In Ancient Rome, public bathrooms were common in many areas of the city. The Roman public baths, or thermae, were much more than just places to relieve oneself. They were a place for socialising, entertaining and physical exercise. But for many poorer residents of the city, private toilets would not have been available and public spaces came to the rescue.
Unlike toilets today, the Ancient Roman toilet was not a seat but an ad hoc urinal. The user could choose the best spot to relieve themselves and simply make use of it. This was not just a practical solution for those who did not have access to a proper toilet, it was also a logical one: it was a way to keep the streets of Rome clean.
Surprisingly, the Ancient Romans also recognised the importance of hygiene, since they used to use running water to clean their hands after relieving themselves. This didn’t mean that they were using modern-day hand sanitiser, but rather that they had discovered that running water was more effective than wiping their hands on their clothes.
The sewer system of Rome was a remarkably sophisticated one. It was used, not to dispose of excrement, but instead to deliver water to the citizens of Rome. Toilets were not connected to the sewers, so the excrement was simply thrown out into the street. This may sound pretty unsavoury now, but it would have been quite standard at the time.
Pliny the Elder wrote about this unwritten rule in his book Natural History, noting that any “dirty material” should be thrown into the street, rather than the sewers. This close attention to detail shows just how serious the Romans were about keeping the streets clean.
The number of public toilets in Rome were significant. Indeed, it has been estimated that there were as many as 3,000 of them in the city. Many of these were situated in streets, while some were located in public baths, in taverns and even in private homes.
The toilets of Ancient Rome have been well-documented in literature and other writings. They have been described as “abominable”, an apt description, since they would have been a far cry from the toilets of today. However, they still served their purpose, allowing those without access to private toilets to relieve themselves in the street.
Sanitation Facilities in Ancient Rome
Though public urinals existed in Ancient Rome, there were more sophisticated sanitation facilities available. These included devices such as cucurbitae (“gourds”) which consisted of a large jar used for disposing urine and waste stored in a chamber. The chamber was connected to a sewage pipe to facilitate transportation of the waste lying underground.
The advanced system were such that porta di servi, or public latrines were common in Rome. The Porta di Servi was a type of public urinal, positioned in streets and near sewers. It provided sanitation for a large number of people with dry clay vases for the disposal of their waste.
The Use of Human Waste in Ancient Rome
In addition to providing sanitation facilities, Rome also made use of the waste in a variety of ways. Human waste was collected, treated and used as fertilizer for crops. The user was then able to reap the benefits of their waste offering in terms of agriculture, which was an important source of revenue for Historical Rome.
Furthermore, herbs and certain types of plants were grown with human waste to create medicines. Human waste was also burned and used for energy, for instance in forges and smithies. This allowed people to turn the waste into something beneficial, such as iron and other valuable materials.
Sanitation Regulations in Ancient Rome
Aside from providing public toilets and using human waste for a variety of purposes, Ancient Rome also had set rules to keep the city clean. Sanitation regulations were laid down and enforced by the Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR). These laws stated that latrines and sewers must be located away from living areas, religious sites and public places.
Waste could not be deposited in the streets, and citizens were forbidden from washing in the sewers. Furthermore, anyone caught throwing waste into the street could be subjected to a fine and other penalties.
Factors Contributing to Sanitation in Ancient Rome
The reason why Ancient Rome was able to maintain a good level of sanitation was due to several contributing factors. Roman Empire law and social expectations formed the basis for proper hygiene practices. Additionally, the concept of germ theory, which was established in 460BC, also played an important role.
The cities of the Roman Empire were built in a way that contributed to a clean environment and proper sanitation. For instance, streets were paved to facilitate easier and quicker transportation of waste away from living areas, and latrines were built away from living areas to prevent exposure to foul odours.
The Significance of Sanitation in Ancient Rome
Sanitation was an important part of life in Ancient Rome, as it was integral to the health and well-being of citizens. Without proper sanitation, diseases could spread quickly and cause considerable harm. Knowing this, the Ancient Romans developed sophisticated systems and laws to ensure a clean and healthy environment.
Sanitation was also significant from a cultural perspective. Ancient Rome was a major civilisation that was powerful, wealthy, and advanced. As such, it was essential for the Romans to maintain good sanitation habits in order to portray their society as civilised and cultured.
Conclusion & Summation of Sanitation in Ancient Rome
The Ancient Romans were quite skilled at managing sanitation issues. They developed and maintained sophisticated sewer systems, sanitation facilities and regulations to ensure an overall clean and healthy environment. Sanitation was also important from a cultural standpoint, as the Ancient Romans wanted to portray themselves as an advanced and civilised civilisation.