Roman Toilets Were Spreading Disease


Roman latrines had a flushing system

Long prized for being a revolutionary system during their age, it has recently been found that Roman toilets were spreading disease, worms and parasites.

The Roman Empire was the first to have public bath houses, latrines, sewer systems, aqueducts for drinking water and even fountains. However, all of these brilliant inventions, predecessors of our sewage system, toilets and baths, were spreading disease among their users.

Researchers discovered that by analyzing archeological evidence from different sites such as rubbish pits, sewer drains, cesspits, burials and others.

The study has been published in Parasitology journal and it studies the Romanization’s impact across Europe, North Africa and Middle East. In order to assess this impact, University of Cambridge professor from the Department of Archeology and Anthropology, Piers Mitchell, compared the parasites evidence before the Romans with that during and after the fall of the Empire.

The analyzes showed that despite the Roman’s impressive sanitation systems the presence of internal parasites has actually increased during and after the Romans compared to the presence found before them.

According to the researchers the most common intestinal parasites among residents of the Roman Empire were Trichuris trichiura known as the whipworm and the Ascaris lumbricoides known as the roundworm. Both of the parasites are transmitted through food contaminated with feces.

Mitchell believes that the feces could have contaminated the food either through unwashed hands when preparing the food, either because human feces were used as crop fertilizer.

Another widely spread parasite was Entamoeba histolytica which caused dysentery characterized by bloody diarrhea, fevers and abdominal pain. It is usually transmitted through water contaminated with feces.

Researchers were surprised by the findings since the Romans are famous for their baths and latrines with flushing systems. After going number two Romans were washing their posterior by hand washing or using a sponge on a stick.

Scientists are now wondering why all these systems did not work as expected. They think that one reason might be the regulations which imposed the human waste to be taken from towns to the countryside where people used it to fertilize crops.

Feces can spread parasites and infect the plants if they are used as fertilizers without being composted for many months prior their usage.

Besides that, the Roman baths were not always very clean. Sometimes a scum appeared on the water’s surface made out of dirt and cosmetics before the water was changed.

Image source: wikipedia