Roman Empire
How often do you think about the Roman Empire? Source TikTok/hannahkbrown and History Skills.

Is The Roman Empire Obsession Harmless Fun Or Toxic Male Fantasy?

If you’ve seen the Roman Empire TikTok trend, it’s pretty clear that it’s men day dreaming about hyper-masculine gladiators and violent armies expanding empires for plunder and slaves.

It all started when a young woman posted a TikTok video asking her boyfriend, how often he thinks about the Roman Empire. “I don’t know, maybe three or four times a month,” he replied. Since then, the trend has exploded with lots of women posting their own videos asking their boyfriends the same question. Turns out lots of men think about the Roman Empire.

Why is that? Today on The Briefing Podcast, Tom Tilley puts the question to a MAN who gets PAID to think about the Roman Empire, Dominic Janes, Professor of Modern History.

Janes points out that while obviously men and women lived in Ancient Rome, the power structures within society were patriarchal and military. The event in history highlights how we look at periods of time through a gendered lens.

For instance, if you think about the 18th century you probably think of ladies in big dresses sipping tea, even though a lot was going on at the time. If you think about the 1940s, you will think of male soldiers in World War Two.

Janes says the TikTok Romans trend shows what popular images of the past can do for us now.

One of the things that I think is really interesting is that it’s the kind of raw material of history itself. It’s cultures, it’s civilisations, it’s periods, it’s high points. It’s big events that are actually being reinterpreted, reread, in order to do useful things for people today in relation to their gender identity. I think that’s one of the reasons why this TikTok meme has created such a lot of excitement.

In other words, they can provide a place for exploring unchecked masculine fantasies that don’t quite fit with contemporary societal norms. It’s a double edged sword: It makes some men feel affirmed in their masculinity but Janes and other experts suggest it’s an example of “white cis gender masculinity” at play.

Subscribe to The Briefing, Australia’s fastest-growing news podcast on Listnr today. The Briefing serves up the latest news headlines and a deep dive into a topic affecting you. All in under 20 minutes.