Christmas 2012: Yesterday’s World

Toilet hygiene in the classical era

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 17 December 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8287

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'Pessoi' - the 1" to 4" terracotta discs seen in the Fishborne Roman Palace Museum at Chichester, West Sussex, UK - are ancient 'bottle caps' not toilet paper. These fired clay discs are found regularly among the millions of amphorae sherds in ancient Rome's famous 'Monte Testaccio' (literally 'hill of sherds') in Rome.

Amphorae are large jars used to store various liquids, grains, etc. These caps were set in the throat of the amphora jar and sealed with melted bee's wax. Their suggested alternate use as toilet paper could ONLY be confirmed by discovery of pessoi in an ancient latrine. None have so been found to my knowledge. Very nice article on ancient toilet hygiene, but these pessoi discs were 'bottle caps' attested by finds with amphorae.

David H. Swingler, on assignment in Cairo, Egypt

Competing interests: None declared

David H. Swingler, Ancient Historian, Archaeologist

Ancient World Enterprises, 4305 San Juan Ave Oxnard CA USA 93033

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