What the Romans Knew

The memory improvement techniques are based on finding memory pegs, on which to hang the things one wants to remember. The principle of memory pegs is simple: imagine you sort clothes you want to put in the wardrobe, and put these clothes meanwhile on a stool. After you finish sorting, you found out you were quite negligient in this task, because many clothes fell and are found on a pile at the bottom of the wardrobe, and even many more were left on the stool. When you want to take clothes out, the only ones you can find easily are those hung on a clothes hanger.
To make the comparison to our memory, most information we learn does not even pass the border of the short term memory, which can store information only for a very short while and whose storage capacity is limited. The classic example is when you call the operator and ask for a phone number: usually, if you do not write the number down as soon as you hear it, you can store in your memory only one phone number (7 digits), and the information would be stored only up to one minute, after which time it would probably be forgotten unless you write it down.

The information that does pass to our long-term memory is mostly in the recognition state, which resembles the clothes thrown on a pile at the bottom of the wardrobe: a state in which you do not extract the information readily but need a hint. You  recognize a face as being familiar, but do not extract the name of the person from the memroy; you recognize a song but do not remember the name of the performer; you may even recognize the name of the song but not its melody. For example, the older among us may find the name of the song “As the Years Go By” familiar, but will not remember its melody, let alone the name of the band that performed the song more than 30 years ago. Sounds familiar? keep on reading, see if you remember it after a while.
The only information items that can be extracted easily are those stored in a recall state, at which we can remember something for sure, by just recalling it from our memory. To continue the song example, the name “Wish You Were Here” easily brings to mind the song’s tune and the name Pink Floyd. Information items that can be easily extracted are just like clothes found on a clothes hanger; and the more cloth hangers we can produce to hang information items on, the more items we can easily remember.
The Roman Room (aka Loci, its Latin name) is one of the most basic and ancient memorization methods, which was known already in Ancient Greece. The principle of this mehtod is simple: taking one or more rooms that you know by heart, and find six outstanding objects in the room. Begin your view from left to right or conversely, but do it in a sequential order; avoid  “jumps” by all means. For example, here is a list of such objects in my living hall and kitchen:

Living hall:

  • Lamp
  • Table
  • Sofa
  • Chandelier
  • TV set
  • Stereo


  • Freezer compartment in the refregirator
  • Vegetable drawer in the refregirator
  • Micorwave
  • Sink
  • Garabage can hide
  • Stove

Now, let us let our memory go wild and use this objects as memory pegs, by hanging on them the items we want to remember. Suppose we want to remember the list of Israeli prime ministers, by a chronological order. We count each PM only once, even if he served several terms, often separated by terms of another PM. The list is as follows: David Ben Gurion Moshe Sharet Levi Eshkol Golda Meir Yizhak Rabin Menahem Begin Now we should hang these names on the memory pegs we created in the living room. An example is shown below:

  • David Ben Gurion - lamp - imagine the lamp with two locks of white hair on both sides.
  • Moshe Sharet - table -  the table is covered with notes of 20 NIS, bearing Sharet’s portrait.
  • Levi Eshkol - sofa - The sofa is full of grape clusters.
  • Golda Meir - chandelier - the chandlier is made of gold.
  • Yizhak Rabin - TV set - a TV broadcast about Rabin's murder.
  • Menachem Begin - stereo - hearing his  famous speech from  the Camp David summit meeting: “no more war, no more bloodshed”.

This method does sound strange and even childish at first, but when approriately and seriously used, can save you a lot of time memorizing stuff, plus turn the dull memorizing task into a nice play. Two huge advantages of the Roman Room is that the same rooms can be used over and over again to remember different items (I remember hundreds of  items, using only seven rooms), and that you can memorize while continuing your daily tasks, in your own familiar environmentm, instead of starting to practice at a late hour when you are weary to your bones. So don't forget to practice until the next article!