Weird Taxes

Pissing off the Romans: Vespasian’s Urine Tax

The Romans Taxed Urine

Governments have always found creative ways to collect cash. From the end of this month I am asked to pay the BBC £159.00 for watching television. I’m holding out on this one. Future blogs are likely to be from one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.

Every night, instead of using the bathroom, I piddle in what I call a ‘Champagne’ bottle. Rose, my carer, flushes away the liquid gold without a second thought.

But it wasn’t always like that. In ancient times urine was considered a valuable commodity. Pee contains a wide array of important minerals and chemicals such as phosphorus and potassium and the Romans took advantage of that, believing it would make their teeth whiter and stop them decaying. So, mixed with pumice they produced toothpaste and mouthwash.

Money does not Stink

When entrepreneurial types-think of Branson or Musk-began collecting the waste matter, both Emperors Nero and Vespasian noticed. They levied a tax on the acquisition of wee, which led to the popular Latin phrase Pecunia non oletor, ‘money does not stink’.

Roman Sestertius coin depicting the emperor Vespasian, brass, 71 C.E.

When Vespasian imposed a Urine Tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals in Rome’s great sewer system, the Roman lower classes urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools. The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used in tanning, and also as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten togas. The buyers of the urine paid the tax. It is said that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell . When Titus said “No”, Vespasian replied, “Yet it comes from urine” The phrase ‘Pecunia non olet’  is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

Politics for the People
Roman Communal Latrine as seen on Hadrian’s Wall. Notice the Communal Tersorium

The XYLOSPONGIUM or TERSORIUM

Now, there’s a word that doesn’t trip off the tongue lightly. It is also known as SPONGE ON A STICK and can be seen in the above picture.

The tersorium was shared by people using public latrines. To clean the sponge, they simply washed it in a bucket with water and salt or vinegar.This became a breeding ground for bacteria, causing the spread of disease in the latrine.

Repiica Xylospongium – Wikipedia

Public! toilets consisted of stone or marble slabs with a series of holes in them. There were no dividers and therefore no privacy. People ended up (quite literally) sitting right next to each other and sharing the communal sponge. Imagine the consequences of that in these Covid days! Excuse me – can I have my sponge back?

The Flatulence Tax – An Explosive Non-Fact

I remember two lectures at university. The guy who casually leant on the lectern and said, “Jane Austen didn’t wear knickers,” immediately grabbed my attention. I can’t link this trend to the breaking of wind relevant, but there must be some connection.

Have you ever thought that farts were sexy? James Joyce certainly did! “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere,” the author wrote in December 1909 of his muse, “I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.”

There are a million different ways to discuss farting. Everyone does it, even the most delicate of ladies. Admit it, it’s usually funny.

New Zealand Farmers Raise Stink


The Agricultural emissions research levy (commonly described as a “flatulence tax” or “fart tax”) was a tax proposed in New Zealand, in 2003, to assist with compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. The tax would target the release of methane by farm animals, which, in New Zealand, account for over 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions. Needless to say there was an outcry due to the importance of farming in New Zealand and the Labour government eventually gave up their ridiculous idea to tax cow’s farts.

However, The “fart tax” may rise again under a new name as New Zealand struggles to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

MORE FROM THE BBC

Now to dispel a myth – Despite the proposed levy being dubbed the ‘fart tax‘, more than 90% (or 60%, depending where you seek information) of livestock methane comes from BURPING rather than flatulence. Needless to say there was an outcry due to the importance of farming in New Zealand and the Labour government eventually gave up their ridiculous idea to’ tax cow’s farts’.

* Today’s News-Thursday 15 July 2021*

 Courtesy of Marek Slusarczyk/Alamy

As I said in my opening paragraph. Governments have always found creative ways to collect cash. The news today is, “A UK government-commissioned review has called for the world’s first taxes on sugar and salt going into food production, to break what it calls the “junk food cycle”, and a 30 per cent cut in meat consumption. The levies would increase the cost of a Mars bar, which contains around 30g of sugar, from 65p to 74p …” Most English Newspapers.

Society pushes nutritionally-poor products on to us at rock bottom prices and, for many, that is the only available food option.

Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health

More …

DMND, a coin company, remind me of a silly spelling error I have made in other circumstances. Can you spot the error. We all make mistakes. Fire the proof-reader!

4 thoughts on “Weird Taxes”

  1. I think Pujol would have something to say about a fart tax, John.. After all, he could not perform if there were such a tax.. :lmao: .. Many governments these days are looking for new, ‘creative’ ways to tax us.. Junk food is the latest cause celebre.. I guess that all governments are so short sighted that a look in the mirror to remind them that they are there to serve the people.. not the other way around.

    But thank heavens we do not have the urine tax any more..Oh wait.. we do!!https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/residents/utilities-faq/sewer-rate.html

    Love the story John.. many thanks

    Micheal

    Like

  2. Your “Sponge on a stick” reminds me of Henry VIII’s “Groom of the Stool”…….neither of which I would want to use, or be a part of! LOL….

    Ahhhh the junk food tax. I’d like to say “well then simply don’t buy that crap”, but as alluded to by Christina Marriott, it is sadly far cheaper to eat crappy food then it is to eat healthy food…….extra taxes or not.

    Like

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