History’s Literal Deadliest Fart

While dropping your drawers and flashing your no doubt abnormally attractive derriere at those you wish to express your contempt for may seem a relatively harmless act, it turns out at one point in history combining said act with expelling the gaseous contents of one’s colon once resulted in the deaths of at least 10,000 humans in what we here at TodayIFoundOut are confident can be described as history’s deadliest fart. So what happened here and how did the practice of mooning people begin and spread its cheeks the world over? Well, unbutton those pants, strapon, and let’s take an exceptionally deep dive all up in this one, shall we?

Our story today begins with the 1st century Roman-Jewish historian and military leader Flavius Josephus. The son of a Jewish priest, Matthias, Josephus spent his formative years on the Jewish side of the Jewish/Roman conflict, ultimately the head of the Jewish forces in Galilee. However, in 67 AD after a six week siege of Yodfat, Josephus’ siding with the Jews came to an abrupt end. While exactly what happened is up for debate given Josephus’ own account is primarily what we have to work with, on the 47th day the Romans took the town, and Josephus himself and a few dozen others took refuge in some caves. Rather than be captured, they decided it was better to die, but owing to suicide being a sin, they drew lots to see who should kill who and commensed with this mutual slaughter. In the end, the final survivors came down to Josephus and one other man, who decided rather than kill one another, perhaps it would be better to surrender after all… Party foul…

Upon doing so, Josephus ingratiated himself upon the head of the Roman forces, Vespasian, by prophesying that Vespasian would become emperor of Rome. And so it was that rather than kill Josephus, Vespasian decided to take him as slave. Two years later, Josephus was freed when Vespasian became Emperor and was granted Roman citizenship and more or less completely cast his lot on the Roman side of things, including serving as advisor and translator to Vespasian’s son Titus during the 70 AD siege of Jerusalem.

Of course, Josephus isn’t really remembered today for any of these exploits, but rather primarily for his highly influential work The Jewish War, which, among other things is considered one of the best sources for information about this pivotal period of Jewish history that ultimately saw their temple destroyed and their people displaced and lands confiscated for Roman use. It also functioned as a significant work in the early days of Christianity, given its description of events surrounding the era that comprised the life of Jesus of Nazareth, including accounts of prominent Biblical figures such as Herod the Great, John the Baptist, and Pontius Pilate.

Noteworthy in his efforts in all of this was to give an account that was impartial, unlike so many others of the era. As Josephus noted of those covering the same events, “they have a mind to demonstrate the greatness of the Romans, while they still diminish and lessen the actions of the Jews.” While given his Jewish heritage you might think he’d be inclined to color things more in their favor instead, Josephus himself noted his goal was to be impartial and that he would “not go to the other extreme … [and] will prosecute the actions of both parties with accuracy.” Something for the most part historians generally agree he ultimately did.

In the end, the Jewish-Roman wars changed history and the Jewish religion in some rather significant ways, including on the latter shifting from the Temple and high priest centered worship to synagogue and rabbi centric… But that’s not what we are here to talk about today. So let’s get back to the important stuff of what this all has to do with exposing your backside for fun and profit.

It is within this historic work and conflict between Rome and the Jews that we find the first known recorded instance of one person mooning another as an insulting gesture, with rather deadly results. Specifically, in The Jewish War, Josephus records an event that apparently took place near the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover.

one of the soldiers pulled back his garment, and cowering down after an indecent manner, turned his breech to the Jews, and spake such words as you might expect upon such a posture. At this the whole multitude had indignation, and made a clamor to Cumanus, that he would punish the soldier; while the rasher part of the youth, and such as were naturally the most tumultuous, fell to fighting, and caught up stones, and threw them at the soldiers. Upon which Cumanus was afraid lest all the people should make an assault upon him, and sent to call for more armed men, who, when they came in great numbers into the cloisters, the Jews were in a very great consternation; and being beaten out of the temple, they ran into the city; and the violence with which they crowded to get out was so great, that they trod upon each other, and squeezed one another, till ten thousand of them were killed, insomuch that this feast became the cause of mourning to the whole nation, and every family lamented their own relations.”

Of course, it’s not really clear from this if the mooning itself was intended to be included in the insulting gesture, or if it was simply necessary to really drive home the farting aspect of the whole thing, which may have been the real insult.

Whatever the case, this first known mooning in recorded history apparently not only included a fart in the general direction of someone, but resulted in a riot and the death of reportedly over ten thousand people… From this fact, we are going to go ahead and crown this the deadliest fart in history and we challenge everyone in the comments to come up with one to beat it…

From here, cracking your crack at others has a rather colorful and better documented history, with perhaps the general insulting nature of it deriving from such stinky expulsions to the point where eventually any such flatulence was unnecessary to get the point across.

