Quirks & Quarks

Romans Plagued by Parasites

Romans built sewers, aqueducts and baths, but research shows their sanitation didn't discourage parasistes

Despite Sanitation innovations, Romans were riddled with worms and plagued by pests

Roman toilet in Ephesus, Turkey
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The people of the Roman Empire seemed obsessed with sanitation, and developed aqueducts to supply clean water, sewers to remove waste, baths to clean themselves and communal toilets with running water.

But while these amenities might have made their cities more pleasant, new work by Dr. Piers Mitchell, a Paleopathologist from the University of Cambridge, suggests that they didn't make the Romans a lot healthier. He studied excavations of toilets and dumps from around the Roman world and found that various parasites, including intestinal worms and diarrhea-causing bacteria, as well as lice and fleas, were just as common in the Roman era as they were before and after.

Roman sanitation, in this way, seemed to have little impact on publica sanitas (public health).

Related Links

- Paper in Parasitology
- University of Cambridge release
Science news story
The Atlantic story
Discovery news story