Why Was Life Expectancy So Low In Ancient Rome

What was life expectancy like in ancient Rome? That’s a question that is still being asked today. It’s thought that overall, life expectancy was low for most of the population, especially for those who lived in the lower classes. It is possible that life expectancy in ancient Rome could have ranged from as low as 18 years in some cases to as high as 60 years in some rare cases. In general, it could be said that the average person lived until they were in their early 30s, but there were a few lucky individuals who managed to live past the age of 50 or beyond.

Life expectancy was low in ancient Rome due to a variety of factors. Poor nutrition, inadequate healthcare, and the lack of sanitation were all contributing factors. It’s thought that the average person only consumed 1600 to 2000 calories a day, which was not sufficient to sustain a healthy life. Furthermore, medical treatments at the time were rudimentary and did not offer effective relief from many diseases and illnesses. Lastly, the Ancient Romans had no concept of sanitation and proper hygiene, so pathogens like bacteria and viruses were frequently present and could spread easily.

In addition to the physical factors, there were also multiple psychological components contributing to the low life expectancy. Mental health was not something that was widely discussed or taken seriously in Ancient Rome. Depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness were brushed aside, as were severe physical disabilities as a result of accidents and wars. Without proper treatment or support, these issues could worsen and reduce overall quality of life and longevity.

Experts believe that the average life expectancy would have been lower if it weren’t for the Roman Senate’s attempts to implement healthcare and social reforms in the second century BC. Although these efforts ultimately weren’t successful, there is evidence that it increased access to medical care and improved the overall quality of life for those who had access to the new resources. It’s likely that had these reforms been implemented sooner and been more effective, the life expectancy could have been higher for some segments of Roman society.

Continuing research into Roman life expectancy is important since it allows us to draw comparisons with today’s life expectancy statistics. In spite of the advances made in medical technology, sanitation, and nutrition, life expectancy today is not much higher than it was in Ancient Rome, largely due to existing social and economic inequalities. For this reason, it’s important to further investigate the conditions of Ancient Rome that contributed to its low life expectancy so that we can use this knowledge to create real, lasting change in the present.

Poverty and Inequality

The unequal distribution of wealth and resources in Ancient Rome also played a major role in the overall life expectancy. The most affluent in society could afford the best medical treatment and resources, and thus had better lifespans. Slaves, on the other hand, were completely isolated from these resources, and hence their life expectancies were significantly lower. Slaves may have had the lowest life expectancy of any other Roman citizens, with the average slave expected to live only 20 to 25 years.

Other factors that discriminated between the wealthy and the poor include access to healthy food options and clean water. The wealthy could afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, which were rare and expensive at the time, while the poor were often forced to consume low-nutrient grains and other low-quality foods. Poor sanitation and limited access to clean drinking water were also a major factor, as contaminated water sources were a breeding ground for disease-carrying microbes and parasites.

In addition to the physical differences, the social and cultural structure of Ancient Rome also played a role in impacting the life expectancy gap. The wealthy had extended access to education, religious and recreational activities, while the lower classes were mostly excluded from such opportunities. This meant that they had fewer chances to learn how to take care of their health and lead healthier lives, or to seek help or support in times of need.

It’s clear that the unequal access to resources throughout the Roman Republic had a dramatic effect on overall life expectancies. Those who had access to resources had far better lifespans than those without, and those with the fewest resources had the lowest lifespans of all.


In conclusion, it could be said that the low life expectancy in Ancient Rome was caused by a confluence of physical, psychological, political and socioeconomic factors. Poor nutrition, inadequate healthcare, lack of sanitation, unequal access to resources, and mental health stigma all played a part in shortening the lifespan of most Romans. It’s disheartening to see that many of the same factors are still present today in various cultures and societies, and this should be a call to action to work towards creating an equitable, healthy world for everyone.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Leave a Comment