A job can be as hard or easy as you make it to be, depending on how much you enjoy or are passionate about your work. However, it’s pretty hard to imagine how some people working particularly bizarre jobs through out history thought or felt. Listed below are a couple of odd jobs that caught our eyes ranging from ancient Rome to the Tudor period.
Between the 15th and 16th century, education of the royal youth came as a bit of a predicament for educators. Education has long been enforced through punishment, however the idea of Divine Right of Kings, which stated that kings were appointed by God, and implied that no one but the king was worthy of punishing the king’s son sort of confused tutors.
A solution came up of course, as such whipping boys were appointed – basically another boy studying next to the king’s son would be punished instead of the latter in the eventuality that he would misbehave or simply didn’t do his homework. A whipping boy would be appointed from the nobility, fostered and educated side by side with the king’s son. The implication of this would be that an emotional bond would get built between the two, and as such the royal infant would theoretically then try to behave and study well for the sake of his suffering comrade. In return, it was very common for a whipping boy once an adult to be granted estates or noble titles in return for his services. “No hard feelings, eh?”
No, no, it’s not what you think, far from it, though it does sounds like a really dirty job – we’ll get to something of the sorts in a tad. I’m ghastly, alright. Going back, urinatore actually means “diver” in Latin, and these were practically the first historically attested military amphibious unit. Having a kettle shaped diving bell filled with air for breathing and weighed down with lead weights, these remarkable Romans would have been able to withstand dives 30 meters deep, and sabotage enemy ships from the beneath.
When war wasn’t around, they would get contracted for deep sea dives, like salvaging or construction work. The salvaging part was particularly enticing for them since in that tumultuous period it was very common for galleons to wreck with treasure. It was not unheard of for some urinatores to become very affluent members of the Roman society.
Another one from England of the 1600s. It was pretty common for people to have their dogs following them to processions at church, and you simply can’t have dogs running around though church or make a racket during a ceremony – this is where the dog whipper would come in. Yeah, his only job was to chase dogs around and make sure no canine was in the vicinity of a church.
Benefits included a salary (records of pay exist in many old English churches accounting books), a whip of course, and some who were very good at their job probably would be lucky enough to be granted a slice of land as well, called the dog acre.
As Europe emerged from the dark ages, arts and science blossomed, including of course medicine. High on demand at medical schools was fresh human corpses for study and dissection work, and where there’s demand there’s also a supplier, and these were the body snatchers. Such “professionals” would look for freshly dug graves, excavate towards the front side of the coffin and then gently extricate the cadaver using a rope wrapped around it. During the whole process, the body snatchers would make sure no jewelry or other valuable possessions buried with the corpse went missing or stolen because that would’ve meant felony – remember this was all legal back then. Legal, that is, until everybody else caught on to the fact that the whole act was disturbingly morbid and the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy.
Groom of the Stool
You’d be surprised how a job that’s considered intolerable or degrading today was totally seen as a sign of upper class standing in the past. In the time of Henry VIII’s rule, the Groom of the Stool was tasked with the royal duty of bum-wiping the king’s behind after defecation. The title was awarded to one of the King’s minion’s and, despite its apparent degradable nature, the position ensured a much prized high social stature. Usually Grooms of the Stool were appointed from the ranks of nobleman, usually important members of the court. British kings awarded this job to minions because this way they didn’t have to make the humiliating gesture of bending. For a king to bend in front of a servant was inconceivable.
Continuing further in the realm of shitty jobs, it’s inevitable not to mention Gong Farmers. Basically, they were the Tudor period equivalent of today’s mobile sewage cleaning vehicles, only with a more bare hands approach. It was the gong farmer’s job to empty the privies (a row of holes in a wooden plank over a tank) of private households, and then transport them out of the village or town. Gong farmers were right at the margin of society as far as society back then was considered, constricted to work only during the night and forced to live together in designated areas. Due to the noxious fumes produced by human excrement, coroners’ reports exist of gong farmers dying of asphyxiation. A very shitty job, indeed.
Nowadays there seems to be an organizer for every type of event. There are wedding planners, birthday planners, team-building planners etc., but back in the decadent times of ancient Rome one of the most popular high society events were orgies, and of course you’d have someone to manage them. Orgy planners were responsible for handling every aspect of an orgy, from food, to location, to women/boys, such that everything would be in order for an awesome orgy. Benefits were numerous, as one can imagine, but there were some downsides to it as well. Some people didn’t like orgy planners either because they saw them as too decadent, or because they didn’t get invited, and the practice was even banned at a time. The most famous orgy planner was Gaius Petronius who is most famous for writing the satirical book about Roman debauchery called Satyricon.
Fulling refers to the process of cleansing of cloth (particularly wool) to eliminate oils, dirt, and other impurities, and making it thicker. In Roman times, fulling was conducted by slaves who would be standing ankle deep into urine. No, this was not done as a sick prank posed by rich Romans onto slaves for entertainment, instead a more practical idea was put into place. Urine, back then known in the “industry” as wash, was a source of ammonium salts and assisted in cleansing and whitening of the cloth. By the middle ages, fulling become mores sophisticated as water mills were employed, and the practice centered around the urine factor disappeared. Actually, during its prime time urine was even taxed by the Roman empire.
Ever wondered how people in past managed to wake up at an hour of their convenience in world without alarm clocks? This is were knocker-ups came at the beginning of the industrial age in England in Ireland, who would be seen walking around in the street with a long pole which they used to knock on people’s windows to wake them up. Who knocked the knocker-up, though?
Curse Tablet Scribe
In ancient Greece and Rome, a common practice for the superstitious and hateful was to order a curse tablet for their enemies. The scribe, like a modern day hair dresser, had to listen day in and day out to the people’s complaints and hate for others which he then inscribed on led plates. It was said that the curse tablets would’ve had influential power against the gods. These sheets would then be rolled up, folded, or pierced with nails, after which they would then be moved under ground, placed in graves, or thrown into wells, pools or lakes. Sometimes they were put on temple walls. Like an analogy the treatment done to the material should also be done to the target of the spell.
Well, a clown at a funeral is pretty weird by any standard, but in ancient Rome, however, these kind of entertainers were contracted to dress, mask, and mimic like the dead person. This way, the Romans believed that this would placate the spirits of the dead and bring joy to the living. Actually, it was pretty common during the funeral process to see the clown run all around the coffin together with other clowns in order to make the grieved relatives laugh. Yes, the Romans were really wacky, if you haven’t figured that our yet. As a funeral clown you’d have a lot of benefits, besides mocking the dead. The pay was very good, and famous funeral clowns would get the chance to dance on the grave of the emperor’s himself.
The epitome of dirty old men, the gymnarsiach had a dirty job by definition in the first place. They were responsible with the cleaning, wiping and oiling of athletes after wrestling matches and the gymnasium in general. In ancient Greece, the position of gymnarsiach was highly sought after, suitors being required to be between 30 and 60, and to be part of the elite – getting any where near 10 feet of an Olympic athlete back then was like standing next to a god. Usually gymnarsiachs were very rich. One benefit of the job was that you got to carry a stick with which to beat sullen youths who misbehaved in the gym.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 ZME Science
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