Ancient Rome has long been praised for being pioneers in the field of toilets, establishing a healthier waste management system than their predecessors. But it seems it’s time we said deuces to that notion.
Piers Mitchell, a paleopathologist at the University of Cambridge, recently published a paper in Parasitology examining the presence of parasites before, during, and after the Roman Empire. His evidence concludes that certain parasites were just as common in Rome as they were during the earlier Bronze and Iron Ages.
The Atlantic reports:
“Mitchell speculates that perhaps the steamy bathhouses made a good environment for parasites to grow. ‘In some baths the water was only changed intermittently, and could acquire a scum on the surface from human dirt and cosmetics,’ he writes. The parasites also could have benefitted from the Roman practice of fertilizing crops with human poop. This is still done today in some places, and it is good for the plants … if you first compost the poop long enough to kill off any parasite eggs. But the Romans didn’t know that.”
Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, a professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, has spent time studying Roman sewers and public bathrooms, concluding that toilet seats and bathroom floors must have been covered in urine and excrement. While there is no evidence to suggest such conditions had negative effects on public health, there is also no evidence to suggest positive effects…
Koloski-Ostrow further explains how even those with public toilets didn’t connect them to sewers because they “feared what might climb out of a sewer into one’s house.” In public bathrooms, everyone shared a sponge on a stick to wipe themselves. Praise be to modern toilet paper.
For more latrine revelations, head over to The Atlantic.