Unsanitary toilet habits
The temples and other grand buildings of Ancient Greece may well have been impressive to look at. But how did they smell? Pretty terrible, most probably. For, while Greece certainly made some huge strides forward when it came to people doing their business, their toiletry habits would be considered really disgusting by today’s standards. And, of course, like everything in history, the less money or status you had, the worse the conditions you had to endure.
So, first the positive part: Before the Greeks came along, going to the toilet was a very simple affair, with no consideration given to hygiene or anything like that. However, taking their lead from the Minoans on the island of Crete, the Ancient Greeks started introducing flushed toilets and properly organised public latrines. These would have seats along a bench above flowing water connected to a large drainage system and have played a central role in daily life. What’s more, at the high point of the Hellenistic period, most middle-class homes had their own flushing toilets, with their waste taken away into the main sewer.
However, everything was not completely lovely. The vast majority of the people living in Ancient Greece were peasants or manual labourers. For them, a trip to the toilet just meant squatting in a field or outside the home. The suburbs of a city, not to mention Ancient Greek villages or smaller communities, would have been stinky and highly unhygienic. And even the rich didn’t have it all so good, especially not by today’s standards. Toilet paper had yet to be invented, so small, smooth pebbles were used to wipe. In the public latrines, collections of pebbles could be found at the entrance, and they were often reused many times over. Alternatively, the Greeks used a rag attached to a stick for cleaning up, though again, these were often passed around and shared.
According to accounts from the time, some people were as frugal in their use of toilet pebbles as some people are today about toilet paper. Apparently, three small stones should be enough for a normal trip to the bathroom. At the same time, however, not everyone was quite so frugal. In some cases, richer Greeks would use shards of pottery to wipe themselves with and may even have the names of their enemies etched on the ceramics for good measure.