Why The Past Smelled Absolutely Horrible

By Sophia Maddox | May 24, 2024

Medieval Chamber Pots

It's time to face facts: People are disgusting. It's not that you're a lazy or unhygienic person, it's just that the human body is a cesspool and there's nothing to be done about it. As gross as our bodies are now, they were even worse throughout history, which means the past stank to high heavens. If you went back in time, you wouldn't bro down with George Washington or party with Marie Antoinette at Versailles. You'd be gagging from the smell (and probably killing everyone with all of your modern bacteria). Take, for instance...

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The medieval chamber pot, a humble vessel with a rather undignified purpose. In the not-so-distant past, when the moon hung high and the streets below were cloaked in darkness, these trusty pots served as the midnight saviors of bladders everywhere. However, their disposal method leaves a lot to be desired for modern sensibilities. Instead of the convenience of indoor plumbing, our ancestors opted for the quaint practice of heaving these pots out of windows and into the streets below. It was a unique form of nighttime entertainment for passersby, as they dodged an unexpected shower of unsavory contents. The result? A streetscape that was not only dimly lit but also perfumed with the unmistakable fragrance of medieval relief, reminding us that even in the past, convenience came at a pungent price.

The Sponge On A Stick

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If you had to pick the smelliest place in time, it's got to be ancient Rome. That place was absolutely filthy, and matters weren't helped by the xylospongium, a sponge on a stick that was used for cleaning one's unmentionable areas until toilet paper was invented. As if that wasn't disturbing enough, everyone in town shared the same stick, and it wasn’t cleaned so much as it was left to rest in a bowl of (quickly filthy) water. If you're looking for an easy way to spread disease, this is it.