Taxing the piss out of us – literally:

Not long ago we posted a photo and written description of a Roman Glass scented oil vial that we have in our shop (Mid 1 Century A.D.). Just looking at the piece transported us back in time as we tried to imagine what it might have been like hanging out with the likes of Emperor Claudius, Nero or the infamous Caligula.

Despite being one of the most advanced civilizations, the Romans did have a few quirky and interesting habits. History has it that Emperor Nero and Vespasian (Roman Emperor from AD 69 to AD 79) instituted a tax on urine. Why urine you ask? Well there was a method to their madness. Urine, as it turns out, was a tradable commodity; it was collected from the lower class and purchased by tanners who used it for their trade as it contained ammonia. When Vespasian’s son complained of the disgusting nature of the tax the emperor showed him a gold coin and uttered the famous phrase, “pecunia non olet”, which means, “money doesn’t stink.” The ripple (or should we say tinkle) effect of the tax remains today as urinals in modern day France are called vespasiennes; in Italy vespasiani and in Romania vespasiene.

Comments 1

  1. Do we ever think twice of those sayings that come so easily but really… what do they mean… here’s a couple that tie into Erin’s blog…

    As Erin points out, urine was used to tan animal skins, so it wasn’t uncommon for entire families to pee in a pot so that it could be sold daily to the local tannery….. if this were a substantial source of income for any family they were considered “piss poor”. In some cases there were families either literally or as a slur, considered so poor as to not even have the means to own a pot, they were described as
    “not having a pot to piss in” …

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