Ancient Romans knew how to party: Five reasons behind their greatest legacy
It's a Bacchanal, y'all!
The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens
Alongside such achievements as the aqueducts and roman numerals, the ancient people of what is now Italy made some noteworthy progress in the field of fun. In other words, they knew how to party. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is recognizing that tradition Friday, September 28 with Bacchus Raucous: A Party in Pompeii. To get you in the mood, we dove into the history books (okay, we dove into Wikipedia) to bring you some knowledge on the hard-partying legacy of the Roman Empire.
The Roman party god gets the banhammer. The Romans were so adept at getting down they had a god of partying, Bacchus. Celebrations of this god, called Bacchanals, were said to include everything from animal sacrifice to group sex. These parties became so popular, and apparently so disruptive, that they were banned by the Roman senate in 186 AD as a threat to the senate's authority. What a buzz kill.
The Romans loved their wine. A lot. Wine was a big part of Roman life. It was so popular that when a volcano destroyed Pompeii in AD 79, taking with it the majority of the country's wine industry, farmers ripped up fields of grain to plant grapes. So many grain fields were converted to viticulture that the price of wine plummeted and there were food shortages, leading the Emperor Domitian to step in and order that no more vineyards be planted, and half the existing ones near Rome be replaced with grain again. It makes more sense when you know that, according to some sources, the average wine intake of Roman men was a gallon a day.
The Romans loved their holidays almost as much as their wine. The Romans were quite fond of holidays, many of which were funded by the government, and their calendar is full of them. There were numerous monthly holidays in every month, six "moveable" holidays (kind of like Thanksgiving, in that they fell on different days every year) and they'd throw in Feriae imperativae, or holidays "on demand," when something special happened and they needed to celebrate. These holidays were supposed to be days off work for religious observance. It's worth noting again that Romans drank a gallon of wine a day and worshipped a party god, so their religious observance probably looked more like a kegger than Sunday school.
Some Romans were swingers. Also, furries. The good people of ancient Rome weren't afraid to get a little freaky. Archaeological evidence suggests that some Roman households were home to private sex clubs, decorated like brothels and complete with their own entrance. Other people liked to dress up as animals, everything from bulls to leopards, and roleplay during sex. And here you thought furries were some kind of weird Internet-era kink!
The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Roman emperors were infamous for partying. The list of Roman emperors famous for their hard partying ways is long and lascivious. Legends about the debauched excesses of Caligula and Nero are well known, but there are plenty of freaky B-list Roman leaders to choose from, too. Take Elagabulus, an emperor from the Third Century AD. He was reported to have prostituted himself in the royal palace, deployed a prototype of the whoopee cushion at dinner parties and supposedly dumped enough flower petals on guests at one shindig to kill them. Makes the typical spring break shenanigans look pretty tame in comparison.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.