Roman Latrine, Hierapolis

Roman Latrine, Hierapolis

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Recently Unearthed Roman Latrine Was Full of Dirty Jokes

Anyone who’s had the privilege of visiting a public restroom has likely encountered more than a few dirty jokes and obscene scrawlings. The phenomenon is nothing new. The ancient Romans were notorious for their graffiti, and much of it is preserved in Pompeii. But a new find in present-day Turkey may take Roman bathroom humor to a new level. As Megan Gannon at LiveScience reports, archaeologists have unearthed a latrine decorated with suggestive mosaics, meaning the dirty jokes were built right into the walls.

The off-color outhouse was found by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project (ACARP), which has been excavating the archaeological site along the southern coast of Turkey since 2004. The team uncovered two mosaic scenes dating to the 2nd century A.D. in the latrine of a bathhouse during the last few days of the dig season this past summer. While public latrines were common in Roman-era cities and villages, very few have survived. Toilets decorated with mosaics are even more unusual.

Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who is the co-director of the project, tells IFLScience that the mosaics depict two scenes: one tells a version of the legend of Ganymedes, a beautiful Trojan prince, whom Jupiter kidnapped and brought to Olympus to make him serve as his cupbearer and concubine. Ganymedes is often portrayed as the god of homosexual love.

Typically, Ganymedes is depicted with a hoop and an elater or stick, which is intended to “underline his boyish innocence,” according to Eva C. Keuls, classics professor at University of Minnesota, in The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. In the mosaic, however, Ganymedes is shown with a stick with a sponge on the tip, possibly so he could clean the latrines. Meanwhile, Jupiter is depicted in the scene as a heron, suggestively sponging Ganymede’s privates with his long beak. “It’s bathroom humor that would have been appreciated by the males who would have been visiting the latrine while doing their business,” says Hoff.

The other mural depicts Narcissus, the Greco-Roman mythological character who falls in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring, eventually wasting away. In the latrine version, however, Narcissus has a very long nose, which Romans would have recognized as a sign of ugliness. Instead of admiring the reflection of his face in the water, he is ogling the reflection of his well-endowed genitals.

It’s not known if this latrine was especially naughty or if these types of mosaics may have been a common element of lavatories. What we do know from Pompeii and other sites is that sexually suggestive murals were common in places like taverns, brothels and in some homes. Suggestive artwork or trinkets were also not unusual.

Whatever the case, the jokes help archaeologists put a human face on their work. “The humor that is expressed from these mosaics really does put humanity into our abandoned city. We had been working here for 10 years and we’ve found buildings, markets, temples, and bath buildings – it’s all neat but it doesn’t speak that much to the people who actually lived here,” Hoff tells IFLScience. “I think this was really the most intimate piece of evidence that we have of the humanity who lived and breathed and worked and played here at our ancient city.”

The mosaics aren’t the only treasure archaeologists have found in Antiochia, which served as an important Roman trading center in the region and was later the seat of a bishopric during the Byzantine era before being abandoned in the 11th century. Researchers believe Antiochia would have served as an attractive hiding spot for pirates and other criminals. In another bath building, archaeologists discovered a hoard of 3,000 silver coins dating mostly to the 1600s and from regions all over Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The cache of coins appear to have been buried there intentionally. Underneath the loot, the researchers discovered the bones of a person who may have been a murder victim.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

How the Romans did their business: images of Latrines throughout the Roman world

In Roman times, toilets used to be a public and convivial place. An epigram from Martial reveals just how public privies were among the most frequented places in the city for socializing:

“In omnibus Vacerra quod conclavibus
consumit horas et die toto sedet,
cenaturit Vacerra, non cacaturit.”

which translates to “In privies Vacerra consumes the hours the whole day does he sit Vacerra wants to dine, he does not want to shit” Martial – Book 11 – Epigram 77

To modern readers, this can sound rather shocking as for us, going to the toilet is most definitely a private matter. However, public latrines were perfectly acceptable in Ancient Rome.

Toilets are to be found at many archaeological sites. They vary in sizes and shapes from the large semi-circular or rectangular ones to the smaller private ones with up to 10 seats. Here is a collection of public toilets (foricae) I have photographed at different sites.

Some latrines were adorned with marble revetments and fountains like the latrines of the Wrestlers Baths at Saint-Romain-en-Gal (France). The walls were decorated with frescoes depicting wrestlers and discus-throwers under the supervision of a referee.

Private toilets have been found in Roman houses and upstairs apartments. Pompeii and Herculaneum have good examples of these (see Image Gallery: Pompeii’s Toilets).

