A Toilet Fit for a King?

Excavations uncover 2,700-year-old private toilet in Jerusalem

IAA Archaeologist Yaakov Billig next to the finds.
Credit: Yoli Schwartz – Israel Antiquities Authority

While carrying out excavations on a 2,700-year-old palatial estate in Jerusalem, a team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority came across a surprising and rather unusual find: a private toilet. The palace, which overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem, dates to the end of the First Temple Period (c. seventh century B.C.E.) and could have belonged to one of the last kings of Judah. While toilets today are no more than banal household necessities, in antiquity they were markers of wealth, status, and privilege. This was no less true for ancient Judah.

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The toilet, which was found in a private, rectangular-shaped outhouse, was carved out of a block of limestone and placed over a septic tank carved deep into the bedrock. According to excavation director Yaakov Billig, “a private toilet cubicle was very rare in antiquity, and only a few were found to date, most of them in the City of David. In fact, only the rich could afford toilets. A thousand years later, the Mishnah and the Talmud raised various criteria that defined a rich person, and Rabbi Yossi suggested that to be rich is ‘to have the toilet next to his table.’”

Near the outhouse, the team also discovered evidence of a lush garden that included fruit trees, aquatic plants, and ornamental trees. Beautifully carved stone capitals and small columns were discovered as well. Taken together, the finds give a picture of a magnificent palace fit for a king.

Watch Yaakov Billig discuss the finds.
credit: Gil Mezuman, City of David


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Ancient Latrine: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible? by: Robin Ngo

Toilet History Meets Biblical History by: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff


Members, read more in the BAS Library:

Going to the Bathroom at Lachish by: Saar Ganor, Igor Kreimerman


Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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