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Dangers in Roman toilets

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing the fight between octopus and cancer
Roman mosaic showing the fight between octopus and cancer

Ancient Rome appears to us as one of the civilizations that became famous for achievements in the field of sewage and hygiene. However, despite the presence of sewers and public toilets, there was some fear among the Romans when they thought of the toilets.

For example, the Roman writer Claudius Aelianus from the turn of the second and third century CE, mentions in his work De Natura Animalium about an octopus, which supposedly in a private household was supposed to come out of the sewer pipes and leave fish from the pantry. This story can be taken rather in quotation marks, but it may seem certain that the houses were visited by rodents, insects and other creatures that lived in the sewage system.

Other attractions awaited those using the toilet. Apparently during the flood water with faeces could spill from toilets; in turn, a large amount of methane in the pipes could even cause a flame explosion.

The proof that ancient Romans were afraid – in some sense – of toilets is the fact that we find fewer traces of graffiti in toilets than in other public places.

  • A. O. Koloski-Ostrow, The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy, 2015
  • Claudius Aelianus, De Natura Animalium

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