Monday, May 27, 2013

Animals in Pompeii & Herculaneum

Caroline and fan with animals
Animals had lots of different "jobs" in the cities of Hercules.

What do I mean by the cities of Hercules? I mean Herculaneum – traditionally founded by the hero Hercules – and Pompeii, named after a big procession (pompa) mounted by the same hero to celebrate his capture of the Cattle of Geryon.

Because Hercules is linked with both Herculaneum and Pompeii, and because all but one of his labours involve animals, I thought it would be fun to link my talk about Animals in Pompeii and Herculaneum with the demi-god himself!

I explained how Hercules, son of Jupiter and a mortal woman, was always causing disasters because of his hot temper and had to atone for his crimes by performing twelve difficult tasks for a king named Eurystheus. The tasks mostly involved producing or killing a monstrous creature. And King Eurystheus mainly jumped in a large jar whenever Hercules appeared with the beast of the day!


By the end of my talk at the British Museum on Monday 27 May 2013, most children and adults in the audience learned all 12 labours (or tasks) of Hercules and also 13 categories of animals in ancient Roman cities.


Romans loved memory tricks, like the Roman House Memory system where you place the objects you want to remember around your house. But here’s the twist: you put those objects there in your imagination.



teaching the memory-rhyme system
Another memory system the Romans would have liked is the memory-rhyme system. The key is to find an object to stand for one, two, three etc by rhyming it. So two is ‘shoe’ because the ditty goes One, two buckle my shoe.

But don't make your objects dull. Instead of an ordinary brown leather man's shoe, make it a bright red lady's stiletto. Or a day-glo trainer with flashing lights. Or a fur-lined UGG boot.

For objects to be memorable they should be tangible, smellable, tastable, colourful and moving. Funny or bizarre objects also stick in the mind. So do extra large or rude images. Link one of these images with a boring fact and you will never forget it! 


Task number two was for Hercules to kill the snake-headed hydra, so we imagined him using a memorable shoe to knock off the hydra’s heads, rather than his club or sword. It seems convoluted but not only does this kind of memory-chain-linking help you remember items on a list backwards, forwards or out of order, but it increases your creativity.



 owl (or two love birds?) mosaic
In my talk at the British Museum, I took kids and parents through the process of memorizing twelve objects and the twelve tasks. More than that, each task served as a mnemonic for a class of animal. So task two-shoe-hydra reminds us that there is a whole class of animal that are hybrid creatures or mythological!

Seen as a list (below) it looks pretty dull, but when you are teasing out answers from imaginative kids, using fun illustrations and throwing in gruesome facts like what to do when an owl flies into your house, it is a fun learning experience.


1 = bun = lion = entertaining animals

2 = shoe = hydra = mythological animals
3 = tree = hind (deer) = huntable animals
4 = door = boar = sacrificial animals
5 = hive = stables = working animals
6 = sticks = birds = augury animals
7 = heaven = Cretan bull = sacred/symbolic animals
8 = gate = man-eating mares = transport animals
9 = wine = Amazon’s belt = wearable animals
10 = hen = cattle = edible (food) animals
11 = [pillars of Hercules] = golden apples = protective animals
12 = delve (to dig) = Cerberus = guard animals


three mosaics of guard dogs

Guard animals led me to the three famous dog mosaics found in the cities of Hercules and also the famous plaster cast of the space left by a chained dog who could not flee the eruption.



cast of Pompeian guard dog
It was sad he died, but also happy for now he is one of the most famous dogs in the history of the world.

And maybe some of his puppies DID survive and their descendants haunt the ruins of  to this day.


When I went to Italy a few months ago I saw a posh city dog near our hotel, and the next day spotted her scruffy country cousin roaming the ruins of Paestum. They could both be descendants of the watchdog from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii (the third dog in the mosaics above).



descendants of a Pompeian watchdog
Wandering the almost deserted site of Pompeii one January morning, a cheeky white dog with a pine-cone distracted everybody from our illustrious guide (Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill) who was telling us about the amphitheatre. Other friends of mine have told tales of being shepherded around the cities of Hercules by the dogs of Vesuvius.

