In April 2020, a sinkhole formed in front of the historic Pantheon in Rome, Italy. While the sinkhole itself was a marvel to look at, what was truly amazing was what was discovered beneath the earth. What the archaeology team found not only provides us with a glimpse of Rome’s ancient past but begs the question of what other incredible discoveries lie just beneath the feet of the thousands of residents and tourists that walk the streets of the city each day.
Right In Front Of The Pantheon
The sinkhole that appeared in the middle of Rome was discovered in front of the Pantheon, a house of worship used continuously since it was first constructed back in 117 AD.
It is located in Rome’s Piazza Della Rotonda, which is exactly where a 10-square-foot section of the earth collapsed on itself, opening a hole in the ground. After the sinkhole emerged nobody knew exactly what the archeologists would find once they began sifting through the rubble.
It Wasn’t Out Of The Ordinary
Although the sinkhole in front of the Pantheon can be considered unique, sinkholes around Rome aren’t all that uncommon. This is mainly because the city is so old that all ancient quarries, tunnels, and catacombs built in the past eventually collapsed after all of those thousands of years.
Particularly in the eastern region, Rome has countless hidden cavities beneath the cobblestone streets that used to be mined, which are now full of history and waiting to be discovered.
They Never Seem To End
Sinkholes in the Eternal City can sometimes reach over 100 in just the passing of one year! Nevertheless, not many of them become as popular as the hole that emerged in front of the Pantheon in April 2020.
However, this one caught the attention of countless archeologists who figured that there had to be something worth finding beneath the ground since it was located in a part in the city that was packed full of history.
The Legacy Of The Pantheon
To this day, the Pantheon remains one of the best-preserved ancient Roman structures that were built by our ancestors thousands of years ago. Even more impressive, it is still in use today and is still utilized as a place of worship, just like it was during ancient times.
However, it is now a church that is typically closed off to tourists during the weekends so that the locals can worship in peace without being disrupted.
It Wasn’t Always A Church
Even though Rome’s Pantheon may be used as a church today, that wasn’t always the purpose it served. The original structure, which is different from the one we see today was built in 25 BC by Marcus Agrippa, whose father-in-law Augustus was Rome’s first emperor.
This version was much smaller and wasn’t a church, but a place for the people of Rome to worship the Roman gods. However, the Greek words that makeup “pantheon” are pan, meaning “all” and theos, meaning “gods”.
It Was Destroyed By A Fire
Unfortunately, the original Pantheon only stood for around 100 years before a fire consumed it, destroying it almost entirely.
Then, Emperor Minitian, who ruled over Rome from 81 to 96 AD, had the temple rebuilt. Incredibly, this new temple wouldn’t prove to last long either, and it was struck by lightning and destroyed in 110 AD. This led worshippers to be superstitious about the structure, considering that it had been “struck down” twice.
Emperor Hadrian Was Known For Ordering The Construction Of Numerous Structures
It wasn’t until Emperor Hadrian rose to power in 117 AD that he decided to rebuild the Pantheon that we know today. Known for his appreciation of architecture and the arts, he made building various structures around his empire one of his main priorities.
However, one of his most notable architectural accomplishments is Hadrian’s Wall, a 73-mile wall that stretches across northern England. This wall marked the northwestern border of Rome’s territory, and beyond was considered the “end of the world”.
Hadrian Paid Homage To His Predecessors
Most experts agree that the third and final Pantheon was finished between the years 126 and 128. AD. When Hadrian officially opened it, he didn’t forget about those that came before him.
He added a description of the structure that confused historians for quite some time. It reads: “Marcus Agrippa the son of Lucius, three times Consul, made this.” Experts now know that Hadrian most likely built the new Pantheon on the same spot as Agrippa did.
The Pantheon Eventually Suffered From Disrepair
Just 200 years later, the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Byzantium which is modern-day Istanbul. Unfortunately, this didn’t exactly work out for the Pantheon. During this transition, the Pantheon fell into disrepair. This continued until 609 AD when Pope Boniface IV stepped in to fix things.
