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How This Simple Viral Question Launched Deep Historical Conversations on TikTok

Academic Approach weighs in on the viral TikTok trend about the Roman Empire. How will your favorite part of the Roman Empire rank?

Academic Approach Weighs In on the Viral TikTok Trend About the Roman Empire

The viral Roman Empire trend swept across TikTok in September, as women asked the men in their lives how often they thought about the Roman Empire and were shocked to find out that the answer was… quite frequently, with a seeming majority of men saying they thought about the Roman Empire every single day.

Many women smartly followed up with the question we all want to know: why? The answers varied, with some men citing historical battles, important Romans, cultural achievements, or engineering accomplishments, and others simply shrugging and saying they had no idea.

As a company of educators, we were tickled by this trend for two reasons. First, it seems that world history education (at least the Roman Empire component) is alive and well. The fact that so many Millennial and Gen Z men could rattle off legitimate historical facts about the Roman Empire is as impressive as it is entertaining.

Second, we’re thrilled whenever an educational topic can go viral and spark conversations, especially on an app like TikTok whose users tend to be younger. Whether it’s AP US or World History tutoring or ACT/SAT preparation, we are interacting with historical passages on a regular basis, so history is often on our brains, but it’s always great when our students can come to us with a genuine interest (even if it’s to take part in a silly TikTok trend) in a subject.

That said, because we are an education company, it felt prudent to review some of the most common responses to the question “why do you think about the Roman Empire so often?” and rate them according to how understandable I find it that men are thinking about them so regularly.

Do you agree with the rankings? Let us know in the comments below!

Mark Antony:

Antony was, by all accounts, a competent general, politician, and ruler, and he played an important role in history. However, I think we can all agree that his legacy actually stems from his relationship with Cleopatra (who was so much cooler than Antony). If it weren’t for his association with Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s epic tragedy of their romance, would we really remember Antony at all?

Togas:

There’s no denying that thinking about the Roman Empire goes hand-in-hand with picturing people in togas. An impractical form of dress, sure, but nevertheless fun. That said, I’m not sure what else there is to say about togas.

Julius Caesar:

The most famous Roman. Salad inspirer. Victim of a gruesome, theatrical death. Another subject of a Shakespeare play. One of the few dictators that history oddly remembers somewhat fondly. To many people, Caesar is the Roman Empire. However, Caesar is overplayed and there are far more interesting aspects of the Roman Empire to be thinking about.

The Roman army/ Roman military:

The gargantuan size of the Roman Empire was the result of exceptional military conquests. With its discipline, organization, and innovative weapons and military tactics, it’s an undisputed fact of history that the Roman army is one of the best armies to ever army, so if you’re into military history, I can understand why the Roman army is on your mind. However, if you’re not into military history, I have no idea why you’d be thinking about the Roman army on a regular basis.

Coins / Currency:

Although thinking about ancient currency may not be the most thrilling use of your time, Roman coins are mildly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the British pound was inspired by Roman currency. Secondly, because egomaniac Caesar was one of the first people to insist on putting his portrait on coins (a trend that subsequent Roman emperors followed), coins provided a brand-new opportunity for nationalistic propaganda. The fact that many Roman citizens only found out who their new emperor was by seeing a new face appear on their coins is pretty cute in an imperial civilization kind of way.

Latin:

The men in my life cited Latin as the most common reason they thought about the Roman Empire. As the official language of the enormous Roman Empire (particularly for government, legal, and military business), Latin spread across the world, eventually merging with other regional languages and creating French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and dozens of other modern Romantic languages. That fact alone is worth some mental real estate in my book.

Colosseum / Gladiators / “Lions eating people”:

We certainly have Hollywood and tourism to thank for keeping gladiators and the Colosseum front and center in our collective memories. Yes, it is interesting to learn about. Yes, the incorporation of lions into any kind of theatre production is exciting. But the violence and cliché of it all is a bit much. Still, the fact that the Colosseum was the (definitely real) setting of Hilary Duff’s unforgettable concert in The Lizzie McGuire Movie  was an important deciding factor that helped secure the 7.

Pompeii:

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, the flourishing town of Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash and pumice, killing nearly 2,000 people and preserving the ancient city at the moment of its destruction. Since Pompeii’s rediscovery, archaeologists have been able to learn so much about the Roman Empire and the lives of its people. From its mosaics, its graffiti, or the tragic plaster casts of its citizens in their final moments, Pompeii is fascinating and worthy of frequent thought.

Aqueducts:

This was one of the most commonly cited reasons that men were thinking about the Roman Empire so often, and to be honest, I get it. Aqueducts are insanely cool. Using gravity and the natural slope of the land, aqueducts were able to channel water from a freshwater source, such as a lake or spring, to a city, where it was used for drinking, irrigation, bathing, and in fountains. Rome alone had 11 aqueduct systems, bringing water in from 50+ miles away. What’s more, some aqueducts are still in use today like the Aqua Virgo, which was built in 19 BCE, and still supplies water to the famous Trevi Fountain.

Roads / Hadrian’s Wall:

By far, the coolest thing about the Roman Empire is the infrastructure that connected such a vast empire, which, at its height, included 2 million square miles of territory and stretched as far south as Egypt, as far north as England, as far west as Portugal, and as far east as Turkey. The network of roads built by the Roman Empire was crucial to its success by enabling the movement of armies, people, and goods and supporting the integration of cultures. At one point, 29 ancient “highways” radiated from Rome and connected the empire’s 113 provinces by 372 roads, roads that were often stone-paved, designed for drainage, and cut through hills, rivers, or other challenging geographical terrain. Remains of Hadrian’s Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which was built “from sea to sea” across 73 miles of northern England to mark the border of Roman Britannia, can be visited today.

Ultimately, no matter how often you think about the Roman Empire, or how justifiable or cliché your reasons for doing so are, this is a TikTok trend to stand behind. History is important and regular interactions with it and discussions about it should be encouraged.

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