Ancient Roman loo legacy aims to inspire fundraising for facilities in toilet twinning plan

By Culture24 Reporter | 14 March 2014

Ancient Roman toilets, cleaned by a sponge on a stick, inspire an international campaign in Northumberland

A photo of people sitting on top of stones which used to be Roman toilets on a hill
Visitors take to the throne to try out the communal latrines and spongia at Vindolanda© The Vindolanda Trust
“Two thousand years ago, at the fort and town of Vindolanda, on the very edge of the Roman Empire, you could go to the loo in safety and with the confidence of using a well-built, engineered, clean and safe toilet no matter who you were,” points out Dr Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations at the Roman site in Northumberland, explaining early bathroom habits which, by all accounts, would end in the basins being cleaned with a sponge on a stick – nattily known as a spongia.

“This is one of the most important legacies the Romans left behind in Britain. It is a foundation of their great civilisation day.”

Vindolanda still has Roman toilets, although they’re accompanied by modern updates with soft paper and running water. In an initiative for World Water Day, organisers are inviting the public to twin their own toilets with foreign latrines, receiving a certificate in aid of relief efforts for the estimated 2.5 billion people across the world lacking access to safe, private and hygienic toilets.

“Centuries later, there remain millions of people who don’t have access to such fundamental and important facilities,” says Birley, calling the statistics “staggering”.

“We feel that the ancient Romans would have been appalled by this fact and would have wanted to do something about it. And now, through Toilet Twinning, we can.

“We sincerely hope our visitors will be inspired to twin their own toilets in order to extend this most basic provision to others.”

Participants will be awarded a photo and the GPS co-ordinates of the twin latrine. Development agencies Cord and Tearfund are backing the project.

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