This reminded me of the final category of animals in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pets! 


Yes, then just as today, children and adults loved animals as pets. They loved dogs, birds, even carp, for whom they bought earrings! Perhaps the only animal NOT thought of as a pet that we have today was the cat. 



After my talk, while I was signing copies of my Roman Mysteries books, I asked some of the children if they could tell me a random labour of Hercules: number 8, for example, or number 5... Not all of them could do it, but I’ll wager there are a few who will amaze their parents and teachers over the next few days.

Caroline Lawrence writes history-mystery books for children aged 6 and up. For more information visit her website or her Orion Books Author Page. And to see how to make animal noises in Latin, go HERE to download a powerpoint show by kids from Moreton Hall Suffolk for the Minimus Website!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Four Humours and Classical Networking

communication tablets, old and new
This is my "Presidential Address" to the Joint Association of Classics teachers (JACT) last weekend. 

As a writer and Classicist, I'm hugely excited about Twitter, Facebook and other internet platforms as vehicles for networking and sharing information. In this address I hope to inspire you to explore these new media.

Last weekend I sent out a tweet asking Classicists WHAT HOOKED YOU ON CLASSICS? Answers ranged from one Tweeter (@ViolentCashews) who first heard Hadrian’s poem Animula, Vagula, Blandula "on the wireless over fifty years ago" to a younger fan (@JennyD_85) who loved Xena the Warrior Princess on TV. The hooks fell into seven main categories:

image sent to me via Twitter
1. Encountering primary sources in translation
2. The Greek myths retold
(Robert Graves almost merits a separate category)
3. TV, movies or plays
(I, Claudius almost merits a separate category)
4. Historical novels
5. Visits to Ancient Sites
6. Inspirational Teachers
7. Enthusiastic Parents

Four archetypal characters
I have a particular affinity for reason #4 because it was a novel set in Classical Greece that set me on the path to Classics. I loved the 1966 film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and a magical afternoon spent in Ostia Antica when I was sixteen. But what hooked me on Classics was Mary Renault's masterpiece The Last of the Wine. (I've written at length about it HERE.) It planted an obsession to know what the ancient world of Greece and Rome were really like. My new-found passion took me to U.C. Berkeley, and from there to the UK, where I studied at Cambridge, then SOAS and finally UCL.

A dozen years later I was teaching Latin in London at primary school level and loving it. In 1999 I had a lightbulb moment: I would write a series of history mystery stories that would transport children aged 8+ back to ancient Rome the way Mary Renault transported me back to 5th century Athens. My original concept was "Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome". (Nancy Drew is the hero of a popular American series of children's books about a girl detective still in high school). I wanted the books to appeal to boys as well as girls, so I decided to give my Roman girl detective three friends, each one based on a mythic archetype. I called my Roman Nancy Drew "Flavia Gemina" and gave her Nubia the ex-slave as a Faithful Sidekick, Jonathan the Jewish next-door-neighbour as the Funny One and Lupus the mute beggar boy as the Wild One.

My newly-invented four characters immediately made me think of the four elements: air, earth, fire and water. I had just seen a film called The English Patient by Anthony Minghella and it struck me that each of the four protagonists in that movie represented one of the four elements. Katharine Clifton, the character played by Kristin Scott Thomas, was always shown in water: the bath, the pool, the cave of the swimmers. In fact the opening image of the movie is her hand painting watercolours. So her element is obviously WATER. Katharine is in love with Count Almásy who will be horribly burnt in a plane crash: his element is obviously FIRE. And of course fire and water don’t mix. Then I noticed Hana, the Juliette Binoche character, was very grounded, in one scene she has her hands in the EARTH.