He spoke with the Byzantine emperor Phocas, asking permission to give the Pantheon a new purpose, with Boniface hoping to convert it into a Catholic church, which he was allowed to do. He named it Sancta Maria ad Martyres, Latin for St. Mary and the Martyrs.
From Pagan To Catholic
And just like that, the temple that was once a place of pagan worship was turned into a Catholic church. Not only was this the first time that such a transition was made, but it had a great effect on the Pantheon’s structure.
Now, the Pope had the resources to return it to its former glory and maintain it. To do so, the builders used a combination of concrete and bricks, creating three major sections which are the portico, rectangle interior, and its incredible ceiling.
Its Roof Is An Architectural Feat
The Pantheon’s domed roof is considered to be one of the most impressive achievements ever accomplished by Rome’s ancient architects. Incredibly, it arcs overhead without needing any kind of visible support, making it all the more impressive.
For more than 1,000 years, it held the title of the largest cupola in the world, and today remains the only concrete roof in this style that doesn’t have reinforcements to support it. So, not only is it a marvel of the ancient world but the modern world, too.
There’s More Than Just The Dome
While the dome itself is incredibly impressive, with a diameter of just over 142 feet, what is even more mind-blowing is the Pantheon’s oculus in its center. At the top, there is a 28.5-foot circular opening. However, this wasn’t included just for any reason.
It’s was built specifically so that those inside could be closer to the gods that they worshipped. Architecturally, it also reduces the tension the dome places on the structure, one reason it has stood for so long.
Even Michelangelo Was Impressed
Michelangelo is considered one of the most talented artists of all time, especially those living during the Italian Renaissance. Speaking of the Pantheon, he described it as a divine design, and it was unbelievable that man could create something so perfect.
The structure’s design also inspired Thomas Jefferson, who created his own copula for his estate in Virginia, known as Monticello. Many of the American state capitol buildings have also drawn inspiration from the design.
Another Connection To The Pantheon
On top of impressing some of the Renaissance’s most renowned artists, it became a popular burial site for many people of importance during that time because it was made into a Catholic church.
This includes the painter Raphael and some Italian monarchs. Today, tourists from all over the world come to see the incredible architecture and the gravesites of some incredibly notable individuals from the past.
The modern-day Rome area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, even before it became a civilized city. So, understandably, a lot of this history has been lost beneath the ground. This includes a network of quarries mined by the ancient people.
The miners also dug cavities, tunnels, and catacombs that are causing the sinkholes in Rome today. Another thing that creates the sinkholes is the loose soil that the city’s foundation is built on.
Investigating The Sinkhole
The sinkhole opened up in front of the Pantheon in April of 2020, starting out as a 10-foot-square hole that was 8-feet deep. Although the hole itself was big, compared to everything that lies beneath Rome’s city, it was only a fraction of what could be discovered. Nevertheless, the hole provided some key insight into Rome’s past.
A team of archeologists from ANSA took up the role of investigating the sinkhole, unsure of what they might find.
They Found Ancient Stones
When the archeologists from ANSA first made their way into the sinkhole, they discovered paving stones that dated far back to the ancient times when Rome was the capital of the empire.
In total, there were seven of these stones which were dated to be around 25 to 27 BC. Interestingly, 27 BC was also the same year as the empire’s creation.
The Stones Were Part Of The First Temple
As we already know, Agrippa built the first Pantheon in Rome around the same time, 25 BC to be exact, with his father-in-law, Augustus, served as Rome’s first emperor.
From this information, historians concluded that the ancient slabs of stone were part of Agrippa’s first temple’s work. What makes it even more fascinating is that Agrippa helped design the stones himself. The archaeologists were astounded by this discovery, knowing they were standing right on top of history.
