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The Roman Empire Trend: An Unofficial Mascot for Modern Masculinity

Why do we think about the Roman Empire?

What do Nicki Minaj as well as Marcus Aurelius have in common? Both have strong connections to the Roman Empire and are popular in pop culture. You've probably seen it, right? Women on TikTok ask men how frequently they think of the Roman Empire. What about the men? They're thinking about it a lot. It's not just an eccentric trend; it's a full-fledged phenomenon. But why? What's so appealing about a civilization that vanished centuries ago? Is it the temptation of position and conquest, or something deeper? The trend has sparked many conversations, memes, and even academic interest. It's as if the Roman Empire has unexpectedly become the unofficial mascot for modern masculinity, and we're all left scratching our heads, thinking why the men have Caesar fever.

It could be another harmless internet fad, except for the implications of how history has been passed down and constructed. The trend demonstrates how popular perceptions of Rome are based on a historical interpretation that many scholars now acknowledge is actively damaging, both to our ability to appreciate the ancient past and to our society as a whole. The prevalence of "great man" narratives, which progressive scholars have worked so hard to supplement, challenge, and contextualize in recent years, is revealed by TikTok comments. The Roman Empire that TikTok users imagine is inherently appealing to men — and, given how it's being discussed, why wouldn't it be? It's like a Kendom. Maybe the Domus Aurea was the first Mojo Dojo Casa House.

But why is it that the Roman Empire is so masculine and male-dominated? According to classicist and author Mary Beard, many men choose to think about the Roman Empire because it provides a "safe space for being macho." It's where men can act like they're macho. That must be a part of the appeal. The dominant culture has always promoted a patriarchal society, but there is an increasing amount of media for men that do not even consider what women's place in their world should be. It is an infantile masculinity that is unable to deal with the presence of women as independent entities. This aspect of ancient Roman culture resonates with today's popular culture, with picture-perfect men with masculine nude upper bodies and women fit and pink with tiny waists circulating on social media platforms. These images have always played a role in shaping masculine and feminine identities, both historically and today.

Others have pointed out the "Romansplaining" that appears to follow the trend, as those men who assert to think about the Empire regularly begin spewing an inflow of unwarranted information about the era with unbridled enthusiasm. Some have also noted that the majority of men who appear to be big Roman Empire fans are white, with a much smaller percentage of non-white individuals answering with the same zeal.

I'm not accusing the men in the clips on TikTok of harboring these views on gender, race, or imperialism. However, ignoring the nuance of this trend would be to take advantage of a chance to discuss the ancient world's presence in our modern lives, along with all of the baggage it brings with it. I believe that the thought of violence gives men a sense of superiority, whereas the random thought of the Roman Empire provides them with ego satisfaction and an adrenaline rush. Men probably think of many things that give them that confidence boost, but the Roman Empire is that "perfect little package" or mix of what someone from the outside expects them to think about all the time, such as blood or fights. 

The assumption that women are uninterested in these histories is based on these biases, but it is not an innocent one. And I'm over it. I am a woman who thinks of the Roman Empire every day. Not just the innovations of its legal system, its monumental architecture, or even the staggering scale of its bureaucracy, but also how its historical legacy has been written and reconstructed, and how we understand the realities of life in the past. Even as a history buff, I'm astounded by the number of men who claim that they think about it on a weekly or daily basis, mainly because I wonder how they don't have more important things to think about.

So, here are my two cents: The Roman Empire trend is the perfect 'man cave' for the contemporary male psyche. It's an era of war, power, and grandeur—a place where men can be MEN and women, well, not quite. It appears to offer a form of escapism, a respite from the complexity and inconsistencies of modern life. It's like a psychological time machine, transporting men back to a time when the rules were clear and the roles were well-defined. But it's more than just nostalgia; it's a deep-seated psychological yearning for what many men believe to be the pinnacle of masculinity.