The Greeks and the Romans had the right idea, long ago, with their luxurious public baths and advanced plumbing technology. Not only was keeping clean a daily routine but it was also a glorified ritual and social occasion.
Obviously mankind wasn’t paying close attention though as when it came to cleanliness in the Middle Ages, let’s just say things became a little sticky – pardon the pun. Skip right past that blip on our monitor of social progress to the 16th Century and this is where the decline of communal bathing begins, laying the foundation for the private bathroom as we know it today. Whether you’re a bath dweller, soaking yourself into a wrinkly mess, or a rapid shower-taker it’s all in the name of hygiene. Here’s a quick rundown of our slightly chequered past.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were known to spend two to three hours bathing in their beautiful temple-like public baths. They created the most advanced network of aqueducts and plumbing systems. Unfortunately this was quickly forgotten.
Spread of Disease
The uncontrollable spread of diseases in the late middle ages made public baths slightly unpopular. Understandable really. Nothing like a crowd of naked people suffering from the bubonic plague to send a person running in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for those who actually liked the occasional bath, and yes there were many who didn’t, this meant bye-bye cleanliness.
Queen Elizabeth 1
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) famously boasted that she only bathed once a month, “whether she needed it or not.” Eh, we’re guessing she probably needed it?
French Linen Shirt
In 17th century France, it was believed it was more effective to simply change into a linen shirt rather than bathe. They believed in the linen’s cleansing ability to draw out the toxins from the skin. Whether it worked or not is besides the point, everybody looked fabulous.
Europe in the Middle Ages
From the middle ages up until the 18th century, people adopted a laissez faire attitude to hygiene and only bothered to wash the parts of the body that were visible to the public. The reasoning being if you can’t see it then you can’t smell it, or something.
The late 19th Century to early 20th Century saw science’s germ theory of disease and advertising merge to promote the use of soap. This brought about massive social change, lovely scents and vigorous scrubbing of children’s ears. Around that time indoor plumbing became the norm and not just for the rich, who throughout history had the option of bathing privately.
Today we’re spoilt for choice. While showers win out over baths for daily hygiene rituals, baths are generally reserved for relaxing. A treat for the end of a long day. Whirlpool and back massage features turn many a private bathroom into a spa experience or a party.