Nov 09, 2018 I Paul Seaburn

Dirty Jokes Found on Floor of Ancient Roman Latrine

What do you call a Roman teacher who refuses to pass gas in public?

A private tutor.

If you think that’s bad (you’re right), you should see what archeologists digging in the ancient Roman city of Antiochia ad Cragum found on the mosaic-covered floor of a latrine … dirty jokes in risqué pictures meant to entertain men while doing their business. Were there any bullseyes to help them with their aim?

"We were stunned at what we were looking at. You have to understand the myths to make it really come alive, but bathroom humor is kind of universal as it turns out."

Michael Hoff, professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, describe to LiveScience the reaction of his team on the last day ("There is a well-known axiom in archaeology that you find your best stuff on the last day") of this season’s dig in Antiochia ad Cragum, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. They uncovered a large Roman latrine designed to handle a crowd of men with the urge to do Number I. (Pictures here.) The latrine dated back to the 2nd century CE and was located next to a grand bath and a bouleuterion, which was a senate or assembly house – hence the need to accommodate a crowd. Were the murals there to pass the time while waiting in line?

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Roman public latrine

“It’s bathroom humor that would have been appreciated by the males who would have been visiting the latrine while doing their business.”

Hoff described the two hilarious-to-Romans dirty joke mosiac scenes to IFLScience. One showed Ganymedes, a Trojan youth who Homer described as the most beautiful of mortals. A normal scene would depict Zeus as an eagle picking up Ganymedes while he plays with a stick and hoop. However, the bathroom version is more of a satire, showing Zeus as a heron and Ganymedes’ stick has a sponge on the end, meaning he was cleaning his own penis either before or after having sex with the older god. (Hilarious, I know.)

"Instantly, anybody who would have seen that image would have seen the [visual] pun. Is it indicative of cleaning the genitals prior to a sex act or after a sex act? That's a question I cannot answer, and it might have been ambiguous then."

Maybe the other one is better. In that scene, Narcissus, the famous self-lover, is shown with an extremely long nose that’s supposed to symbolize his penis. He’s seen looking down at and admiring his reflection, which would actually be his penis. Get it? Says art historian and mosaic expert Birol Can:

“Here, the ironic change of this story was made consciously and intentionally: humor. If the function of the structure – in other words, a toilet – is considered, the emphasis and content of humor here is better understood.”

There’s a rule in comedy: the joke doesn’t get any funnier if you have to explain it.

Ostia Toilets 570x428
That joke went down the ancient Roman toilet

Perhaps the funniest part is that the mosaic of Narcissus is missing half of the picture, yet the male archeologists still got the joke. Since this was the last day of the season, the floor had to be covered up to protect it until they can come back next year and laugh some more.

What does a perverted Roman frog say?


Hey, it beats a sponge on a stick!

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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