40 Details From The Past That Are Making Us Cringe Hard

40 Details From The Past That Are Making Us Cringe Hard

Nothing makes you appreciate the 21st century more than hearing about the 20 centuries before it. Prior to the invention of modern comforts, humans were constantly exposing themselves to disgusting practices and situations. These details from the past will leave much more than a bad taste in your mouth.

40. Bleeding Genitals

Ancient Egyptians didn’t realize that the Nile River was full of deadly parasites. Men were bleeding from their penises at such a consistent rate that people thought it was all a part of growing up, much like women getting their periods. Except, you know, with a lot more pain and death.

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39. Animal Tooth Dentures

It’s easy to complain about the dentist now, but you wouldn’t if you saw what they used to do to patients. If you needed new teeth, a dentist would simply install dog or goat teeth. Having pointy teeth sounds awesome… until the infection kicks in.

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38. Public Castration

Ancient men who praised the Greek goddess Cybele wanted to be like her partner, a eunuch. As such, they would hold public ceremonies to showcase the removal of their genitals using scissors (not to mention zero pain medication). Cringe doesn’t even come close.

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37. Rat Toilets

Sure, plumbing was a great invention for human kind. But one side effect of an open pipe leading to your bathroom toilet: unwanted visitors. City dwellers were literally getting bitten in the groin by rats who crawled to the surface, forcing the installation of “rat blockers” in every piping system.

Kseniia Glazkova/Getty

36. River Sacking

Ancient Romans were good at combining punishment with god worship. They’d throw criminals into leather sacks with wild animals, such as snakes or rabid dogs, and then toss the sacks into the river. This was said to appease the gods, who apparently loved a good, violent execution.

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35. Bone Flutes

Over 1,500 years ago, yogis in India would use the leg bones of the dead to create instruments, many of which still exist today. The kangling, aka “bone flute,” is made of tibia or femur, resulting in a truly bone-chilling sound.

Tomatenpflanze/Wikimedia Commons

34. Public Cannibalism

During The Siege of Leningrad, over a million Russian citizens were killed. To survive these hellish times, many were forced to eat whatever they could find… even one another. Parents fed their youngest children to their oldest ones, who lived in fear of being captured by a local cannibals themselves.

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33. Horse Poop

Imagine if every car needed a bathroom break. Back when people were primarily traveling by horse, cities filled up fast with horse feces and, unfortunately, horse corpses. New York alone dealt with 100,000 tons of poop and 10 million gallons of urine — everyone was basically swimming in waste.

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32. Used Bathwater

Think having to use the bathroom after your messy roommate is bad? Try having to use the same bath water as your entire family. This was the case across most of the world, since running water didn’t come about until the late 1800s. We think we need a shower.

Duncan Creamer/FlickRiver

31. Tied Up Junk

During the original olympic games of ancient Greece, athletes were free to saunter around naked. However, to prevent, erm… unwanted stimulation while on the field, men would have their foreskin tied shut. This tie was known as a kynodesme, aka a “dog leash.” Let the games begin!

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30. Pregnancy Wheat Pee

Surprisingly, this strange pregnancy test from ancient Egypt actually worked. A woman would pee on a bag of wheat seeds and, if the seeds sprouted, she would be declared pregnant. That’s one way to fertilize a farm.

Photo by Burstein Collection/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

29. Smoke Up Your Ass

We swear we’re not blowing smoke up your you-know-where with this one. Both Mayans and Europeans filled peoples’ butts with drug and tobacco smoke for spiritual purification and medical remedies. Since neither worked, the phrase “blow it up your ass” came to be.

Wikimedia Commons

28. Night Soils

Whose job is it to take out the night soils? Back before toilets, households would relieve themselves into bowls that were then taken to the river for dumping. Needless to say, it was everyone’s least-favorite chore.

Photo by Juliette Lasserre/BIPs/Getty Images

27. Gong Farming

Someone had to handle everyone’s poop before plumbing was invented. That person was the gong farmer, who cleaned up pits of excrement with just a shovel and bucket. Many gong farmers contracted deadly diseases, with some even drowning in the murky depths. What a way to go.

The York Press

26. Tangena Vomit Trials

Tangena was a method of justice performed by the Malagasy people of Madagascar. Accused criminals would drink poison and wash it down with three pieces of chicken skin. To be declared innocent, they’d need to vomit up all three pieces. The process was responsible for killing one-fifth of the population.

Sebastian Condrea/Getty

25. Testicle Transplants

If you can’t grow some balls, install them. One French doctor believed that giving a patient the testicles of an executed criminal would give them strength. When he ran out of criminals, the doctor switched to monkey balls. Same thing, right?


24. The Big Stink

There’s nothing that stinks up the history books quite like London’s Big Stink of 1858. The River Thames was filled with excrement, which only got more pungent as the city faced a record-breaking heatwave. Parliament was forced to move further up the river, finally convincing them to develop plumbing.

Wikimedia Commons

23. Butt Splinters

Toilet paper as we know it has been perfected over the last 100 years. But before this, humans resorted to all sorts of butt-wiping alternatives, such as sea sponges, wooden sticks, and even shards of broken pottery (usually inscribed with the names of their enemies).

