A fragment of a wall painting showing two lovers in bed from the House of L Caecilius Jucundus in Pompeii, now at Naples National Archaeological Museum.
From phallus-shaped wind chimes to explicit erotica on lamps and cups, sex is everywhere in ancient Greek and Roman art. But our interpretations of these images say much about our own culture.
It is commonly thought that anyone in ancient Rome who killed his father, mother, or another relative was subjected to the ‘punishment of the sack’. But is this true?
From being thrown off a cliff to being sewn into a sack with animals, ancient Rome is notorious for its cruel and unusual punishments. But we must be careful what we take as historical fact.
Brothels in Pompeii were decorated with murals depicting erotic and exotic scenes: but the reality was far more brutal and mundane.
Thomas Shahan/Wikimedia Commons
Though their activities were depicted alluringly in murals, the sex workers of Pompeii were slaves who lived hard lives.
Giovanni Cavino, I primi dodici imperatori Romani (‘The first twelve Roman emperors’), plaquettes produced at Padua, c. 1550.
Suetonius’s unforgettable tales of sex, scandal, and debauchery have ensured that his writing has played a significant role in shaping our perceptions of imperial Rome.
PA/ Dominic Lipinski
It took more than one person to bring down the Roman Empire, but the moral decay started somewhere.
Behind the mask.
National Galleries of Scotland
An old Scottish master has revealed its secret after 430 years. What next from art detectives?
The Peutinger Table. Reproduction by Conradi Millieri - Ulrich Harsch Bibliotheca Augustana.
Today the phrase 'all roads leads to Rome' means that there's more than one way to reach the same goal. But in Ancient Rome, all roads really did lead to the eternal city, which was at the centre of a vast road network.
The helmet of a heavily armed ‘secutor’, first century AD.
Rógvi N. Johansen, Department of photo and medie Moesgaard
Roman gladiators were unique and complex characters, and certainly not the sporting heroes they're depicted as in culture today.
A long time ago, in an empire far, far away ...
An equestrian statue of a Julio-Claudian prince, originally identified as Caligula.
©Trustees of the British Museum: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.
The emperor Caligula lavished attention on his favourite horse Incitatus, holding parties for friends in the steed's grand stables. But did he make his horse a consul?
A Roman Feast by Roberto Bompiani (late 19th century).
via Wikimedia Commons
Roman decadence reached its peak with the vomitorium: a room where feasting elites threw up to make room for more food. Or so the story goes ...
Was persecution a consistent imperial policy, and what types of punishments were inflicted on Christians?
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)/Wikimedia Commons
The image of cowering Christians being thrown to the lions by Roman emperors is a grisly staple of popular culture. But how accurate is it?
The dead wait to be ferried across the River Styx.
The Souls of Acheron (1898) by Adolf Hiremy Hirschl
These days they are scary, but for the ancients, ghosts could be quite useful.
Nero: had a reputation as an arsonist even in antiquity.
The image of a crazed and capricious Emperor Nero is immortalised in popular culture: from fiddling while Rome burns to having a sexual relationship with his mother. The historical evidence, however, is rather different.
A still from the new Ben-Hur.
Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Pictures Inc
Hollywood loves a Roman action film. And recent archaeological evidence offers fresh insight into the world of the hippodrome: from sprinklers to cool horses to a mosaic displaying the four phases of a chariot race.
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the wisdom of the oracle was dispensed.
Cicero asked: 'how to become famous?' Nero sought to know the timing of his death. The Oracle at Delphi offered pronouncements on all manner of topics - yet as with Google today, the question posed was as important as the answer.
Beards: powering tech startups since 813 AD.
Many "modern" inventions actually have precedents dating back over 1000 years.
The Pantheon dome - made entirely out of concrete.
Think atomic theory was invented in the 19th century? Try 5th century BC.
Ruin of a second-century public toilet in Roman Ostia.
Fr Lawrence Lew, OP
Archaeological and textual detective work is filling in some information about how ancient Romans used and thought about their sewers thousands of years ago.
It can be difficult to imagine that the antiquities in our museums were once a part of vibrant and cosmopolitan cities. Let our expert take you on a tour of three cities to rival today's global hubs.