For all we like to romanticize the past, the truth is that most of our shared history was less "awe-inspiring" and more "vomit-inducing."
10.Pompeii Was One Giant Garbage Dump
Before it got buried under a cloud of ash, Pompeii was the ancient equivalent of the French Riviera. It was a place where rich Romans came to unwind after some hard empire-building. But there was one crucial difference between ancient Pompeii and a modern resort town: Pompeii was absolutely overflowing with garbage.
Instead of having a waste collection program, or even rudimentary landfills, the people of Pompeii just dropped their trash wherever they felt like it. Streets, alleys, and even cemeteries were filled with broken pottery, building remains, uneaten food, and horse carcasses. Get off the street and things were no different. There's plenty of evidence that locals treated their houses like one giant trash can, with the fossilized remains of rotting food found littering floors and piled up alongside drinking water. According to Allison Emmerson of the University of Cincinnati, trash was regarded as just a fact of life in Pompeii. Even the tombs of ancestors were considered an acceptable place to dispose of waste. That undoubtedly made the city stink to high heaven in the summer months.
9.The Vikings Were Plagued With Parasites
It's no surprise that Viking life was hard. With Vikings spending a lot of time on ships sailing rough northern seas during one campaign of conquest or another, no one would picture their lives as anything other than difficult. Even the most cynical person would likely miss one key detail, though: Viking guts were utterly infested with parasites.
Thanks to a culture which promoted close living with livestock, most Vikings were exposed to a whole load of nasties from a very early age. By the time they reached adulthood, their insides were crawling with the sort of creatures H.P. Lovecraft had nightmares about. Researchers who studied Viking poop have found eggs indicating chronic roundworm and liver fluke infections. Worst of all, there was evidence of whipworm. Found in piles of Viking feces dating back to 1018, whipworm would have made the Viking's lives unbearable. Aside from severe diarrhea and acrid-smelling farts, those infected could've expected painful passage of stool, growth retardation, and impaired cognitive development.
8.Medieval London Stank To High Heaven
Let's say you decide to skip the obvious places and take your time machine on a trip to medieval London. You'd probably be prepared for the city to be dirtier and smellier than it is now. But you might not be prepared for exactly how big a difference it would be. To be blunt, London in the Middle Ages stank to high heaven. The streets were filled to overflowing with excrement, and people routinely dumped rotting food and animal entrails out in the open to fester. In some places, this foul mixture was so deep the streets were effectively impassable.
Things were no better by the river. Butchers threw rotting meat into the Thames, and blood was left to congeal on the banks in the sun. By the 14th century, the stench was so great the king was forced to ban the slaughtering of animals inside the city. To top it all off, tanneries were working around the clock to boil leather, producing a stench that suffocated the entire city.
7.Renaissance Europe Was Crawling With Syphilis
The words "Renaissance Florence" evoke images of absurdly dressed men wandering around pristine cities, solving great mysteries, and inventing the scientific method. What they don't evoke are images of syphilitic beggars writhing in agony in the streets, their faces falling apart before onlookers' eyes. Yet, that's exactly what Michelangelo or Da Vinci could expect to see strolling through town.
In 1495, a group of French soldiers returning from the New World had brought with them an unexpected treat. Known today as syphilis, the disease was the Renaissance equivalent of the AIDS pandemic but even scarier. The symptoms were terrifying. Weeping pustules would explode across people's faces, hair would fall out and—in the worst cases—the flesh would be eaten away right down to the bone. And since there were no hospitals or care homes to speak of, those that caught the dreaded "French disease" were left to suffer out in the open. As a result, Renaissance society was caught in a state of permanent panic about the grotesque effects of fornication. Contemporary accounts are filled with a paralyzing dread at the thought of becoming infected, and woodcuts display horrific examples of the disease. The whole of Europe was either afraid, infected, or both.
6.Ancient Greek Wine Was Really Disgusting
Wine was a big deal in ancient Greece. People wrote poems to the stuff, they had their own god of wine, and Homer even used it as a metaphor to describe everything from animals to the ocean. So, the first thing you'd do in ancient Athens is sample this wonderful drink, right? Only if you wanted to completely destroy your taste buds. Ancient wine was disgusting.
The trouble was no one had yet figured out how to preserve wine for long periods, and ancient vintners tried all sorts of bizarre tricks. It wasn't unusual to find resin or marble dust added to wine at the vineyard, with salt and lead being two other favorites. Some simply gave up fighting nature, and they left their wines outside to oxidize until they were bursting with bacteria. As a result, wine was usually either a thick, tar-like substance we would consider undrinkable or a glass of bug-infested vinegar. Bad as all this is, it got even worse when it came time to drink the wine. Ancient Greeks would frequently cut their wine with seawater to make it more "palatable."