10 Facts About Ancient Rome That Are Rarely Covered In School

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8. The Publicani Were Basically The Mafia Of Ancient Rome

Ah, the tax collector. What a thankless occupation. Especially if your sole purpose in life is to bleed others dry while you reap the benefits. Believe it or not, tax collectors today are far more benevolent than their ancient counterparts.

During the second century BC, Roman businessmen called the publicanidominated the ancient world. Arriving at newly conquered provinces, they would engage in tax farming with many of the hapless provincials. As has been the wont of the upper 1 percent throughout human history, they absolutely adored squeezing as much money as they could out of the poor and downright stomping on the poorest of the poor.

The wealth amassed by the publicani led them to control trade, banking, and shipping. They became notorious for their brutal tactics as they strong-armed Easterners (including the Greeks, who were Easterners to the Romans). The publicani would collect a tax called the decuma (10 percent harvest tax), much of which went to the Roman government.[3]

As a portion of this wealth found its way into the pockets of Roman politicians, the actions of the publicani were largely tolerated, even if they were tacitly condemned.

7. A Man Infiltrated A Festival Exclusively For Women

It’s December. Pine trees are in your house, carols are in the air, and specials such as Charlie Brown and the Grinch are on TV. You guessed it. It’s the festival of the Good Goddess.

This was a time in ancient Rome when the women would gather together to celebrate the rites of the goddess while the men hid away. Men were not permitted to partake in this festival. Even statues of men were to be veiled.

However, that did not stop Publius Clodius Pulcher from dissembling as a flute girl (or a harpist, according to some accounts) and creepily surveying the multitude of ladies in his midst. Of course, the women grew suspicious of the flute girl whom none recognized.

Their suspicions were duly confirmed when the woman, once questioned, answered in a deep voice that smacked of masculinity. Naturally, the rites were suspended, a trial was held, and Clodius was left to nurse his irreparably damaged reputation.[4]

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