From Ancient Sewers to First Flush: Toilet Culture and History


Human history is full of many turning points that changed the course of our civilization. Although we think little about it today, the advent of the toilet was also an extremely important event for human civilization. But the advent of modern toilets must have taken place over millennia. Today’s toilets are designed with a very single purpose in mind, moreover, with human comfort and hygiene in mind. However, thousands of years ago, the concept of the toilet was very different from the modern one. Toilets were also of great importance in the life of ancient societies. For example, in ancient Egypt it was considered a sign of social status. Toilets were one of the places preferred by the inhabitants of the Roman Empire for socializing! Let us briefly dwell on the history of toilets.

Toilets in the modern sense first appeared in ancient Egypt.

“Home” toilets first appeared in the fertile lands of ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago. However, for the ancient Egyptians, the convenience of using a household toilet was not in the first place among the features that a toilet should have. Because toilets were not ordinary places where the Egyptians satisfied only their human needs. Toilets were also of great importance in the social life of Ancient Egypt…

Toilets were a status symbol in ancient Egypt.

As today, in the daily life of ancient societies there was an extremely important concept: Status! Throughout history, some societies have used gemstones as a sign of status. In some societies, physical strength was the most important indicator of status. However, the most important indicator of status in ancient Egypt was the toilet!

The rich in ancient Egypt had toilet seats in their limestone houses so they could gain a well-deserved status in public life. The poor people of Egypt used an ordinary board with a hole in the middle.

The first sewer system in history appeared in Pakistan around 2500 BC.


Residents of a city called “Mohenjo-Daro” in Pakistan built a sewer system using bricks to carry toilet waste out of the city. Some historians believe that the first public toilet in the world is located in the area of ​​​​the sewer line …

In the Roman Empire, people used toilets to communicate.

The ancient Romans were a fairly pure people compared to many civilizations both before them and after them. In the 9th century BC, public toilets and sewer systems were extremely common in many parts of the empire. However, toilets meant much more to Roman citizens than places where human needs were met. The Romans often gathered in the toilets to socialize. In fact, many politicians in Rome particularly favored toilets for exchanging opinions on political issues.

Toilets in the Middle Ages were quite interesting.


Medieval toilets were located in small chambers called “cloakrooms” inside large castles. However, the castle toilets were designed to form a ledge on the castle’s outer wall. Thus, toilet waste can be easily evacuated. For the evacuation process, pits were dug, usually at the level of the toilets, and waste accumulated in these pits. The officers, who were later nicknamed “Nightlights”, removed the garbage accumulated in the pits.

On the other hand, the traditional toilet architecture of the Middle Ages posed a great danger to the inhabitants of the castles. During heavy sieges, some intrepid enemy soldiers were able to infiltrate through the toilets on the outer walls of the forts. For this reason, especially after the 1200s, iron bars were used in the seats of castle toilets to prevent enemy soldiers from entering.

The idea of ​​flushing toilets first appeared in 1449.

A man named Thomas Brightfield, who lives in England, designed a toilet with a reservoir that collects rainwater and a waste dump mechanism. However, the first example that can be considered the progenitor of the modern siphon was invented in 1596 by a man named John Harrington in England. This great invention also caught the attention of the royal family. So much so that Harrington even designed a flush toilet for Queen Elizabeth I. However, at the time, England did not have a sewer system suitable for flush toilets. For this reason, it took a long time for flush toilets to become widespread.

The Great Smell Incident, which took place in London, the capital of England, in 1850, was one of the most important events that changed the history of the toilet.


London has been home to public toilets since the 1400s. The city’s mayor, Richard Whittington, built a public toilet in 1421 called Whittington House. Whittington House consisted of two separate sections for men and women and a total of 128 toilets. In the following period, different public toilets were opened in different parts of London. However, almost all the waste in these toilets went to the famous Thames …

That’s why in 1850 there was an event called “The Great Smell”! Waste accumulated in the river for decades caused an unbearable smell and various epidemics with the effect of hot weather. So much so that even some of the deputies, who could no longer stand the unpleasant smell, found a solution to leave the capital! Forced to take action by the Great Smell, authorities have begun work on a new 1,800-kilometer sewer line in London. This event made the sewer system widespread throughout Europe in the following years and was instrumental in changing the concept of the toilet.

Home toilets, which first appeared in ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago, only became popular in the second half of the 20th century.


For hundreds of years, toilets have been “off-premises” due to inadequate sewerage and evacuation systems. However, the development of technology has made it possible to significantly change the toilets …

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