The fourth main character is the Sikh sapper. Kip must be AIR. Remember the scene where he lifts Hana up to show her frescoes? I was so taken by this idea that read the book by Michael Ondaatje to see if I was right, but there was no sign that the author had assigned one of the four elements to each of the characters. This must have been Minghella’s touch of genius.

I was creating my own characters at this time and I knew that the Ancient Greeks and Romans believed the world was made of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. I thought it would be fun to assign each of them one of the four elements. I made Flavia AIR, Jonathan EARTH, Nubia FIRE and Lupus WATER. Each of these elements related to their temperament or backstory. I even based their eye and tunic colours on these four elements. I matched their astrological signs to their element, so that Flavia Gemina is a Gemini born in the spring, the season that goes with AIR.

In December of 2000 I visited the British Museum one Saturday – just by chance – and found the newly unveiled Great Court crowded with Romans at stalls: doctors, legionaries, potters, scribes, even an emperor (Vespasian). They were re-enactors in armour and togas, tunics and pallas, the cloth dyed with real vegetable dye. They had fabulous replica artefacts like beauty products, writing materials, and medical equipment.

Chris Lydamore and Nodge Nolan in 2000
I stopped by the stall of one of them and asked what a bronze bell-shaped cup was used for. The re-enactor, Nodge Nolan, told me it was a bleeding cup, a Roman doctor’s most commonly used instrument. If you were walking down an ancient Roman Street and saw one of these hanging above a door you would know a doctor lived and practiced in that house. The doctor would put a piece of burning lint in the cup, clap it on the patient’s back (or wherever else it might be needed). Immediately the burning lint would suck up the oxygen and go out, causing a vacuum. Dry cupping was performed on unbroken skin to draw out vicious humours and especially wind; wet cupping covered a wound or deliberate incision, and drew out blood, pus and other body fluids.

My replica bleeding cup
There is nothing like holding an ancient artefact in your hand for bringing the past alive. I started looking into cupping, which led me to an investigation of Roman medicine. My seventh Roman Mystery, The Enemies of Jupiter, takes place during a plague and fire in Rome, so I took the opportunity to find out about the four humours. The basic theory – first clarified by fifth century BC Polybus – is that each person's temperament is determined by which of the four humours they have in excess.

Too much blood = sanguine (energetic, optimistic, friendly, flighty)
Black bile (often in stool) = melancholic (pensive, pessimistic, perfectionist, sensitive)
Phlegm or mucus = phlegmatic (calm, loyal, steadfast, passive)
Yellow bile (often in vomit) = choleric (hot-tempered, leader, impatient, driven)

These four humours didn’t just tell you why you were the way you were. They linked you to a world of four seasons and explained why you were susceptible to different diseases. An illness or malaise was caused by an imbalance of humours.

So you could take away the excess humour by purging from above (a vomit) or below (an enema). You could bleed the patient (phlebotomy) or you could do wet or dry cupping. This is where the "bleeding cup" comes in.

a dermal or "plum-blossom" hammer
In the name of research, I decided to try a modern version of wet-cupping. I went to a Chinese acupuncture doctor in Wimbledon. In the modern version of bleeding you take off your shirt and lie down on your stomach. The doctor will tap your back with a so-called "plum blossom hammer". It has seven little nails protruding. Then he will place glass cup over the holes, attached a pump and suck out a small amount of blood from several places. I was fine when I went in but the next day I came down with a fever. So maybe there is something in it!

dry-cupping in San Francisco, 2005
As well as blood, you can us wet cupping two draw out pus and other fluids. Then there is “dry cupping” which sucks out the invisible humours. I was in San Francisco a few years ago, walking down Market Street and I saw a practitioner treating people right out in the open. Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow have also had it done and tabloids love to show the results.

It's all about balance. So in addition to TAKING AWAY an excess of humour via vomit, purge, dry-cupping or wet-cupping, you could also ADD to the mix through diet. Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.” The ancients assigned every type of plant or animal food its humour. For example, if you are feeling listless and depressed have spatchcock, or grilled rooster! This bird is choleric (dry and hot) and will balance your excess of black bile or phlegm.

