A popular children’s book by Taro Gomi reminds us that Everyone Poops – but not everyone does so in similar facilities.
In many parts of the world, squatty potties even with the floor are de rigueur. Sometimes signs inside rare Western-style toilet cubicles instruct patrons to put their behinds, not their feet, on the seat.
A Roman villa in Zippori (Sepphoris), located a few miles north of Bethlehem, featured such a toilet, along with a mosaic of the word for “health.”
Roman cities typically included public latrines – unisex – featuring a long trough along a wall, with projecting stone slabs or seats to sit on and leaves instead of tissue. A channel of water ran beneath the row of toilets.
Rural folk and lower classes in the ancient world had to make do the best they could, but some members of the upper crust had cube-shaped limestone toilets that one could sit on. Very few of them have been found, however, despite their substantial size and solidity.
One was famously found in the so-called “Ahiel’s House,” located on a slope below the City of David. Another was found inside a former gate shrine in Lachish, apparently to “desacralize” the shrine, as there was no evidence that it was used for toileting.
Recently, an impressive throne was uncovered inside a palatial residence on a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. Currently the site, the Arnon Hanatziv Promenade, is a popular park used for walking, picnicking, and enjoying the view.
Excavations were being done in preparation for a new visitor’s center when the monumental remains from the 7th century BCE were found. They included ornate stone capitals typical of royal residences or government buildings, though it is unclear whether one of Judah’s kings called it home.
The toilet seat appears to have been enclosed within a cubicle about five by six-and-a-half feet, much larger than the wooden outhouse at my grandmother’s house, where I lived until age four.
What is more, the toilet sat atop a substantial “septic tank” carved into the bedrock. Since there was no drainage, some unfortunate functionary would have had to clean it out periodically.
Surprisingly, the toileting room contained 30-40 ceramic bowls. While some could have been used for washing up, the archaeologists speculate that the bowls could have held incense or other fragrances used to combat the unpleasant odors one might expect in a small room above a cesspit.
Whether the homeowners were royal or merely rich, they understood the importance of going in style.
Author’s note: This column is offered in service to public curiosity and makes no claim of advancing a moral lesson.