The Roman Empire began in 27 B.C. and fell in A.D. 476.
And in A.D. 2023, it went viral on TikTok.
In posts shared on social media, women have been asking the men in their lives how often they think about ancient Rome. “Constantly,” one husband responded. “Like, every day,” said a boyfriend. As of Thursday night, a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, went on like this for more than MDCLXXIX messages. (Sorry, that’s 1,679.)
The posts have set off skepticism over whether men are actually obsessed with the Romans — and if so, what draws them to the ancient empire. It appears that the populus will not rest without answers.
“I’m starting to get sick of being asked about this,” said Kevin Feeney, a faculty fellow at New York University who teaches an introductory class on Roman history. By his estimation, enrollment is about 60 percent male.
Ancient Roman society was “extremely, extremely patriarchal,” he said, and was dominated by such alpha males as Julius Caesar and Augustus, its first emperor.
But that’s far from the whole story of Rome, or of its scholars, he added. Roman society influences everything from the United States’ form of government to its language to its architecture (right down to the prefix “arch,” which, as it happens, is also a structure popularized by the Romans).
Dr. Feeney said he had “seen this idea out there that men care more about history,” as a result of the social media trend. “And obviously, that’s complete nonsense.”
Still, many women have been shocked by the enthusiasm men display for the ancient empire.
The trend seemed to really take off last week after Kelsey Lewis Vincent of Wilson, N.C., was scrolling through social media one night when she came across an Instagram Reel mysteriously suggesting that men the world over were hiding a secret: “Ladies, many of you do not realise how often men think about the Roman Empire.”
Ms. Vincent asked her husband, Remy, how often the ancient civilization crossed his mind, and shared his response in a post that has now been viewed millions of times: “Without missing a beat he said ‘Every day.’”
When asked in an interview what “every day” entailed, in practical effect, Mr. Vincent, 33, said, “I’ll be going through my day and my internal monologue, as I’m driving on the highway, will remind me that this was something the Romans in a way created.” He continued, “I then start to wonder what daily life was like back then.”
Delara Alviri, 28, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, found greater ambivalence when she surveyed 10 of her male friends about Rome this week. Five of them were really into it, but the other five were relatively unmoved. One said he thought about ancient Rome only when he ordered pizza from the chain Little Caesars.
Ms. Alviri said the trope reminded her of “girl dinner,” another online phenomenon that declared something not obviously gendered — in that case, a plate of nibbles — to be a uniquely gendered experience. “I feel like it has to do with a lot of the current questioning of gender roles and norms in general,” she said.
Judith Hallett, an emeritus professor of classics at the University of Maryland, described ancient Rome as “a place where there were many different definitions of masculinity.”
But after first being exposed to the civilization in middle and secondary school, Dr. Hallett added, many men continue to consume Roman history through mass media.
In recent popular culture, Roman history has been told through entertainment media like “Gladiator,” winner of the 2000 Oscar for best picture, and the TV show “Spartacus,” which focus on battles and often appeal to male audiences. “The games you play and what TV shows you watch are informing a new audience of Roman fans,” she said.
Others have argued that ancient Rome is intriguing to Americans because the country is facing a similar decline today.
That kind of status anxiety is not unique to the United States, or even to the 21st century, Dr. Feeney of N.Y.U. said. Indeed, The New York Times published articles comparing the state of the United States to the decline of Rome in 1975, 1999, 2007, 2018, 2021 and just this month.
Still, it’s not as if ancient Rome is all that men talk about, Mr. Vincent said.
“We’re not necessarily cracking open beers talking about the Roman Empire,” he said. “But it does kind of come up when we talk about who would win in a fight — a gladiatorial fight — between Thanos and Captain America.”