However, if you were not fortunate enough to live in a house with a toilet, you would use a chamber pot.

Water and sanitation in Imperial Rome (video)

Communal latrines were also present in the camps set up by the Roman armies, particularly on the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Some of the best representations of soldier’s toilets are to be found around Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

Further photos of Roman latrines can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.

This post was updated on 19-11-2015 and on 19-11-2016 for #worldtoiletday to include new images.

The logical reason

You may ask yourself, is this legend actually true and it is actually 100% real because there is actually logic behind it. The cave had been sealed many centuries ago for a specific reason. The evil mist that is spoken of in historical records is actually a high dose of carbon dioxide, when inhaled any soul would start suffocating.

The cause for this high dose of carbon dioxide was explained by Hardy Pfanz from Duisburg-Essen University in Germany. Seismic activity from beneath the ground created cracks within the deposits of carbon dioxide which explains the high dose of carbon dioxide. These pockets of carbon dioxide can be huge and would take decades if not thousands of years to deplete. You can see the same sort of thing in this article:

History of Toilets in Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans influenced many of the cultures and civilizations around them, including the way that people went to the bathroom.

Ancient Roman Toilets

Given that the Romans developed their civilization around 1000 years after the ancient Greeks, it makes sense that the Romans borrowed some techniques. Among them was the use of communal toilets, featuring the long benches with small holes cut into them. These benches sat above channels of flowing water, although each communal toilet was different in the depth and velocity of the water flowing underneath.

As with the ancient Greeks, the Romans did not have toilet paper. Instead, they used a sponge attached to a stick, which they would dip into a shallow channel of water and then use to rinse themselves off. In some cases, the sponge was kept in a bucket of saltwater and vinegar. The sponge technique, called a tersorium, was used mostly by higher-class people. The lower classes had to resort to using small stones as the ancient Greeks did.

First-Century Toilets

Around the first century was when Augustus ruled over the colony of Nemausus. There were tens of thousands of people in this community so a water system was crucial. Twenty kilometers away, there was a spring called the Fontaine d&rsquoEure, although it was blocked by the hills of the Massif Central. The Romans&rsquo solution to this problem was to construct an aqueduct.

Unlike other aqueducts, this one had a steep gradient, about 0.67 meters per kilometer. The structure was also unusually high at 50 meters since it had to run above the Gardon River, which ran between the Roman civilization and the spring. When all was said and done, the aqueduct measured 360 meters long and had an average height of nearly 49 meters. The watercourse drops 2.5 centimeters along the length of the structure.

Today the aqueduct holds the name Pont du Gard. Historians estimate that it took around 15 years to build, given a crew of 800 workers. It was worth the effort, though, since the Pont du Gard brought 40,000 cubic meters of water into Nemausus every day. The total travel time of the water from spring to civilization was 27 hours and when it arrived, it poured into a one-meter-deep basin. That basin served as a holding tank for the water to be filtered out to different plumbing systems in Nemausus for things such as bathrooms and fountains.

The pipes that the ancient Romans used were made of lead or plumbum. That&rsquos why we have the word plumber today it was someone who worked with plumbum pipes in ancient Rome. We also get the word latrine from the Roman term latrinae, which referred to a single-occupant toilet seat. As the flowing water from the aqueduct rushed beneath the communal latrines, it swept away waste and deposited it in the sewers. The Pont du Gard eventually went into misuse but visitors can still see it today.

At-home toilets were just little pots that individuals would relieve themselves in. Keep in mind that this was only for urinating as the pots were emptied into larger jars that were scattered throughout the streets. Every week, the urine jars were picked up and taken to a clothes-washing facility since the ancient Romans washed clothing in their urine. This makes sense, considering that human urine contains ammonia and natural agents that can get stains out of clothing.

Modern Roman Toilets

A visit to Rome (or anywhere in Italy) today won&rsquot reveal any public latrines sitting out in the open. It can be difficult for tourists on the street to find a public restroom and they will probably have to resort to stopping by a cafe and using their restroom (with a purchase, of course).

Roman bathrooms tend to be quite small, even narrow. The toilets often lack actual toilet seats as they can break easily and are more difficult to replace in this region. Another thing that foreigners may notice is that the typical flusher handle may be largely absent on a Roman toilet. Instead, there might be a button on the wall or on the toilet itself or there might be a pull chain.

When it&rsquos time to wash your hands, you might find that the sink faucet needs to be turned on via a foot pedal. This makes a lot of sense, considering that helps you avoid touching a dirty faucet.

Hierapolis Necropolis

We pass through the Gate of Domitian and come to The Necropolis or graveyard which has three different areas, north, south and west. The north is the largest with more than 1200 graves including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods.