Whatever the case, fast-forward from the 1st century AD, we find countless references to the act throughout Europe, particularly in places like merry ol’ England where the British throughout the Middle Ages had a propensity for flapping their cheeks in the wind at enemies, such as the Scots. Although the practice seems to have been prevalent in various parts of Europe at this point.

As to specific examples, in 1203 Western Europeans attacked Constantinople, but were initially thwarted by their Byzantine counterparts. Upon retreat it is recorded in Donald E Queller et al’s The Fourth Crusade, “Abandoning much of their equipment, the leaders of the crusade were constrained to give the order to retreat. As the ships pulled away from the shore the Greeks on the walls hooted and jeered at the defeated attackers. Some of them let down their clouts and showed their bare buttocks in derision to the fleeing foe…”

From here references to mooning became much more prevalent, including another 13th century account where Italian composer Alberico da Romano got a little upset and decided it was a good idea to drop “his trousers and exposed his rear to the Lord as a sign of abuse and reviling.”

From here, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in 1346 during the Battle of Crecy it’s recorded that several hundred Norman soldiers “exposed their backsides to the English archers and many of them paid a high price for doing so”. Sadly, no real further detail is given about this unfortunate mooning.

Perhaps lending credence to the insulting part of mooning being centered around flatulence or crapping on your foe, whether literally or just in figurative gesture, in Chaucer’s 14th century The Canterbury Tales, specifically in the “Miller’s Tale”, the character of Alison plays a little trick on prospective lover Absolon. It notes in the middle of a dark night, with Absolon hanging out at Alison’s window begging her for a kiss, she ultimately agrees. However, when he goes in for said puckering, he finds, “with his mouth he kissed her naked ass” as she had, to quote, “at the window out she put her hole.”

While you might think he’d be happy about skipping first and second base and sliding right into third, Absolon wasn’t pleased and later returned to get his revenge. At which point Alison’s lover, Nicholas, decided to play his own trick. To quote Chaucer,

“…Nicholas was risen to piss,

And thought he would make the joke even better;

He should kiss his ass before he escapes.

And he opened up the window hastily,

And he puts out his ass stealthily

Over the buttock, to the thigh;

And then spoke this clerk, this Absolon,

“Speak, sweet bird, I know not where thou art.”

This Nicholas immediately let fly a fart

As great as if it had been a thunder-bolt,

So that with the stroke [Absolon] was almost blinded;

And he was ready with his hot iron,

And he smote Nicholas in the middle of the ass.”

Moving on from there, showing the youth of the world have long since enjoyed the practice of mooning, it’s recorded that during the Conference of Badajoz-Elvas of 1524, the delegates took a break at one point and while walking, to quote a contemporary account, “a boy who stood keeping his mother’s clothes which she had washed… [The boy] demanded of them whether they were those men who were partitioning the world [on behalf of] the emperor. And as they answered ‘Yea’, he took up his shirt and showed them his bare arse, saying: ‘Come and draw your line through the middle [of this].’”

Not just seen as insulting among Europeans, when said peoples made their way to the Americas they encountered the Abenaki tribe of Main who apparently enjoyed mooning. As noted in Charles C Mann’s book 1491- New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,

On Verrazzano’s next stop, the Maine coast, the Abenaki did want steel and cloth–demanded them, in fact. But up north the friendly welcome had vanished. The Indians denied the visitors permission to land; refusing even to touch the Europeans, they passed goods back and forth on a rope over the water. As soon as the crew members sent over the last items, the locals began “showing their buttocks and laughing.” Mooned by the Indians! Verrazzano was baffled by this “barbarous” behavior, but the reason for it seems clear: unlike the Narragansett, the Abenaki had long experience with Europeans.”

At this point you might be wondering how and when the practice became known as “mooning”. While you might be tempted to think this has something to do with the supposed ancient practice of outhouses featuring a crescent moon cutout and subsequent association with rear expulsions, the reality seems to be the other way around, as we’ll get to shortly in dispelling the outhouse/crescent moon myth.

For the real answer, we turn to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary who notes the first known instance of someone’s backside being referred to as a “moon” occurred in the 1756 work The Liee and Memoirs of Mr. Ephraim Tristram Bates, where it states, “But his Moon shall never be covered by me or Buck ’till they put down the Ready [cash] – and no Brummagums [counterfeit coins].”

As to why one’s backside may have first been called this, it is generally thought to do with the fact that each side of one’s buttocks more or less resembles a crescent moon, as colorfully illustrated by this passage in 1938 Murphy, by S. Beckett, where it refers to each side of a woman’s backside as a moon, to wit: “Placing her hands upon her moons, plump and plain.”

Whatever the case there, the act of dropping your pants and exposing your butt crack being referred to as “mooning” doesn’t appear to have become a thing until around the mid-20th century, with the practice itself having an upswing in popularity across universities in the United States in the 1960s.

Various references include a July of 1964 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly where it states, “All we had was…abortive efforts at mooning the Yale team in their dugout.” Or in University of Massachusetts Amherst student N.J. Eaton’s thesis Current Adolescent Slang, in which he writes, “Moon: to expose the buttocks. Syn. Throw a moon.”

A March 22, 1974 edition of the Guardian further illustrates, “Streaking‥seems to be the mainly male equivalent of the mainly female practice that cropped up in campuses across the United States in the late fifties and early sixties. This was known as ‘mooning’.‥ Mooning consisted‥of exposing the bottom in the general direction of whoever the mooner wanted to impress, protest to, or affront.”

This all brings us back to the crescent moon on outhouses. Noteworthy here is that despite it being commonly held that outhouses featuring the crescent moon was a rather ancient thing, it appears this meme likewise has its origins in the mid-20th century upswing in baring ass.

While some of the more traveled among you might now be pointing to historic sites in the United States you have visited that have outhouses that have been there going back potentially even a couple hundred years and feature a crescent moon cutout, it should be noted that in every known instance, the cutouts were put there in more modern times to fit people’s expectations. As one Dr. Adam Brooke Davis of Truman State University and the Missouri Folklore Society states, these are all examples of “Historical retrofitting”.

Of course, as you might expect, descriptions of outhouses and photographs and the like are relatively rare, and surviving examples even more so. As for those surviving examples that have not been “retrofitted”, we have such cases as an eight person, communal outhouse on the Thomas Leiper Estate. This 18th century outhouse is helpfully made of stone so has survived the centuries, but no such cutout or symbology is present anywhere on it, door or otherwise.

Or as Dr. Davis sums up concerning his extensive research into the matter, “I have never…seen a crescent moon shape in an actual outhouse I could confidently date to earlier than about 1960…”

On that note, as for the first known actual instances of the crescent moon cutout on outhouses, as alluded to, these wouldn’t start showing up until around the mid-20th century, first in cartoons and comics. For example, if you troll through examples of old Linen Postcards from the 1930s to the 1950s, you’ll see that on the 1930s side of things, depictions of outhouses in said humorous postcards had no crescent-moon adornment, but in later examples this seemingly became ubiquitous, whether on the door, above it, or on the upper parts of the side walls of the outhouse.

So who came up with the crescent moon trope and why?

Well, this isn’t clear. Historically outhouses did frequently feature openings in the rafters for ventilation and light purposes. Some even had cutouts in the doors, but often diamond, V, or heart shaped (or some speculate on this one originally intended to be more bottom shaped as it would look hanging over the hole). These door cutouts were also seemingly for ventilation and light purposes and also sometimes thought to function as the door handle of sorts.

As the aforementioned Dr. Davis sums up concerning the door cutouts,

“My grandparents’ farm near Hannibal Missouri had an outhouse built between 1920 and 1940. The door, as faced from the outside, had its hinges left, and no knob or pull. Rather, it had a cutout… so that one could slip one’s fingers in to grasp it. It permitted light, ventilation and easy opening. I suggest that this simple expedient came to have some traditional force, and once hardware became available, was still felt to be useful or attractive, and was displaced to the center of the door, to break up the flat plane….”

Of course, if this is correct, it still doesn’t explain why the crescent moon cutout is the one latched onto by popular media in the United States and later beyond vs. other options, or even whether the popular media is actually the one that first created it.

For that, let us offer our own little hypothesis. While nobody knows for sure, because the crescent moon trope seems to have originated not on real outhouses, but rather in various comics and other humor based media around the mid-20th century in the United States, perhaps it may have been referencing the entire subject of this article- the practice of dropping your drawers and hanging your butt over something- aka mooning someone. At least, the timing of this revolution of outhouse design seems to line up exceptionally well for this to have been the case.

And as to why the crescent moon, rather than full, if our mostly speculative hypothesis is correct, we’d guess because a circle isn’t so apparently representative of a moon as is a crescent moon, nor, as previously alluded to, an accurate a depiction of a butt crack, which is presumably how the association between butts and the moon came to be in the first place way back in Merry ol’ England.

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1524: Spanish boy invites cartographers to chart his backside




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