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How did ancient Romans deal with heat?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Colosseum in the snow
Colosseum in the snow

Ancient Romans lived in a Mediterranean climate that is characterized by warm and dry summers. The roughest period in the year was called by Romans as dies canincula. Romans were looking for different ways to cool themselves.

One of them was taking a bath in a large cold pool, so-called frigidarium, where you could cool the hot body. Staying in the baths was the everyday routine and social custom of the Romans. In addition, to avoid the hottest period of the day, the Romans worked from early morning to noon. Then they went to their homes, where they could experience the cold. The patricians also decided to escape from the hot cities and provinces in the mountain regions to their villas.

The higher social strata of Rome allowed themselves to import snow from the mountains, which was then stored in pits covered with straw (these were the so-called ice rinks). Naturally, the snow was also traded. The ice that formed at the bottom of the pit was sold at more expensive prices than the snow above. Among the ruins of Pompeii, you can find evidence to think that there were shops specializing in selling snow from Vesuvius, mixed with honey1. Emperor Elagabalus reportedly ordered large amounts of snow to be transported to his villa. The operation required the involvement of a large number of donkeys that carried snow on carts. The emperor could finally spend the hot summer in a nice cool.

Ancient ice cream was also known. Both the Greeks and the Romans deigned to enjoy these delicacies; the first mixture of ice, fruit juices, honey and wine was called “Snow of Olympus”. The Romans went a step further and added cinnamon, rose water and violets to them, as well as almonds, dates and figs2.

  1. Stefano Carnazzi, A short history of ice cream. From ancient Roman snow to love with a heart of cream, 10 August 2015
  2. "Śnieg Olimpu" najlepszy na letnie upały, "Polskie Radio", 10 August 2012

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