As long ago as 190 BC people travelled from afar to Hierapolis to take the waters and heal their ailments although looking at the size of The Necropolis – the largest in Anatolia – it would seem that the waters were somewhat lacking. They certainly didn’t help Mister’s wasp sting – at least not half as much as the large, ice-cold Efes we had when we got back to Pamukkale town…

Roman Latrine, Hierapolis - History

The area of Hierapolis was exposed to be a place for many settlements for its abundant water sources. It is highly believed that the ancient city was built by the people of Pergamum. The history of Hierapolis before the Hellenistic period is not known exactly but there had been a settlement existence here. It is known that around 1900’s BC Luwis were in the scene of the area. The most civilized city of its time was Cydrara in the area around 500 BC and they had built a holy temple here.

After the fall of Troy, many colonists migrated to Anatolia from Greece and south east Europe in the Hittite Period. But it is still unknown if they established new cities or captured the existing cities or combined to live with others. When everything was settled, disagreements began among the people after a few centuries. Anatolians were invaded by Lydians that were living in the west of Asia and Lydian became successful. Afterwards actions stated with Lydian King Croesus. But their period did not last long Lydian was defeated by Persians in 646 BC. Persians aim was not only Anatolia but also Greek land and Aegean Island. After the long wars Anatolia went under Greek domination. But this situation didn’t affect the lives of Anatolians.

Recommended Reading

The Private Lives of Public Bathrooms

Behind the Writing on the Stalls

Hitler's Toilet Is in New Jersey

In a new paper published in Parasitology, Mitchell reviews several decades of archaeological research to track the presence of parasites before, during, and after the Roman Empire. The evidence suggests that certain parasites—like whipworm, roundworm, and the parasite that causes dysentery—were just as prevalent in the region under Roman rule as they had been during the earlier Bronze and Iron Ages.

Scientists have also found ectoparasites, or parasites that live outside the body—lice, fleas, and bed bugs—suggesting the Romans’ bathhouses weren’t keeping them much cleaner than people who lived in Viking or medieval times, who also had lice, but no public baths. Archaeologists have excavated fine-toothed combs from the Roman period, presumed to be for removing lice.

Mitchell speculates that perhaps the steamy bathhouses made a good environment for parasites to grow. “In some baths the water was only changed intermittently, and could acquire a scum on the surface from human dirt and cosmetics,” he writes. The parasites also could have benefitted from the Roman practice of fertilizing crops with human poop. This is still done today in some places, and it is good for the plants … if you first compost the poop long enough to kill off any parasite eggs. But the Romans didn’t know that.

The ancient Romans’ sanitation structures may not actually have been that sanitary, at least by our modern standards, says Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, a professor of classical studies at Brandeis University who has been visiting and studying Roman sewers and latrines for more than 40 years.

“In my explorations of public toilets, I have concluded that they must have been pretty dirty places—excrement and urine on the seats and floor, poor lighting … Surely, not someplace one would want to spend much time,” she wrote to me in an email.

Koloski-Ostrow noted that while the toilets didn’t necessarily have a negative effect on public health, researchers should be careful about saying they had a positive effect.

“While the arrival of public latrines in Roman Italy probably did improve the sanitary conditions of cities to some extent, we must not automatically assume that sanitary improvement was the one, the only, or the main Roman motive behind the construction of toilets,” she wrote.

She also suspects that sewers like the Cloaca Maxima were not built with human waste removal in mind, but to help drain standing water from cities.

According to an article she wrote in The Conversation, most people had private toilets at their houses, which weren’t connected to the sewers. “They were afraid of connecting their houses to the sewers, since they feared what might climb out of a sewer into one’s house,” she wrote in her email. (Roman toilet rats!) “They also feared the mephitic gas fires that sometimes burned in sewer holes or in the open seats in public toilets.”

And when they did go to the public latrines, one of the things they used to wipe themselves was a sponge on a stick, which was shared by everybody. Little wonder, then, that the Romans’ toilets—advanced though they may have been—weren’t exactly a public-health revolution.

And in a time when the four humors were the reigning medical philosophy, sound bathroom hygiene may have been too much to expect. In his paper, Mitchell cites Aelius Galenus, who was a physician to Marcus Aurelius and several other Roman emperors. In his writings, Galenus observed and described three different kinds of intestinal worms, but according to Mitchell, he believed that they were created by imbalances in the humors. So if the Romans thought the parasites originated inside the body, rather than outside, there was no reason to link them to sanitation.

