Did you know there is a goddess dedicated to the sewer systems and its workers? Her name is Cloacina, the patron goddess of the Cloaca Maxima. The Cloaca Maxima or “Main Drain” was the largest drain in Rome’s system and was made of cut stone. Portions still exist and are in service today. Construction on it began circa 500 BCE.
Cloacina was featured on Roman coins and in poems and was also honored with a circular shrine in the Roman forum, the most important civic center in ancient Rome, indicating her important status.
Some fascinating facts about Rome’s advanced approach to sanitation:
- baths with hot water
- latrines with running water
- underground water and sewer piping.
The wealthier parts of Rome included buried lead water pipes below the streets (which some historians believe caused lead poisoning and contributed to the eventual fall of Rome) and an underground sewage channel. Most systems eventually drained into the Cloaca Maxima and on into the Tiber River. Most Romans used pots and emptied them into the street, ending up in the sewers as well, utilizing the extensive street washing program.
Communal baths and latrines were an important part of Roman life. They were used for socialization, political discussion, and exercise as well as bathing, and were open to all Romans, rich or poor. They had hot and cold running water, steam rooms, huge furnaces, and boilers. The water was often re-used to flush latrines and then delivered to the sewer system, creating a complete sanitation cycle unrivalled in the ancient world.
Ruins of Roman latrines with remarkably consistent design can be found throughout the Roman empire.