In the ancient world, even non-food animals were assigned temperaments. For example, cats were thought to be "melancholy" in the medieval period.

More recently, an American counsellor named Gary Smalley renamed these classifications in a more kid-friendly way. According to Smalley, otters are sanguines, beavers are melancholies, golden retrievers are phlegmatics and lions are choleric.

the quiz
If you are still not sure which temperament you are, take my Roman Mysteries quiz: Which Temperament Are You?

Of course the truth is that we are often a combination of all these humours. But this pervasive philosophy of balance and the four humours might be part of The 10% Surprise we would get if we could really go back to Ancient Rome. This concept of four humours permeated the whole world.

The four humours even made it into the Circus Maximus where each of the four factions had four colours and represented a season.
Greens = spring = AIR = sanguine
Blues = autumn = EARTH = melancholic
Whites = winter = WATER = phlegmatic
Reds = summer = FIRE = choleric

With that in mind, I’d like to share the four elements of the internet, which invisibly permeates our modern world.

one of the many delights of Twitter
AIR = TWITTER. I reckon sanguine "otters" with their flighty, friendly, optimistic, sometimes superficial nature are the best users of Twitter. It is an amazing way of communicating instantly. I have sometimes tweeted the exalted Queen of Classics, @WMaryBeard, and had an answer back in under a minute. Twitter is a great leveller. When people tweet me I don't know where they are, how old, what gender, how educated. I treat them all the same. Thanks to Twitter I have made contact with teachers like @McClure_Anna at Gordonstoun in Moray or professors like Sara Owen @ssorn10 of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge who have invited me to speak at their schools or colleges. I also discovered Cumberbatch Otters via Twitter.

Four Classical tweeters out of hundreds you should follow on Twitter:
1. @JACTClassics
2. @AdrianMurdoch
3. @RogueClassicist
4. @ClassicsColl

Aeneas on the Tabula Iliaca
EARTH = The foundation of social networking has got to be FACEBOOK. It will have links to blogs, websites and articles. You can tailor make it to your liking. Through my personal Facebook account I’ve been able to put names to the faces of my re-enactor friends I see every two years or so. They’re interested in what I’m interested in: the concrete reality of living in another world. We exchange photos, ideas, news of events. Through Facebook I first heard of a first century Roman graphic novel – the Tabula Iliaca – on marble of the Fall of Troy. This was via a post on Facebook by Steven Saylor who writes the fabulous Roma Sub Rosa mystery series for adults with a detective called Gordianus the Finder.

Four of my favourite blogs are:
1. Pop Classics - Juliette Harrisson talks about Classics in pop culture
2. Bestiaria - Latin Proverbs and Fables Roundup
3. The Classics Library with it’s Latin Qvarter zone
(featuring readings of Latin poetry like this lovely Ghost of Creusa)
4. Mary Beard’s A Don’s Life

Christopher Francese recites Latin
WATER = PODCASTS aren't strictly social networking, except that I can put myself in a Stanford classroom, recite Latin poety with Christopher Francese, exclaim OMG! to Melvyn Bragg and listen to my Facebook pal Natalie Haynes enthuse about Juvenal. Whenever I am feeling frazzled, I put on a podcast and go for a walk. It's as refreshing as a plunging into a swimming pool full of water!
(*phew!* I worked in the element.)

Four of my many favourite podcasts are:
1. Susanna Braund’s fabulous Stanford iTunesU course on Virgil’s Aeneid
2. Christopher Francese’s Latin Poetry podcast from Dickenson College
3. Melvyn Bragg and friends on The Four Humours
4. Natalie Haynes on Juvenal for Great Lives

FIRE = Instead of watching a flickering fire, we've got YOUTUBE. This is hugely popular with young people: your students and my readers.

Here are just four of a huge selection of YouTube clips:
1. Roman Mysteries TV series episode 1 opening sequence
2. Horrible History sponge-stick sketch
3. computer-generated reconstruction of Ostia Antica
4. Boris Johnson reads Armand D'Angour's Olympic Ode in Greek

Alongside virtual networking, there’s also real networking.

