||How Did People Wash Themselves Before Modern Conveniences?
Throughout history, bathing was simply done in any place where there was water (a river, lake, water hole, pool or the sea, or any other water receptacle), ranging from warm to cold. It was mostly done in the summer (or naturally warm locations) where a quick dip would be refreshing to do. People didn’t bathe much during those times, unless it was for personal preference, religious ritual or therapeutic purposes.
It also depended on their location and status, because water might not have been easy to come by. A hot bath (and soap) was an luxury that the wealthy had access to and could take it more often than peasants. But even then, the notion that bathing was hygienic didn’t really catch on for everyone until the late 18th and 19th centuries.
In Ancient Egypt, the Egyptians were fixated on cleanliness and regularly used cosmetics, deodorants, perfumes, toothpaste, and breath mints. Men and woman would shaved and plucked off all of their body hair using tweezers, knives and razors, made of flint or metal. Not only was this for the ideal of beauty at the time, but it also rid the Egyptians of body lice.
To clean themselves while bathing, the Egyptians used natron – a mixture of soda ash (sodium carbonate), a derivative of table salt and oils derived from vegetables and animals to make a soap-like substance. Soda ash is naturally occurring and could be found in the form of deposits on the crusted shoreline flats, or via seawater evaporation in certain locations (such as the four lakes in the Nile Delta).
The wealthy had bathing chambers (which was usually a small recessed room with a square slab of limestone in the corner) in their homes. They would stand or sit on the stone while their servants would cart in water to be poured over their master’s head. Sometimes the water was cold, but most palaces were equipped with stoves to heat it up. Everyone else would bathed in the Nile. However, there is evidence from excavating that there were large public bath houses with showers, stone basins and stoves to heat the water.
The Egyptians morning ritual, after one rose from bed, would be to bathe. Every household, no matter the class, had some form of a basin and jug used for washing the hands and showering. There were also foot baths, made of stone, faience, ceramic, or wood, for washing the feet. These were mass-produced during the First Intermediate Period of Egypt (2181-2040 BCE) as single-foot and double-foot baths.
One would wash their hands, face, and feet before and after meals, before bed, and upon rising in the morning. Priests were expected to bathe more regularly, but the average Egyptian took showers and baths on a daily basis. In the morning, after one had washed, came the application of a cream, the ancient equivalent of sunblock, to the body, and then one would apply make-up, derived from ochre and sometimes mixed with sandalwood, to the face. 
In Ancient India, they used elaborate practices for personal hygiene with three daily baths and washing. These are recorded in the works called grihya sutras and are in practice today in some communities. Instead of soap Indian women found it more beneficial to use gram flour or wheat husk, mixed with milk, to clean their skin. They realized that soap stripped away the natural oils in the skin, causing it to dehydrate and accelerate the aging process. The tradition of bathing in milk and fresh herbs (especially flower baths) was started by the royal queens and princesses during that time.
In the north of India, half a cup of ground-up mustard seeds was added to bath water in the winter months for a warm dip that balances kapha dosha, which can become aggravated in the late winter and early spring.
In Ancient Greece, the original form of bathing consisted of nothing more than a quick plunge into icy water until the people of Laconica came upon the idea of a hot-air bath. The hot-air bath later came to be known as a laconica bath. The water for the laconica baths was heated one of two different ways. The first being by direct coal burning fires and the other being the hot rock method, which consists of heating up rocks in another room and bringing them inside the bath.
They even invented a form of shower, when they realized that they got cleaner after using waterfalls to bathe under. The water was pumped into the bath houses through the aqueduct system and then pushed out through a series of pipes. Some of the pipes were installed higher up, and people would stand under the falling water as they bathed. Most Greeks also washed in a bowl on a pedestal called a louterion. Although wealthy people had their own baths at home (in which they would have their slaves heat and pour water over them), they still preferred to visit the public ones. Afterwards, they would also rubbed themselves with olive oil or perfumed oil (to soften the skin) then scrape it off with a tool called a strigil.
In Ancient Rome, they also knew that dirt encourages disease and they appreciated the importance of cleanliness. They took Greek plumbing one step further by building massive aqueducts to bring clean water into towns and set up extravagant public baths. The people went to the baths not just to get clean but to also socialize. However, there was a fee to get into the public baths. The fee was generally pretty small so even the poor could afford to go. It was one-quarter as for men, one full as for women, and children got in for free — an as (plural a**ēs) was worth one-tenth (after 200 CE 1/16th) of a denarius, the standard currency in Rome. Sometimes the baths would be free for all if a politician or emperor paid for the public to attend.
