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Friday, 21 March 2014

A thing or two they did for us

‘A mighty army pounding its way across Europe, a relentless and brutal pursuit of power, the creation of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.’

This is how the Roman advance is described on the website of our friends at The Vindolanda Trust  in Northumberland, who have just twinned their latrines, ancient and modern, to mark World Water Day (22 March).

Vindolanda: Sit on the loo, chat, compare spongia, as you do

Setting aside the brutality and focusing on the more positive aspects of ‘what the Romans did for us’, decent sanitation has to be up there on the list.

As Dr Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations at The Vindolanda Trust, explained, ‘Two thousand years ago, at the fort and town of Vindolanda, on the very edge of the Roman Empire, you could go to the loo in safety and with the confidence of using a well-built, engineered, clean and safe toilet no matter who you were.  This is one of the most important legacies the Romans left behind in Britain, and a foundation of their great civilisation.’

But recently the UK press has been full of stories of public toilet closures, public toilets being sold off to private developers, public toilets being converted into houses … you get the picture.  It’s the fallout from our current financial position, as councils seek to cut budgets.  It’s easier to find a public loo in China than it is in Britain, notwithstanding the (patchy) help from commendable community toilet schemes.

This homegrown situation pales into insignificance, however, beside the scandal that there are STILL 2.5 billion people in the world without access to any decent loo, whether public or private.  

‘The ancient Romans would have been appalled’ Dr Birley said,  and what’s more, he adds, they would have wanted to ‘do something about it’.

That’s why The Vindolanda Trust have grabbed the opportunity to make a difference, and twinned their toilets to help flush away poverty overseas. As the Romans might have commented ‘amor vincit omnia’ (love conquers all).