Ancient Romans Used Lead As An Artificial Sweetener

Ancient Romans Used Lead As An Artificial Sweetener

This story is part of the Different Is Better series. Curiosity and Motorola are celebrating people and innovations that have improved our world. Follow our coverage to learn how different is changing our lives for the better.

The element lead has an array of wonderful traits: soft and malleable yet heavy and dense; a great conductor of electricity; and more. It is also extremely poisonous—and it took thousands of years for humans to discover this. Ancient Egyptians lined their eyes with lead-based makeup, and people in the 1920s used fuel that contained lead. Some historians even blame the fall of the Roman empire on lead poisoning. The Romans used lead as an artificial sweetener (which they called "sapa"), for plumbing, for eating utensils, and much more.

Lead: The Original Artificial Sweetener


Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    Lead is heavy and dense, yet soft and malleable. (0:10)

  • 2

    Lead has a naturally sweet taste, which is why ancient Romans used it to sweeten their wine. (1:29)

  • 3

    In 1996, the last leaded gasoline was sold in the U.S. (4:06)

See all



Fringe Theory


Get smarter every day! Like us on Facebook.
You'll get the most interesting and engaging topics in your feed, straight from our team of experts.