Featured [ancients] A Deity Worthy of Respect

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TIF, Sep 7, 2014.

  1. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    Those wacky Romans… they deified and worshipped everything. This one, however, deserves your devotion: Venus Cloacina, Goddess of the Great Sewer.

    Yep. That’s right. A Sewer Goddess.

    Before you poo-poo Her importance, consider this: Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (Great Sewer) was in large part responsible for the health and prosperity of Rome. Waste-related bacterial burdens were reduced as the sewage flowed away from the city instead of pooling in populated areas. The sewer also drained the marshlands, greatly diminishing the breeding grounds for disease vectors such as mosquitos.

    Moneyer issues of Imperatorial Rome. L. Mussidius Longus, 42 BC. AR denarius, Rome mint. Radiate and draped bust of Sol facing slightly right / Shrine of Venus Cloacina: Circular platform surmounted by two statues of the goddess, each resting right hand on cippus, the platform inscribed CLOAC and ornamented with trellis-pattern balustrade, flight of steps and portico on left; L • MVSSIDIVS • LONGVS around above. Crawford 494/43b; CRI 189a; Sydenham 1094a; Kestner 3758-9 var. (CLOACIN); BMCRR Rome 4252-4; Mussidia 7a. Acquired from a dealer at the 2014 ANA World's Fair of Money, Chicago.


    Moneyer issues of Imperatorial Rome. L. Mussidius Longus. 42 BC. AR denarius, Rome mint. Diademed and veiled head of Concordia right; CONCORDIA upwards behind / Shrine of Venus Cloacina: Circular platform surmounted by two statues of the goddess, each resting right hand on cippus, the platform inscribed CLOACIN and ornamented with trellis-pattern balustrade, flight of steps and portico on left; L • MVSSIDIVS • LONGVS around above. Crawford 494/42a; CRI 188; Sydenham 1093; Kestner 3753-4; BMCRR Rome 4242-3; Mussidia 6b. Acquired from a dealer at the 2014 ANA World's Fair of Money, Chicago.

    History of Cloaca Maxima

    The central lowlands and valleys in Rome were uninhabitable until the 7th-6th century BC when the Tarquin kings began constructing a large system for draining the marshes. Initially an uncovered canal, it followed the natural runoff channels and emptied into the Tiber river. Before Cloaca Maxima, the land on which the Forum was built was uninhabitable.

    Outlet of the Cloaca Maxima

    By the 2nd century BC the Great Sewer was fully covered; expansion of its reach was continual. At Rome’s peak, it is estimated that the sewer conveyed 100,000 pounds of human excrement daily. While most homes were not directly connected to the sewer, waste thrown in the street was washed into the drain.

    The public water systems were integrated. Waste water from the public baths flowed under the public latrines and into the sewer. Between that and rain, the latrines sewers were effectively and continuously flushed.

    A Roman latrine in Ephesos. Water ran under the toilets, constantly flushing the waste. See the channel in the floor? That also had running water. The holes in front? That's where you insert your wiping stick. Lacking Charmin, a sponge stick (spongia) was used and re-used. After doing your business, while still seated you insert the damp sponge stick through the hole, wipe, and then rinse the stick in the water trough, leaving the spongia in the trough for the next person.

    Cloaca Maxima exists to this day, incorporated into the modern sewer system. The Roman Empire didn't survive but its sewer did.

    Side note: Throwing waste into the street was acceptable in ancient times. Live on an upper floor? Too much trouble to move your movements to the street? Too poor to pay a stercorarius to pick up your poop? No problem. Just toss it out the window. Be sure that it doesn’t land on anyone though. Rome had a law against that, Dejecti Effusive Actio. Oddly, it only applied to daylight hours. If your waste landed on someone, the personal injury attorneys were ready and waiting. The fine varied according to extent of damages. If the injury proved fatal, the fine was 50 aurei.

    Sanitation, health, and epidemiology

    They may not have understood the link between sewage and standing water and disease, but Romans did know that marshlands were dangerous places. They attributed this to bad air. In fact, malaria means "bad air". With the markedly improved drainage of Rome, malaria rates apparently decreased along with other diseases supported standing water and sewage.

    Rome's superior public water works did not eradicate disease but the effect was mitigating. Consider Ostia Antica, a city once similar to Rome. The once-thriving port city did not have a sophisticated drainage system. The port silted over, standing water abounded, and it is theorized that rampant malaria played a significant role in the city's demise.

    The Pontine region with its marshes suffered a fate similar to Ostia Antica. The population collapsed around the turn of the millennium, likely due to infectious diseases such as malaria.

    By contrast, although residents of the city of Rome certainly contracted many diseases, the population as a whole survived and thrived.

    Venus Cloacina

    In the six century BC, a statue of a woman was supposedly found in the Cloaca Maxima. She became known as the Goddess Cloacina; a deity that likely had its origin in the mythology of the Etruscans. Her name stems from either the Latin verb cloare or cluere, meaning "to wash, clean or purify" or from the Latin word cloaca, meaning “sewer”. How and when she became associated with Venus is unknown.

