Taking a Shit in Ancient Rome

ostia-toilets.jpgBefore the First and Second centuries in Rome, relieving oneself in the city were all the roads led required the good old chamberpot. While this worked fine for some (and came back in vogue after the fall of Rome all over Europe) once you were done you had to get rid of your waste somehow, and most Romans did this by flinging the contents of their pots right out the window (and potentially onto whoever was walking by). Getting tired of the mess, the Julio-Claudian Emperors decided to do something about this by creating the first public toilets. As you can see (click for a bigger picture) public was the key word here, with some locations having facilities for over 50 people. And as you can guess, there was no toilet paper. Instead you get a sponge wrapped around a stick (hence, “getting the short end of the stick”). And not one for each visitor, ether. Facilities for the lower classes contained one or two sticks with a bucket of brine to “wash” with. Nicer accommodations like the one above would have likely contained more sponges to go around (but sharing was still common), and if you look closely you can see a trough were warm water from the bath houses was piped through so as to eliminate the bucket. What you see above was the cutting edge of shit technology for at least another thousand years and longer in some areas.

As a side note, people could also make money selling urine. Urine traders are described as walking up and down poorer areas of Rome barking away for people to “Sell your urine right here!”

Update 4.15.09

The Roman leaders seem to have noticed quite quickly just how much money could be made in the urine trade and decided in classic Italian fashion that with all this urine money floating around, that they needed to get their beak wet, and leved a tax on the sale of urine. From The HuffPo:

The Roman emperor Nero levied a tax on the collection of urine in the 1st century (his successor, Vespasian, was also a fan of the tax, and applied it to all public toilets.) At least after collecting the urine from public latrines the Romans put it to good use–launderers, for example, apparently found it useful as a source of ammonia for whitening togas.


~ by herodotuswept on November 16, 2007.

7 Responses to “Taking a Shit in Ancient Rome”

  1. Thanks for information.
    many interesting things

  2. […] to socialize. You'd just sit there in the room, pooping and chatting it up with your neighbors. https://herodotuswept.wordpress.com/2…-ancient-rome/ Seriously, I have dreams where I have to pee and can't find a private place to go. THAT'S how deep […]

  3. Thanks this was really funny as well as interesting.

  4. i was high taking a shit and was wondering how romans took shits back in the day so i googled how did the romans take shits and i got here cool article

  5. Do they gathered to poop together purposely or was a random, first come first served. …?

  6. hence the word “piss poor” derived from people in lower class areas selling there urine for the cloth trades

  7. Out of curiosity, were these public bathrooms gender separated like modern locker rooms or gender mixed like traditional Japanese bath houses?

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