She doesn't know about the three shells
May 9, 2013 4:39 AM   Subscribe

Caroline Lawrence looks at ten things the Romans used instead of toilet paper, Roman pee and poo and what's the deal with the sponge stick. All part of the research done for her series of young adult historical mystery books set in the ancient Roman world.
posted by MartinWisse (16 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, ew ew ew (sponge stick link). But considering, relatively sanitaryish.

Okay, when the kids out grow Mary Pope Osborne, I'm pointing them here.
posted by tilde at 5:13 AM on May 9, 2013

I really cannot recommend Roman Toilets: Their Archaeology and Cultural History more if you would like to know everything about recent research in this field. (Toilets have not been an especially popular topic for archaeologists to publish on. This is odd because Lawrence amply illustrates that fact that if you've ever attempted to get kids to care about the Roman world, the fastest way to their minds is through the latrinae.) There's also Latrinae Et Foricae: Toilets in the Roman World if you would like your ordure depositories well-photographed.

I have maybe a billion photos of Roman sewers and drainage systems if anyone really wants to see a lot of (mainly Romano-British) toilets. There's probably a tuition-money-going-down-the-toilet joke in here somewhere...
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:28 AM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

When I did ancient history in high school, I really wanted to write about toilets and plumbing. But the assignment was for an essay comparing Romans and Greeks, and while I found great sources on Roman toilets, I just couldn't find anything on Greeks. (Not that there isn't anything, but hey, high school).

Still sad I didn't get to write about Roman toilets. Instead I learned about Horatian versus Juvenalian satire, which is so much less useful.
posted by jb at 5:46 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can remember being quite small, and learning this (and many other equally gloriously gross facts) from Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans. From what I understand the series exploded in popularity not long after that, leading to tv shows, games, and more. But I just remember descriptions of mad emperors, Roman toilets, and lots of Barbarians. Wonderful stuff for an 11 year old.
posted by themadthinker at 7:24 AM on May 9, 2013

if you lived in Roman times and wanted to give your bottom a good wipe you would have had about four options:
I. leaf from a fig tree (not very absorbent)
II. handful of moss (kinda messy)
III. sponge-stick (more on that in a moment)

Personally I would have used the spongia without hesitation.

No South Asian friends? Personally, I can get my hands as clean as I'd like without wiping strangers' poo on me. I'd prefer that, thanks.

But speaking of lack of cultural awareness the most surprising thing in that article was that all the kids start their questions with "Please Miss?"
posted by bleep at 7:32 AM on May 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did you just bust out a 'Demolition Man' reference in a post about Roman archaeology?

posted by Phreesh at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2 and 3. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]

Ahem, middle grade or tween historical mystery books, not young adult historical mystery books.

But anyway, this is fascinating.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:37 AM on May 9, 2013

I have actually used almost every implement on that list, aside from the sponge on a stick, while camping. Left off, and superior by far if you're in the right climate, snowballs.
posted by Jawn at 12:16 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, I was really surprised by the "nothing."

I mean, you know, *nothing*??
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:42 PM on May 9, 2013

I can and have done a lot with little (camping, backpacking, long distance hiking with few items) and this is the one area I struggle with the most. I can drink awful looking and smelling water once purified, I can eat interesting oddities, sleep in the open ... but this part of your daily functions reminds me so often of how much we take it for granted and how wonderful it really is.

Thank you for this. I am going to try to check it out at the library.
posted by Nadie_AZ at 2:36 PM on May 9, 2013

This is awesome! Grand-babies are about the right ages... >weg<

Colleen McCollough, author of the 'Thorn Birds' wrote a truely excellent series set in Ancient Rome. You havent lived until you run info an elderly priest who has just overheard you calling your son a 'verpa'!

He always wanted to learn Latin. Got fairly good at it too. McCullough's series have wonderful glossaries full of xcellent Latin swears. Before Swearasaurus this was pretty cool.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2013

For older kids and adults, I would also recommend Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco murder mystery series. I haven't read the later ones, but the initial ones (often with a metal in the title) are really fun and do not at all gloss over the realities of life in Rome.

I don't think she mentions the art of the fullo who ran the fullonicae, another repository of said fluids. The Roman urban landscape was worthy of that immortal line, "What an incredible smell you've discovered!"
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:53 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Doesn't she talk a little about the laundry downstairs from Falco's place? I know she mentions Whatshername the laundress enticing visitors to add to her vat of pee.

Steven Saylor's Gordianus books are good too (I have only read these first four, but mean to read more).
posted by Kaleidoscope at 4:09 PM on May 9, 2013

Oh sorry! I mean Lawrence's post on pee. The Falco books definitely go into the mechanics of Roman laundry!
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:35 PM on May 9, 2013

Thanks for posting these - fascinating!
posted by rednikki at 8:09 PM on May 9, 2013

Hey! My friend Barry wrote Latrinae Et Foricae. He mentioned me quickly because I spent several weeks excavating a cess pit into which a toilet had drained. Ask me what ancient wee smells like. (spoiler: really old wee) Also, did you know it's possible to ...reanimate... ancient poo? Just add water!

The farther I get into my PhD thesis about ancient Romans, the farther I regress in my leisure reading material. I've spent the last year lost in young adult lit, and now in my final 6 months I think middle grade is about all I can handle. I didn't know about these books, but now I want to read them all. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Eumachia L F at 3:20 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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