Caroline, Mattia & Andrew W-H
1.TRAVEL.
Try Andante Travels. They aren't cheap but you will get to see parts other tourists never reach with guides like Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. They also have a "Bare Bones" budget programme. I travelled with them in January and am now friends with Mattia, a Pompeii-born guide who has shown celebrities like President Clinton, Leonardo di Caprio and "Mary" Streep around the ruins.

2. LITERARY FESTIVALS
Mary Beard is now a fixture of at many literary festivals. Tom Holland is charmingly ubiquitous. Writers of Classical Historical Fiction attend to promote their books and talk about how they do research and get ideas. One festival I would like to plug is the Heffers Classics Festival. Martin Brown and his helpers have put together a fabulous line-up of Classicists and historical authors for a one-day Classics festival full of short and pithy talks. Contributors include Classicists Mary Beard, Charlotte Higgins, David Mattingly and William Fitzgerald, just to name a few. Historical fiction authors Simon Scarrow and Lindsey Davis will share a platform for the first time. And there will be a Balloon Debate to determine which character from Classical Mythology should be tossed from a hypothetical balloon. This features the outgoing JACT president Paul Cartledge as Argus, the incoming JACT president (me) as Andromache, and also Ruth Downie as Dido, Harry Sidebottom as Hector and humorist Natalie Haynes as Oedipus! You can see the lineup HERE.

Caroline in costume at the BM
3. MUSEUMS
There are museums with Classical collections all over the country. I am particularly familiar with the British Museum and the Museum of London. Both provide a cornucopia of lectures and exhibitions, not just for adults but for children. A few weeks I ago I was at the Museum of London, helping introduce a new Romano British Archaological website called Romans Revealed to kids in year 3. Next week at the British Museum I will be giving two free talks geared to families with kids aged 7+, one on Animals in Pompeii and Herculaneum, the other on Children in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Zane with Horace Ode
4. LIVING HISTORY
I have probably derived more inspiration from talking to re-enactors and playing with artefacts than through any other medium, except books. Nodge Nolan told me about bleeding cups and gave me my talisman, the notorious sponge-on-a-stick. Sally Grainger showed me how to cook. Zane Green demonstrated all sorts of writing implements and gave me Horace's famous Carpe Diem Ode on papyrus. Especially for children at primary level, there is no better way into the subject than to let them handle a replica Roman artefact (or a real one if it is possible), guess what it was used for, and then discuss it. Artefacts have inspired several storylines in my Roman Mysteries series of books.

Finally, I need to mention the best Classics apps I have found for iPhone , iPad and iPad touch: they are all in the stable of Paul Hudson's SPQR range.

Stories console us and transport us to other worlds. History teaches us who we are. The discipline of learning Latin and Greek prepares us to learn any language and trains our mind to other ways of thinking. Classics combines all three of these aspects. This is probably why so many of us love it.

Our calling as teachers is to introduce others to the world of Classics and to give them the resources they need to teach themselves. But to do this we need to keep being inspired and enthusiastic ourselves. So let's embrace the four elements – and more! – of Classics networking to keep in touch, to encourage and inspire one another.

This is a tweaked version of Caroline Lawrence's Presidential Address at the JACT AGM on Saturday 18 May at Manchester Grammar School. For more info about how to join JACT please go HERE

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Which Temperament Are You?

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the world was made of four elements: Air, Earth, Water and Fire. Many of them also believed that human beings were full of liquids or HUMOURS that matched up with these elements.

Use of dry-cupping to suck "bad humours" out of a man in San Francisco  

The ancients (and some moderns) thought that everybody tends to have more of one 'humour' than the others. This excess could determine your TEMPERAMENT. Knowing which of the four 'temperaments' you were would also help ancient doctors prescribe a cure when you were sick. They could 'balance your humours' by either taking away the excess humours (through bleeding, vomit, enema, dry-cupping, etc.) or by building them up through diet. For example, if you had too much mucus they might prescribe a hot, dry baked rooster!

