110 votes

Why, in ancient battles, did being encircled mean defeat?

While the total encirclement might be the most impressive thing about Cannae, remember that it's just a special case of a pincer movement where the pincer goes all the way around the enemy. A pincer ...
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  • 3,035
102 votes
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Why, in ancient battles, did being encircled mean defeat?

While the tactical factor (not being able to move units around) is important, the main issue is one of soldiers panicking. Remember that it does not matter what the numbers are actually; your soldiers ...
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  • 12.1k
101 votes
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Why didn't Roman emperors have harems?

One key lies in their treatment of illegitimacy, or bastardy. In Roman society, as is typical of the West in general, illegitimate children had no formal link to their fathers. This was true from the ...
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  • 95.9k
83 votes

What language did Gaius Julius Caesar speak with Cleopatra?

Most likely Greek. This is the only language which we know they definitely had in common, and both were highly proficient in it. High-born Romans learnt Greek and Julius Caesar was no exception: ...
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71 votes
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Were Roman public roads built by private companies?

If the question is "did the roman government officials pay individuals, slave owners and groups of workers to build construction projects instead of using the government's direct manpower?", the ...
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  • 1,479
64 votes
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Could women be crucified under Roman law?

In Antiquities of the Jews, the ancient historian Josephus reported an incident where the Emperor Tiberius explicitly ordered a woman to be crucified: Mundus had a freedwoman, who had been made ...
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  • 95.9k
64 votes
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Did the Romans eat breakfast?

It seems the issue may be with generalizing 'Romans' as single entity and not as a group which changed through time. Johnston in The Private Life of the Romans goes into the changes seen in the Roman ...
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  • 34.1k
62 votes
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Did the Romans leave any technical instruction manuals behind?

The only book to survive from ancient Rome on architecture is Marcus Vitruvius Pollio's De architectura, found by the Renaissance scholar Poggio Bracciolini in 1414 after being largely forgotten. ...
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58 votes
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In ancient Rome, could free-born Romans become slaves?

That is for sure an overgeneralisation, but so is Wikipedia's. There are some elements of truth in both: Ancient Rome held that freedom could not be sold, and in principle a freeborn person could not ...
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  • 95.9k
56 votes
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Were Medieval Britons aware of the existence of the Roman Empire?

Educated Britons would've received an education deeply steeped in classical antiquity, so knowledge of the Roman Empire must have been inevitable among the literate. Unsurprisingly, therefore, many ...
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  • 95.9k
53 votes
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Is there any evidence that Cleopatra and Caesarion considered fleeing to India to escape the Romans?

The source for Sanjeev Sanyal's account is most likely Plutarch. In his Life of Anthony, Plutarch wrote: Caesarion, who was said to be Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, was sent by his mother, ...
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52 votes

Were Roman public roads built by private companies?

Roman roads were largely constructed by the military, at least the long distance roads between regions and cities. The legions had work crews and civil engineers attached to them for such works, as ...
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  • 11k
50 votes
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How did people distinguish slaves from free people in Ancient Rome?

Well, I suppose it's a matter of means plus motivation. If you're educated - read/speak Greek and Latin etc - then you'd be valuable, and only the psychopathic master would mistreat a valuable ...
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  • 7,689
50 votes

Are there historical texts in England querying where Roman structures came from?

For the Anglo-Saxons, the knowledge that it was the Romans whose city it was is less relevant than why those cities were there no more, or, well, why they were in such a poor state. However, for a ...
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  • 10.5k
47 votes

After the fall of the Roman Empire, where did their armor go? Was it used by any dark ages forces?

I would dispute your claim that Roman armour was superior. Roman armour mostly consisted of a mail shirt of varying length and quality, not dissimilar to that of the germanic tribes that overran the ...
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  • 1,545
46 votes

Fermat's statement about the ancients: How serious was he?

There is a difference between abstract knowledge and "inventions". In the 17th century it was still widely believed that the ancient Greeks had discovered and formulated pretty much the sum total of ...
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  • 9,473
45 votes
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Why did the Roman military start to favour swords over the spear phalanx?

Actually, the Romans used the same phalanx everyone else did for a very long time. Past Hannibal. The essence of winning a phalanx battle is to attack the flank of the phalanx. One may achieve that ...
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  • 546
45 votes

How did the Romans do division?

The short answer, according to Turner (1951), is: we don't know. The Romans were not interested in recording theoretical mathematics, so we don't have any written accounts how they did it. It is ...
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  • 3,809
45 votes

What is the difference between the Ancient Greek religion and the Ancient Roman religion?

The biggest difference that I'm aware of is that the Classical Greek religion was much more the religion of myths that we all know, while the Classical Roman religion had fewer personifications and ...
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  • 5,657
43 votes
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When and why did garum disappear?

Short Answer Garum production and consumption declined because increasing instability in the late Western Empire disrupted production and trade (and not just of garum). Further, a key ingredient - ...
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42 votes
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What is the significance of barley as opposed to wheat in Ancient Rome?

If any cohorts gave way in battle, he (Augustus) decimated them, and fed the rest on barley. (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 24.2) More confirmation for the practice, not necessarily always in ...
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  • 75.3k
41 votes
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Why didn't Hannibal attack Rome after the Battle of Cannae?

Short Answer: His army was too small to either assault or securely besiege Rome Rome itself remain defended by two legions and a large, conscriptable population Marching on and laying siege to Rome ...
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  • 95.9k
41 votes
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Did Roman unmarried men have a preferred hand and finger for wearing their seal ring?

Pliny the Elder wrote about wearing finger rings in volume 33 of his Naturalis Historia. He states: "The worst crime against mankind was committed by him who was the first to put a ring upon his ...
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  • 76.2k
38 votes
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Did germophobia exist in classical antiquity?

What is germaphobia? It's an obsession, it "is a pathological fear of contamination and germs. " If we look for something similar in antiquity we just need to turn that onto its feet: this ...
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  • 75.3k
37 votes
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Why did the original Carthage never become a Roman city?

First of all, Carthage did not fall in the First or Second Punic Wars. The Carthaginians were defeated twice, and compelled to surrender to particularly harsh terms the second time, but the City of ...
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  • 95.9k
37 votes

How did the Romans do division?

The usage of using numerals for division neither existed nor was it necessary. Symbols were only used for recording results. This also explains why the romans used their system because it is easy for ...
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  • 5,018
36 votes

Why didn't Romans conquer/explore the African Atlantic Coast?

Because the Sahara desert goes all the way to the Atlantic coast. The Romans were not great seafarers and required the support of coastal towns to cover long distances. The Western Sahara represents a ...
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  • 53k
36 votes

How did the Druids learn the Greek language by the time of Caesar's campaign in Gaul?

They most probably got that knowledge from cultural exchange with the greek city-states from southern France, like Massilia (Marseille), which was founded around 600 BCE and had plenty of relations ...
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  • 494
35 votes
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Who was this Roman General/figure of authority who, on his deathbed, named these two regrets?

Plutarch's Lives says this about Marcus Cato: He would likewise say ... and that in his whole life he most repented of three things; one was, that he had trusted a secret to a woman; ...
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  • 4,659
35 votes

What was the pound (unit of weight) initially equal to?

When in doubt about an English word - check the OED. Here is its etymology and usage history for the first sense of pound: ... This pound consisted originally of 12 ounces, corresponding more or less ...
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