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What's behind males' Roman fixation? TikTok's latest viral craze explains it all

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What's behind males' Roman fixation? TikTok's latest viral craze explains it all
February 16, 2024
Harlow Calloway - LA Post

A new and amusing trend is grabbing women's attention on TikTok - their male partner's obsession with the "Roman Empire". This viral trend began after Swedish influencer Saskia Cort asked her followers to check in with their boyfriends and husbands to see how often they think about this ancient civilization.

Her prompt came up again last August thanks to Gaius Flavius, a fellow history buff - sparking many videos of puzzled women realizing just how often the men in their lives daydream about Caesar's exploits, the beauty of aqueducts, and the brutality of ancient warfare.

Views have skyrocketed into the millions, eliciting shocked responses in comment sections across the platform. “What exactly are they dwelling on?” puzzled women inquire, struggling to wrap their heads around what drives so many seemingly ordinary men to regularly reflect on the intrigue and innovation of an empire that dissolved over 1500 years ago.

According to one popular explanation, this tendency speaks to an age-old stereotype - that males, especially of older generations, harbor an innate fascination with the battlefields and military milestones of the past. Not unlike the dad or uncle obsessed with the Second World War, Napoleon's conquests or Alexander's territorial triumphs, the Roman Empire appears to ignite the imagination of males whose masculine ancestors lived or died by the sword.

In contrast, hazards of the modern workplace consist of back strain from hunching over a keyboard to scour Wikipedia on the cleverness behind Roman aqueducts. Monica's boyfriend Richard on Friends famously fixated on the Civil War; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg even named his daughter August after the first emperor.

Fortunately, absorbing historical accounts has never been more convenient courtesy of podcasts, documentaries and online forums. But what elevates Rome over other bygone eras to such prime position in the minds of men? Director Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning "Gladiator" likely stoked intrigue, as did HBO's graphic drama series detailing the Empire's waning days. The lavish lifestyles and dramatic downfalls of rulers like Nero and Caligula contain no shortage of palace intrigue.

And who can resist the striking visuals - elaborate murals, grand architecture and warrior helmets now synonymous with “Roman” style? At the very least, the civilization's 1000-year reign over such a vast territory, coupled with legends of both visionary leadership and unhinged hedonism cement Rome’s appeal as the ultimate historical drama.

Small wonder so many modern men find its mythical narratives creeping into their daily thoughts. But the TikTok testimonials of their wives and girlfriends indicate that for plenty of women, ancient Rome rarely if ever crosses their mind at all.

Social media creators Saskia Cort and Gaius Flavius may live on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but their digital exchanges imported a European sensation tailor-made for American audiences. Once Cort’s original prompt encouraging women to probe their partner’s interest in Roman history landed on Flavius’ Instagram feed last August, his subsequent post helped fuel migration to TikTok. There, the meme detonated into a full-blown craze with individual videos amassing view counts surpassing one million.

The viral clips adhere to a straightforward formula - girlfriends, wives or daughters approach their father, boyfriend or husband with some variation of the question, “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” Their candid responses unanimously cite multiple times per day or week, eliciting comic disbelief from the woman behind the camera. Flabbergasted viewers flooded comment sections seeking explanations for what exactly these men find so endlessly captivating about antiquity.

The commonness behind what one psychology journal dubbed “obsessive passions” makes this trend no laughing matter. According to researcher Robert Vallerand, males disproportionately succumb to such extreme preoccupations, compared to females who tend toward “harmonious passions” aligned with their core values. Unfortunately for the exasperated women of TikTok, their partners reflect a statistically higher likelihood of developing consuming fixations straying far beyond the mainstream.

At first blush, the Roman Empire appears an unlikely candidate, having formally dissolved over 1500 years prior. But as classics professor Mary Beard frequently reminds modern audiences, evidence of Rome’s cultural, architectural and technological innovations remain visible across parts of Europe and North Africa to this day. Roman bridges, walls, mosaics and more still stand weathered yet intact as ongoing examples of engineering feats which transformed barren landscapes through irrigation systems facilitating agriculture, dams harnessing hydraulic power and hundreds of miles of stone roads connecting remote territories.

Perhaps dormant dreams of wielding such widescale influence or gazing upon surviving Roman monuments sparks the imagination of so many men into mental time travel back to the days of emperors past. A less generous interpretation suggests machismo attraction towards stories colored with violence and oppression, as warriors conquered tribes and gladiators battled beasts and one another for spectacle.

Of course plenty of women and girls show enthusiasm towards learning about the ancients across educational settings. But TABS analytics reports males outnumber females by over 60% among visitors browsing Wikipedia pages covering Roman history. On reddit forum AskHistorians, moderators confirm the majority of questions posed on Roman themes come from men.

Whatever the exact psychology underpinning this meme’s revelation, women pioneering it demonstrate savvy understanding of social media’s powers. By speaking their own truth in authentic tones backed by scores of strangers sharing similar stories, they seized an opportunity to unite, elevate diverse voices and challenge limiting gender assumptions...all while eliciting a few chuckles.

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