D. Herdemerten/Wikipedia

22. Execution Plays

Why even go to the theater if there aren’t any epic deaths? Ancient Romans would perform plays that ended with the execution of an actual person, usually a convicted criminal. If the execution didn’t work, they’d bring in a bear to finish the job. Talk about a finale!


21. Fake Hymens

In some cultures, women were expected to be virgins for their new husbands. To ensure the presence of blood, women would stick fish bladders or bird intestines up their you-know-whats, simulating a broken hymen. That, or a serious internal condition.

Peter van der Sluijs/Wikimedia Commons

20. What’s That Smell?

Castles were smelly. With a general lack of running water and extreme difficulty in obtaining it, most servants and other lower-class residents couldn’t clean themselves. And the types of toilets they used definitely didn’t help.

Sergey Novikov

19. The Porcelain Throne

Toilets weren’t fancy. When you needed to go, you’d likely have to do it on a wooden bench with a little hole in it. Your waste would fall into a vast poo pit or straight into a moat. Outside the bathroom, life wasn’t much better.

18. HGTV’s Best Tips

When you were using this gross, dirty toilet, you probably wouldn’t have any privacy either. Castle makers followed the HGTV network’s sage advice and went with an open floor-plan. Unless you were a noble, you probably didn’t have a room to call your own.

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17. Crowded Hallways

Generally, more than 100 people would live in a castle, meaning you’d never feel alone. There was so much square footage that needed to be maintained, so royalty required an enormous staff for upkeep.

The Paston Treasure, unknown artist, Dutch School

16. Delegation

The high-ranking officials were responsible for managing the politics and land protection and delegated all cleaning and cooking work to their staff. Anyone who lived in the castle had some kind of job, even the royals.

Hans / Flickr

15. Job Opportunities

There were five different types of careers in a medieval establishment: if you were upper-class, you could choose nobility, the clergy, or just being a royal. Lower classes were merchants, craft-makers, and laborers. Who do you think had to rise with the sun?

14. Small Windows

It was critical that people in castles started their day with the sun because so little of it found its way inside the walls. This meant all the indoor servants had a small window of time to get their work done.


13. Drink Up!

Castle life may have been lousy, but at least there was always liquor around. Water was still teeming with bacteria and other waste, making it dangerous to safely consume. So, people got drunk for their health, in a way.

Photo by POOL/ Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images

12. Party Time (Sort Of)

A big part of castle life revolved around preparing for feasts and parties. These were a massive to-do and it took the entire staff working diligently to properly prepare for them. The lame part? Servants wouldn’t even get to eat the fancy food they were making.

11. Family Dinners

In the dining hall, people sat based on their royal status. The king and queen would sit at the head, while the rest of their court filed in around them. They were also served the food first, which might have been cold by the time they got to eat it.

United Artists

10. Time for Church

Within the filth, you could attend church. Even though your body wasn’t clean, your spirit was, we guess. If religion was your thing, you wouldn’t have to leave the compound to worship. Still, you should probably bring something to cover your nose.

9. If You’re Having Rat Problems…

If you have musophobia, stay out of medieval-era castles. They were filled with rats because warmth, food (any kind of food), and open water sources are only a few of the many things that draw rats inside. Castles really are the perfect ratly environment.

8. Cats And Dogs

And like everything else in a castle, floors were extremely dirty. Cats and dogs were given free reign and used the space as a massive toilet. To cover this smell, servants threw fragrant herbs on the ground. It was a crunchy, poopy mess. Getting clean was tough.

7. Bath Routine

If someone wanted to take a bath, it would be in a portable wooden tub. The tub would be moved from one room to the next for people to use. Was there privacy? No. Was it hygienic? Also no. But, it was available.


6. No Tinder

Not that there was a ton of opportunity in all that open space, but you weren’t allowed to copulate with your spouse unless you were planning for a child. Even admitting to having sexual thoughts about them was a sin and could be punished.


5. Send Them To The Rack

Torturing prisoners wasn’t just something created to spice up TV shows. Whenever a ruler was feeling feisty, they could order prisoners who were in the dungeons to be terribly punished.


4. Creativity

Many prisoners were captured due to conflicting political beliefs, making this treatment even more heinous. One particular method involved capturing rats in a basket, tying it to a helplessly bound person, and then letting the rats eat their way out. Fun! 

3. Where’s The Thermostat?

There’s a reason castles are known for fireplaces — they were dark, cold structures. The windows were high and narrow, to help defend the castle against archers and the stone walls themselves didn’t hold heat. So, bundle up if you’re planning to sleep over in one.

2. Kitchen Fires

To add to this, kitchens commonly caught on fire. For some reason, they were made of wood and the food was being cooked over huge flames. You do the math. Eventually builders changed to stone.

Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1. Help From The Stairways

Stairways in castles were always clockwise. This helped defend against right-handed swordsmen who would have their blows blocked by the stone walls. Defenders in the castle had the advantage.