The origin of Vespasian as urinal

Why do urinals also have this name in Italian?

Vespasian
Vespasian

In Italy, until a few years ago you might hear the therm Vespasian as a synonym of public toilet, specifically of a urinal. Today you can hardly see them, but time ago they were very useful because they satisfy the need for a toilet instead of rushing into a bar or hiding in a corner of the city to take a pee.

You can say today we’re full of malls where you could use public toilets, but often the so-called Vespasian is useful late at night when everything is closed.

A Vespasian takes the name from the Roman emperor who ruled between 69 and 79 A.D. and became famous because introduced the urine tax. Back then the emperor was looking for money, but Rome already had too many taxes and they didn’t know what to tax more.

Once, Rome was full of public toilets because nobody had one in their house, and urine at that time was useful for the so-called ‘officine fullonicae’ namely laundry rooms where pee was used to bleach and clean cloths since it contains ammonia. Just for that, some laundry workers were sent to public toilets to collect urine.

So, Vespasian had the idea to introduce a tax on urine that laundry workers (fullones) had to pay. From that point, public toilets in Italy were called Vespasians.

After that, a famous maximum began to spread: “Pecunia non olet” (money doesn’t stink). Since the urine tax was often considered hilarious, as well as criticized also by Tito, Vespasian’s son; when Tito asked his father for money, he showed him a sack of money and said: “Do you see this money?… They all come from urine!”. He put his nose into the sack and said: “Pecunia non olet” (money doesn’t stink), a phrase remained in the history.

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