Have you ever wondered how the ancient Hellenes took care of the mess after going number two? Me neither, until I found out. If you're eating breakfast right now, you might want to hold off on reading today's post. You have been warned.

Before the age of toilet paper, people still ate and thus they went number two on a regular basis. In fact, it wasn't until 6th century AD China, when wealthy individuals started using regular paper for sanitary purposes, toilet paper came into use. The first known reference to toilet paper in the West does not appear until the 16th century, when satirist François Rabelais mentions that 'it doesn’t work particularly well at its assigned task'.

So what about the ancient Hellenes? Most commonly, they seem to have made use of rounded fragments of ceramic known as ‘pessoi’, meaning 'pebbles'. In an achaeological dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2 to 4 inches in diameter and 0.2 to 0.8 inches thick which seemed to be re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimize trauma when used. As you can see, some effort went into making these tools and there seems to be a Greek axiom about frugality on the use of pessoi and their purpose stating: 'Three stones are enough to wipe'.

Some pessoi may have originated as ostraca (ὄστρακα), pieces of broken ceramic on which the Greeks of old inscribed the names of people who should be ostracized from the city for appearing to be a danger to it. During an ostracism (ostrakismos, ὀστρακισμός) each member of the ekklesia would choose a politician they wished to have 'ostracized', or exiled for ten years. If any one name received a majority and a total of 6,000 or more votes, that man would have to leave. Ostracism was often used preemptively, as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. As such, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice; there was no charge or defense, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the people that one of their number be gone for ten years.

Using shards of a hard substance to clean, no matter how polished they were, had obvious medical risks. Long term use of pessoi could have resulted in local irritation, skin or mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids. Yikes! Think of this next time you're longing to go back in time to ancient Hellas!