How The Stones Ended Up Underground
After the first Pantheon built by Agrippa had burned down, Hadrian had a new one built in his place, one of his many architectural achievements. Furthermore, he also ensured that the surrounding piazza was refurbished.
The piazza and Pantheon underwent further renovations at the beginning of the 200s, which pushed the original stones used deep into the ground. However, this wasn’t the first time that these ancient stones had been unearthed during the modern age.
Some Were Found In The 1990s
In the 1990s, workers were laying a brand new network of service cables that ran through an underground tunnel. It was during this project that they found the travertine stonework laid by the ancient Romans.
While this was still an incredible find in the 1990s, what made the discovery in April 2020 that much more fascinating was that they had been found due to a sinkhole. It was almost as if they wanted to be found.
They Were Reburied After Discovery
When the stones were initially found by those working on the service cables in the 1990s, they were examined and then reburied. Nevertheless, they were buried with a layer of pozzolan on top.
The superintendent of Rome, Daniela Porro explained in a statement that pozzolan is a material that is similar to cement when wet. So, adding a layer on top after returning the stone to the earth acts as a form of protection from damage over time.
The Pozzolan Was Successful
When the stones were once again uncovered in April 2020, Porro made sure to mention how the pozzolan had successfully protected the artifacts.
In a statement in May 2020, she commented that it was, “an unequivocal demonstration of how important archaeological protection is, not only an opportunity for knowledge but fundamental for the preservation of the testimonies of our history, an invaluable heritage in particular in a city like Rome.”
The Sinkhole Helped Prevent A Disaster
Because of all of their planning and preservation tactics that were put in place to protect the stones, the Romans were lucky regarding the timing of the Pantheon’s sinkhole finally opened up.
The national Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that “The area, fortunately closed, could have become a hazardous trap for Romans and the thousands of tourists who on a beautiful day in the middle of spring, in a ‘normal’ period, would have filled it.”
Rome Has Precautions Put In Place
Thankfully, Rome’s government is well-aware of the dangers of sinkholes that plague the city, which is one of the downsides of living in such a historic area.
To help correct the problem, in March 2018, the city announced its plan to fix the more than 50,000 potholes that riddled the city to prevent them from opening into sinkholes. The mayor, Virginia Raggi, designated a €17 million (more than $20.5 million) budget to put the project into action and stop future problems.
Things Didn’t Go As Planned
When Raggi first announced her new plan to fix the potholes, she promised that 50,000 of them would be filled and fixed within the first month of the program. Yet, since the spring of 2020, the project has been delayed significantly.
Because of this, potholes still remain a great danger to both the thousands of citizens and tourists of Rome that walk the streets every day. Furthermore, sinkholes have continued to form due to a lack of maintenance.
Other Sinkholes At Historic Sites
Although the sinkhole in front of the Pantheon was all the buzz for a while, it wasn’t the only sinkhole to open up near one of Rome’s most historic locations. In January 2020, one of these craters opened up on Via Marco Aurelio, which is very close to the iconic Colosseum.
As a result, the city officials had to evacuate an entire apartment building as they closely inspected the safety of the ground surrounding the new hole.
Gladiator Fighting Wasn’t The Predominant Source Of Entertainment
When most people think of Roman entertainment, it usually involves gladiators in the Colosseum fighting to the death for the pleasure of the Roman public. While gladiator fighting was a beloved sport by the Romans, it turns out that it wasn’t the most popular. The sheer brutality and the size of such games was astounding, but not admired by all.
Chariot racing was the most popular sport of its time. The Colosseum, where the gladiator fights occurred, could seat around 50,000 people. Yet, the Circus Maximus, which was for chariot racing, could seat an audience of up to 250,000.
Roman Life Expectancy
Although Rome was extremely technologically advanced, that doesn’t mean that the living conditions of the commoners or the city were anywhere close to being sanitary. This led historians to believe that the life expectancy in Ancient Rome was probably around 25 to 40 years old. However, this is a massive misconception because that is the average lifespan of the population, not the expectancy of the individual.
