Ancient Rome was a pretty amazing place. Between 753 BC and 476 AD, Romans were among the most technologically and culturally advanced people on Earth. Despite them forming the basis of modern society, Romans held a number of pretty insane beliefs and practices, at least by today’s standards. Here are a few of the most disgusting.
1. The Poop Sponge
Rome was one of the first cities in the world to have what we might consider an advanced plumbing system. Public toilets in Rome were commonplace. While this might seem like great news, these public toilets weren’t without their downsides.
For example, they were hardly ever cleaned. When you were done, instead of toilet paper, there was just a single sponge on a stick that everyone in the public toilets had to share. I’ll let you guess how often that sponge was cleaned.
2. Exploding Toilets
Because Roman public toilets weren’t cleaned regularly, they quickly became health hazards. Doom could actually come for you while you were on the toilet. One nasty side effect was the fact that all kinds of critters that thrived in filthy environments called these bathrooms home.
Another was deadly methane buildup inside the sewers. Occasionally, this gas would ignite and cause explosions. Not a pleasant way to spend your private time.
3. The Urine Business
Believe it or not, Rome actually had a booming urine business. Romans believed that urine had special cleaning and healing properties. They used it for everything from brushing their teeth to cleaning their clothes.
4. Gladiator Medicine
Because of how popular gladiator battles were in Rome, several beliefs sprung up having to do with gladiator blood and body parts. Some merchants made a booming business of selling gladiators’ blood as medicine to the people. Others preferred to eat the body parts of dead fighters.
5. Gladiator Skin
While gladiator blood was used as medicine, dead skin from winning gladiators was used as an aphrodisiac for women. Because soap was hard to come by in Rome, most people washed by using a tool called a strigil to scrape off sweat and dead skin. Certain merchants hung around while gladiators cleaned themselves and collected their discarded skin and sweat to sell later.
6. Penis Love
Romans were not shy at all when it came to depictions of penises. In fact, penis sigils were thought to bring safety and good luck. Phallic symbols were drawn on the walls of dangerous places to help keep travelers safe.
7. The First Full Moon
The first recorded “mooning” in human history happened during the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. A group of soldiers was standing guard outside the city after several days of rioting leading up to the Jewish holiday of Passover. Then, in the middle of the traditional sacrifice, one of the soldiers decided it would be a good idea to expose his bare backside to the people. Needless to say, it was not a well-received gesture. In fact, it actually caused the riots to reignite. Go figure.
For members of the nobility, this era was a time of excess. For evidence, look no further than the traditional Roman feast. It was common practice for feasting nobles to eat until they were full, throw up to make room, and then continue eating. That’s gross in and of itself, but their slaves had it worse. They were the ones who had to clean it all up.
If I had a time machine and got stuck in fifth-century Rome with no way to get back to 2016, I’d be pretty fascinated by all of the ancient goings-on…even the weird ones.