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Urine in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Public latrine in ancient Rome
Public latrine in ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, urine was a versatile and valuable commodity that had many uses, from medicine to cleaning to manufacturing. While some of these uses may seem strange or even repulsive today, it’s important to remember that the Romans were skilled and resourceful people who used every resource available to them.

One of the most important uses of urine in ancient Rome was tanning leather. The Romans were famous for their high-quality leather, which was used for everything from clothing to military equipment. To produce this leather, animal hides were soaked in a solution of water and urine. The ammonia in the urine acted as a natural softener, breaking down the proteins in the leather and making it more supple. This process was so effective that it was used throughout the Roman Empire and continued into the Middle Ages.

Another important use of urine in ancient Rome was in the production of wool. Sheep were raised throughout the empire, and their wool was highly prized. However, before wool could be spun into thread, it had to be cleaned and skimmed. The Romans used urine for this purpose, as the ammonia in it was very effective in breaking down the natural oils in the wool. Once the wool was washed and dried, it was ready for spinning.

Urine was also used in ancient Rome for medicinal purposes. The Romans believed that urine had medicinal properties and used it to treat a wide variety of ailments. For example, urine was used as a disinfectant for wounds. Urine was also used to treat skin diseases such as acne and psoriasis, as well as to relieve toothaches and sore throats. The Roman physician Galen even recommended drinking urine as a cure for certain diseases, although the practice was not widely adopted.

Interestingly, urine was also used in ancient Rome as a cleaning agent. The ammonia in urine was very effective at dissolving grease and dirt, making it an ideal cleaning agent. Urine was used to cleaning everything from clothes to floors, and even to clean the streets in Rome itself. In fact, there were public urinals all over the city where people could take care of themselves and contribute to cleaning the streets.

In addition to these more practical uses, urine was also used in ancient Rome for more unusual purposes. For example, it was used to make cosmetics, as the ammonia in urine was thought to have a skin-whitening effect. Urine was also used to make various dyes, as it could be used to fix colours on fabrics.
In summary, the ancient Romans were skilled and resourceful people who used all the resources at their disposal, including urine. While some of the uses of urine in ancient Rome may seem strange or even repulsive, it is clear that the Romans recognized the value of this versatile commodity and used it in a wide variety of applications. From tanning leather to cleaning the streets, urine played an important role in the economy and culture of ancient Rome.

Author: Michał Mikołajczyk
  • Michael Witty, Ancient Roman urine chemistry

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