¶ Quora recently featured an interesting question. Here’s the main thread—
In the old times, how did people in Europe wipe their bottoms after pooping?
Europeans were not familiar with the concept of ‘toilet’ during the middle ages. They were taking care of their ‘needs’ on open fields, or inside their houses. High-heel shoes and umbrellas were in great demand since people used to throw their cr’ap out in the streets of the smelly cities.
The Church also did not welcome the washing and cleaning of the entire body because “it would stimulate lust”. European women were wearing large skirts to conceal the potties they carried underneath. The invention of perfume in France is also often related to Europe’s historical lack of hygiene.
While walking down on a street during the time of Louis XIV of France in Paris, nobody was sure that something dirty would not fall on their heads. At any moment, someone could pour a potty out to the street from a window. It was not a pleasant sight at all, and the horrific smell throughout the streets of the city was unbearable. Any corner, even the walls of the churches were covered with feces. ( Max Kemmerich )
In medieval Europe, people were often getting married in June because they used to take their yearly baths in May. But the brides were still carrying a bouquet of flowers to suppress their booming body scent. The nuns were strictly forbidden to wash their bodies except faces and hands. Isabella, the Queen of Castile, only took a bath two times during her 50-years-long life.
The tradition of pouring potties out in the streets continued until the 17th century in Europe. For instance, Louis XIV of France used to spend a considerable amount of time on his potty everyday, including managing the state affairs from there.
The extreme dirt of the old European royal palaces was well-known. That is why, juniper tree was burned to give them a nice scent. ( Frantz Funck Brentano / la Societe Sous l’Ancien Regime )
( The “potty throne” of Louis XIV. )
The bedtime of Louis XIV was like a ceremony. He used to wear his gown first, and then take care of his ‘needs’ by sitting on the potty. Meanwhile, he was also discussing the political and economic matters with the high-ranking officials of the palace. “The right to sit on the potty” was a privilege that the aristocrats could have. Only the ones “with a licence” were allowed to use it. (Primi Visconti)
Europe partially met with a “toilet culture” in the beginning of the 18th century. Crates were placed inside the palaces for the kings and aristocrats to “meet their needs”. There were places in Europe that still did not have any toilets even in the beginning of the 20th century.
There has been a wide variety of things used for this depending on one’s wealth and place of origin.
Wealthy people might have used hemp, wool or similar. Poor people might have used moss, snow, leaves, water, or pretty much anything you can use to wipe your bottom. Even your hands if you had some water nearby to clean them afterwards and nothing else to use. Romans apparently used a sponge on a stick.
It was not as bad as some people suggest, because in cities and indeed in towns sewage, euphemistically called night soil, was collected in wagons. Believe it or not in small towns this continued well into the 20th century.
The problem of sewage in mid-Victorian London was acute because it was all discharged into the River Thames. Even the Houses of Parliament had special curtains to keep out the stench. The situation was only remedied when after a particularly hot summer Parliament had to adjourn several sessions. They then set about building the sewerage system that serves London to this day keeping it in holding tanks and pumping it into the sea at the suitable state of the tide..
It was a very considerable engineering feat including the construction of the biggest pump in the world at the time. They celebrated this by naming the gigantic sewage pump after the Prince of Wales. It is an indication of the Victorians pride in engineering skill above all – who else would consider it an honour to name a giant s— pump after the heir to the throne?
As others said, they used what they could.
The kings even had a position for arse-wiping, which was quite important one.
Later in the 1800’s comes that paper. But the quality was not too good.
We can not imagine the age, when the first quality toilet paper was advertised as splinter-free.
Romans in their public toilets used wet sponges on sticks. In the UK in the eighteenth century people used oyster shells, which were available in huge numbers as they were cheap and eaten all over the place. And see
In the old time, how did people in Europe wipe the bottom after pooping?
I can only imagine what life was like. You took your morning dump and using, what?, rags, goose down from an old pillow or squatting over flowing water, did the best you could. That usually meant leaving a slick of softened shit smeared in your gluteal cleft. If like most people you had no access to these things, you grabbed what you could and did what was possible.
They could also have dropped their asses on the grass, lifted their legs above their heads and dragged themselves around like a dog.
Dingle berries, skidmarks and diaper rash must have been endemic. Imagine going down on some beauty who hasn’t had a good ass-cleaning for a year?
Anilingus was absolutely out of the question.
I visited a ruined 16th Century monastery in England once. The latrine was a row of holes in a board over a ditch of flowing water, and cleanup was done with rags or sponges and water from another gully at a higher level. It all appeared very sophisticated and hygienic, assuming it was historically accurate and not some later reconstruction.
As in Rome, London had a great system for wiping/cleaning your arse.
Barges on the Thames were available for community toilets. One went and did ones ‘business’ and wiped ones arse with a stick on which was attached a sponge or rag. It was a communal thing.
