Roman child’s chamber pot found in Bulgaria

In what must be a thrilling way to mark the 60th consecutive year of excavations at Novae, archaeologists have unearthed an ancient Roman chamber pot. The clay chamber pot is 20 inches deep with a flat bottom and wide flared top edge. There is no handle. The diameter is small enough to indicate it was meant for children, but it could also have been used (carefully) by adults in the household. A small person would have been able to perch on the flared edge of the pot and use it as a seat.

The pot was found on the south side of a 2nd-3rd century Roman villa. The bedrooms were located in that part of the house, which is where you’d expect a chamber pot to be found. A masonry channel runs on the other side of the room’s wall and a clay pipeline leading to a latrine at the southwest corner of the villa. No fragments of marble or stone from a latrine seat have been found. Archaeologists suspect the toilet seats were wood, an example of which so far has only managed to survive the millennia at Vindolanda.

Chamber pots are the kind of common-use object that would have been a widespread consumer good in the empire. They’re likely to have been found in significant numbers at Roman sites. Indeed, this is the fourth chamber pot archaeologists have unearthed just in this one villa, all of them relatively small and all of them in the southern part of the house.  It’s possible they were placed in the children’s rooms for nighttime use while the adults availed themselves more frequently of the latrine. Yet there is very little scholarship documenting chamber pot finds. Lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History believes this lacuna is likely an identification issue, that clay vessels used as chamber pots may not be definitely recognizable as such.

Novae began as a military camp, one of the important strategic outposts guarding the border of Moesia along the south Danube. Legions occupied the castrum from 45 A.D. until the invasion of the Huns in 441 A.D., and with them came business, families and a civilian settlement with major civic buildings, temples, public baths, shops and homes both humble and grand. This villa was definitely on the grand side.