearing a striking resemblance to modern multi-tools, it has at least six distinct functions and originates from the Roman Empire circa 200 A.D.