Where to begin? Rome may have been an incredible empire, but it was also utterly brutal.
Let’s do a quick list:
- Utterly brutal punishments
When it came to punishing criminals, enemies and, anyone else they didn’t like, the Romans were brutal and cruel.
Here are but a few of the most violent punishments they used:
In situations such as slave revolts, the Romans would often mass-crucify thousands and thousands together.
Decimation was a punishment given to legionaries for severe breaches of discipline, the most common cause being if they fled the field of battle.
Each cohort would be split into groups of 10, each drawing straws. Whoever drew the short straw would then be beaten to death by the other 9. Just imagine the brutality to being forced to beat to death your closest friends and colleagues, not to even consider being the one that drew the short straw.
The Vestal Virgins were a groups of virgins who had an oath of chastity to the Goddess Vesta. These oaths were taken incredibly seriously, so much so that, if you were so foolish as to break it, you would be buried alive. To go into a little more detail, they were locked in pits underground and left to starve to death.
—Poena Cullei (Penalty of the Sack)
Poena Cullie (Latin for “Penalty of the Sack”) was the legal punishment for parricide (murdering ones father) and consisted of being sewn up in a leather sack with live dogs, snakes, monkeys, chickens or roosters, and then being tossed into water (the River Tiber most often when the punishment was carried out in Rome itself) to drown.
This one probably goes without saying, but still needs mentioning. The Roman economy was completely reliant on slavery and, hence, there were millions of them.
A rich man could have in the thousands of slaves while most families had some. They were considered property and often treated incredibly harshly by their masters. Although they were typically treated better than slaves in the 18/19th centuries, they still weren’t exactly treated well.
- Brutal Conquests
Roman conquest was brutal. Utterly brutal. The Roman economy was, for much of its history, fueled by conquest. Where did this money come from? Brutally looting and plundering any regions that resisted occupation.
Entire cities were often razed to the ground, Carthage being the most famous example where, not content with just victory, they destroyed totally the entire city with some anecdotes saying they sowed salt in the fields to stop anything from growing again (although this is likely not true).
You likely will all have heard of the Gallic Wars when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul (roughly modern day France), what you may not know is that, in the process, he killed 1.000.000 people while enslaving a further 1.000.000. Combined, probably around 2 in 5 people were killed or enslaved including the often wholesale massacre of entire tribes. I think it goes without saying the region never resisted again.
And that’s just the overt violence, not the constant corruption that dominated Roman politics and the cruel indifference to quality of life it often resulted in.
Ancient Rome gave us many great things, but it was not without its crimes.