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Bill Thayer

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The Public Latrines in Regio IV


[image ALT: large brick room with latrines along two walls]

These are among the best-preserved latrines in the Roman world, even if in fact they have been heavily restored. The common bench — no privacy here — is of marble and runs along three walls. The fourth wall, to our right, included a washbasin with running water between what one book calls the two entrances: in a facility this size and located in the busy heart of downtown Ostia, I have a suspicion that the doors must have been marked "Entrance" and "Exit", but archaeology is silent on that one.


[image ALT: a latrine bench with a gaping hole]
	One of the odd things about archaeology is that you often get to see what most people of the time usually did not: the sanctuaries of temples, the insides of walls, and so forth. To your left, a good example: you're looking into the drainage conduit under the latrines. (Go here for an image of a similar facility in Pozzuoli /Puteoli/ with almost no seats left at all.) And then if you are a woman, it's an even better example: this was surely a men's room.


[image ALT: a large keyhole-shaped hole in a marble slab]
	Now (not to put too fine a point on it) the mechanics of the set-up are fairly opaque to this writer: I would not expect the large holes on the face of the benches, which are, however, part of the standard design, being used to insert a sponge on its wooden handle, — see for example this photo from Vaison-la‑Romaine (Vasio) in southern France and this one from the imperial villa at Piazza Armerina in Sicily — and the exact function of the equally standard and prominent water-trough of rectangular section that runs around the room escapes me, especially when I consider the benches right behind it. (I'm told it's for rinsing the sponge in, but don't completely believe it.) I would have been a very awkward Roman.


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Page updated: 21 Feb 03