A Lesson in Italian
In my blog of August 23, 2016, Miriam brought us to the agora. She mentioned the reek of salted meat, but it’s only in THE DEADLIEST SPORT (coming soon), when she’s approaching Judah’s shop, that she gives us an idea of the other odors and aromas she encounters:
As I headed toward the agora and Judah’s shop, the smell of tethered animals and unwashed bodies combined with the brine of the sea, the odor of beached algae, the aroma of fresh pastries, and the reek of urine collecting in the earthenware bowls at every fuller’s gate.
By the first century CE, people took their woolen garments to fullers for cleaning. But fulleries were nasty places because the garments were washed in stale human urine. Not surprising really. The urea in urine breaks down to ammonia, a potent cleaning agent we still use, e.g. in Windex. But urine had other uses too: for sores, burns, diseases of the rectum, and stings; for curing gout; and for whitening teeth. (I still use Windex to take the itch out of mosquito bites.)
Fullers filled large tubs ankle deep with urine. Then slaves put the garments in the tubs and stomped on them until the cloth was clean. Trouble is they needed a lot of urine to fill the tubs. In Miriam’s time, shortly before Emperor Vespasian’s rule (69-79 CE), men simply donated their urine when passing a fullery. But to raise money for the Roman treasury, Vespasian instituted a tax on using public toilets. Not only did he raise money from the tax, but he then collected the urine and sold it to the fullers. No wonder, the public toilets of Rome are to this day called vespasiani.
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