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Roman public toilets

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Sewer pits - a source of knowledge about the Romans
Sewer pits - a source of knowledge about the Romans

Public toilets were common in ancient Rome, and the first of them appeared in second century BCE. In time toilets became a place for social gatherings.

Long seats with holes did not guarantee much privacy, but this did not discourage Romans who were “in need”. In the public toilet in Ostia, up to 80 people could use the tabernacle and talk together. Rome itself had over 140 public toilets, some of which were completely free of charge. The rest could only be visited for a small fee.

Instead of paper, natural, sea sponges (spongia) were used, placed on sticks, which after use were put back into the bowl with water (so that they probably get wet). In the floor there were usually small channels with fresh water, which was supplied by aqueducts. The toilets had a distinctive appearance with a large opening in the front through which a stick with a sponge could be inserted.

According to William Mackenzie, the place where was assassinated Julius Caesar – portico of Pompey’s theater – a public toilet was created, because of the shame of this place.

  • Amulree Lord, Hygienic Conditions in Ancient Rome and Modern London, 1973
  • Casson Lionel, Everyday Life in Ancient Rome, 1998

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