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5 hideous facts about life in ancient Rome

Boban Docevski

3 Urine was used for dental hygiene

Urine had a wide variety of usages in the Roman Empire. People used it for tanning leather, washing clothes, for veterinary purposes, for growing fruits (fertilizing), and last but not least, for teeth whitening. Urine was so important that the empire issued special laws and taxes for trading with urine.

Apparently, urine was a major trading good in Ancient Rome. People used to pee in pots wich were later emptied in cesspools.  The collected pee was then sold as an ingredient to businesses that paid the Urine Tax. Some of the workshops, such as tanneries, had pots placed at the entrance, in wich people could relive themselves.

Urine had one other, more personal, purpose. It was used as mouthwash! Romans claimed that urine kept their teeth white and clean. The idea is legit, but the thought of cleaning your mouth with urine is still disgusting. Urine decomposes into ammonia, and ammonia is a great cleaning product, efficient in removing stains. According to the Roman author Cattulus, people used both human and animal urine to whiten their teeth.

4 Charioteers drank an energy drink made of Goat dung


Goat feces.  Photo credit 

Another ingredient that Romans used very often was goat dung. According to Pliny the Elder (a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher), goat dung, besides other things, was useful for patching up wounds in case of emergency. Pliny wrote that the best dung was collected in spring and dried out, but fresh droppings could do the trick too.

If putting it on wounds is not terrible enough, wait to hear about a drink they used to make. Ancient Roman charioteers (trigarius), used to make a sports drink out of powdered goat dung and vinegar. It was thought that the drink gave strength to exhausted charioteers. According to Pliny, the drink was so good, that even Nero drank it “when he wanted to strengthen himself for the trigarium.”

5 Vomiting on the table was a common practice

Roman fresco with banquet scene from the Casa dei Casti Amanti (IX 12, 6-8) in Pompeii.

There are multiple testimonies about Roman feasts throughout written history. Roman banquets are described as glorious and rich, with an abundance of food. These people knew how to throw a party! They used to fill their bellies until there was no more space, and then some more. According to Seneca, they would eat until they couldn’t anymore—and then vomit so that they could keep eating.

The act of throwing up wasn’t done in the privacy of the bathroom. Instead of walking away from the table, they used to do it in bowls which they conveniently kept close by (around the table). Sometimes they even did it directly on the floor and continued eating as nothing happened at all. They didn’t care because they weren’t the ones that cleaned the mess. Seneca wrote: “When we recline at a banquet, one [slave] wipes up the spittle; another, situated beneath, collects the leavings [vomit] of the drunks.”