Roman Toilet Humor
The opulent public latrines at Antiochia ad Cragnum
around 200 CE were decorated by dirty jokes in graphical form.
The visual humor played on classic Greek myths which had been adapted
by the Romans.
In this version, Narcissus was enchanted by his own phallus,
rather than his standard distraction of his beautiful face.
And, Ganymede's sexual situation was more explicit than usual.
is described in myth as a beautiful hunter, obsessed with his own appearance.
The mosaics in the latrine floor at Antiochia ad Cragnum instead depict
him with an unusually large nose, which would have been considered
quite ugly by the standards of the time.
So, he is admiring his large penis.
Public toilets at Ephesus, further west in today's Turkey but of similar design.
The channel in front of the seats carried running water, with which
you rinsed the tersorium,
also called a xylospongium,
the sponge to clean yourself.
takes a little more explanation.
He was described by Homer as:
[...] the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus' wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the mortals.
—Homer, Iliad, 20.233-235
Well, sort of.
The myth actually describes how Zeus became sexually aroused
by the adolescent Ganymede.
Zeus disguised himself as an eagle, kidnapped Ganymede,
and made him his cupbearer.
Among other tasks.
The myth was a model for
It developed in the late 7th century BCE, and was established custom
in many Greek cities by the 5th century BCE.
An erastês or older male was the active or dominent
figure, the erômenos or "beloved" was the adolescent.
The initiation ritual took its most elaborate form in Crete,
where the man enlisted the youth's friends in abducting his chosen youth.
The youth was taken to an andreion, a form of men's club
or meeting hall, and presented with gifts.
Then the entire crew went into the countryside for two months.
The man then gave the youth three formally prescribed gifts:
military attire, a drinking cup, and an ox,
which he then sacrified to Zeus.
Wipe or Wash?
Origins of toilet paper and alternatives
Ganymede was usually depicted with a stick-and-hoop toy.
The mosaic at Antiochia ad Cragum instead shows Ganymede with
tongs holding a tersorium.
That's a sponge which was dipped in water flowing through
the channel in front of the seats and used to clean
If there wasn't a flowing water channel, a bucket of
salt water or diluted vinegar was used.
So, Ganymede was the butt-wiper, not the cup-bearer.
Zeus, usually depicted as an eagle, instead appears
as a long-beaked heron.
The Zeus heron is using a sponge held in his beak to
wipe Ganymede's genitals.
These are much rougher marble public toilets next to
the main processional way from the harbor gate
or Corinthos, Greece, further west yet in the Roman Empire.
Antiochia ad Cragum
This Greek city of the eastern Roman Empire is on the
Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor, now within the modern
Turkish village of Güney, about 12 kilometers southwest
of Gazipaşa, in the district of Antalya.
Several ancient sources mention it as an important
The site, covering about three hectares, includes remains of
baths, a market area, a large early Christian basilica, a
colonnaded street and gateway, a temple, and monumental tombs.
The city may have had a population of more than 6,000 at its peak.
founded in the Hellenistic period,
one of the leading cities in the Lycian federation.
According to Homer's Odyssey, this is where
the god Poseidon looked out to sea and saw Odysseus
sailing away from Calypso's island.
Poseidon then called up a storm that wrecked Odysseus' ship
on the island of Nausicaa.
Antiochia ad Cragum and its harbor may have served as another
haven for the Cilician pirates who operated out of Olympos.
They preyed upon shipping and coastal communities around the
eastern Mediterranean during the first half of the first
Nemrut Dağı in eastern Turkey
Roman Emperor Gaius briefly ceded control of the area to
Antiochos IV of Commagene, who re-named the city after
He was a descendent of the spectacularly narcissistic Antiochos I,
who had erected a mountaintop shrine to himself and his relatives,
the gods of all the surrounding nations.
The city of Antiochia ad Cragnum was abandoned by the 11th century.
The sarcophagus of Captain Eudemos at
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