What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?

It is widely known that without the Romans we wouldn't have coins, aqueducts or roads. But what are the lesser known contributions the ancient Romans donated to Britain?

What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?


The unassuming carrot was first introduced to ancient Britain during the Roman occupation. In ancient Rome carrots didn't just come orange; they were red, black, yellow, and white. Also the ones grown by the Romans were very thin and tough, and were not originally used for domestic cuisine, rather they were ground down and applied for medicinal purposes only. Peas, meanwhile, were introduced to Romans by the Aryans from the Middle East, who, in turn, introduced them to our diet.

The Romans brought us apples and pears.

The Romans brought us apples and pears.


There is nothing more quintessentially English than these two fruit - so much so that they form one of the most well-known phrases from cockney rhyming slang. However, again we have to look east and thank the Romans for introducing them to our country. As the Romans had no sugar, sweet fruits such as these became widespread as the juice was often used in other recipes.


The Romans pioneered basic civic charity for the less fortunate in the form of free food. From 122 BC onward a grain ration was available to the Roman poor at half price, subsidized by the state. In 58 BC it became completely free. Then in AD 274 the emperor added small rations of pork, oil and salt to the dole.


While it has been widely established that cats were highly revered in ancient Egypt, the Romans admired them almost as much. Romans considered the cat to be the God of Liberty and they were the only animal allowed in Roman temples. They were often kept as mascots by the Roman army. As a result when the Romans arrived in Britain, they introduced the domestic cat into our lives.

Romans used stinging nettles to stimulate blood circulation.

Romans used stinging nettles to stimulate blood circulation.


Nettles have a long history as a treatment for rheumatism and muscle pain like sciatica. The Romans are credited with bringing seeds of this plant with them into Britain; by flogging themselves with the plants, they apparently kept warm in the colder northern climate. They would tie bunches of fresh nettles together and the afflicted area of the body was thrashed repeatedly to create heat in the limbs and to stimulate blood circulation.


Many people think of the modern toilet as a Victorian invention, pioneered by Thomas Crapper. However the first toilet with flushing capabilities was built thousands of years before. Roman Bathhouses had large public latrines, often with marble seats over channels whose continuous flow of water made them the first 'flush toilets'. A shallow water channel in front of the seats was furnished with sponges attached to sticks for patrons to wipe themselves. How civilized!

>MORE: The Curious Modern History Of Stonehenge

The Roman baths at Bath are an architectural wonder.

The Roman baths at Bath are an architectural wonder.


Law and order was very important to such a complicated hierarchy as Roman society. Because of this, the Romans were arguably the first ancient civilization to put in place a regular police force, hundreds of years before Robert Peel did so in this country. Rome appointed seven cohorts of police and firemen, each 1,000 men strong and commanded by a tribune, responsible for the fourteen regions into which the city of Rome was divided. The whole force was headed by a Prefect of the Watch.


The Romans certainly were an ordered lot, developing town planning using a grid pattern and intricate plumbing mechanisms, such as drains, bath houses, aqueducts and public lavatories. And don't forget Hadrian's Wall!

In his series What the Romans Did for Us, Adam Hart-Davis discovered a massive water wheel the Romans used to prevent flooding while they were mining for gold in Wales.

These water wheels were like treadmills, 12 feet in diameter, and they could pump 80 litres of water a minute about three metres upwards.

Hadrian's Wall was built to keep out invading Caledonian Picts.

Hadrian's Wall was built to keep out invading Caledonian Picts.


Today we are surrounded by advertisements in one form or another and while advertising in its modern form began in the 1900s, this practice was used to great effect by the ancient Romans. Various posters, graffiti and announcements were used to express social and political agendas to the public, as well as news of various sporting events.


Having only become legally recognised in Britain within the last year or so, same sex unions were celebrated in Ancient Rome. Emperors Nero and Diocletian are reported to have married two other men on different occasions, setting an example to the rest of society of just how acceptable it was!