Here are the FOUR HUMOURS. 

Blood = Sanguine temperament = AIR
Black Bile (found in poo) = Melancholy temperament = EARTH
Phlegm (mucus) = Phlegmatic temperament = WATER
Yellow Bile (found in vomit) = Choleric temperament = FIRE

Try this Roman Mysteries Questionnaire to see which of the Four Temperaments you are:

(To download this questionnaire, go to my DORMOUSE page)


If you mainly ticked “a” then you are SANGUINE, like FLAVIA with extra BLOOD.
Enthusiastic but overbearing, you are often impulsive and take risks. You are cheerful, energetic and optimistic but you can also be impatient. You get bored easily and sometimes find it hard to stick to one task, flitting from one thing to another. Although you are apparently friendly, your friendships can be superficial.
Fun Fact about Sanguine Temperament: Ancients believed the extra blood often gave you PINK CHEEKS.

If you mainly answered “b”, you are MELANCHOLIC like JONATHAN, who often has too much BLACK BILE.
You are likely to be a perfectionist who overthinks things. You spot all the mistakes and errors in a plan and so you can seem critical. You can be stubborn, reserved and aloof. On the good side, you are sensitive, thoughtful and often creative. You are also grounded. People might call you a pessimist, but like Jonathan, you maintain you are a “realist”!
Fun Fact about Melancholic temperament: In medieval times people thought CATS were melancholic!

Did you mainly tick “c”? Then you are PHLEGMATIC like NUBIA and your extra "humour" is MUCUS.  Those of a phlegmatic temperament were considered to be patient, calm, nurturing, thoughtful, loyal and non-demanding. The downside is that – like Nubia – you can be overwhelmed the force of stronger personalities.

Fun Fact: Mucus makes you brave and steadfast. According to Pliny the Elder, some soldiers in ancient times drank a concoction of bull mucus and goat mucus to calm them down before a battle. This mixture was called SNORTEUM.

If you answered mainly “d” then you are CHOLERIC like LUPUS.
People of a choleric disposition are often hot-tempered. They can be pushy, bold, insensitive and risk-takers. On the plus side they are adventurous, enterprising and brave. Natural leaders, cholerics are often too independent to accept help or advice.
Fun Fact: The ancients believed that CURLY HAIR was one mark of the choleric temperament.

Sanguine Pooh Bear!
Don't worry if you don't fit easily into one of these categories. The ancients believed your temperament could change throughout the course of your life and even in the course of one day!

And don't try balancing the humours yourself, especially through bloodletting, vomiting or laxatives!

P.S. There is a great summary of the four humours by Christopher Hedley. He matches the four humours with characters from Winnie the Pooh! Winnie-the-Pooh = Sanguine; Eeyore = Melancholic; Piglet = Phlegmatic; Tigger = Choleric. And here's my riff on the humours in super heroes (below)!



Caroline Lawrence writes time machine books which will transport you back first century RomeWestern America in the early 1860s and Roman Britain. For more information, visit www.carolinelawrence.com.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ten Things Romans Used for Toilet Paper

Me and my talisman!
I know, I know! I'm always blogging about toilets and evil eyes and gladiator-scraping love-potion and suchlike, but I can't help it. It is all so fascinating! My husband Richard was the one who taught me the first lesson of history: NO TOILET PAPER!

So how did the people in olden days wipe their bottoms?

This question draws in even the most reluctant child. In fact it is often especially appealing to kids who find history dull. It's a Way To Show Them That History Is Totally COOL!

For the past dozen years I've been travelling around the world, speaking to schoolkids about the Ancient Romans and my writing. Everywhere I go, I carry my talisman, my good luck charm, my fave artifact: a sponge-on-a-stick. It's ANCIENT ROMAN TOILET PAPER!

