That Thing That Happened in Erfurt

The content below is from Episode 86 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast

I purposefully made this episode’s title super non-descriptive on purpose. I want to see if you Who’d a Thunkers can guess what happened in Erfurt.

Recommendation Segment

  • Shannon recorded this week’s recommendation segment so that means it is only available on the audio version. Click the link above to listen.


File:Peterskloster.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Artist Postcard Erfurt in Thüringen, Peterskloster in |
  • In July 1184, Henry VI also known as King Heinrich part of the Hohenstaufen dynasty was King of Germany (later Holy Roman Emperor). He held court at a Hoftag in the Petersberg Citadel in Erfurt.
    • On the morning of 26 July, King Heinrich called a bunch of noblemen to join him at this big old Monestary. He was attempting to squash some beef (a term I love to hate).
      • Side note: In case you’ve never heard that phrase: The rest of the world seems to associate “Squash the Beef” or “Squashing Beef” as a fun term used for ‘settling disputes’ or ‘resolving conflicts.’ But personally, I’ve always sort of hated the term because it puts a very distinct image in my mind. But we will cirlce back to that later.
Henry VI Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily - Best of Sicily  Magazine
King Heinrich VI, Holy Roman Emporer
  • I said I want you to try and guess what happened in Erfurt Germany on that day so I’ll try and paint a picture for you:
  • Let us examine the setting of this tale!
    • The German city of Erfurt has existed since the 8th century, and it was formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire. The legendary Petersberg Citadel is deeply intertwined with the history of the city.
    • Among the structures that survived the citadel’s early period was the St. Peter’s Church. By the 1100’s it was already very old.
  • Now, Let us explore the characters shall we?
    • You see, back in the 1100’s Monarchy was all the rage. It meant the king was the divine ruler chosen by God to rule over his or her kingdom as they saw fit.
    • But by now human society was getting pretty good at trading and doing businessy stuff that some non-royal noblemen could weild quite a lot of power. Of course the royals and heads of church tend to become quite jealous of this non-divine power.
      • In this particular part of the world during these “middle ages” a conflict erupted between Conrad of Wittelsbach, who was the Archbishop of Mainz (also known as Conrad I), and Ludwig III, the Landgrave of Thuringia.
      • What were they fighting about? No body knows, but it was most likely money… or land… or overall power.
    • Our good ol’ King Heinrich VI wanted to settle the conflict between the two men once and for all. As he made his way through the territory, he called for a meeting involving a number of the region’s nobles and high-ranking officials. Some may have been expected to act as mediators during the negotiations.
      • How many nobles did King Heinrich call upon that day? No idea. That number is but a detail lost to history it seems. But it is safe to say that at least 100 people gathered there.
        • Fun fact: historians can’t even agree this meeting was held at St. Peter’s Church. But to move this episode along we are going to say that it was.
  • Now we’ve got over 100 persnickity noble guys gathered at a church all with the same goal of squashing some noblemen level beef.
    • They were on the 3rd floor of this old monestary gathered upon its old wooden floors, huge dusty wooden support beams above their heads. King Heinrich is seated upon the windowsill… he is the only one to do so.
      • Can you guess what happens next? I’ll give you a few seconds to think.
      • ===play 96 west===
    • The combined weight of the assembled nobles caused the wooden second story floor of the Peterskirche to collapse and most of them fell through into the latrine cesspit below the ground floor, where about 60 of them drowned in liquid excrement. This event is called Erfurter Latrinensturz or the Erfurt Latrine Disaster.
      • … did you guess that? Did you guess they fell through the floor in to a giant shit pit?
      • King Heinrich the VI was one of the only survivors of the incident as he was sitting on a window sill when the floor collapsed. Because the window relied on the stone walls for support and not the floor, he didn’t fall stories down in to an old mideival poop pit and drown.
The Medieval Toilet And How Bathrooms Worked In The Middle Ages
  • The old monestary’s support beams had become rotten and were not equip with supporting this many nobles.
    • Some historians believe that King Heinrich the VI was behind this disaster, but that is all but impossible to prove now.
    • Plus, it wasn’t like King Heinrich was the only to survive. There was an Archbishop present who survived by clinging to a metal railing attached to the wall. He and a few other guests clung for dear life until rescue came.
  • At first this drowning to poop sounds funny. I’ll admit I laughed when I first saw the history meme on reddit. But when you stop to think about it, you realize this kind of death is pure nightmare fuel.
    • You see medieval plumbing was quite crude.
      • While people such as myself (middle class that is) would simply make do with a bucket or “close stool” that was emptied in to the local stream daily, the castle fold did it a bit differently.
      • If you were inside your local castle during medieval times you sat on a stone or wooden board with a hole in it, and the poo (or gong as it was called) dropped through. In castles, loos (also called gongs) were often made to overhang an outside wall, and the poo fell either into the moat (if there was one), into a pit outside the wall or just onto the ground.
    • These people just shit in to a hole that lead to a shaft that usually emptied in to a pit… a big dark pit in the ground meant to do 1 thing… hold human shit.
      • This pit wasn’t drained like modern sewer systems and it wasn’t emptied like septic tanks today.
      • Once that pit was full or over flowing they’d just top it off with some soil and dig another pit. … how splendid.
      • And these shit pits were quite deep. So you know if someone where to fall in to one such pit… a pit that had been built for one of the largest Citadels in the area and had been around for hundreds of years it makes sense why so many drowned.
    • Can you imagine going to an office meeting to try and do business and all the sudden the floor gives out. You plunge 2 or 3 stories down (all the while floor beams and rock rubble is raining down next to your falling body). Only to land in a very deep and dark pit full of ancient shit. No… you can’t imagine that. No one can imagine a pit full of hundreds of years of shit.
    • The 60 or so who drowned in the human waste died on the spot, but there were plenty of noblemen who died from infections contracted by human shit and piss getting in to various orifices that day.
      • All while King Heinrich was sitting, now stories above this carnage, on a windowsill safe as could be.
  • King Heinrich’s goal was to settle a dispute that had arisen in his kingdom.
    • And although this conflict wasn’t resolved the way most conflicts are resolved. The Erfurt Latrine Disaster caused the death of pretty much everyone involved so… the “beef was squashed” (a term I hope at least some of you now associate with dozens of people drowning in a giant cesspit).
  • After the Erfurt Latrine Disaster, King Heinrich the VI went on to conquer Poland and become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
    • So at least things worked out for him. Nice ending… nice little cherry on top of the shit pit sundea for ya!
      • =–=whomp=–=
  • So this episode was about poop. And next week’s episode will also be about poop.
    • But instead of a historical tale I will be answering a questions that has plagued my mind since I was about 2 years old: where does our poop go?
    • I’ll be typing it up in advance since I will be away on vacation in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon hunting black bear and yugging beers with my dad and his old buddies.
  • Thanks for listening Who’d a Thunkers!
    • Until next week.