Weird Histories for Children 1: Roman Toilet Behaviour

Romans On The Toilet!

This Article was written for and appears on and is part of a Resource Bank for parents and teachers

Introduction to Weird Histories for Children

A great way to educate children is to do it with fun. These articles help you to do just that.

Toilet Behaviour Now and in Roman Times

Nowadays we go to “the rest room” (US vernacular) or to “the toilet” in the UK. Although some men use group urinals to pee, they use lockable and private toilet cubicles for anything more. Women use private toilet cubicles to pee and anything else. Though normally we use the same space to wash our hands (because we don’t like to spread germs) we would never consider doing anything that involved sitting on a toilet in a communal setting.

Oh how times have changed!

Romans in the Rest Room or On the Toilet

In Roman cities, throughout the Roman Empire – which stretched from Italy throughout most of modern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – toilets were completely communal. Men and women used the same public toilets in Roman times. This alone illustrates just how much times have changed – but it gets worse!

Not only did men and women use the same toilets but the toilets were arranged in a circle and next to each other! Could it have been any worse? I’m afraid it can! In Roman days – and they were in charge until 1500 years ago – there was no such thing as toilet paper. Instead Romans used a piece of natural sponge (the type you find at the bottom of oceans). There is no evidence from history that Romans carried their own toilet-sponges. There is evidence however that they shared a communal sponge… There is no evidence of hand-washing facilities in Roman times… YUK!


Say “err” and “yuk” a lot and have a laugh at the Romans – but remember no other super-power (save perhaps the Chinese) has had as much artistic, cultural and economic success since Roman times. To finish this tale ask children if they are glad that they live today rather than Roman times.

Further Activities

Check out some more facts about Romans online. Look at the size of the Roman Empire and discover what the Romans discovered before anyone else.

Find an example of a Roman communal toilet on the web. CLUE: one exists in near perfect condition in modern day Tunisia.


Referring to this story is a great way of illustrating to children just how much times have changed in 1500 years.

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Comments 16 comments

quotations profile image

quotations 7 years ago from Canada

Despite the gross factor of sharing the "sponge" the Romans were cleaner than any previous civilization before them and for many centuries after them.

The sponge was soaked in salt water so that it disinfected the sponge and prevented diesases from being passed from one user to the next. Still gross, but at least the Romans had plumbing and baths.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the aqueducts and the magnificent water works were destroyed and people bagan using chamber pots which they regularly emptied out of their windows, not caring whether they hit passersby and there were channels of open sewage running down the filthy streets of medieval cities.

The Romans had public baths and the rich had running water in their homes. Most Romans bathed regularly. After the barbarians destroyed the aqueducts, bathing fell into disuse. As late as pre-revolutionary France most people believed that bathing was bad for you and never took any. The rich covered up their body odor with excessive amounts of perfume.

Wilma Proops profile image

Wilma Proops 7 years ago from London, Liverpool, Paris, New York and Tenerife Author

Thanks for that - I have other articles in this series which cover some of the matters you pointed out. What interests me about this topic is the change in norms that are detected and which children easily relate to - the contrast in acceptable behaviour then and now. Children really adore this topic and learn so much surreptitiously when the stories are relayed.

I'd not use the term "barbarians"without more qualification but I am interested in why the Germanic tribes turned their backs on Roman advances, including those toilet related. I don't see this as a result of barbaric behaviour but it does illustrate the consequences of social upheaval and breakdown in social services. What would we do if our water was suddenly cut off? What did the Iraqis do after Shock and Awe? This would be a good topic for coversation with children and could teach them lots. Thanks again for your comments PLEASE add more to my future HubPages in my Weird Histories series.

ellie sutcliffe 7 years ago

how disgusting is that. I've just used this info in a leaflet i'm doing so thanks for the mingin' info.

jade 7 years ago

sorry about at it was my sis anyway i have sumthing roman project up and is it all right if i can use sum of ur fact please thanks

Wilma Proops profile image

Wilma Proops 7 years ago from London, Liverpool, Paris, New York and Tenerife Author

Np problem Jade I deleted your sister's rather rude and inappropriate remark. I understand how problematic sisters can be but do keep an eye on her in the future...Please use any facts in the article above but write them in your own words

Ashley Joy profile image

Ashley Joy 7 years ago

My daughter would stay in diapers before she used that kind of rest room.

Wilma Proops profile image

Wilma Proops 7 years ago from London, Liverpool, Paris, New York and Tenerife Author

I do not blame her - but it does go to show how much times have changed. Thanks for your comment, I hope you have a laugh when sharing this with your daughter.

Hannah Finn 7 years ago

Dear Wilma Proops,

I have a school project called Roman Life and wondered if i could use this piece of information you put up and I'd like to ask you if you have any more weird histories that I could use in my History project. Thanks very much,

Hannah Finn

Hannah Finn 7 years ago

And PS: Double Disgusting!!!! Yuk!!! I wold never go to bathrooms like that!!!

Hannah Finn 7 years ago

Sorry, I mean: I would never go to bathrooms like that!!! :D

Wilma Proops profile image

Wilma Proops 7 years ago from London, Liverpool, Paris, New York and Tenerife Author

Dear Hannah Finn,

My apologies for not replying sooner. I hope you used some of the information in your project. In future, if you are using anything you have read in school projects and later at Universirty, remember that as long as you quote your reference for example:

According to Wilma Proops (Weird Histories for Children 1: Roman Toilet Behaviour 2009) the Romans had very different toilets to us in the modern world.

Never just cut and paste material into a project without a reference as this is cheating and known as plagiarism.

Jenny T 7 years ago

Brilliant! The others in this series look good too. Thank you Wilma

Dude Guy 6 years ago

Interesting to note that around 1400 years ago, the Islamic way of using restrooms was introduced in Islamic countries. This way involves separate toilets (as opposed to public), washing with sth dry as well as water, not exposing yourself to others (as opposed to a lot of people today!), taking care not to contaminate your clothes, and washing hands at the end. If only people today learnt that!

lilly may burnley  5 years ago

yuk that is totally grim!!!!!!!

peekie 5 years ago

ew that is di-scu-sting.

Lisa 4 years ago

Vesuvius Poovius [Paperback]

Kes Gray (Author),

would be a really funny way of looking at this topic with young kids, we have this book and the kids love it!

Check it out.

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