Next to Godliness



For the Romans then, cleanliness was very much next to godliness. Roman dirt existed to be cleaned up and the prominence of the sewers in Roman literature, in archaeological remains, in the shrines to Venus Cloacina and in the metaphors of political debate indicate that to control dirt was to reach the state of purity and order that was the cornerstone of the Roman religious and political system.

As was seen in chapter 2, the Romans saw it as their spiritual duty to bring order to their surroundings but frequently this came at a cost to their wider environment.  In this case, the ‘magnificent’ Cloaca Maxima saw an estimated 100,000 lb of waste washed daily from the city into the river Tiber.

In addition to pollution of the river that must surely have accompanied this outflow of effluent, the expulsion of sewage into the rivers began “the process of removing nutrients from the agricultural cycle and increasing the problem of maintaining soil fertility” (Shiel 2012, 19).