One of the most commonly repeated factoids around the old Romans is the they supposedly brushed their teeth v urine, since urine have the right to be provided to make teeth appear whiter. This factoid is typically presented come elicit feel of shock and also disgust. Because that instance, right here is the advent to an post by Nicholas Sokic titled “WFT: Romans offered pee come whiten teeth,”published top top the website Healthing on 29 January 2020:

“The Romans contributed greatly to world — roads, cement, aqueducts, the postal service — however not all of their innovations lived come the current day, and some deservedly so. Ancient Romans used to usage both human and animal urine as mouthwash in order to whiten your teeth.”

It is true that several ancient Roman and also Greek sourcesdomention the use of urine come whiten teeth. None of these sources, however, portray this as a roman practice. Instead, lock unanimously and consistently portray it together a disgusting and barbarous practice connected with the Celtiberians, a group of Celtic individuals who resided in the main and eastern components of the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, due to the fact that there space no enduring Celtiberian records that check the alleged practice of utilizing urine come whiten teeth, that is unclear how usual this exercise really was, or also whether it was something the the Celtiberians yes, really did in ~ all.

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Catullus top top Egnatius

One of the earliest recommendations to the use of urine come whiten teeth originates from the roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (lived c. 84 – c. 54 BCE). By the time Catullus to be writing, the Celtiberians were largely living under roman inn rule, yet Italian Romans (such as Catullus himself) still related to them together foreign and also barbarous.

Catullus introduce a character in his “Carmen 37” named Egnatius, whom he explains as a Celtiberian. Catullus mocks Egnatius for adhering to Celtiberian customs, which he portrays as barbaric and also disgusting. Chief among these is the usage of urine for whitening teeth. Catullus writes, in present 17–20:

“tu praeter omnes une de capillatis,cuniculosae Celtiberiae fili,Egnati, opaca quem bonum facit barbaet dens Hibera defricatus urina.”

This means, in my own translation:

“You prior to all—one native the long-haired people,son that rabbit-infested Celtiberia,Egnatius, who a shady beard renders goodand teeth scrubbed down through Hibernian urine.”

Catullus devotes the entirety of “Carmen 39” come ruthlessly mocking Egnatius for his smile and his alleged usage of urine as a tooth-whitener. That writes, in currently 17–21:

“nunc Celtiber es: Celtiberia in terra,quod quisque minxit, hoc sibi solet manedentem atque russam defricare gingivam,ut quo iste vester expolitior dens est,hoc dare amplius bibisse praedicet loti.”

This means, in my own translation:

“Now friend space a Celtiberian; in the Celtiberian land,everyone pisses and they space accustomed in the morningto scrub under their teeth and also red gumsso that, as soon as your this is shinier,this only proves that you have actually drunk more urine.”

There are, of course, plenty of problems with using Catullus together a resource in this context. Notably, he was a poet and also his objective was to write satire, not to accurately paper authentic Celtiberian customs. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Catullus ever before personally went to Celtiberia, so his information around Celtiberian practices deserve to only be second-hand. Nonetheless, as we chandelier see, the insurance claim that the Celtiberians washed your teeth v urine is additionally attested in Greek ethnographic sources.


ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of one imaginative contemporary bust the the roman inn poet Catullus, reflecting what the artist imagine Catullus could have looked like. (No one knows what he in reality looked like.)

Diodoros Sikeliotes

Another early source that mentions the Celtiberians utilizing urine to whiten their teeth is the Greek chronicler Diodoros Sikeliotes (lived c. 90 – c. 30 BCE), a longer-lived modern of Catullus. Diodoros defines the Celtiberians as a generally very clean and also respectable people, but, in hisLibrary the History5.33.5, the insists the they have one an extremely bizarre and also disgusting custom. That writes,as interpreted by C. H. Oldfather:

“And a peculiar and also strange practice obtains amongst them: Careful and cleanly together they are in their means of living, they however observe one practice which is low and also partakes of great uncleanness; for they continuously use urine to bathe the body and wash their teeth v it, thinking that in this practice is made up the care and healing that the body.”

Notice the Diodoros states that the Celtiberians not only washed your teeth v urine, but additionally literallybathedin it. This is a new claim the is not discovered in Catullus.


ABOVE: Nineteenth-century fresco illustrating how the artist imagined Diodoros Sikeliotes can have looked. (No one to know what he in reality looked like.)

Strabon the Amaseia

Another contempt later resource that mentions the Celtiberians washing your teeth and also bodies with urine is the Greek geographer Strabon the Amaseia (lived c. 64 BCE – c. 24 CE). Strabon to write the adhering to words in hisGeographika3.4.16,as translated by H. C. Hamilton and also W. Falconer:

“They do not attend to ease or luxury, unless any kind of one considers it can add to the delight of their stays to to wash themselves and their wives in stale urine retained in tanks, and to rinse their teeth with it, i beg your pardon they to speak is the practice both with the Cantabrians and also their neighbours. This practice, as well as that of sleeping on the ground, is usual both among the Iberians and Kelts.”

Put together, the testimonies the Catullus, Diodoros, and also Strabon plainly demonstrate the some people in the roman inn world believed that the Celtiberians provided urine come wash and also whiten your teeth.


ABOVE: Illustration native 1584 by the French engraver André Thevet, depicting how he imagine the geographer Strabon of Amaseia could have looked (No one knows what he in reality looked like.)

Did the Celtiberians actuallydothis?

Unfortunately, while it is clean that numerous Greeks and Romansbelievedthat whitening teeth using urine was a extensive practice among the Celtiberians, the is no clear how common this exercise really was—or, indeed, whether the Celtiberians really engaged in it at all. It’s important to remember the we have no independent check of the exercise of brushing teeth and bathing through urine from any kind of actual Celtiberian source.

Furthermore, although we don’t have any kind of evidence to suggest that Roman civilization in Italy ever before regularly washed their teeth through urine, they were certainly mindful that stale urine can act as a bleaching agent, because Roman fullers did use stale urine to bleach clothes. The is therefore quite possible that part Greek or Roman author may have actually simply consisted of the totality story around Celtiberians washing your teeth and also bodies with stale pee in order to portray them together disgusting and barbarous by acquisition something that the Romans themselves typically only did v clothes and applying it come the body itself.

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Unfortunately, till further proof surfaces, we probably cannot draw any definitive conclusions on this matter.