How filthy were the Romans?


Although the Ancient Romans are famed for their complex sanitation and aqueduct system, a forerunner of modern sanitation systems, not all of the citizens enjoyed such benefits. The privileged life was enjoyed by only five per cent of the population of Rome, while the other 95 per cent lived at or below the poverty line.

The majority of Rome’s citizens lived in cramped, three to five-storey apartment buildings which, if they were lucky, were equipped with a communal toilet. These latrines were cesspits that had to be cleaned out by hand and were usually located near the kitchen. Those on the upper floors usually just emptied their waste out of the window and into the streets. With no street-cleaning service, the waste piled up and attracted flies, dogs and deadly diseases.

Roman rubbish suffered a similar fate, great piles of it mounted up in the alleys between buildings. Some of the piles got so thick and large that stepping-stones were required to get across. There was so much waste on the streets that the street level in Rome steadily rose, with new buildings simply constructed on top of the rubbish already laying there.

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