When thinking of the ancient world that is a part of our history, certain things tend to come to mind. We might think of a time with no electricity, no air travel and no microwave dinners. We might imagine a Roman legion facing a charge of howling barbarians, intent on fighting off the imperial yoke. We may also close our eyes and transport ourselves in front of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to imagine that which is now lost to history.
Those times may seem almost impossible for us to understand, and not just because Latin or Ancient Greek aren’t spoken much these days. A world without all of our modern luxuries and advantages may be something we would not want to experience, but it might come as a surprise that some of the things that we associate with our everyday lives had a similar position in the lives of people thousands of years ago.
I don’t know about you, but nothing helps me survive the cold of winter as well as turning up the heat and then cozying up with a warm beverage. Whether the Ancient Romans had access to my favorite cuppa or not, they could at least boast of having had central heating for their citizens. While they didn’t have a massive heater bellowing warmth across an entire living space, they did have floor-heating systems, fueled by a furnace located below the home.
This heat from this furnace would filter through the thin flooring and keep the occupants nice and toasty during the winter months. Of course, the Romans also used these furnaces to heat their famous bathhouses: places for all manner of citizens to come and clean off the sweat of grime associated with everyday activities, as well as just to relax and socialize. Speaking of hygiene, certain homes in Rome had a system of interconnected pipes, which would channel human waste to a disposal area, where it was then collected by workers and used as fertilizer. Roman public toilets would actually have long benches with toilet holes in regular intervals, beneath which plumbing and constant flowing water would transfer the deposits into a massive sewage system, appropriately named The Great Drain.
Modern medicine has made our lives easier in many ways, keeping our teeth from turning black or falling out of our mouths is a good example of such. Thousands of years ago in Ancient Egypt, there was no minty flavored toothpaste to keep those things nice and white. And when the inevitable happened and teeth started to feel the pain of a fluoride-less life, there was no dentist to charge you an arm and a leg to fix it either.
However, there was a way to at least make sure you didn’t torture others around you with the smell of your rotting teeth. No, the Egyptians didn’t invent Listerine, but did manage to cobble together a perfectly serviceable breath mint. Mix frankincense and myrrh, boil some cinnamon in honey and add to the mixture and then form into little pellets, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between a freshly bought lozenge from the grocery store and a 5000 year old one.
Ancient Greece certainly brought us some of the most useful and forward thinking advances in existence. Democracy, modern philosophy, geometry, mathematics, advances in medicine and scientific thought. All things that affect our daily lives to this very day. Now obviously none of these amazing discoveries would have been possible if Greeks had just slept the day away all the time. So they made alarm clocks. Yes, the Greeks also had something to hate more than Not Having Coffee in the mornings.
Granted, the Greeks did not possess mechanical alarm clocks, much less digital ones. For one thing, their alarm clocks weren’t quite as specific as ours. If you wanted to get up at exactly 6:50 you could end up a little early or a little late, depending on what method you were using. The Ancient Greek alarm clocks were generally a set of mechanisms that would set off water organs or pebbles so that they would hit some drums at a specific time. Plato had a rather large clock with an alarm, so that he could wake up at a specific time and teach others how to be as smart as him.
All of this goes to show that while we’ve certainly come far in our short tenure on this planet, there are many aspects of our lives that can be traced back thousands of years. Julius Caesar and friends may not have had Netflix or canned whipped cream, but they had their own creature comforts that made life worth living. Like ice cream. Yes, Romans had ice cream. Travelling back in time doesn’t sound quite as bad now, does it?