4 Stupid Life-Threatening Dangers Old-Timey People Had To Deal With
There were all kinds of ways the past could kill you: Plague, famine, a sip of water, etc. However, some common historical dangers were so stupid that even whoever they had instead of a properly licensed coroner back then had to chuckle a little ...
Ancient Rome's Flamethrowing Toilets
It took a surprisingly long time for humanity to figure out how to drop a deuce in the privacy of their own home without living on top of a literal pile of crap. Even after indoor plumbing worked its way into Victorian homes, using a toilet was still a throw of the flaming turd dice for the same reason it was in Ancient Rome: They hadn't yet learned how to seal off the sewer below.
Instead, Ancient Roman homes contained "cesspit toilets" (seriously, that's what they were called) situated over an all-too-unmetaphorical dumping ground beneath the house, which they cleaned out about once a year to fertilize their gardens. Believe it or not, this was the most preferable option. God help you if you had to use a public toilet.
It's not that Ancient Rome didn't have a sewer system; it was just used more for water management than waste. The public toilets were connected to these sewers, which were little more than gas factories that ignited if you so much as looked at them funny. As a result, you never knew if flames were going to shoot out of a public toilet at the worst possible moment and teach you the true meaning of burning diarrhea. That was the worst-case scenario, but it wasn't the only hazard, either. Rodents living in the sewers could also climb freely up through the toilets, mostly just to get from one place to the other but also to nibble your ballsack, should the opportunity present itself. There was even a legend of a giant octopus that climbed out of one family's toilet in the night and ate all their pickled fish. That probably didn't happen, but in a world where toilets can belch hellfire directly into your asshole, anything is possible.
Your Shirt Collar Could Choke You
Living in Europe in the 19th century meant enduring all kinds of dangerously dumb clothes like corsets and big honkin' skirts, but those mostly affected women, so no one cared. But while those might just strangle your organs over a number of years or indirectly kill you in a fire because you stood a mere three feet from the hearth, men's shirt collars could choke them as well as any of the serial killers that period thrillers have led us to believe were absolutely rampant in the region.
It all started with the advent of the detachable collar, which was awesome because it meant you could just wash your collar instead of the whole shirt (armpit sweat was apparently invented by hippies), but the custom was to starch them until they could crack. That meant they could easily cut off the blood flow to the neck if you leaned your head wrong.
That's usually an easy enough problem to fix, i.e., don't do that. But life in the 19th century was fairly miserable, which meant everyone was super drunk all the time. All too often, men would get hammered, pass out at a bad angle, and die not from alcohol poisoning but suffocation by fashion accessory. It was such a problem that the collars were known as "father killers" in Germany, either because childless men were less likely to have a wife to starch their collars or just had less reason to drink.
Pole Vaulting As Transportation
Clearing great heights and traversing large distances by the power of big sticks is squarely the realm of burly athletes in the modern era, but it didn't become a sport until the 1770s. Before that, it was just a practical method of getting over enemy obstacles or crossing a river if the nearest bridge was too far. The river vaulting seems to have begun in the Netherlands, but eventually, people all over Europe were keeping big sticks on the banks of their local waterways to mark the places where they should really just put a bridge already. Think of it as the ancient version of jaywalking, if you had to fling yourself into the air to do it, and the street was actually a turbulent pit of aquatic doom. But hey, it's better than walking a little farther, right?
It was that attitude that ended with a fair share of broken bones or even worse. Believe it or not, ancient Europe didn't keep great records of just how many people died in the course of catapulting themselves to town, but given how dangerous pole vaulting is today in the controlled environment of athletic competitions, you can bet it was more than a few. We do know that it was responsible for at least two deaths in Tudor England, both when the victims' sticks snapped in the middle, plunging them to watery graves. A real shame, because you can't write "Here lies Dickensworth Hertfordingtonshire, he was too lazy to find a bridge" on liquid.
Fighting Your Lord's Stupid Wars
Remember on Game of Thrones, when the lords of various regions were constantly fretting over whether the men they ruled would support their latest military campaign? Yeah, that wasn't really a thing in the Middle Ages. There was no room for negotiation or grudges over your brother who died in the last pointless skirmish; if your lord declared war, you were fighting. End of story. It was almost never over anything so noble as hostages or birthright, either. Often, the big cheese just decided he wanted some land and sent you over there to get it for him. You never knew when or where it would happen, so there was never any time to prepare. You just had to be constantly ready to go out and die because some dude you don't even know threw a hissy fit over river access.
There was one thing prestige drama did get right: If you were a peasant, there was basically no way of moving up in society except by proving yourself on the battlefield, so there was immense pressure on all able-bodied men to literally fight for their families. That was pretty hard, though, because unless you were already a rich kid, you didn't have access to the kind of training and equipment usually necessary to become a truly great warrior. You just had to come out swinging and hope for the best. It was one of the few things 50 Cent has in common with the average medieval peasant: They both got rich or died trying.
Top image: Charlie Huang/Wikimedia Commons