Most of us think of ancient civilizations as an unhealthy mix of communicable disease, outdoor toilets, and nearly toxic body odor. And that's if you're lucky and don't starve to death before puberty. But many civilizations had shockingly advanced modern amenities, for example ...
7The Persian Empire Had Air Conditioning
When you think of Persians, you probably think of flying carpets and people getting kicked into holes. That may or may not be historically accurate, but what the movies usually do get right is that, being in the middle of the desert, the Persian Empire could get hot as fuck. But, you know, what could they do back then: turn on the AC and kick back?
And for the winter, you just switch to the hole that's bored down to molten lava.
That diagram shows how the old timey Iranians cooled themselves about 1,000 freaking years ago. You see, during the Achaemenid Empire (2,500 years ago), Persians started building complex underground irrigation systems called qanats, whose transported water allowed people to not die during droughts. The qanats were basically a series of giant holes in the ground leading to an underground stream -- you can still see them from satellites these days:
"And lo, the lord did snake-fuck the earth."
Fast forward to the middle ages: After realizing that these areas were unfortunately still hot as deserts (because they were deserts), the Persians also began to construct wind towers above their buildings. Warm air flowed down to the cold water stream under the building and circulated back to the lower level of the house transformed into a cool, refreshing breeze. The wealthiest inhabitants of the region had huge qanat-connected basements for the sole purpose of sitting back and chilling in the middle of the desert heat -- some of these included pools and, we have to assume, naked slaves swinging giant leafs.
As far back as 400 BC, the qanats were also used to refresh specially constructed "refrigerator" rooms where the Persians stored ice accumulated during the winter. We think it's no coincidence that these buildings looked like giant upside-down ice cream cones.
That or giant cold nipples.
Add this to the fact that the Persian Empire also had a modern postal service, and we're thinking maybe those Spartans in 300 would have been better off just giving in to Xerxes' army and becoming pool slaves in Persia.
6Romans Had Shopping Malls and Fast Food Joints
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The shopping mall is seen by many as the biggest symbol of our bloated, decadent, smoothie-loving society. Don't you wish we could go back to the good old days before rampant consumerism turned every other building into a freaking temple of consumerism? And by "good old days" we mean "around when Jesus walked the Earth," because apparently that's how long malls have existed -- check out Trajan's Market in Rome, which opened in 113 AD:
Via Wikimedia Commons
It's been in ruins since the great Midnight Sale of 120 AD.
It turns out the Romans loved to shop as much as we do. They had recently perfected the art of cement making and decided to put their new skill to some immediate use by building an obscenely big (for its time) shopping complex. Trajan's Market featured more than 150 different rooms among four different levels, including countless stores, storage rooms, and "public assistance" offices -- we're now imagining mall law offices owned by cheap Lionel Hutz-caliber lawyers.
At Trajan's Market, Romans could buy silver, gold, textiles, clothing, decorations, soaps, cosmetics, and, of course, food to stuff their faces with: There were all sorts of eateries, lounges, taverns, and probably an Orange Julius. Having trouble imagining what an ancient fast food joint looked like? Well, there's one in the ruins of Pompeii, and it's basically an Iron Age McDonald's:
The Romans were a lot less strict about the "Don't shit where you eat" rule.
Food or drink would be served in the holes on the counter you see up there. This wasn't just a Pompeii thing, since archeological studies have found that Romans, in general, loved to eat on the go -- they lived in tiny quarters with no space for a stove, so they'd just buy takeout food from any of the "numerous fast food restaurants" across the empire.
And if they caught a bug from that falafel they bought outside the Coliseum? No problem: The Romans also had a modern sewage system. The Cloaca Maxima was built in the 6th century BC to carry storm water into Tiber, and eventually they linked their toilets into it so they didn't have to wallow in, or anywhere near, their own poop.