Sunday, January 10, 2016

Roman parasites

Some articles noted that despite all their irrigation and sewage technology, that Romans were found to have lots and lots of worms.

Archeology paper here

Piers Mitchell of Cambridge a press release. He thinks that the warm communal waters of the bathhouses, which may have been changed infrequently, could have contributed to the spread of parasitic worms. The Romans also used human excrement from the public latrines as a crop fertilizer. And the widespread use of garum, a condiment made from uncooked, fermented fish parts, may have contributed to the increase of fish tapeworm eggs during the Roman period. “It seems likely that while Roman sanitation may not have made people any healthier, they would probably have smelt better,” Mitchell said. 

The obvious is not noted: That without the clean water and sewage system, a lot more people might have died of diarrhea at an early the presence of parasites might imply they lived to be adults. Until we have an estimate of the death rate, we don't know.

The dirty little secret is that people can live with the parasites quite nicely, and do. But they die of more deadly diseases that are spread by dirty water (e.g. typhoid, dystentary).

in the medieval world of Europe, urbanization was quite deadly because of lack of water and sanitation.

the study was done at Portus, an artificial port of Rome, not actually in Rome itself.

(De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images)
Portus, now some two miles from the Mediterranean shoreline, was built by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. to be their main maritime port. A 16th-century fresco in the Vatican Palace shows an idealized reconstruction of Portus’ grand architectural and engineering features
Hmm... I was not aware that Rome built an artificial port.

I was aware that Rome was built on the Tiber and had swamps nearby (and that malaria was imported from Egypt causing a high mortality from the local mosquitos)..

But I always assumed they had a natural port, Ostia. Well they did: Portus was sort of an extension of it to make it easier for ships.

From Wikipedia:

Claudian phase[edit]Rome's original harbour was Ostia. Claudius constructed the first harbour on the Portus site, 4 km (2.5 mi) north of Ostia, enclosing an area of 69 hectares (170 acres), with two long curvingmoles projecting into the sea, and an artificial island, bearing a lighthouse, in the centre of the space between them. The foundation of this lighthouse was provided by filling one of the massive Obelisk ships, used to transport anobelisk from Egypt to adorn the spina of Vatican Circus, built during the reign of Caligula.

The harbour thus opened directly to the sea on the northwest and communicated with the Tiber by a channel on the southeast.

The object was to obtain protection from the prevalent southwest wind, to which the river mouth was exposed. Though Claudius, in the inscription which he caused to be erected in AD 46, boasted that he had freed the city of Rome from the danger of inundation, his work was only partially successful: in AD 62 Tacitus speaks of a number of grain ships sinking within the harbour during a violent storm. Nero gave the harbour the name of "Portus Augusti".[1]

n AD 103 Trajanconstructed another harbour farther inland—a hexagonal basin enclosing an area of 39 hectares (97 acres), and communicating by canals with the harbour of Claudius, 

but it silted up during the dark ages

Ostia also silted up.

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