A new study has discovered that the Roman sanitation systems, which were introduced roughly 2,000 years ago, did not improve public health.
The Romans introduced public multiseat toilets, hand-washing stations, sewage systems, aqueducts for drinking water and heated public baths, and believed that this would improve their lives. However, the researchers from University of Cambridge have found that despite the sanitation advances, Romans of the time suffered from just as many, if not more, parasites and ectoparasites, like lice and fleas, as their counterparts in the preceding Iron Age. Surprisingly, the Roman toilets even increased the spread of parasites in succeeding years.
For their study, the researchers analyzed the archaeological evidence of parasites from the remains of the Roman Empire. The parasite evidences were collected from combs, textiles, human burials, ancient toilets and fossilized feces across various Roman Period excavations. They found that the prevalence of intestinal parasites seemed to increase with the birth of the Roman Empire. The presence of ectoparasites such as fleas and lice were just as bad during their reign as they were during the medieval and Viking eras when, unlike the Romans, regular bathing was not common.
Piers Mitchell, Faculty Member at the University of Cambridge, Archaeology and Anthropology Department, and the lead author of the study, said, “We expected a drop in the parasites at these locations, but surprisingly, they didn’t drop. They stayed roughly the same and then gradually increased.”
The researchers believe that this may have been the indirect result of laws that required residents to remove excrement and rubbish from their towns. The other reason could be the Roman sauce, Garum. According to the researchers, garum was made from rotten, raw fish. The researchers believe that this popular condiment, which was also used as a medicine, may have helped spread fish tapeworms across Europe.
“They used it to dip bread into, and it was traded across the empire. There have been sunken Roman ships discovered with jars of lots of garum,” added Mitchell.
The findings were published in the Parasitology journal.