Plumbing Before Modern Toilets

ancient roman toilets

Plumbing has gone through many evolutions to become the modern convenience that it is today, but surprisingly, certain ancient civilizations had much more advanced plumbing systems than most people realize.

Wait - Ancient Civilizations Had Plumbing Systems?

Not all, but some ancient civilizations did, in fact, have plumbing systems of sorts. Evidence of this has been found in the remains of Indian, Chinese, Greek, Persian, and Roman structures. The most common uses for plumbing in those societies were public baths, a way to bring drinkable water closer, and a way to carry waste away. This became increasingly important as cities with denser populations developed.


The oldest evidence of a plumbing system is the discovery of copper water pipes in palace ruins of India’s Indus River Valley. These pipes date all the back to 4000-3000 B.C. In addition, earthen plumbing pipes dating around 2700 B.C. have been uncovered in the Indus Valley’s ancient urban settlement.


More than treasure and mummies have been found in ancient Egyptian ruins…. Copper pipes were also discovered, dating around 2500 B.C. They appear to have been part of irrigation and sewage systems, as well as beautifully designed bathrooms inside great pyramids.


One of plumbing’s most famous, ancient historical landmarks is the Minoan Palace on Crete, which contains pipes for water and sewage that were hidden within its walls (just like pipes today). The palace even had a water closet with a flushing device and taps that could deliver both cold and hot water, dating back to around 1000 B.C. Ancient rainwater cisterns (dated around 1500 B.C.) have also been discovered on Crete, which were used for collecting rainwater for use later.

From about 500 B.C. to 455 A.D. the Romans took plumbing to another level--literally--with the construction of towering aqueducts to bring water into their cities and sophisticated sewage systems below their cities. There wasn’t much to rival it afterward until the 19th Century. In addition, Romans also made use of new materials in their plumbing, including bronze and lead pipes and marble fixtures adorned with fittings of silver and gold.

So What Happened?

In Europe, the fall of the Roman Empire and the catastrophic bubonic plague (“Black Death”) pandemic from the mid-1300s to the mid-1700s not only halted a lot of progress but even caused a regression in certain aspects of technology. It wasn’t until around the 16th Century that European cities started adopting municipal water and sewage systems again.

Some European castles contained privies, but the “plumbing system” basically delivered waste right into the castle moat. Chamber pots, though an ancient invention, were still used widely and, once filled, were dumped out in fields or directly into city streets.

That being said, there were a few notable plumbing advancements during those centuries. For instance, German craftsmen figured out a way to make fires hot enough to melt iron, and in 1455, they were able to construct the first pipe ever made of iron. Queen Elizabeth I’s godson, Sir John Harrington, invented the most “modern” flushing toilet (or “the John,” as some people call it) in 1664.

The toilets like those that we are familiar with today were patented in the 1700s, around the same time that cities were once again making improvements to potable water and waste removal.

A broken toilet in your home can make you feel like you’ve just traveled back in time to a less convenient place in history. When your toilet troubles need to go, get in touch with EZ Flow!

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