How Did People Sleep in Roman Times?


The National Sleep Foundation based in Arlington, Virginia in the United States released new recommendations on the average number of hours a person should sleep based on age. It says that teenagers from 14-17 should sleep for 8-10 hours; adults aged 26-64 should have 7-9 hours of sleep while older adults 65 and over should sleep for 7-8 hours. This is now. But during the Middle Ages, situations were different. In those days, most people slept in two phases each night. So they have a first and second sleep, according to At Day’s Close: Nights in Past Time, written by Roger Ekirch.

Our ancestors, just like today, have different sleeping patterns.

Rising with the sun

The Romans were the originator of the saying “Carpe diem” that means “seize the day” and they did! Not even the best beds during that era could keep them from carpe-ing the diem! They were the great thinkers, philosophers, inventors, architects, construction workers, conquerors and more. Based on history, Romans did not like to sleep as it hampers the progress of whatever they were doing. For them, they have to attack the daytime, thus most of them rose even before the first rays of the sun show up in the sky.

For the Romans, staying in bed means you are drunk and should be treated with contempt. There were even those who rose up before the sunrise, such as Emperor Vespasian. So we could surmise that the Romans were an industrious lot.

However, it could be said that maybe their bedrooms had something to do with their short sleeping period. Despite being great architects who built beautiful temples, coliseums and massive halls, Roman bedrooms were simple and small. The conditions did not encourage one to stay in it. Their bedrooms were functional, with thick shutters that they close in the evening, leaving the room in total darkness. Their beds did not encourage sleep as well. They were more like sofas, made of wood and typically with hay-filled mattresses. There were no pillows then, although the very rich can afford to have a mattress filled with swan’s down.

Servants and slaves also rose before sunrise and they immediately start their day with cleaning and cooking. For most Romans, the period between 8 and 9 was already mid-morning.

Huddled together in one room

During the Middle Ages, there was barely any distinction between rich and poor during sleep times. With the absence of proper plumbing, electricity and other mod cons, families slept in one room, close to each other to keep warm. Servants slept in the same room as their masters, on straw mats at their masters’ feet. Chamber pots were kept close by, and warmth was generated by fires. Such conditions were not conducive to sleep, as the smoke and the smell wafting from chamber pots and the general filth tend to keep them awake.

Two-phase sleeping patterns

Based on the research of Professor Kirsch, people during Roman times did not sleep for one 8-hour stretch, but actually in two phases, involving some 12-hour period. In the first phase, people slept for up to 4 hours. When they woke up, most of them just stayed in their rooms. Some of them prayed, others read, while others pursue more carnal activities. Others got out of the house and visited neighbours who were also awake. About two hours later, they went back to their beds and slept a further 6 hours.

Before the advent of the industrial revolution, numerous groups of people also slept for shorter hours. Sleep scientist Jerome Siegel of the University of California did a study among the three traditional tribes that follow their forefathers’ traditions – the Tsimane (Bolivia), San (Namibia) and Hadza (Tanzania). Observing the 94 participants for more than 3 years, the scientist found that the average hours of actual sleep each night was between 5.7 and 7.1 hours. Lighting a small fire extended their wakeful state by about 3 hours. The researchers found that the sleeping habits of ancient societies are related to temperature instead of the absence of natural light. They normally go to sleep when the temperature starts to fall and they sleep for an extra hour when the weather is cold. Still they rise before the sun comes up.

Looking at these facts, the situation today is not much different from the days gone by. Should you sleep straight for 7 to 8 hours or do you train yourself to sleep in two phases? It’s your choice. What matters is to respect your sleeping hours to give your body and mind the time to rest, relax and recharge.

Also see: The Rise of the Holy Roman Empire

Did the Romans Take Care of their Dental Hygiene?


Most of all the traditional knowledge we have today originated from ancient civilisations like the Roman Empire. That era was known for its advanced medical practice. Roman doctors were able to perform Cesarean sections and amputations. They were able to do pelvic examinations using a speculum, catheterise bladders and even take eyes out. However, though their dental hygiene practices were not stellar, it can be said that their teeth fared better than the teeth of modern people like us.

Dental practices

From a recent study of more than 300 ancient Roman skulls, it was found out that they only have a 5% rate of periodontitis. This is lower than the current rate of 15 to 30% in the UK and 38.8% rate in the U.S. This is very significant because the ancient Romans did not regularly go to the dentist, did not drink water with fluorine and did not floss nor did they ever wonder “what is the best electric toothbrush?” because they didn’t brush their teeth!

