I suspect we can all imagine the jokes that were bandied about when someone proposed a conference on the theme of Roman toilets, but the resulting workshop that was held in Rome in 2007 ultimately produced the book, Roman toilets: their archaeology and cultural history. Being seen as a rather taboo subject, as likely to be ignored out of embarrassment as much as anything else, has meant that there has not been a great deal of previous research conducted in this area. The introduction notes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, “…several excavators were blinded by the longstanding taboos about topics like toilets. They did not even recognize what they were digging up in some cases…The toilet in the macellum of Pozzuoli was regarded as a medical steam bath, and it was thought that, because the steam was so strong, one had to sit down as it was emitted into the room. The excavator of the toilet underneath the Domus Transitoria in Rome thought it was a machine chamber of a hydraulic lift…other toilets were regarded as chairs for medical treatment, bath showers, or prison installations.” (p. 2)
The discussion on hygiene issues may make you cringe a bit (just think about those communal sponges on sticks); but if you’ve ever had any curiosity about Roman multi-seater latrines or thought about cultural attitudes to toilet behaviour, then this is the most complete study currently available.
Jansen, Gemma C. M., Koloski-Ostrow, Ann Olga & Moormann, Eric M. (2011, eds.) Roman toilets: their archaeology and cultural history. Leuven: Peeters.
Classmark: Folio DG78.R6 (ASSL)