    Recognizing the importance of their sewer system, even without understanding the infectious disease mitigation it provided, a shrine to the goddess was built in the Forum: the Sacrum Cloacina. I'm not sure when it was constructed. The details of the shrine are known only from these two denarii of Mussidius Longus.
    Today its foundation can be seen in front of Basilica Aemilia (marked on this map).
    The foundation of Sacrum Cloacina


    Yes, I think this goddess is a keeper.

    And now please excuse me. It's time for my daily devotional.

    Sources and additional reading:



    Last edited: Sep 7, 2014
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Wonderful write up and great coins. I honestly have never seen the top one before. Second one I have but have scooted by cause of cost. Even learned a few things on this write up.
  4. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Sweet => yup, that's an out-standing performance, Coin Sister!! (you've definitely raised the bar for any following bathroom coins!)

    Thank you very much for the very cool write-up (it is always nice when an extra effort is made ... I certainly appreciate your research and presentation) ...
    => you "ROCK"

    Sadly, I do not have any sweet sewage-coins to add to your epic thread

    Have a great day receiving coin-compliments

  5. NormW

    NormW Student Of Coinology

    Now, that is a great piece of numismatic history. Great job. Thanks.
    Carl Wilmont, Severatus and TIF like this.
  6. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Well-Known Member

    Intersesting write up and nice coins. Hope you wash your hands after touching them though...


  7. RaceBannon

    RaceBannon Member

    Great write up TIF!

    Nice research on the subject with the coins highlighting the historical learning points. Well done.

    Interesting tidbit relating to the goddess Cloacina. 'Klo' is the German colloquial term for the toilet. Not sure if there's a connection, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2014
    TIF likes this.
  8. askea

    askea Active Member

    Very interesting stuff Tif. I wouldn't want to live down river that's for sure! 100,000 lbs. per day? Goodness! Great write up thanks.
    TIF likes this.
  9. NormW

    NormW Student Of Coinology

    I lived in Germany for a few years and yes I always cringe when I hear the girls name Chloe and yes I think the latin root is what the germans are using.
    TIF likes this.
  10. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector

    Not really. :) "Klo" is short for "Klosett" which is derived from en/fr "closet". Also, if you want to use that word (three characters; the one with seven characters is not used much any more), you should really know who you are with ...

  11. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    And I always think of lizards. Reptiles don’t have separate digestive and genitourinary outlets. These tracts are combined into one common opening, the cloaca. It serves as both outlet for excrement and inlet during mating. The excrement of small lizards and geckos looks like a mouse dropping with a white dot on one end. The white dot is urate, the solid waste from its renal system.

    I have many lizards and geckos in my home— they are impossible to keep out but fortunately I like them. I’m not fond of finding their cloacal contents everywhere though.

    Just the other day I saw this little woodslave gecko paying homage at my Cloacina shrine. He even left an offering on the tank.
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  12. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector

    I have an exhibition catalog from a few years ago which also shows such a Venus Cloacina denar ... and they say that Venus was also considered a goddess of healing herbs. Both the herbs and the cloaca have something to do with health and purity. :)

    TIF likes this.
  13. Gil-galad

    Gil-galad I AM SPARTACUS

    Awesome coins and awesome write-up as well. Certainly deserving to be featured here.

    Learned more about the ancient sewers than I ever knew. lol
    TIF likes this.
  14. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian

    What a shit thread!

    I love how much fun you have with your coins, TIF. Thank you for a great write-up.
    ominus1, TIF and torontokuba like this.
  15. Okidoki

    Okidoki Well-Known Member

    wow indeed crazy ....
    a must have.

    good luck,

    TIF likes this.
  16. Aidan_()

    Aidan_() Numismatic Contributor

    Man, when they come up with weird gods, I know which one to think of. ;)
    Very nice write up and coins TIF!
    TIF likes this.
  17. krispy

    krispy krispy

    Superb historical report! Nice coins too!
    TIF likes this.
  18. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    Having Sol on a coin commemorating the shrine of a goddess who minds the business where the sun don't shine is just funny.

    I love both of these coins and have the type on my want list. The concept of cleanliness being next to godliness is apparently an ancient one, but even in modern times it seems some of us need reminding. I found this instructive sign in a cafe loo recently...


    Ps. Love how you've decorated your bathroom :)
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  19. Whizb4ng


    Sol is so magnificent on the first coin. He doesn't care about anything as long as his hair blows majestically in the wind.
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  20. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    well, i have this coin....it's kind of a turd. somewhat relevant to this post.



    but seriously, that's a great coin TIF...and nice write up. my first exposure to the term "cloaca" was in biology as well. i wish someone would have told me the meaning back then. or if they did, i wish i would have listened.

    here's a frog's naughty bits...

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  21. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Should anyone doubt the importance of things of a sewer nature, I suggest reading at least the bathroom chapter of At Home by Bill Bryson. He give lighthearted coverage to details on why cities that did not have as modern plumbing as ancient Rome ran into little difficulties. It is a bit amazing how recently our current civilization has embraced such things as using different water to take care of 'in' and 'out' requirements.
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