LATRINES

 

versión española

 

To promote a better healthiness in the cities, the Roman installed rubbish dump accessible to their inhabitants and a large number of latrines that really were very often visited by these inhabitants.

 

 

 

The private domus used to have latrines that normally consisted of a plate with a hole supported by two rubblework supports; in other occasions the latrine was a simple hole in the ground in a dirty lavatory under the stairs or in a corner of a room.  The evacuation of the residues was made near the kitchen and baths or even with terracotta pipes from the different rooms of a domus.  However, the insulae where lived the poor population never had latrines; so their inhabitants had to use chamberpots –lasana or matellae- or they had to go to the public latrines.

 

Latrine in a private house with the small brush with sponge (according to  CONNOLLY, P. y DODGE, H., La Ciudad Antigua.  La vida en la Atenas y Roma clásicas, Madrid, 1998)

 

 

 

In general the public latrines, usually called in Latin foricae, were spacious halls; along their walls a steady marble bench extended with a series of ovoid holes with a narrower drop-shaped opening in the front; these holes were distant enough to leave things between users.  On the ground the water flowed through small channels with inclination enough to allow the water steadily flowed; near these channel there were some buckets with brushes; these brushes had a wooden handle and a ball of bath sponge that the Romans used like our modern toilet paper; after using the brushes, they cleaned them in the water channel.

 

Latrine seat (according to CONNOLLY, P. y DODGE, H., La Ciudad Antigua.  La vida en la Atenas y Roma clásicas, Madrid, 1998)

 

Hypothetical reconstruction of latrines in Rome, maybe to 100 people, in the present Largo Argentina (according to CONNOLLY, P. y DODGE, H., La Ciudad Antigua.  La vida en la Atenas y Roma clásicas, Madrid, 1998)

 

 

 

The entrance was directly from the street with a small vestibule that, at any case, did not allow the view of the latrine from outside.  They used to be sumptuous, even in the poorest zones of the cities.  Sometimes an underground heating system –hypocaustum- allowed that they were warm in winter.  The ground was decorated with marble floor tiles or mosaics.  Latrines were a meeting and business point.  The users had to pay a small contribution, as it happens nowadays in the public toilets in our big cities for the maintenance, the cleaning of the building and to pay to their workers –foricarium conductores-.

 

Reconstruction of the latrines of Vercovicium, nowadays Housesteads Fort, near the Hadrian wall (United Kingdom)

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 21/7/2004)

 

 

 

Latrines of Vercovicium, nowadays Housesteads Fort, near the Hadrian wall (United Kingdom)

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 21/7/2004)

 

Hypocaustum in the praetor's house of Vercovicium, nowadays Housesteads Fort, near the Hadrian wall (United Kingdom)

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 21/7/2004)

 

 

 

Rome had 144 latrines in the IV century a. C., although there are not too many remains of them (only in the Iulius Caesar’s Forum and in the present Largo Argentina).  However, like the sewers, nor all areas in Rome neither all cities along the empire had latrines in all the quarters; so, as we have already said, the use of chamberpots were very handy and the throwing of their contents through the window was a frequent habit; sometimes they left their residues in tubs created ex professo, because the tanneries –fullonicae- used urine to the treatment of the clothes.  This fact made that some quarters stank out, especially in summer, because, in addition, there were piles of litter in deposits that the Romans had in some corners, called trivia (“between three ways”, from here the word trivial, “something unimportant”)..

 

Latrines in Vasio, nowadays Vaison La Romaine (Vaucluse, France)

(Photo: Roberto Lérida Lafarga 6/8/2007)

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

- MALISSARD, Alain: Los romanos y el agua: La cultura del agua en la Roma antigua, Barcelona, 1996

- BELTRÁN LLORIS, Miguel: “El agua profana en la cuenca media del valle del Ebro:  AQUA DUCTA.  La captación del agua, presas, embalses, conducciones”, en AA. VV.: Aquaria: Agua, territorio y paisaje en Aragón, Zaragoza, 2006

- CONNOLLY, P. y DODGE, H., La Ciudad Antigua.  La vida en la Atenas y Roma clásicas, Madrid, 1998