Ancient Rome had an incredibly high child mortality rate with half of the children dying before they were ten years old. However, if you did live past ten, you were expected to live a long life. Another factor that brought the average down was men in military service and women that died during childbirth.
Christmas Has Its Roots In Saturnalia
Saturnalia was a Roman pagan festival to honor the god of agriculture Saturnalia during mid-December each year. Some of the traditions, such as decorating and gift-giving, are believed to be the roots of modern-day Christmas. Saturnalia was a week-long holiday that began on December 17th. During that week of celebration, all work would stop, and typical day-to-day activities cease to exist.
People would decorate their homes with greenery and wreaths and even changed the style of clothing they wore. Slaves also stopped working and were even allowed to participate in the festivities and in some cases switched places with their masters. Essentially, it was one of the biggest parties the Western World has ever seen.
The Vestal Virgins
In Ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were an order of priestesses of the Roman goddess of the hearth, Vesta. There were typically four to six of these priestesses at a time who worked as full-time members of the clergy. Their duties included tending the sacred fire, caring for sacred artifacts, and officiating public events that involved Vesta.
The Virgins were selected by the chief priest between the ages of six and ten. They were then required to serve for 30 years as well as remain chaste during their years of service. After their 30 years were up they were free to leave, although few rarely did. If a Vestal Virgin failed in her duties they were severely punished and beaten. Furthermore, those who broke their chastity were buried alive or had molten lead poured down their throats.
Urine Was A Hot Commodity
As if using a public bathroom isn’t bad enough, Ancient Romans were taxed for using public facilities. It was first Emperor Nero and then Vespasian that passed this tax called the vectigal, urinae or the urine tax. However, the urine didn’t go to waste. All of the urinals both public and private would lead to pools where it was then recycled and used for various purposes.
Back then, urine was great for cleaning animal pelts because it would help to remove the hair fibers on the pelt. Also, believe it or not, it was used for laundry because it was a source of ammonia and could be used for bleaching and cleaning garments.
The Legend Of The Founders Of Rome
According to Ancient Greek legend, Rome was founded by the two demi-god twin brothers Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BCE. Supposedly, the boys were the children of Rhea Silvia and Mars. As babies, their death was ordered by their grandfather who had the two boys thrown into the Tiber river. They were then saved by a she-wolf until they were discovered by a herdsman who raised them.
After growing up, the boys killed King Amulius of Alba Longa and were offered the throne. Instead, the two set off to start their own city in the best location possible. The brothers argued about the area, and eventually, Romulus killed Remus and named the new city after himself. Although this is just a myth, the story remains prominent today.
Gladiator Liver Was Special
Ancient Romans were known for doing some pretty questionable things in the name of health. Whether it was brushing their teeth with urine or sharing wiping sponges in public bathrooms, nothing was out of the question. However, during the first and sixth centuries, it was believed that the consumption of gladiator’s liver was successful in curing epilepsy.
The belief was that the blood of a fallen gladiator could cleanse the soul and that’s what people with epilepsy needed to cure their disease. It was not uncommon to see gladiator blood for sale while it was still warm not long after their death in the arena.
Goddess Of The Sewers
Believe it or not, the Ancient Romans had a goddess of the sewers and drains of Rome. Cloacina, or “The Cleanser,” was believed to have presided over the Cloaca Maxima, “The Great Drain,” which was the main system of sewers in Ancient Rome. Originally derived from Etruscan mythology, she was eventually adopted by the Romans and came to be identified with Venus.
Over time, as well as being the goddess of the sewers, Cloaca was also deemed the protector of sexual intercourse in marriage, the goddess of filth, and the goddess purity. A shrine was built in her honor directly above the entrance to the Cloaca Maxima Sewer and is where historians believe there was once a shrine.
