10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Ancient Roman Life


Ancient Rome holds a mythic place in our imaginations. It’s the land of historical epics like Ben-Hur and Gladiator, where men in golden armor ride chariots and emperors are fed grapes in reclining chairs.

Real life in Rome, though, was quite a bit less glamorous. In a time before modern sanitation and medicine, getting through an average day was a difficult task—and far more disgusting than you could ever imagine.

[Read the full article at Listverse.com]

4 thoughts on “10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Ancient Roman Life”

  1. Obscene pics at Pompeii…what you did not mention is that Pompeii was seaport and the brothels had visitors who spoke many languages. The pictures were a menu…you pointed to what you wanted. I visited Pompeii and hired a wonderful guide (you have to go to school to be guide at POmpeii). The penis in the ground pointed the way to brothels which were a primary site for sailors at sea. The ladies used lemon juice to clean themselves (ouch) and protect against disease. REst of the article was quite enlightening!

    1. Of course, the locals didn’t need the symbols. There was a great TV documentary, narrated by John Forsyth, in the 1970s called “The Talking Walls of Pompeii” about all the graffiti on the walls, of comments by everyday Pompeiians. You have to have an EDUCATED populace to have written graffiti. Sure, some of those were the traditional, “For a good time, come to …….” But some were snide political comments, about “Flavius Maximus’ mother bought him his last election and will buy his next one too.” And the writings of the Roman poet Catullus sometimes went into the political commentary too, as in “Julius Caesar, you’re a snot; I don’t care if you like it or not. Maybe you’re good luck. Maybe you’re bad. Now just go away . . . and be mad.” Politics in a democracy with outrageous statements are nothing new.

  2. Interesting, but you have to realize that soap was not invented until the Germans thought it up. Raw wool is coated with lanolin. The only way to remove it, before spinning and weaving, was to take it to the “fullers”, who used the alkaline urine (pH 8.0) to dissolve the sheep fat. Large urns were kept outside fullers’ shops for gentlemen to “make a deposit”. Even 17th century Europeans recommended a morning mouthwash of urine from a small boy.
    Still, the Roman public toilets were MUCH better than anything else in the rest of the world. And the sponge-on-a-stick was rinsed in a bucket of water kept there too. There WERE running-water toilets in the Harappa—Mohenjo-Daro cultures of the Indus Valley, until the Indo-Europeans invaded. And Çatal Höyuk in Anatolia also had sewage arrangements, as did ancient Knossos on Crete. Where the Roman Empire set up aqueducts and sewers in newly-conquered lands, the infant birth fatality rate dropped and people lived longer.
    The whole thing about gladiator sweat being prized by women was for the pheromones. Modern studies have shown pheromones bring emotional impacts in both males and females.
    So, yes, you can write about the “disgusting things” but they were really quite advanced, for the time period. Using priests to pray over wounds and sicknesses was STILL being followed by Europeans in the AD1300s, and “medical practices” were incredibly primitive even in the 1600s. The 1800s America saw the rise of “patent medicine” with all sorts of strange ingredients. Parents were advised to dose their children with “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” which had raw opium in it. “Teething Drops” were using cocaine. And older kids would come for their daily “preventive dose” of “catarrh syrup” with morphine in it.

  3. The Romans collected urine because it worked like bleach. As to the sponge on a stick, what I have seen at Roman latrines was a shelf of smooth stones with a lavatory below it. Each person took and used a stone then rinsed it before returning it to the shelf. The process of bathing by covering the body with oil then scraping it was still used in 18th century Europe. A palace near Bonn has a bathing room which housed a group of what look like today’s doctor’s examination table. Bathers lay on these tables. There was no water source in the room.

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