Wealthy people sometimes had their own private baths inside their homes. These could be quite expensive as they had to pay the government for the amount of water that they used. Even if a wealthy person had their own bath, they were still likely to visit the public baths in order to be social and meet with people. When they do they would bring their own slaves to attend to their bathing needs.
The Roman Baths were very large and consisted of four rooms: a Apodyterium or changing room (where visitors would take off their clothing before entering the main area of the baths), Tepidarium or warm room (which was often the main central hall in the bath where the bathers met and talked), Caldarium or hot and steamy room (the floors were heated by a Roman system called a hypocaust that circulated hot air under the floors), and lastly Frigidarium or cold room (in which bathers would go to cool down at the end of a hot day).
The layout of Roman baths contained other architectural features of note. Because wealthy Romans brought slaves with them, the bathhouse usually had three entrances: one for men, one for women, and one for slaves. The preference of symmetry in Roman architecture usually meant a symmetrical facade, even though the women's area was usually smaller than the men's because of fewer numbers of patrons. Usually solid walls or placement on opposite sides of the building separated the men's and women's sections. Which by the way, men and women bathed at different times or in different areas of the baths depending on the bathhouse.
Roman bathhouses often contained a courtyard, or Palaestra, which was an open-air garden or gymnasium used for exercise. In some cases the builders made the palaestra an interior courtyard, and in other cases the builders placed the palaestra in front of the bathhouse proper and incorporated it into the formal approach. Sometimes the palestra held a swimming pool. Most often a colonnade outlined the palaestra's edges.
When the Romans were done taking a bath, they would rub a scented oil on their skin to finish the job. Unlike soap, which forms a lather with water and can be rinsed off, the oil had to be scraped off with a metal tool called a strigil. Romans were also materially interested in being considered non-hairy and would used razors, pumice stone, tweezers and some type of depilatory creams to remove unwanted body hair.
While the baths were enjoyed by almost every Roman, there were those who criticized them. The water was not renewed often and the remains of oil, dirt or even excrement were kept warm, providing the perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive. And after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, upkeep of large communal baths ended.
During the Medieval period, many of these communal baths disappeared while others became social centers and, to the chagrin of the Catholic Church, even brothels. However, the bathing tradition persisted in Japan and elsewhere in the world.
To be more specific, in the early Middle Ages public bathhouses also were common, but they weren’t nearly as luxurious as the Roman baths. The people bathe for cleanliness and health, but Christian authorities condemned attendance to public bath houses for pleasure and condemned women going to bath houses that had mixed facilities.
In general, those who lived during this time were primarily focused on cleaning only their hands, face and neck daily in a small water basin with a rag (and soft soap if they could afford it, which was made of mutton fat, wood ash, and natural soda), rather than taking a full-on bath. After all, it was frown upon to wash anything but visible dirt from the face or hands. That’s because being dirty was associated with being poor.
They also ate with their fingers and would wash their hands before and after meals (or at least the wealthy would do so). Bathing was largely limited to the summer months, when a refreshing dip in a pond or stream would do the trick after a hot day in the fields. People who could afford to bathe their whole bodies did so once a week.
The wealthy (especially medieval royalty and nobles) bathed more than most and would bathe at home, most likely in their bedroom, as 'bath' rooms were not common. They had a wooden tub with a linen cloth laid in it to protect the bather from splinters and sometimes with a curtain around it, or a tent-like cloth over top. These tubs would take a while to fill because water had to be gathered, heated and then carried in pitchers by servants. They would also add in sweet scented flowers or petals and fresh herbs to it.
The prominence of the public bathhouse went into rapid decline when diseases struck Europe. People were convince that water, especially warm water wasn’t safe to bathe in. According to one medical treaty of the 16th century, they believed that it weaken the skin by opening the pores to outside influences such as illnesses and diseases. It also didn’t help that they thought spreading dirt all over their skin would protect them from the Bubonic Plague. This, of course, wasn’t the case.
In modern day films, the Vikings are usually portrayed as filthy, wild animals. However, close examination of excavation of Viking burial mounds proves that to be incorrect. Though, it’s important to remember that most of our accounts of the Vikings come from Christian writers who didn’t view them in a positive light.
