Garbage and waste disposal in antiquity

In the ancient cities, conditions were miserable for our understanding: garbage was tipped out of the windows of the tenements or simply thrown into the river. Canals were not available in all cities, and if they were, they were often hopelessly cluttered. In Athens and Rome, there was already a bestial stench in ancient times. Ice core drilling in Greenland has provided evidence of Roman-era air pollution in the ice. The effects of the exploitation and pollution of the environment were only not so destructive because they took place mainly locally and also did not reach the dimensions of the technical possibilities as it is the case today.

Garbage collection in today's sense was coupled with food deliveries into the city. The farmers, who brought their goods to the markets in the morning, probably transported animal and human dung on the same carts out of the city in the evening and used it as fertilizer for the fields. However, no one was aware that pathogens were transported in it.

The price of progress

In Rome, four aediles, elected officials, were responsible for the removal of garbage, and this was also true for other municipia and coloniae of the Imperium Romanum, such as Carnuntum. Nevertheless, garbage disposal hardly functioned in ancient cities. Rivers, streams, canals were used for illegal dumping of garbage, and even if inscriptions forbade it, it was common in antiquity to simply dump the garbage. Near Carnuntum it was certainly anything but advisable to take a bath in the Danube in antiquity - the river was simply so polluted.

For archaeologists such largely illegal garbage dumps are usually a sensation, from them can be gained knowledge about nutrition, standard of living, distribution of food, etc.. In these garbage dumps were also found the remains of rats and mice, pigs, dogs, cats, vultures and even ibises, which fed on the garbage. Fleas, lice and flies caused the spread of disease. There was little awareness of the problem; for the most part, people took the contamination for granted.