Standing in splendid isolation, on the south side of the busy Piazzale Numa Pompilio, is a curious brick structure, which looks rather like a sentry box. It is, in fact, an ancient orinatoio (public urinal), which is commonly known in Italy as a vespasiano.
The legacies of the emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus (r. 69-79) are many and diverse. He gave the world the largest amphitheatre ever to be built, known today as the Colosseum. He also gave his name (albeit involuntarily) to the Italian public urinal.
How such an object came to be named after one of Rome's greatest emperors is an interesting story and one which is related by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-130) in his book De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars). Vespasian gained this rather dubious honour as the result of a tax he introduced on the collection of urine. Urine contains ammonia, which was used by ancient Roman fullers to clean togas.
When Vespasian's eldest son and heir, Titus, questioned whether this was an honourable way of making money his father is said to have held a coin up to his son's nose, asking if it smelt of anything! Titus had to conclude that 'pecunia non olet' ('money has no smell'). The phrase is still used to argue that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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