The Vikings made a very strong soap with a high lye content which was used not only for bathing, but also for bleaching their hair. In some regions, beards were lightened as well. It not only helped with head lice, but blond hair was highly valued in the Viking World. They also had razors, tweezers, combs and ear spoons made from bronze, silver, animal bones or antlers.
Everyday (usually in the morning upon rising) the Vikings would wash their hands, face and their hair in a large basin containing water. They would pass on the basin for the next person to use (with fresh water) while the previous person would groom their hair. The original meaning of Scandinavian words for Saturday (laurdag / lørdag / lördag) was ‘Washing Day’. That’s because on Saturday they would always bathe and for the rest of the time they would change their clothes frequently. This was at a time when an Anglo-Saxon might only bath once or twice a year. For this reason Vikings were considered ‘clean freaks’.
In the summer, bathing could be preformed in lakes or streams, or within the bathhouses found on every large farm (these would be much like the Finnish sauna, though tub bathing was also used), while in winter the heated bathhouse would be the primary location for bathing.
In Ancient China, the people practiced personal cleanliness to a remarkable degree. According to the Liji (book of rites), officials were expected to wash their hands five times a day, with a hot bath every fifth day and wash their hair every third day. Feudal lords had to bathe before presenting themselves to their emperor. In ancient Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China the locals bathe at home by filling up a kettle with clean water from wells, heating it up, and pouring it into a washbowl. In the Qin empire (221–206 B.C.), people reused water from washing rice to wash their faces and hair. With the coming of Buddhism, bathhouses arrived in China, not just for the upper classes but for common folks as well.
In Ancient Japan, the Japanese likely bathed in the many springs in the open. Even in the Nara and Heian periods (710-1192) the custom of bathing was not widespread among the people, especially the nobility of that time. In the summertime, the aristocrats might sprinkle water on themselves or wipe with wet towels. The commoners on the other hand would regularly take plunges in the ocean or in rivers to cool off and possibly wash up. In the winter, there was no custom of immersing one's self in water.
A steam bath was sometimes done as a treatment for an illness, but mostly their skin was dirty and smelly. This situation gave rise to nobility covering their body odor with mixed perfumes called takimono, but no matter which scents they used it didn’t do much to mask the smell. Moreover, whenever they caught colds, they would chew on raw garlic, increasing the odor level even more.
It wasn’t until Edo period (1603-186 cool that bathing became widely popular amongst common people who relished the free baths at Buddhist temples, leading to the development of sentō (public bathhouse). Baths in this period were predominantly focused on steaming waters, with the bather often only soaking the lower part of their legs in water or enjoying other partial bathing. Only the most elite noblemen or warriors were able to enjoy the luxury of a bath in their own homes.
But this period also brought suefuro, the first bath in which bathers could submerge up to the shoulders. These baths were mainly pots heated by firewood, and include some memorable designs such as the goemon-buro (cauldron bath) and the teppo-buro (piped bath). Mixed bathing with men and women sharing the same bath was commonplace in Edo period bathhouses and considered completely natural at the time.
These early communal bathhouses were generally housed in dark, almost windowless rooms with low entrance ways to prevent steam from escaping. For this reason customers often cleared their throats to signal their position to others when they were in the bath area. However, before that customers would pay an entrance fee (which depend on the area and the person). They would remove their shoes and go to the changing room. Before they could jump into the actual bath, they would first cleanse their body with water and soap. They needed to get rid of the dirt and bacteria on themselves so that it wouldn’t contaminate the communal bathwater. Once they were cleaned, they could go into the baths to soak and relax or socialized.
During the Meiji era’s (1868-1912) push to industrialize and modernize, the prudishness of 19th century Westerners led the government to ban mixed bathing to make Japan seem more civilized. Many of the sentō after that were built with separate changing and bathing rooms for men and women. However, older bathhouses avoided this problem by having men and women bathe at different times of day, or by catering to one gender exclusively. After WWII, it was still relatively common for people to not have baths in their homes and attend sentō at the end of their day.
Prior to the Victorian era, a bath once or twice a year was thought to be adequate. More frequent bathing was considered somehow unmanly and even hazardous to health. In the early Victorian era, bathroom sinks were sometimes situated in a corner of the bedroom which served as a washing station. It wasn’t until late in the era that they relegated bathrooms to a separate room in the house. However, bathrooms were found mostly in the homes of the upper-class. This was because the plumbing and fixtures required for constructing an indoor bathroom were extremely expensive.
