September 26, 2023

Ask the dudes in your life how often they think about the Roman Empire. You might be surprised to learn the answer: often and regularly.

That’s what TikTokker @paige.elysee discovered earlier this week. In a video posted on Tuesday, she recapped a recent conversation she had with her girlfriends, where someone posed the innocuous question: “How often does your boyfriend, or the man in your life, think about the Roman Empire?” By doing so, she tapped into a truism hidden in plain sight; which is that, apparently, straight men think about the Roman Empire a lot. To support this theory, @paige.elysee said she asked some of her gay male friends, to which they responded, “Never.”

There are, of course, exceptions, which we’ll get to later, but the overwhelming response has proven there’s definitely something going on with the straight male mind and the rent-free space in which the Roman Empire inhabits.

The post, which currently has almost 10,000 likes, quickly spawned numerous Stitches and videos of women asking their male partners and friends. Notably, many of the TikToks feature men answering the question without missing a beat, instead of asking why they’re being asked such a random question. Their immediate responses underscore what a normal habit it is for them — like asking them how often they brush their teeth.

“Like, all the time,” @listenwithbritt‘s husband quickly said. In another TikTok, @kirakosarin‘s partner immediately answered, “three times a day.” Just when you think @shleybe‘s partner is going to ask why she asked him this, he instead responds with a simple, “biweekly.”

Other responses from a quick search of “Roman Empire trend,” include, “Honestly? At least three or four times a week,” from @haley_mcquire and “mmm once a week” from @heatherandsinna. What specifically does @heatherandsinna’s boyfriend think about? “The longstanding misattribution of the word ‘vomitorium’ and sometimes just, Colosseum looks cool.”

The Roman Empire is still relevant

Aside from the fact that this is a funny trend that gives the world a little more insight into the minds of dudes, there’s some real truth to it. That the Roman Empire comes up so frequently is a testament to its enduring legacy and relevance. There are the infamous tyrants. The depraved and sadistic Caligula, the cruelly violent Caracalla, and the brutal and paranoid Nero. These figures serve as cautionary tales for the power-hungry, and we love a cautionary tale.

And then there are the Roman emperor fanboys. If there’s one thing straight dudes love, it’s political and military strategy, and Julius Caesar was the political and military GOAT. And on any given day, you’ll find someone referencing Marcus Aurelius and r/Stoicism is a “Top 1%” subreddit in terms of the number of members. Also, hustle culture loves #stoicism.

Beyond that, the Roman Empire’s renowned innovation and achievements come up a lot in everyday life. This became evident when I conducted an informal survey of Mashable staffers. One coworker said her husband rarely thinks about the Roman Empire, but it comes up occasionally (e.g. when people talk about how roads are falling apart, “but the Romans made stuff that’s still standing”).

The Roman Empire has infiltrated pop culture and media in ubiquitous ways. You may not organically think about the Roman Empire that often, but you’ve probably seen Gladiator. Even Game of Thrones borrows from the Roman Empire from time to time. Another coworker said the Roman Empire came up in a completely unrelated conversation the other day. Why? They were discussing the HBO series Rome. Oh, and did you know there’s a Gladiator 2 coming out in 2024?

Roman history isn’t just for straight dudes

I’m a woman, and I think about the Roman Empire fairly regularly. My frequency of Roman Empire thoughts definitely increased after listening to the Hardcore History season “The Fall of the Republic,” which tracks with this theory, because it’s a podcast favorite amongst dudes. When I think about the Roman Empire, I think about its decline and human tendencies to repeat the same mistakes throughout history.

Other women have come out of the woodwork to share their interest in the Roman Empire. Mashable’s Senior Culture Reporter Christianna Silva recently read SPQR — which is written by a woman, Mary Beard, and loved it because of how it focused on how Rome was built, not its decline. Sex and Relationships Reporter Anna Iovine, said, “Not a man but I’m absolutely the ‘Roman empire partner’ in my relationship.” After reading A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Iovine has been thinking about the Roman Empire every day: “I love learning about Ancient Rome/other ancient societies because of the parallels to our society.”

There’s no denying that Roman history fascinates people because of its enduring relevance, and, yes, straight men do spend an indescribable amount of time thinking about the Roman Empire — but so does everyone else who’s curious about the past and the lessons it offers about modern culture. Just as the Colosseum once served as an ancient space for spectacle and collective discourse, TikTok is now our virtual arena. And women are driving the conversation.

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