Ah, history: the horror uterus that birthed things that will haunt the collective consciousness for generations to come. Upon reflection of our ancestors, we often come to the eloquent question: what the goddamn flipping fuck was wrong with these people?! I mean, we have some pretty disgusting jobs today, but these professions from history take the blood-caked cake. From spritely body snatchers to battleground teeth scavengers, this is WTF history: gruesome jobs.
Since we’re talking about effed up history, you can expect that we will be heavily invested in the Victorian era. Why? Well, because the Victorian era is terrifying – just plain terrifying. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the professionals known as the resurrectionists or resurrection men.
Although the job title alludes to a powerful deity or wizard that can bring back the dead, the truth is a little less jubilatory and a lot more nefarious. There was a little law enacted in the 18th century which only allowed criminals that were condemned to death to be used as medical/anatomical cadavers. And, until the 19th century, the dead dude (or dead woman, child, and dude) business was good, especially considering that there were over 200 offenses that could lead you to the gallows by the end of the 18th century. Upon further analysis, it may get weird, but my favorite punishable offense by death was: being out at night with a blackened face.
The more than 200 crimes that can release you from your mortal coil were collectively known as the Bloody Code (wow, they weren’t at all bashful about naming it, huh? I’m actually a little shocked). Thankfully, rich people realized that protecting their property via harsh punishment (see: death) wasn’t the most ethical thing to do and, therefore, reformed the law in the 19th century, but this created a medical cadaver vacuum, if you will, and this is where the resurrectionists came in.
Although it was illegal to tamper with a dead body, the infraction was only punishable with a fine, making it a low risk to the high rewards of selling cadavers to the numerous (I should also mention unlicensed) medical schools that were founded during that time. On top of that, the body snatcher would benefit from personal items left on the body, and they could even source teeth for dentures which also brought a pretty penny. Oh, speaking of dentures…
2. Battleground Teeth Scavenger
If you are unfamiliar with the Battle of Waterloo, it was Napoleon Bonaparte’s, well, Waterloo. The battle saw many deaths and causalities; a devastating 42,000 dead and maimed on both sides. Which is great! At least for the people that made dentures from what are known as Waterloo teeth, teeth of fallen and dying soldiers following a battle (which, apparently, there were a lot of back then) and were all the rage amongst the nobility and elite of Europe at the time.
Sure, you could go with the conventional precious metal, ivory, or bone variations, but how cool would it be to say, “My teeth have been in battle”? Quite the conversation starter for those awkward Victorian banquets. So, if you dealt in Waterloo teeth, you would venture out to the bloody battlefield, scattered with body parts and the dying, pliers in hand, and pull out the teeth of said dead and dying. The practice became so prevalent that at some point even soldiers started carrying pliers with them, taking teeth not only from their opponents but their comrades, too.
3. Groom of the Stool
If you’re under the impression that only the poor and destitute did gruesome, disgusting jobs, you’re in for a surprise because noblemen/women sometimes did, too. Although a highly regarded position within the court, the Groom of the Stool was, as the title slightly indicates, the royal ass wiper. Yes, at some point in history, monarchs were so self-involved and jaded that they needed someone to wipe their soiled ass.
So, imagine growing up in the lap of luxury as a noble, studying the classics, being trained in the arts, and then knighted (because if you’re going to be a royal ass wiper, you might as well be inducted into the Order of Knighthood), only to help the King drop trou and then drop a deuce.
The position came with its privileges, though; the Groom of the Stool was more than often the most trusted member of the King’s courts, as he was with the King during his most intimate of times (see: with his ass out in the open). Hilariously, the position would morph from monarch to monarch and even went under the official title of Lord of the Bedchamber at one point.
- So, what do you do?
- Oh, I’m the royal accountant. You?
- I am Lord of the Bedchamber.
4. Roman/Greek Banquet Attendant
Luckily, this profession has evolved into wearing a white, buttoned-down shirt and black bowtie while trying to hock mini quiches to scrunch-nosed socialites. During the Roman (or Hellenistic) era, though, the role involved a lot more bodily fluids than it does today.
Although it has become somewhat of an urban legend, the fact that Romans/Greeks ate until they vomited then resumed eating is inaccurate. Sure, when copious amounts of food and wine are involved, someone is bound to lose their cookies. And, yes, upon the loss of said cookies, you would have to rush to the rich cookie loser and not only capture his/her expulsion but would also have to assist them so they don’t soil their tunics, hair, or any other flowing ancient wardrobe item. Eh, at least you would be able to see these rich, inflated bastards eat roasted mouse thinking it was a delicacy, so it wasn’t all bad.
No, this is not the latest college party drug or en vogue New York cocktail, but rather a Roman dry cleaner. Fullones were a highly respected sect of professionals that kept Romans in brilliantly white tunics. With urine – yes, you read that right. In ancient Rome (and Greece), fullones would gather piss from public bathrooms and use said pee-pee to clean Romans’ white tunics. Sometimes, the demand in big cities (like Rome) for wee-wee was so high that they were forced to import it from surrounding areas. To be fair, a large part of the business was also dyeing and conditioning the tunics, which they used deadly toxic chemicals and minerals to do… which was fine for Ancient Romans that had a propensity for using lead as a sweetener for their wine.
6. Any Type of Medical Professional (Before Anesthesia)
From the earliest moments of organized society, healers have been well-respected and held at high regard. And for a while, things were pretty mellow; they would have people smoke this, drink this, get a little tipsy, and pray to the multi-headed serpent deity to not drink your soul through your thighbone. Then something happened… healers figured out that they can drill into, cut and dissect the body to help with certain ailments, and from then until the invention of anesthesia, it has been a gruesome, bloody viscera-laden profession with screams of pain as the soundtrack and amputations as the best solution for hangnails.
Is there a gruesome WTF historical job that I left out of this list? Let me know in the comments section below!