Despite these facts, the state of their teeth was amazing. Instead of a toothbrush though, they have chewing sticks. There are various trees whose twigs are used as effective chewing sticks to clean teeth, including olive, walnut, lime tree, orange tree and Salvadora persica. They also used toothpicks and rags. They did not have tobacco then, which is one of the major causes of tooth decay. They did have honey, although sugar at that time was a luxury item.

Alternative toothpaste

Although there is an absence of extensive records about the dental hygiene practices of ancient Romans, it is known that they do use a form of toothpaste and whitening agent, which the modern world would find disgusting.

The Romans though had no qualms to use urine as their toothpaste, taking the ammonia that urine contains to whiten their teeth. A Roman poet named Catullus even described the practice of rubbing their teeth and gums with urine every morning after they have pissed. The indication of how much urine they used was shown by how clean their teeth were. They also used urine as their mouthwash.

Physicians from first century Rome believed that using urine to brush their teeth whitened them. Likewise, they maintained that urine caused the teeth to remain firmly in place in their sockets. It was also said that Roman women belonging to the upper class paid handsomely to procure urine from Portugal. The highly prized urine was the strongest available form of toothpaste/mouthwash in the continent.

But before you turn your noses to this fact, understand that urine was used as an active ingredient in mouthwashes and toothpastes until the 18th century. It may not be widely known then, but it was the ammonia content of the urine that provided the cleansing component. In modern times, ammonia is still used in the manufacture of some toothpastes.

From the study of the teeth found in a Roman Forum in 1987, Romans did suffer from tooth decay. However, the manner of extraction was different. There were no marks on the teeth to indicate that a heavy tool was used to remove them. The traditional practice back then was to loosen each tooth from its socket and some physicians remove part of the patient’s jaw attached to the diseased tooth.

The Little Known Huge Deforestation During the Roman Period


If you search deeper you’ll find that deforestation is not new and it certainly was brought about by the innovations of the best chainsaw brand leaders. It already happened during the Roman period, and just like today, it had devastating effects. It affected the environment, the people’s livelihood, agriculture and industry, and even led to the fall of a great ancient empire.

Factors that accelerated deforestation

1. Building and housing.

Wood was the most basic building material during the period. Trees were cut to build houses for the increasing Roman population. Together with a higher standard of living and more extravagant lifestyles in the urbanized capitals of the Empire need for timber became extensive.

2. Fuel consumption.

Need for fuel increased and the main source of heating and light at that time was wood. Ceramic making, smelting and mining were already established industries then, which required large quantities of wood and charcoal as fuel. The first areas to suffer deforestation were the forests surrounding mining centres. When the supply of wood was exhausted, the mining centres were shut down, only to move to other areas where wood was abundant, and the cycle of deforestation was repeated.

3. Increase in agricultural areas.

The demand for food exponentially grew as well. With the higher demand, trees growing in many areas had to be cut down to clear land for agricultural crops. Agriculture was also a major industry that boosted the Romans’ economic prosperity. Land areas became overworked due to the increasing demand for agricultural products. Soon they exhausted the fertility of most of the lands’ topsoil. With that, the armies were tasked to find more fertile lands to conquer.

4. Overgrazing.

The introduction of farm and domestic animals further degraded forests and prevented them from regenerating. Swine, goats, sheep and cattle all had different dietary needs and together, they effectively destroyed the vegetation they were able to reach. The herders opened lands so the animals can graze; swine ate the seed that fell on the ground and goats consumed young trees and bushes, preventing them from growing and maturing. The denudation caused erosion and when hillsides were stripped of soil, bare rocks were exposed. Gravel and silt that were washed down from mountains and hills caused siltation and flooding. Marshland became shallower due to siltation.

5. Military manoeuvres.

The military played a big hand in deforestation. They cleared large areas of the forests to prevent sneak attacks and invasion threats. The military also conquered lands to ensure that the empire will have a continuous supply of timber.

6. Shipbuilding.

Military conquests overseas required the Roman Empire to build ships, with warships taking precedence over merchant ships. Wood was used to build ships and these vessels were used to conquer lands rich in timber, which is crucial in supporting the flourishing economic life of the ancient Romans.

Deforestation left the empire with vast tracks of unproductive lands, which led them to be dependent on other countries such as North Africa for food supplies. Industries moved to other places, making shipping costs higher and drained the empire’s resources. Their currency became useless due to lack of silver supply. Population decreased, the treasury became empty and invaders can no longer be kept at bay. In 476 AD, the Roman Empire fell.

Also read: The Governance Of Rome & How It Is Relevant Even Today?