Ancient Rome Invented The Shopping Mall
It is believed that the world’s first-ever shopping mall was Trajan’s Market. It is assumed that Trajan’s Market was constructed between 100-110 AD by Apollodorus Damascus. Damascus was an architect and a close friend of Trajan whom Trajan entrusted to construct the Forum. It’s a large complex that was located on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, at the opposite end of the Colosseum.
The complex had a covered market, shops, and even a residential apartment block. As time went on, more levels were built, adding more residential living, stores, and socializing establishments. Although it was once a bustling part of the city of Rome, it is now another large complex that lays in ruins.
It Wasn’t Good To Be Left-Handed
Although being left-handed today is more of an inconvenience rather than an actual problem, in Ancient Rome, that wasn’t the case. People that were left-handed were considered to be unfortunate or even wicked by their right-handed counterparts. Those who were left-handed were held in suspicion by others because they were also believed to be deceitful people.
Although some people claim that left-handed Romans were held in high regard, this is false. The prejudice against left-handed individuals was so strong that the Ancient Romans began to wear their wedding rings on their left hand’s third finger to avoid sin from lefties.
There Was A God For Your Bowel Problems
The ancient Romans had a god for just about anything it seems, including farting. Crepitus was the Roman god of flatulence according to some sources. Crepitus was typically invoked to help people move their bowels.
Many scholars believe that Crepitus was never actually worshipped in the traditional sense. They believe that Crepitus was the invention of a Christian satirist who wrote of Roman culture. However, the fact that there was a god named Crepitus hasn’t been discredited, since there is evidence of him in many works of French literature.
Reclining And Dining Was The Way
Romans didn’t like to eat at the table. They usually enjoyed their meals lying down and eating with their hands — if they could afford to. Typically only the wealthier Romans who enjoyed their meals in such a relaxed state and even then, it was mainly men.
Women weren’t really invited to nice banquets and when they were, they still had to eat sitting upright. Eventually, customs changed to allow upper-class women to enjoy fancy lying-down meals. Enjoying a lavish meal in this manner was a way to show off your wealth in those days.
Atheists Of The Ancient World
Inhabitants of the Roman Empire had a variety of gods and goddesses, but there were people back then who would be considered early Christians. Ironically, these people were considered atheists by the ancient Romans because they didn’t pay tribute to any of the pagan gods.
But their refusal to acknowledge traditional pagan gods wasn’t the only reason early Christians were considered atheists. These Christians didn’t really practice an organized religion, had no temples or shrines, and no priests. As a result, these people were ostracized from society as salacious rumors regarding their lives would often float around.
Soliders Had To Be Worth Their Salt
The word “salary” is derived from the Latin word salarium, which is related to the word pertaining to salt. This is because, during the days of the Roman Empire, soldiers were paid in salt.
There is no concrete proof that this was actually the case, but many scholars believe this myth to be true. Salt was a huge commodity for trade in those days, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it was used as a substitute for ancient currency. It was also believed that slaves were bought with salt.
Fathers Could Sell Their Kids
Ancient Roman dads definitely put their kids to work and that included selling them into slavery. The arrangement, however, was kind of like a lease since the buyer had to return the kid at a certain point.
Fathers did this all the time apparently, but there were limits. You could only lease off your kid as a slave up to three times. If you tried to do it any more than that, you’d be considered an unfit father and therefore, your kid would earn emancipation from you. This is why it was helpful to have more than one kid, so you could lease off each one at least twice.
Gladiator Sweat Was The Hottest Beauty Trend
You already learned that urine was used for laundry and gladiator blood was consumed, but apparently, no ounce of human bodily fluids went to waste. The ancient Romans even harvested the sweat of gladiators!
Outside of the arena, it was common to see people selling vials of gladiator sweat. Wealthy women would buy these vials and use it as a face cream. The sweat and dirt were scraped off the skin of famous gladiators using a tool called a strigil. But not everyone could indulge in this product. These items were only reserved for women of status.