This is how you used the sponge-stick
But recently some respected scholars have totally rained on my parade. Yes, Mary Beard, I mean YOU! And yes, Professor Mark Robinson and your bright and beautiful bevy of research assistants, I mean you, too! lol!

So what if they haven't found any sponges in the sewers or septic tanks of Herculaneum? They didn't even import shellfish from Pompeii only ten miles distant! As Prof. Robinson said in a recent lecture at the British Museum, "There probably wasn't a central market." In other words, they bought goods locally. Very locally.

But all right: I admit the SPONGIA or SPONGE-STICK would have been incredibly luxurious and costly. And if they hadn't had a sponge delivery from the Greek island of Symi for a decade or two the Herculaneans would have needed some alternatives to wiping their bottoms.

So here is my list of TEN things apart from a SPONGE-ON-A-STICK that the Romans might have used to wipe their derrières!

I. THE LEFT HAND - yes, the manus sinistra was always "at hand". This is why it was incredibly rude to point at someone with the left hand. In many cultures it is still a big no-no to hand something to someone using this sinister hand. It was also the sign against evil: procul este profani! ("Stay far away, you unholy creatures!")

II. LEAF FROM A FIG TREE. Or other suitable tree. But not poison ivy or nettles. Yowtch!

III. MOSS. Kind of crumbly but I guess it was absorbent.

Romans had no puppy-soft Andrex
IV. SCRAPS OF CLOTH. This is what Prof. Robinson and his fragrant staff found in the Cardo 5 Septic Tank of Herculaneum. Considering you had to spin and weave cloth by hand this would have been almost as expensive as a sponge-stick. Maybe even more so, seeing as cloth is not reusable. Or was it? Brrr. 


V. PEBBLES. You know those "game counters" we're always finding in archaeological deposits? According to recent scholarship, pebbles were used by Greeks to wipe their bottoms. The proof? A proverb: Three stones are enough to wipe your behind! And there's stuff in the Jewish Talmud about using pebbles on the Sabbath! Gives a whole new slant to Andrex toilet paper's Natural Pebble edition!

This is my pine cone. Stay away!
VI. PINE CONES? This pebble business has got me wondering about pine cones. They are like little flat pebbles on a holder! Pluck one off and wipe. Mmmm. Nice pine-woodsy freshness, too! Is that what those mysterious pine cones were doing in the Herculaneum septic tank? (And no jokes about "pine nuts", please!)

VII. WATER. Ahhh! Find a little babbling brook or even the surf of the Tyrrhenian Sea and let nature do the work. Many Turkish and Greek toilets have little spigots that will replicate this effect today.


VIII. SPONGE WITHOUT A STICK. Why even bother to put the sponge on the stick? For ease of use in public latrines like this one (below) in Ostia!

IX. STICK WITHOUT A SPONGE. Yowtch! Is this what they mean by "getting the wrong end of the stick"?

X. NOTHING! Yes, you heard me. Just squat and go, then stand up and go. Urgh! Now that really is revolting.

Thank goodness we live in the age of Puppy Soft Andrex® and Ultra Soft Charmin!


poo-stick prop from Spartacus
P.S. If this has whetted your appetite for more, check out my Pinterest Page on Roman Toilet Habits!

P.P.S. Still want more? Read this great piece about Latrines Throughout the Roman World.

P.P.P.S. Apparently they use "three seashells" in the future, according to the movie Demolition Man. Maybe Romans used three pine cone scales!

P.P.P.P.S.  This poo-stick prop from the TV series Spartacus recently fetched $155 on eBay. It's a cloth-wrapped stick with a little handle. Cool, huh? 

Caroline Lawrence is a graduate of UC Berkeley, Newnham College Cambridge, SOAS and UCL, but has the mentality of an 11-year-old thus making her eminently qualified to introduce kids aged 7+ to the world of Ancient Rome. Best of all, she teaches through stories: The Roman MysteriesThe Roman Mystery Scrolls and the new Roman Quests series, set in Roman Britain!