Did Ancient Roman Cities Have Scheduled Trash collections?

I ask because of the "dark Ages " thread. It seems to me that one important requirement for city life is to have some kind of garbge/trash collection and disposal services. Did the romans have this? I can’t imagine a large city without some kind of regular cleaing/trash disposal. Life would become very difficult if you allowed large rodent populations to flourish 9as would happen if the garbage wasn’t collected). i know that medieval cities were pretty lax-most allowed swine and goats in the streets, to eat the garbage. What other ancient civilizations had trash collection?

Rome had relatively decent plumbing, but garbage was just dumped in the alleys and the streets. They would pave right over the garbage piles and even build new buildings on top of them. Such was life in ancient cities.

One of the gates of the old city of Jerusalem is called the “Dung Gate”, because the refuse was removed from the city via that route. This tells us that the trash was removed and not allowed to sit in the streets; unfortunately for the OP, it does not tell us whether the removal was done by each resident, or whether there was some sort of organized municipal system for it.

This gate is mentioned by name in the Bible, in Nehemiah 3:13-14, which is several centuries prior to Roman occupation of the area.

I wonder how much garbage the typical household generated? I imagine it was less than a typical household does today. Packaged food would have been rare to nonexistent, so no cans/boxes/wrappers to throw away. The same with paper - no junk mail, old phone books, fliers from school, etc. That leaves food scraps and human waste to deal with.

Food scraps probably were fed to domestic animals (dogs, chickens, hogs, etc.). Did the Romans have the equivalent of the rag-and-bone man and the night-soil (i.e., stale urine) collector? If so, that would have taken care of much of the rest. I imagine that discarded building materials didn’t last long either, but were picked up and incorporated into new construction.

That leaves the odd bit of household junk and some additional human waste. How was that dealt with? Did most homes have latrines, or were there public latrines, or did people just empty chamber pots (or the Roman equivalent) in the street? From Diogenes’ comment, it sounds like junk just got paved over or turned under.

Wikipedia has this to say:


I’m suspicious. I’ve been to Pompeii and seen those stepping-stones. They seem to be there for avoid polling water and a certain amount of detritus, but if you didn’t regularly sweep the streets and carry away the crud, they’d be overwhelmed in no time. Plus, the floors of the villae would be overwhelmed pretty quick if you didn’t clear away the rubbish. It seems to me to be a matter of necessity that the refuse must get cleared away on a regular basis, or you’d be buried in it – Rome or Pompeii weren’t like those neolithic caves where the garbage simple accumulated with time, eventually forcing the dwellers out after several generations – if the dirst gets too high it overwhelms the cloacae, the public wells, and the business stalls. And long before that it would lead to unacceptable flooding by water it would make truly gross.

But I can’t recall reading anything about garbage collectors in Roman cities. I expect that this is one of those thiongs that’s taken prettty much for granted, so people didn’t write or talk about it.

Bear in mind that Roman garbage looked nothing like what is right now in your garbage bin. A lot of stuff got reused, recycled, composted and taken away by people with an interest on it. There was not a whole lot left to throw away and it was mostly organic and small, the kind of stuff that could be more or less handled by rain gutters.

ETA: Oh well, beaten to it.

If there was any kind of organized garbage removal, there would be archaeological evidence of it in the form of garbage dumps outside the city. Apparently, no such dumps have been found.

Like cwthree said, though, the nature of the garbage was not thesame as in modern cities. No package waste, no paper, no plastic, everything biodegradable. It all just turns into mud.

Plus the Romans did have a pretty good sewer system for human waste, and probably a good amount of garbage as well.

Human and animal waste had value in certain industries, like tanning and dyeing. Conceivably there was some industry set up to collect it for those purposes.

I imagine a lot of it was burned, either as a convenient disposal method or as supplemental fuel for heating and cooking.

Even pure (an old term for dog feces) was collected by people who could profit from it, at least in London. I can’t imagine Rome was much different. Here is a description of pure-finders and why pure was called that::

It goes on at length.

People actually went around looking for dog crap? why wasn’t the human stuff just as good?

I was surprised to read about the collection of “pure” for making shoe shine in the book The Madman and the Professor. It gives new meaning to the phrase “Doesn’t know shit from Shinola”, but apparently it’s true.
I suspect that they used dog crap for the same reason people use animal manure instead of human “Night Soil” as fertilizer – because excrement spreads disease, and you’re much less likely to catch animal diseases that what you can get from other humans.

Upper class Roman homes had both running water and a toilet. Everyone else depended on public fountains and public toilets. Did Roman tenements actually have communal water and/or toilets in building?

While I really know nothing about the subject, I suspect that dog crap differs in certain ways from human crap and that it was useful for separate purposes from human crap. Like I said, I don’t know for sure, but it would be worth checking into if you were interested.

Historical fiction I’ve read about ancient Rome mentions urns set out in front of dyers shops for passersby to urinate in. The urine was later used in the dyeing process.

Wasn’t tanning leather a pretty stinky process? Along with the excrement, you had to le the raw hides sit in a caustic solution for weeks (to loosen the hair). That must have smelled awful! I heard that most medieval towns had laws restricting tanners to the outskirts of town!

If you go Marrakesh or Fez In Morocco you can still visit the out-door tanneries. Yes they are very smelly. When we were there we were each given a large bunch of fresh mint to stick under our noses to mask the smell.

Here is a picture of the Marrakesh tannery :-


I’ve heard that Queen Elizabeth I made it illegal to tan leather anywhere within five miles of a royal residence.

Was watching an archaeoligal documentary about I believe the Via Appia and a huge pile of broken pottery was discovered, literally wagon loads of the stuff from no longer needed amphorae.

As this was outside city limits it would appear that the place was a regular rubbish tip whether municipal or just opportunistic they didn’t say.

I’ve also read about midden heaps on Roman street corners but dont know if city authorities disposed of them.

Urine was collected in pots and used by laundries as a degreasing agent.
For communal blocks water for drinking etc.was collected from public fountains whos purpose was strictly functional,not decorative.

I suspect we both read Household Gods. :slight_smile: