Londoners in 1820 LESS artificial light than people living in Pompeii


Romans living in Pompeii in 79AD had more artificial light and were therefore probably happier than London‘s residents in the early 19th-century, a study claims. 

Both groups lived before the Industrial Revolution, and the only nighttime non-natural light in homes came from candles. 

Researchers say access to more artificial light at night would have allowed for extra income, improved education, and led to better mental health and well-being. 

Artificial light levels for an average person in both 1820 London and pre-Vesuvius Pompeii were calculated by scientists.

The analysis revealed Romans had access to around 17 per cent more artificial light than the Georgians. 

This would have most likely resulted in the residents of Pompeii being happier than their counterparts in Britain 1,750 years later, experts say.

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Scientists believe the average Roman living in Pompeii would have had more artificial light than a Londoner in the early 19th century, likely resulting in increased happiness

Scientists believe the average Roman living in Pompeii would have had more artificial light than a Londoner in the early 19th century, likely resulting in increased happiness 

According to researchers who recreated how much artificial light a person would have had access to in both 1820 London and pre-Vesuvius Pompeii, the Romans had around 17 per cent more light than the Georgians

According to researchers who recreated how much artificial light a person would have had access to in both 1820 London and pre-Vesuvius Pompeii, the Romans had around 17 per cent more light than the Georgians

Dr Kai Whiting, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at UCLouvain in Belgium, told MailOnline: ‘Using our model, we estimated that the average Ancient Roman experienced approximately 41,000 lumen-hours/capita/year.

‘This is around 6,000 lumen-hours/capita/year, or 17 per cent, more lighting than their Georgian counterpart. 

‘In fact, it was not until around 1850 (the Industrial Revolution) that London finally caught up with Ancient Rome.’ 

‘Without a doubt, some slaves in Pompeii and Herculaneum would have had more access to lighting than poor Georgian families – which is something we might not think about,’ Dr Whiting adds. 

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Several factors impacted light levels in both societies. Georgians had superior fuels to the Romans due to the advent of wax candles and coal gas, however they were often only available to businesses and the rich. 

Georgians were also subjected to two bizarre taxes which penalised the poor, charging people for having windows in their home and also for the use of candles.    

Those who could not afford to have a window were then extremely reliant on artificial light from candles, but often could not afford them.  

While affluent Georgians living in London in the 1820s had plenty of windows and candles to illuminate their homes, the poor were struck with taxes on windows and candles. The poorest members of society, farmhands etc, often had very little non-natural light in their homes

While affluent Georgians living in London in the 1820s had plenty of windows and candles to illuminate their homes, the poor were struck with taxes on windows and candles. The poorest members of society, farmhands etc, often had very little non-natural light in their homes 

Dr Kai Whiting told MailOnline that the average Ancient Roman experienced approximately 6,000 lumen-hours/capita/year, or 17 per cent, more lighting than their Georgian counterpart. 'In fact, it was not until around 1850 (the Industrial Revolution) that London finally caught up with Ancient Rome,' he said

Dr Kai Whiting told MailOnline that the average Ancient Roman experienced approximately 6,000 lumen-hours/capita/year, or 17 per cent, more lighting than their Georgian counterpart. ‘In fact, it was not until around 1850 (the Industrial Revolution) that London finally caught up with Ancient Rome,’ he said

Dr Whiting said: ‘The Georgians had both a candle tax and a window tax, which meant many people did not have much (if any) natural or artificial lighting at home. 

‘The candle tax was later repealed because British members of parliament were worried about the health effects that perpetual darkness caused to poor people, especially children. 

Winter and darkness can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is brought on by the seasons.   

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The symptoms of the condition are similar to other forms of depression but is more significant in the winter. 

According to the NHS, symptoms of SAD include: 

  • a persistent low mood 
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities 
  • irritability 
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness 
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day 
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight 

SAD’s cause s somewhat of a mystery, with little scientific explanation for why low light levels can cause depression. 

However, the leading theories include disruption to the circadian rhythm as well as issues with production of melatonin and serotonin. 

Melatonin is a hormone that helps bring on sleepiness but the levels can be impacted by SAD. 

Serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep.  

‘Extra light would have allowed poor people to stay at home, educate themselves, enjoy leisure or work. It would have giving them freedom. ‘

As a result of being unable to have candles at home during the evening hours, many people resorted to going to public spaces such as pubs for some form of light.  

‘There is not much a person can do sitting in the dark at home, especially if they have bricked up their window, which would have made it very dark indeed, says Dr Whiting. 

‘The perpetual darkness was known to have a negative effect on mental and physical health. 

‘Having more light would have meant that people could have stayed at home and worked there instead of working in public places, which at night may well have been more dangerous.  

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‘Having the option to stay in instead of being forced to go out would make people happier. 

‘There is a lot to be said when it comes to having more fundamental choices. 

‘Just think COVID and how many people were affected by the feeling of cabin fever!’

One major find of the study was that Georgians had more artificial light at work, but significantly less at home during the night.   

Data for the study on light levels of Georgians was gathered from utility service contracts, legal proceedings, engineering manuals, sales catalogues and building blueprints.

Roman light exposure was gauged from archaeological evidence that exists from the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. 

Georgian light sources were predominantly coal gas, tallow candles, wax candles, and spermaceti candles. 

Romans had inferior tools to the Georgians and light came from olive oil and candles made from animal fat.  

‘The Vesuvius eruption meant that people left many of their belongings (which included clay and bronze lamps) behind,’ Dr Whiting explains.

‘These belongings remained there until the archaeological digs. We therefore know how many lamps were left in households, temples, restaurants, and shops.’ 

The benefit of having access to light in the home at night would have been significant, the researchers said. 

‘If people could work at night in the safety of their home, they would have had extra income,’ Dr Whiting said.  

The research has been published in the journal Ecological Economics.  



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