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Online Trends

Published October 5th 2023

Behind the TikTok Trend: How Often Do You Think About the Roman Empire?

When trends transcend TikTok.

How often do you think about the Roman Empire? Well, if you’re a man, you probably think about it quite a lot. At least, that’s according to TikTok’s latest video trend. 

But what exactly is this trend? Where did it come from? Why are people so invested? And how can brands use conversations like this to their advantage?

Let’s find out.

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What is the Roman Empire trend?

The Roman Empire trend sees women across the globe asking the men in their lives a seemingly innocent question: “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” 

The general consensus is that men think about it a lot – sometimes daily. And this has left women baffled. Apparently, women don’t think about the Roman Empire often at all, but men do.

At the time of writing, the trend has garnered over 1.8 billion views on TikTok – the equivalent of one view for every Gmail user in the world. That’s exceptionally impressive.

What started as a simple question has spiraled into an internet-wide debate.

Mentions of the Roman Empire have skyrocketed – seeing an increase of 750% from August to September.

This trend has been discussed on television, benefitted Italy’s tourism, and even got us thinking about how misogyny informs history.

It’s opened up a surplus of follow-up questions, too. What makes a TikTok trend eclipse into other media? How can brands monitor and benefit from these trends?

And – equally intriguing – why do men think about the Roman Empire so much?

The trends that transcend social media

Internet trends can be fickle. Some come and go within a week, while others leave a lasting mark. But what is it that differentiates the former from the latter?

While it’s too early to determine if this is one for the ages, the Roman Empire trend has escaped the social media bubble. It started as a simple question on an Instagram Reel by user @gaiusflavius, where he suggests women would be surprised by how often men think about the Romans.

It then blew up on TikTok, as women began filming themselves asking men the question. Some videos gathered millions of views, getting more interesting as men explain what exactly triggers these thoughts – like this man, who appreciates the Roman’s septic systems.

The phenomenon has gone on to influence mainstream media, being mentioned on television talk shows and radio stations. Google search interest for the Roman Empire is also at a peak, with the trend influencing news articles, blogs, and website content too.

It’s even become a phrase in itself. People use “my Roman Empire” to describe things they think about every day, whether that be their favorite celebs, movies, or even decades-old memes.

So, what makes a trend take off like this? And why do some trends stick around longer than others?

In this case, we think it comes down to the availability of participation. Take the Roman Empire trend as an example: everyone can participate, even if it’s simply asking someone in your life how often they think about the topic. It opens up a debate straight away.

There’s also a very low barrier to entry, meaning all it takes is asking a question to participate. This has led to the trend being shared on multiple media formats, whether that be television, radio, or even just in a post on social media.

When you combine the shock factor – that women aren’t expecting men to think about the Roman Empire that often – with the ease of asking the question, you get a trend that’s going to stick (both on and off social media).

So, what can brands do to get in on the action?

The brands that benefit from these trends

It can be easy to think that trends like this aren’t relevant to all brands – but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to tailor content around popular, rising trends to your audience.

And the Roman Empire trend provides some excellent examples. From sports brands to airline companies, brands of all industries are cashing in on this craze.

Racing brand Red Bull got over 3 million views on a TikTok asking top driver Max Verstappen the burning Roman Empire question. A completely different industry example is United Airlines, who announced a flash sale on flights to Rome – all due to the trend. They got plenty of positive engagement in the comments section on their TikTok about the sale, too.

Your involvement doesn’t need to be extravagant, either. It can be as simple as a quick text post; with the below post getting almost half a million views.

The brands that show an ability to link such growing trends with their audience will see immense engagement benefits for their owned social channels. Whether it’s as simple as commenting on trending TikToks or as bold as having a sale on trending topics – like flights to Rome – brands that are speedily reactive to these trends will rise above brands that aren’t.

It’s important to jump on these trends early. Implementing a social listening tool into your brand strategy to stay on the pulse of upcoming trends can be incredibly helpful. With instant reporting, AI-powered email alerts, and powerful trend analysis, Brandwatch can help. And here’s how.

Now, let’s answer the real question…

Why do men think about the Roman Empire so much?

There’s got to be an answer, right?

TIME spoke to historian Mary Beard to find out why the Roman Empire has such an appeal to men. And Mary seems to think it’s all about giving men a space to be innately masculine.

She said: “In some ways, ancient Rome is a kind of safe place for macho fantasies. It's where men can pretend to be macho men. That must be part of the appeal.”

Caillan Davenport, head of the Centre for Classical Studies at the Australian National University, spoke to ABC about the trend. He had similar ideas, saying that the majority of these trending videos “focused on ‘hyper-masculine ideals’ where people are picturing themselves as triumphant heroes, rather than most of the people who were poor and enslaved."

Rhiannon Evans, an associate professor at La Trobe University, backs up the idea that Rome is home to plenty of masculinity. She told ABC that this narrow view of Rome has been taken from movies and video games that heavily target men.

Teen Vogue dove into this deeper, aiming to debunk the idea that the Roman Empire isn’t actually as masculine as we’ve all been told. They argue that “much of the image that we have constructed around Rome in popular culture relies on outdated imaginations of the ancient world.”

So, while Rome might not have been as masculine as we all think it was, modern men are still enveloped with the idea of the Roman Empire. In these trending TikToks, men describe thoughts about the Romans’ architecture, economic structures, and even sewage systems.

It seems that there isn’t a definitive answer to why men think about the Romans so much. But until we find one, women everywhere will be puzzled by it.

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