The Reason You'd Never Survive Life In Ancient Rome

It might be fun to fantasize about life in an ancient villa, draped in a billowing toga being fed grapes and chugging wine, but the reality is if you lived in the Roman empire there's a good chance your life was pretty awful. The idealized image of Rome often portrayed in movies and TV shows was only known to the empire's richest citizens. For everyone else life was usually short and brutal.

First, there was a high probability that if you lived in the Roman Empire you were a slave. About one in five people across the empire were slaves, and within Rome and the rest of modern day Italy that number was closer to one in three people. According to Ancient History Encyclopedia, you could end up enslaved by being a prisoner of war, kidnapped by pirates, or by being born to an enslaved person. Needless to say, life as a slave in ancient Rome was more akin to an Eli Roth movie than a costume drama. Because slaves were legally treated as property, not human beings, their owners were free to abuse or kill them without recourse from the state.

Life in squalor

If you were #blessed enough to not be a slave there's a good chance that you were dirt poor. Because slaves were used to perform most manual labor, jobs were hard to come by. Ancient History Encyclopedia explains that while many poor people traveled from the countryside to the cities of the empire in hopes of finding work that would lift them above their station in life, few actually achieved this. Most found themselves living in Rome's version of tenement apartments, called insulae. These buildings could be as high as seven stories tall and were poorly constructed, leaving their residents in constant threat of dying in a structural collapse or fire.

Although the ancient Romans had some remarkably advanced feats of civil engineering, including indoor plumbing, these advancements were more of a treat for the wealthy, rather than a standard of living. In the slums the tired-but-true method of throwing all household waste into the streets was used, leading to rampant disease in poor neighborhoods. If you wanted to escape the miasma and danger of city life you also forfeited the protection that city walls provided you. Given that Rome was in a near constant state of war and colonial expansion, life in the countryside could be an out of the frying pan, into the fire situation.

The truth is, no matter where you lived in ancient Rome death and destruction were always close by.