The main inconvenience in early Victorian baths was the need to get water from the pump piped in the kitchen (or if they were lower-class they needed to get it from the water pump outside), heat it on the stove (or fireplace) within a large cast-iron kettle and carry it to the bathtub. The wealthy would have their servants do this for them. But this was why people traditionally bathed in only an inch or two of water. Moreover, whole families typically used the same bathwater, as large quantities of water were not available at a time. Popular tubs during this time period were roll-top tubs, slipper baths and boat baths.
Poorer families, if they owned a bath at all, put the tub in front of the kitchen rang. This was the warmest place in the house and very close to hot water. The whole family would wash themselves one after the other, topping up with more water but, probably not emptying the bath until everyone had finished.
But typically, once or twice a month Victorians would indulge in a lukewarm soak. During the weeks between baths, they would regularly wash their arms, hands and faces with a sponge soaked in cool water and vinegar. Sitz baths, in which a person sat down in a shallow dish of water, were also common. They would also wash their hair once or twice a week. Victorian women were usually advised to dilute pure ammonia in warm water and then massage it through the scalp and hair, like modern shampoo.
If she didn’t want to use ammonia as it could be very unpleasant, onion juice was another option. It didn’t necessarily work to cleanse the hair of grease, but it was believed, at least by some, to make tresses long and shiny.
In London, England, in 1868, a painter named Benjamin Waddy Maughan patented the first residential water heater. It was named the geyser after an Icelandic gushing hot spring. It used natural gas as the heat source, but lacked proper ventilation, so it wasn’t exactly safe.
Twenty or so years later, though, a Norwegian mechanical engineer named Edwin Ruud tweaked the concept by adding some much-needed safety features—namely, a vent. Still, only 24 percent of American homes had running water by the 1890s, so if they wanted to take a warm shower and didn’t have plumbing, they still had to heat up the water on the stove. Once the tub was filled, the father would be the first to bathe, the mother followed, and then the children bathed according to the age; from the eldest to the youngest.
However, before that in North America, around 1600s the Indians in Virginia practiced personal hygiene that included daily baths in all seasons and all weather. They also engaged in occasional sweat baths in sweat lodges, which were presided over by a priest since those using it were likely to faint from the heat. Despite a lack of soap, the Powhatan Indians washed their hands before eating, according to Jamestown colonists and other European observers. They were far more sanitary than the Europeans who arrived in 1607.
In America's colonial days, the best places to settle in were areas near a water source, such as rivers, streams, or springs, but these desirable places were usually taken pretty quickly. After all, water is a primary need for both sustaining crops, animals and the lives of the people. When that wasn’t available they would dig wells, which was usually located in close proximity to the home.
If well-digging failed to reach water, families were forced to collect rainwater in barrels, cisterns, and pans. While this water was not exposed to the same contaminants (such as human and animal waste seeping into the earth) as the well, it was soon infested with flies and mosquitoes, or covered with a fine layer of wind-blown dust that had to be skimmed from its surface before drinking.
Because of the scarcity of water, they conserved it (and recycled it) in ways that would be unthinkable to most modern Americans. It was not uncommon for an entire family to take turns and bathe in a single tub of water. Bathing itself was usually limited to once a week, and following the family baths, the filthy bathwater was then used for light cleaning or heavy laundry. To conserve even more water, many families did not wash or rinse their dishes. In winter, melted snow supplemented the water supply.
The soap they used was made from two ingredients – tallow, or rendered animal fat and lye soap. Sometimes herbs like lavender and lemon balm would be added in for scent. Either way, the soap was used to wash themselves, their dishes, and their laundry.
To get clean the wealthy would mostly sponge off, usually just the face and hands with the chinaware washbasins and pitchers. Servants supplied the water, heated in the kitchen or laundry, and laid out clean shifts for the ladies and fresh dress shirts for the gentlemen. The wealthy also had larger wardrobe, so they appeared cleaner and didn’t smell as bad despite not bathing as much. But if they wanted a full bath, a wooden tub would be used. It had to be lugged from the laundry house, or wherever it was stored, and filled with water, usually hoisted from the well, and than heated over a stove.
· Mon Aug 19, 2019 @ 01:10am · 0 Comments