“We have no idea what the background thoughts were of the person that invented the toilet,” Mitchell says. “Were toilets invented as a convenient place to put feces, or to cut down on smells, or as a way of stopping you having to walk to the town dump with a pot every morning?” Especially because the Romans didn’t understand how infections work, “you can’t automatically assume that they would have made these sanitation technologies … to make people healthier.”


The word "latrine" is derived from the Latin lavatrina, meaning bath. Today it is commonly used in the term "pit latrine". It has the connotation of something being less advanced and less hygienic than a standard toilet [ citation needed ] . It is typically used to describe communal facilities, such as the shallow-trench latrines used in emergency sanitation situations, e.g. after an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

Many forms of latrine technology have been used, from very simple to more complex. The more sophisticated the system, the more likely that the term "toilet" is used instead of "latrine".

Pit latrine Edit

A pit latrine is a simple and inexpensive toilet, minimally defined as a hole (pit) in the ground. More sophisticated pit latrines may include a floor plate, or ventilation to reduce odor and fly and mosquito breeding (called ventilated improved pit latrine or "VIP latrine"). [3] Many military units, if intended for extended use, place basic shelters and seating over the pits. A pit is typically sited well away from any water sources to minimize possible contamination. After prolonged use, a pit is typically buried. [ citation needed ]

Other types of pit latrines may include the Reed Odourless Earth Closet, the arborloo or treebog (very simple types of composting toilet), or the twin pit pour-flush pit latrine, popularized by Sulabh International.

The shelter that covers such a pit latrine is known in some varieties of English as an outhouse.

Trench latrine Edit

In a location without longer term sanitation infrastructure, such as for emergency sanitation, a trench latrine is a workable solution. It typically consists of a pit or a trench in the ground, 4 feet (1.2 m) to 5 feet (1.5 m) deep and 4 feet (1.2 m) to 20 feet (6.1 m) long.

Slit-trench latrine Edit

A slit-trench latrine consists of a relatively shallow trench which is narrow enough to stand with one leg on either side (see defecation postures). This type is used either by squatting, with the users' legs straddling the pit, or by various arrangements for sitting or leaning against a support structure. Such support may be simply a log, plank, branch or similar arrangement placed at right angles to the long axis of the pit. This type of latrine is not commonly found in developing countries but can be used for emergency sanitation.

Shallow-trench latrine Edit

The shallow-trench latrine is similar to the slit-trench latrine but is wider (200-300mm wide) than the latter. It is also shallow, with a depth of about 150 mm. This type of latrine is often used in the initial phases of emergencies and is a simple improvement on open defecation fields. [4] A rule of thumb in emergency sanitation provision is to allow 0.25 m 2 of land per person per day. This means 2,500m 2 per 10,000 people per day, or nearly two hectares per week. Men's and women's areas should always be separated. [4]

Aqua privy Edit

An aqua privy is essentially a small septic tank located directly below a dry toilet squatting pan or bowl which has a drop pipe extending below the liquid level in the tank to form a simple water seal to minimise odors. [5]

Roman Latrine, Hierapolis - History

Necropolis means cemetery. In Greek language it means city of dead. Necro : dead, polis : city. Necropolis is a large burial site generally it was located outside the settlement.

Hierapolis cemetery is one of the widest cemeteries in Anatolia. It has three different parts, north, south and west. The north one is the largest one in Hierapolis with more than 1200 graves. Graves in Hierapolis necropolis have suitability for the social class of the dead.

There are 4 different types of graves here and belong to the late Hellenistic, Roman and Eastern Roman periods. Hierapolis was not very big settlement in itself but it has huge necropolis lands because it was a holy city and old people used to come to benefit from the thermal baths and spend their last days here and many of them died and buried here.

In addition some people who lived nearby were also buried here on their own wishes.

Tumulus Graves: They have a round plan and very large. They are mound raised over a grave. Inside of them there are grave rooms and it is possible to enter this inside rooms with a small doors. Tumulus type graves look like small hill.

Sarcophagus: All sarcophagus type of graves was made from marble because they were belonging to the upper social class such as riches, heroes, noble people etc and they were large decorative coffins. It means in Greek “flesh eating”. Sarcophaguses stand on ground, on a podium, or on top of a cell.

Public Graves: Public graves were underground and made for the ordinary people. They had box shape.

Family type graves: According the number of the persons in the family, largeness of the family type grave changes because these graves were made for all individuals of a family. Mostly they have several rooms, roofs and also windows.

Among these all types just sarcophaguses were made from marble all others made from limestone. Each tomb has an inscription about name and life of the deceased and also social clubs in the city and their activities are mentioned.

Watch the video: How did the Romans go to the toilet?


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