Hollywood is good at making the past look like a brutal, violent place -- every medieval adventure features several hundred dudes getting stabbed -- but it also makes it look kind of awesome. The cast of Gladiator and Braveheart appear to live noble, meaningful lives, and there's a reason that nerds like to gather in the park dressed like knights and maidens. It's like the world back then was more real. None of this cubicle bullshit.
But you can actually make yourself feel a whole lot better about your life today merely by reminding yourself of a few key things. For instance, just a few centuries ago ...
5Pooping Was A Never-Ending Horror Show
What's the worst thing you've ever found in a toilet? An errant turd on the seat? A giant spider? Open flames?
What, no open flames? Congratulations! You didn't have to endure the horrors of a Roman toilet. They were damp and awful stone closets that opened directly into horrid cloacas that were teeming with the kind of life that enjoys poop-rivers (and is not averse to taking an occasional bite out of a succulent ass cheek, should one position itself conveniently).
The average Roman had three assholes.
Also, your butt might literally catch fire, what with rampant methane fumes that could very well result in flames erupting over your delicate taint. The Romans scribbled magical incantations on the walls of lavatories to keep the ass demons they blamed this all on at bay, and some bathrooms featured the image of Fortuna, the goddess of luck, to reflect the crapshoot nature of ancient crapping. And then the Middle Ages came along, and things got much worse.
As medieval populations grew and people began living in closer and closer quarters, dealing with all the inevitable excrement started to become a huge problem. Because medieval folks were equipped with the same noses as we are and, as such, weren't too fond of spending their lives as Acting Mayors of their personal Poopville, this sometimes led to some fairly inspired tinkering. For instance, people dug cesspits in their backyards, which often spilled over into neighbors' properties and caused a nightmare for the era's court system. An Englishwoman named Alice Wade managed to MacGyver together a wooden pipe system that ran underneath several of her neighbors' houses and dumped her droppings into a street. This was pretty ingenious unless you a) used the street, like, ever, or b) were one of the aforementioned neighbors when the pipe inevitably clogged and started stinking up the entire area.
Of course, there were also those who didn't even bother with cesspits or makeshift plumbing systems. Some people would drop anchor wherever they happened to be standing -- even inside a building. The floors were rarely (if ever) cleaned, so feces, garbage and other delights would accumulate en masse; a scholar described the floors as "harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned." The solution to get rid of this horror cocktail was to simply add new layers of rushes to cover up the filth on the floor, eventually creating a layered floor material not unlike devil's own lasagna.
On paper, castles fared somewhat better than plebeian bungalows, because they often featured sewers that ran underneath the wooden floorboards of the privy. The only flaw in this design was that wood tends to rot, and a river of liquid bacteria directly underneath the floorboards doesn't exactly stall the process. There are accounts of people plunging through the floor and drowning in the pits of liquid shit underneath.
Patryk Kosmider/iStock/Getty Images
"Hey, has anyone seen Lars? He was just- oh ... crap."
This was made all the worse by the fact that if you lived in medieval times, you were going to spend a whole lot of time in the toilet. Back in those days, the mechanisms that caused diseases were mostly unknown, and the attempts of keeping waste water and drinkable water separate generally consisted of a quick "Oh God, please don't let there be an actual turd in it this time" before filling the bucket. As such, people tended to have either the runs or massive constipation (brought upon by deliberately avoiding water) a lot of the time. Medieval bowels were so obstructed that there are stories and paintings from the era devoted to describing this peculiar plight.
It was either bribing the poop with sonnets or going to a medieval doctor.
4Even A Minor Disfigurement Could Turn You Into An Outcast
Did you have acne as a teenager? Maybe someone in your family has psoriasis? If so, you're just a few centuries away from a life as a deformed outcast, Ephialtes-from-300 style. No matter what Game Of Thrones and Vikings tell you, maintaining healthy-looking skin is something that requires a shitload of modern knowledge. Even today, our organ sacks can develop plenty of spots, blemishes, and other unsightly features, but at least we can treat them fairly well with creams or, if it comes to that, plastic surgery. Not so much back in the day. If our ancestor caught a condition that even temporarily orc-ified them -- boom! Instant social outcast!
"I block and unfriend thee!"
Take psoriasis. It's a relatively simply treated skin condition that we don't give much thought today, but in the past it could be a death sentence. The thick, scaly patches of skin that come with the disease were often misattributed to leprosy. This automatically put you in a world of hurt, as lepers were forcibly isolated from the rest of society and made to live as pariahs, wearing bells around their necks to warn of their arrival ... assuming they let you live at all -- 14th-century France, for instance, was fond of executing people with bad skin.
And then there was syphilis. A particularly nasty disease that rotted the flesh (of the nose in particular) and made you smell like death, syphilis spread so fast over the continents that it must have seemed like a biblical plague. It carried the double-whammy of both contracting through sexual intercourse and sharing certain symptoms with fun diseases such as leprosy, so if you screwed around, there was always a chance you could (again) wind up a total social pariah with a reputation for debauchery, no nose, and severely deformed features. At that point, your only option was to wear a ninja mask or get a 16th-century surgical treatment that involved grafting a new nose with muscle from your arm, and hoping like hell neither the nose or the arm fell off.
London Wellcome Collection
Or you could wear this convincing appliance.