The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems

The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems

The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems

The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems

Synopsis

The Romans developed sophisticated methods for managing hygiene, including aqueducts for moving water from one place to another, sewers for removing used water from baths and runoff from walkways and roads, and public and private latrines. Through the archeological record, graffiti, sanitation-related paintings, and literature, Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow explores this little-known world of bathrooms and sewers, offering unique insights into Roman sanitation, engineering, urban planning and development, hygiene, and public health. Focusing on the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia, and Rome, Koloski-Ostrow’s work challenges common perceptions of Romans' social customs, beliefs about health, tolerance for filth in their cities, and attitudes toward privacy. In charting the complex history of sanitary customs from the late republic to the early empire, Koloski-Ostrow reveals the origins of waste removal technologies and their implications for urban health, past and present.

Excerpt

1. THE SCHOLARLY CONTEXT FOR THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF
SANITATION AND WHY IT HAS NOT BEEN WELL STUDIED

Since the early 1990s I have given short papers at the annual meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America on a variety of topics related to Roman toilets. I have treated toilets as architectural representations of Romanization, as features in bath buildings whose hydrological design technology is closely tied to the baths in which they sit, as indicators of Roman sanitary conditions in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and as sources for graffiti on bodily evacuation related to health. At every one of these conferences, my talks have been scheduled within general sessions on Roman baths. The apparent logic in the scheduling has been that public latrines are oft en located in baths.

While their location in baths is quite common, Roman toilets of various kinds, including multiseat latrines, could also be independent constructions in Roman cities, and toilets were common constructions in private houses and villas as well. Many questions about the technical and cultural aspects of toilets remain unanswered, and they deserve more prominence in discussions of both Roman social life and urban planning. I believe that the time has come to put Roman toilets, sewers, water systems, and Roman sanitation more directly in the spotlight of Roman history and the history of technology. I also believe that it is important to start explorations in Roman Italy, where some of the best examples of toilets within their ancient urban contexts still exist in the archaeological record. In the course of these pages, I present an overview of the nature of the existing archaeological evidence for Roman toilets, including . . .

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