By Caroline Lawrence
The ancient Romans were sophisticated in surprising ways. Take going to the bathroom, for example. In first century Rome, there were over one hundred public latrines, many of them with marble seats, scenes from Greek mythology on the walls, running water and ancient Roman toilet paper provided.
But what DID they use for toilet paper? Well, you could use a leaf, a handful of moss or your left hand! But what most Romans used was something called a spongia, a sea-sponge on a long stick. The stick was long because of the design of Roman toilets. Public facilities had a long marble bench with holes on top – for the obvious thing – and holes at the front: for the sponge-sticks. There were no doors or dividing walls. You sat right next to your friend and did what you had to do.
Most Romans wore tunics (a garment like a long tee-shirt) and probably nothing underneath. So you could just hike it up in back and sit on the cool marble seat, leaving the front of the tunic to cover your knees and your modesty. You would sit there, chatting with your friends, and when you finished your ‘task’ you would rinse the sponge in the channel of running water at your feet and – without standing up or revealing anything – you would push the spongia through the hole at the front, give your bottom a wipe, rinse off the spongia… and leave it in a basin for the next person to use!
Gotta love those ancient Romans.
For further reading:
As the Romans Did, by JoAnn Shelton
Pompeii, by Peter Connolly
Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, by Adkins & Adkins