If you’ve so much as heard of TikTok, chances are you’ll know about the current Roman Empire trend. It began when history enthusiast Gaius Flavius, from Sweden, reignited a conversation previously begun on Instagram by influencer Saskia Cort in 2022.
Cort originally went viral for asking her male fans how often they think about the Roman empire (spoiler alert: it’s way, way more often than I’d expected). Flavius asked the same question on Instagram this August to such viral success that it eventually took over TikTok.
Women filmed themselves asking their male partners how often they think about the Roman empire and were amazed to find out that for some, they considered the conquest every single day.
Videos like the one below encouraged others (myself very much included!) to ask the men in my life how often the ancient empire marched across their minds:
Wait, so ― why are men so obsessed?
To be honest, none of the answers the men give in their videos are satisfying to me.
“It has a lot of big stories and lessons... of what to do and what not to do,” one woman’s partner says. But so does The Real Housewives, and I cannot tell you how unsuccessful my attempts to get my partner involved in that have been.
Another says that “how they lived, how they governed, how they built, like, engineering, food, like, septic systems...” has really grabbed their attention. But ancient Chinese people invented loads, too ― why not think about that?
Thankfully, associate professor of Classics and head of the Centre for Classical Studies at the Australia National University, Caillan Davenport, spoke to ABC Australia to offer some clarification.
“There is so much to Ancient Rome ― literature and beautiful poetry, but that actually what isn’t what’s copping up [in the trend],” he says. Instead, he finds that the common themes are “sport, armies, and sex.”
This is, of course, a very particular slice of a complicated era. Davenport asks, “I think [the men] are thinking of, you know, gladiators who were like sports stars. They’re not envisaging themselves as enslaved people.”
“Some of the TikToks talking about, you know... Rome was the best. But you must also think about the terrible effects of conquest and colonisation,” Davenport adds.
So, there’s some element of hyper-masculinity to the fixation ― or, as one Tiktok commenter put it, it’s “just men men-ning.”
Another TikToker pointed out that the trend heavily leans towards white, straight, American men ― it often ignores the advances made by non-European ancient civilisations, and tends to focus more on the male-centred military and political matters of the time.
With that said, it’s a fascinating time period with a diverse scholarship. And if you are in Europe, I suppose it makes sense to reflect on one of its biggest military powers if you’re.... thinking about that to begin with? But why would you be?
I asked a male representative to explain further
My male informant (who chooses to remain anonymous) seems to partly confirm the hyper-masculine theory. He shared that part of the reason for his obsession with the empire is due to video games, like Rome: Total War (did anyone else know that existed?) and Assasin’s Creed.
It’s not all gore and girls, though. He also stressed how commonly Roman inventions appear in everyday Western society ― “I’ll think, oh, the central heating’s out. Central heating’s been around for 2,500 years ― how come mine is out? And then I’ll think about Roman culture,” he said.
“Latin is a major part of our legal language,” he added. It’s even on American coins. “When I think of a word, like really think about its origin, it often leads me back to Latin,” he said.
I still wasn’t satisfied. What about the many, many English words of French origin? When he looks at a number, does he think of the ancient Middle East? Why think about it at all, if I never think about pretty much any historical conquest?
“Fine, you want an honest answer?” he eventually said. “I just really like the 2000 film Gladiators.”
This made the phenomenon no clearer to me, but Hans Zimmers’ Now We Are Free has been blasting across the kitchen for the last five minutes.
Men menning, indeed.