There is a saying that implies that you have the incorrect opinion and it goes ‘you have the wrong end of the stick’. Literally it means that you have the wrong opinion. Quite literally it means that you have grabbed the ‘shitty’ bit of opinion.
During the medieval times pieces of old cloth and textile were used to wipe arse, at least in cities. In the countryside, several plants with larger leaves were useful.
Roman public toilets had sticks with sponges or cloths on the end that were kept in a water trough. They took the stick, wiped with the attached item, and stuck it back in the water trough. Needless to say this wasn’t the most hygienic manner of doing things.
Read more on this topic: 11 Facts About Medieval Hygiene that Will make You Thankful for the Modern Bathroom
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As modernists, we like to think of ourselves as civilized, efficient, and forward thinking. Looking at the way that people used to use the bathroom in times of past will reinforce this notion. To think that we were so apalled when we found out that toilet seat liners don’t work. These fun facts will make a port-a-potty first class.
This will address some of the claims that the modern bathroom is inefficient. Although it’s not perfect, let’s take a look at how far along the bathroom has come. Warning, you don’t want to read this before you eat or even use the bathroom.
11 Strange Facts About Medieval Bathrooms
1. Chamber Pots
Chamber pots were used by women to collect waste overnight. When they were finished, the contents would be thrown over balcony/out the window with the accompanying words of “garde loo” which is French for “watch out for the water.” Muck-rackers were hired to help keep the streets walk-able. Throwing excrement’s into the street was a Roman practice, which leads us to our next point.
2. Nosebags – Smell the Roses
Nosebags were small bags that were filled with flowers and other fragrances that would be used to be able to stomach the smell of streets filled with waste. Men and women would put their noses to their nosebags whenever things got particularly smelly. The lesson here, be thankful for Febreeze and use it.
3. There Was No Such Thing As Toilet Paper
Before good old Charmin ever existed, everyone was sitting on the loo without an extra roll in sight. So what did they use? Back then in way back time, people would use leaves, moss, a rag or hay. How civilized. If you were affluent, you had the luxury of wiping your bottom with lamb’s wool.
4. Public Bathing – Same Water
You read that headline right; people used to bath in public using the same water. Public bathing was popular in the 13th century. Firewood was need to heat the bath to a comfortable temperature but it was so hard to find that people often bathed using the same water. Aren’t you glad you were born in the 21st century?
5. Urine Was Used to Do the Laundry
So for some reason, the Romans believed that urine would remove stains. It was until the Medieval Era that people would use a concoction of ashes and urine to get the stains out of their clothes. How this would work, we’ll never know.
“Bobby, bring your clothes down so I can throw them in the washer.” – “No thanks Mom!”
6. Castles Were Surrounded by Waste
The plumbing system of Medieval castles was designed so that waste products would flow straight into the moat that surrounded the castle. These “Garderobes” extended outside of the walls of the castle and had a opening at the bottom that would empty into the moat. The moat was used as a defense mechanism and boy was it smelly. Invaders would be in for a surprise when they tried to cross uninvited. Could you imagine the stench?
7. Washing and Bathing Was Very Uncommon
In medieval times, the wealthy would take a bath every other month. If you were poor, you’d be lucky to bath 4 times per year. There was no hot water so it had to be carried in through a well and then heated over a fireplace.
Fun Fact: It is said that Queen Elizabeth I only bathed once a year.
8. Bench Toilets
Romans had public toilets that were made of stone benches with holes carved in the tops. There would be multiple people sitting next to each other, without any privacy. Interestingly, it was common for people to hold meaningful conversations and even settle business deals with the shake of the hand, all while sitting on the loo.
Fact: It wasn’t until the 1880’s that Thomas Crapper invented the modern toilet.
9. Urine Was Used as an Antiseptic
In the absence of modern medicine, urine was occasionally used as an antiseptic in during Medieval Times. In 1666, a physician named George Thomson recommended urine to be used to cure the plague.
10. People Didn’t Wash Their Hands Often
Wash basins were often located outside or a ways away from the dining area. Because of this, most people didn’t wash their hands when consuming food. It didn’t help that there weren’t any forks in Medieval times so everyone ate with their hands. Think about all the things you have to wash your hands after touching.
11. Master of the Chamber
The king had a servant that was dedicated to servicing the king in the bathroom but don’t think that this was a lowly held position. The Master of the Chamber was highly regarded and was often one of the most trusted servants of the king. This didn’t come without the responsibility of helping the king wipe. “Your majesty, I believe we are out of Charmin.”
More Surprising Bathroom Facts:
Cheryl Khan is a designer and writer at Trade Winds Imports.com, an online specialty site dedicated to retailing fine bathroom furnishings. She has extensive knowledge about all the finer details that go into planning the perfect bath renovation project and is an expert on all things bathroom! Send her your bathroom Q’s on twitter @SuperInteriors!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
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