|Me and my talisman!
So how did the people in olden days wipe their bottoms?
This question draws in even the most reluctant child. In fact it is often especially appealing to kids who find history dull. It's a Way To Show Them That History Is Totally COOL!
For the past dozen years I've been travelling around the world, speaking to schoolkids about the Ancient Romans and my writing. Everywhere I go, I carry my talisman, my good luck charm, my fave artifact: a sponge-on-a-stick. It's ANCIENT ROMAN TOILET PAPER!
|This is how you used the sponge-stick
So what if they haven't found any sponges in the sewers or septic tanks of Herculaneum? They didn't even import shellfish from Pompeii only ten miles distant! As Prof. Robinson said in a recent lecture at the British Museum, "There probably wasn't a central market." In other words, they bought goods locally. Very locally.
But all right: I admit the SPONGIA or SPONGE-STICK would have been incredibly luxurious and costly. And if they hadn't had a sponge delivery from the Greek island of Symi for a decade or two the Herculaneans would have needed some alternatives to wiping their bottoms.
So here is my list of TEN things apart from a SPONGE-ON-A-STICK that the Romans might have used to wipe their derrières!
I. THE LEFT HAND - yes, the manus sinistra was always "at hand". This is why it was incredibly rude to point at someone with the left hand. In many cultures it is still a big no-no to hand something to someone using this sinister hand. It was also the sign against evil: procul este profani! ("Stay far away, you unholy creatures!")
II. LEAF FROM A FIG TREE. Or other suitable tree. But not poison ivy or nettles. Yowtch!
III. MOSS. Kind of crumbly but I guess it was absorbent.
|Romans had no puppy-soft Andrex
|This is my pine cone. Stay away!
VII. WATER. Ahhh! Find a little babbling brook or even the surf of the Tyrrhenian Sea and let nature do the work. Many Turkish and Greek toilets have little spigots that will replicate this effect today.
IX. STICK WITHOUT A SPONGE. Yowtch! Is this what they mean by "getting the wrong end of the stick"?
X. NOTHING! Yes, you heard me. Just squat and go, then stand up and go. Urgh! Now that really is revolting.
Thank goodness we live in the age of Puppy Soft Andrex® and Ultra Soft Charmin!
|poo-stick prop from Spartacus
P.P.S. Still want more? Read this great piece about Latrines Throughout the Roman World.
P.P.P.S. Apparently they use "three seashells" in the future, according to the movie Demolition Man. Maybe Romans used three pine cone scales!
P.P.P.P.S. This poo-stick prop from the TV series Spartacus recently fetched $155 on eBay. It's a cloth-wrapped stick with a little handle. Cool, huh?
Caroline Lawrence is a graduate of UC Berkeley, Newnham College Cambridge, SOAS and UCL, but has the mentality of an 11-year-old thus making her eminently qualified to introduce kids aged 7+ to the world of Ancient Rome. Best of all, she teaches through stories: The Roman Mysteries, The Roman Mystery Scrolls and the new Roman Quests series, set in Roman Britain!