Intestinal parasites from the 2nd-5th century AD latrine in the Roman Baths at Sagalassos (Turkey)

Int J Paleopathol. 2017 Dec;19:37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2017.09.002. Epub 2017 Oct 2.

Abstract

The aim of this research was to determine the species of intestinal parasite present in a Roman Imperial period population in Asia Minor, and to use this information to improve our understanding of health in the eastern Mediterranean region in Roman times. We analyzed five samples from the latrines of the Roman bath complex at Sagalassos, Turkey. Fecal biomarker analysis using 5β-stanols has indicated the feces were of human origin. The eggs of roundworm (Ascaris) were identified in all five samples using microscopy, and the cysts of the protozoan Giardia duodenalis (which causes dysentery) were identified multiple times in one sample using ELISA. The positive G. duodenalis result at Sagalassos is particularly important as it represents the earliest reliable evidence for this parasite in the Old World (i.e. outside the Americas). As both these species of parasite are spread through the contamination of food and water by fecal material, their presence implies that Roman sanitation technologies such as latrines and public baths did not break the cycle of reinfection in this population. We then discuss the evidence for roundworm in the writings of the Roman physician Galen, who came from Pergamon, another town in western Asia Minor.

Keywords: Ascaris; Dysentery; Galen of Pergamon; Giardia duodenalis; Palaeoparasitology; Roundworm.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascariasis / history
  • Ascariasis / parasitology
  • Ascaris / isolation & purification
  • Balneology / history*
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Giardia lamblia / isolation & purification
  • Giardiasis / history
  • Giardiasis / parasitology
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / history*
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / parasitology*
  • Intestinal Diseases, Parasitic / pathology
  • Paleopathology / methods*
  • Parasites / classification
  • Parasites / isolation & purification*
  • Parasitology / methods*
  • Roman World / history*
  • Toilet Facilities / history*
  • Turkey