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 size and shape 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.
15 thoughts on “How the Romans did their business: images of Latrines throughout the Roman world”
No doubt about it, the ancient Romans were superb engineers
Martial text: “toto the” error for “toto die”
Thank you, I corrected it!
That was a great article. I am doing Ancient Rome and this week we have been looking at Roman Public Toilets and i needed some information about some of the good features in a Roman Public toilet
I have just returned for Algeria and Tunisia. Fabulous Roman potties at several sites. Five at Timgad alone.
The painting of Roman soldiers sitting on “toilet seats” is a historical misconception. Everyone used the natural squatting position (unless they were disabled) until the middle of the nineteenth century. See this link for more information: http://www.naturesplatform.com/health_benefits.html#antiquity
that was a stupid reference. He gives no support for his theory either. Plus says only Kings and queens had the benefit of running water. Guess he never really examined the public Roman latrines. They had a water evacuation system.
It was a meeting place. a place to converse. No one is going to squat for that entire time.
I just visited the Roman latrines next to the 2nd century theater in Beit She’an, Israel. The ‘seats’ are marble slabs jutting out from the walls with a channel of running water below.
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