However detailed they could be in other respects, many accounts of daily life centuries and centuries in the past cross over the usage of the toilet in silence. Even when they didn’t, they’dn’t contain the type of toilets we might recognize immediately, however somewhat chamber pots, outhouses, and other sorts of specialized rooms with chutes emptying straight out into rivers and onto again gardens. And that was simply the residences. What would public facilities have been like? We’ve one reply in the Informed in Stone video above, which describes “public latrines in historical Rome,” the facilities constructed in nearly each Roman city “the place citizens might relieve themselves en masse.”
These usually had at the least a dozen seats, Informed in Stone creator Garrett Ryan explains, although some have been grander in scale than others: the Roman in the pastra of Athens, for examinationple, boasted a 68-seater. A facility in Timgad, the “African Pompeii” previously featured right here on Open Culture, had “fancy armrests within the form of leaping dolphins.”
Judged by their ruins, these public “restrooms” could seem unexpectedly impressive of their engineering and elegant of their design. However we might really feel somewhat much less inclined towards time-travel fantasies when Ryan will get into such particulars as “the sponge on a stick that served as toilet paper” that continues to be “one of many extra notorious features of daily life in historical Rome.”
These weren’t technically latrines, as Lina Zeldovich notes at Smithsonian.com. “The phrase ‘latrine,’ or latrina in Latin, was used to explain a private toilet in somebody’s residence, usually constructed over a cesspit. Public toilets have been referred to as foricae,” and their construction have a tendencyed to depend on deep-pocketed organizations or individuals. “Higher-class Romans, who someoccasions paid for the foricae to be erected, generally wouldn’t set foot in these locations. They constructed them for the poor and the enslaved — however not as a result of they took pity on the lower classes. They constructed these public toilets so that they wouldn’t must stroll knee-deep in excrement on the streets.”
The problem of large-scale human waste disposal is as outdated as city civilization, and Rome laboriously solved it as soon as and for all. The Absolute History brief above reveals how the castles of medieval England handled it, utilizing lavatories with holes over the moat (and piles of “moss, grass, or hay” in lieu of yet-to-be-invented toilet paper). At Medievalists.internet, Lucie Laumonier writes that the city equivalent of Roman foricae have been “typically constructed over bridges and on quays to facilitate the evacuation of human waste that went directly into running water.” Innovative as this was, it should have posed difficulties for boaters crossing beneath, to say nothing of the customers unfortunate sufficient to take a seat on a woodenen seat simply rotten sufficient to offer out — the prospect of which, for all of the deficiencies of Modern Western civilization’s public restrooms, at the least not worries us fairly a lot immediately.
Primarily based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His initiatives embrace the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the e-book The Statemuch less Metropolis: a Stroll by means of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facee-book.