Ancient Romans Were Ahead Of Their Time
It may appear that folks of the Roman Empire hardly batted an eye towards same-sex marriage. Emperor Nero who reigned for 13 years during the Roman Empire, married two men during his reign.
During the Saturnalia, Nero married Pythagoras, a freedman under his rule. Nero acted as the wife in the ceremony during this marriage. Of course, Nero did marry some women, but after horribly murdering one of them, he took a young boy named Sporus as his new wife. He even had Sporus castrated to make him more womanlike.
It Wasn’t As Great As It Seemed
For how much we are taught about the Roman Empire, it makes it seem like it was pretty vast. You’d be surprised to learn, however, that it really wasn’t. The Roman Empire was only the 28th largest empire in the world’s history.
Not only that, the Roman Empire only accounted for just 12% of the world’s population at its peak! So in actuality, the Roman Empire was quite small, but that certainly doesn’t take away from how much they’ve contributed to history. After all, they did last for centuries despite their small size in comparison to the rest of the world.
The Fanciest Horse In The Roman Empire
Emperor Gaius Caligula favored his horse Incitatus so much, that he decided to make his horse a senator. At least, that’s what ancient historian Suetonius would have us believe. Incitatus was loved so much, that Caligula outfitted him with marble stalls, an ivory manger, and his own house!
Incitatus also owned a jeweled collar and was fed a lovely diet of oats mixed with gold flakes. Many scholars try to discredit this story, suggesting that Caligula joked about making his horse a consul. Still, he really did love that horse so stories about its digs are possibly true.
Wives Took A Three-Day Vacation To Avoid Becoming Property
Wives in the Roman Empire had to be vigilant enough to leave their homes for three days in the year. The “usucapio” laws dictated how long you could possess something before it was legally yours. These laws also applied to humans.
If a wife stayed in her house for a whole year then she legally became her husband’s property. Luckily, women were somewhat entitled to their freedom, so many of them left their homes for three consecutive days to avoid becoming their husband’s property.
The Color Purple Was Absolutely Off Limits
In history, purple was often reserved for royalty and those in higher classes, and it was no different in Ancient Roman society. Emperors of the Roman Empire often donned purple-colored togas and such, but they wouldn’t let anyone else wear it.
It was so serious that it was made into a law and is one of the “sumptuary laws” of the time, which prevented lower-classes from making extravagant displays of wealth. These laws were in place so that Romans could know someone’s social standing just by looking at them, and they didn’t want to waste time being polite to a peasant.
Don’t Mess With Someone Who Got Struck By Lightning
If a citizen of the Roman Empire was struck with lightning, no one did anything about it. This sucked for people who witnessed their friends get struck then die because they didn’t even get to give them a proper burial.
This is because Romans believed that getting struck by lightning was an act of the god Jupiter. If something was struck by lightning, that simply meant that Jupiter didn’t like it. The same went for humans. If you tried to bury someone who died from a lightning strike, it was equivalent to stealing a sacrifice from Jupiter. If you did this, you’d get sacrificed to Jupiter as punishment.
Women Were Publicly Shamed For Having Affairs
No one likes to be cheated on, but it happens, even in Ancient Rome. If a man cheated on his wife, the wife couldn’t do anything about it but cry. However, if a woman cheated on her husband, she got the ultimate punishment.
According to some sources, the husband would lock up his wife with her lover. He’d then have about a day to call up everyone he could so that they could come to check out the guy she cheated with. Then, the husband made a public declaration about the affair, providing as many details as possible before he was legally obligated to divorce her.
They Eventually Had To Ban Crying At Funerals
A traditional funeral in Ancient Rome often started with a procession. People would walk the deceased body through the streets and wept as they did so. In those days, if you had a lot of people mourning you during the procession, it showed how popular and established you were.
Some people wanted to impress, so families would hire mourners to walk in the procession and cry. Some women got so into it that they would scratch their faces up and rip out their hair to seem believable. It got so intense, that eventually crying at funerals was outlawed to prevent people from hiring actors.