Strange And Wonderful Plumbing Facts From History

When our family quickly began outgrowing our home, my husband and I couldn't decide whether to add onto our current home or move into a larger one. One day, when we were checking the local area looking for "home for sale" signs, we saw a sign we couldn't take our eyes off -- there was a large plot of land for sale for a great price in a great location. We had never thought of building our own home before, but after a little research, we realized that it wasn't as costly as we thought, especially considering the great deal we got on the land. The entire process was a learning experience, but thankfully, the building team was very pleasant and helpful. We now love our new home, and I am excited to share our experience on our new blog. I also plan to post many planning and construction tips!

Strange And Wonderful Plumbing Facts From History

21 November 2014
 Categories: , Articles


If you've suffered from a recent plumbing issue, you may have spent some time bemoaning how expensive or difficult it is to fix. Or perhaps you often wonder why your plumbing system isn't advanced enough to handle all of the tasks you throw at it. Compared to history, today's toilet and water systems are where it's at. Throughout history, a very strange and interesting range of indoor plumbing was used. Outlined here are several strange and wonderful ancient plumbing facts that will make you grateful for modern systems.

Ancient Romans Had Open-Air Public Bathrooms

Favor your privacy? If so, you would have hated to live in Ancient Rome.

The Romans, surprisingly, did have a fairly advanced plumbing system. They had sewers, aqueducts, and plenty of ways to route water around wherever it was necessary. Unfortunately, they also had a love of socializing at their very public latrines.

Used for both public events and anyone who was too poor to afford their own latrine--or home, for that matter--they became the equivalent of your workplace's water cooler each day. In one long bench-like line of rock, bathroom users would sit next to one another over holes or spaces cut in the middle. 

It's easy to imagine that some did their business while...doing their business. Strange, but oddly efficient in a way.

Egyptians Used Early Plumbing to Farm the Banks of the Nile

The Nile is known as one of the most fertile locations on Earth. This is mostly because its banks repeatedly flood each year, adding nutrients and moisture to the soil and helping to re-enrich it again and again. As a result, farmers can get excellent yields during good weather.

But the Nile wasn't always the rich, fertile paradise that it is today.

Before lead or iron pipes were even invented, they were using a series of basins and sluices to channel each year's flood to the right areas. This helped to reduce crop loss and also protected local tribes and villages from devastating flood waters.

Later, the creation of a device called a shaduf made it easier to move water even further, expanding the fertile areas.

It might not seem like these were really and truly plumbing systems, but they are. In many ways, both the shaduf and the Egyptian basin irrigation system were the forefathers of modern irrigation and industrial plumbing.

Medieval Castles Dumped Sewage Into the Moat

In Disney movies, the moat is made out to be something truly wonderful. The Sword in the Stone is an excellent example of this; when Arthur and Merlin shrink down and turn into fishes, they spend a jolly good time dashing around in the magical underworld found within it.

It stirs images of lazy fishing in the sunshine while crocodiles lounge in the water, protecting the castle from harm.

Unfortunately, that view is more than false--it's abjectly wrong.

Real medieval castles used a stone toilet system that drained down through the walls and directly in the moat. Depending on the size of the castle in question, this could mean several hundred or several thousand individuals were dumping human waste into the moat each and every day.

That's a stinky situation, for sure.

Anyone who fished out of those waters was likely to become extremely ill from cholera, typhoid fever or dysentery.

To make matters worse, humans at the time didn't have as solid an understanding of water tables. The waste had the potential to seep into drinking water inconspicuously. Truthfully, a great deal of early plagues and illnesses were caused by a poor understanding of hygiene.

Today's modern bathrooms, irrigation systems and toilets have come a long way from these slightly creepy yet interesting systems. Now, you can simply turn a tap and have the water work. Thanks to human curiosity, new developments take place every single day. You don't have to settle for the basics, either--even if you aren't particularly rich, it's easy to install a bit of luxury to your own bathroom. Contact a plumber today for more information.