Little is known about Roman emperor Vespasian’s reign except that he was a highly competent general, winning decisive victories in Britain and Judaea and later during the civil war known as the Year of Four Emperors. He was also the initiator of ambitious building projects such as the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Roman Colosseum.
Vespasian is also known for coining the phrase “Pecunia non olet” (Money does not smell). Namely, before Vespasian’s time, the Romans urinated into pots that were emptied into cesspools. Emperor Nero even introduced a tax on the collection of urine. Vespasian reintroduced the urine tax and, in 74 AD, also introduced public pay urinals, where the waste would be collected and sold as a source of ammonia, which was used for tanning leather and cleaning clothes.
When Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the unsavory nature of the tax, Vespasian is said to have held up a coin and asked him whether he was offended by its smell. When Titus said “No,” Vespasian replied “Yet it comes from urine.” This anecdote is the source of above-mentioned phrase “Pecunia non olet”.
To Vespasian’s credit, his ruthless taxation got the Roman Empire out of debt and left a surplus in the treasury for the mentioned Titus, his successor.
Although public urinals are no longer common in Italy, they are still known as Vespasiani to this day.