History Of The Bath

Since the beginning of time, bathing in water has been practiced for hygiene, good health and peace of mind. As early as the third century, bathing emporiums quickly became fashionable.

Greek and Roman Baths

History Of The Bath

The Greeks and Romans were the leaders in erecting many elaborate, expensive bathhouses, in some cases accommodating as many as 6,000 bathers at one time. Those were places to meet, conduct business, socialise, gossip, eat and drink.

Some public baths were so grand that they contained lecture halls, art galleries, meditation rooms, and prayer stalls. There were also numerous separate enclosures for "private" business.

The larger bathhouses combined healing practices with entertainment, social festivities, and physical fitness. It was not uncommon for wounded or weary soldiers to find comfort there, after battle, for covalescence and healing. Some of the finest healers worked in the baths and could tend to their wounds.The elite would be accompanied by their servants to run errands, feed or massage them.

While the Greeks built numerous rich, beautifully designed bathhouses for both sexes, their baths were not quite as grandiose as those built by the Romans.

As many as seven healers at one time would take a client into a bath with each healer taking responsibility for a specific area of the body. Their services were more sought after than local physicians'.

These bathhouses were so popular that the Romans erected aquaducts to feed them. These worked so well they were soon built all over Europe. To this day remnants of these majestic aqueducts are still visible by the roadsides of Europe, especially Italy and Spain.

Turkish Baths

HamamMany other cultures enjoyed bathhouses. The Turks developed very hot baths, which to this day are still known as Turkish Baths, or steam baths.

Their bathhouses were very artistic and expensive with rich hand-woven carpets, tapestries and ornate columns with gold, silver, or brass fixtures.

However, the success of the bathhouses was short lived, as many plagues, epidemics and diseases were spread by water within the populations of Europe and England. Also, the early viaducts were made of lead, which was later discovered to be a source of poisoning and toxicity.

Some people suffered from poisoning while others became impotent or sterile. The baths soon became suspect, and attendance dropped, once the connection was made between the bathhouses and the spread of disease. The baths were ordered closed shortly afterwards.

Japanese Baths

japanese bathFor centuries, Japan has been another culture known for its bathing customs and obsession with cleanliness. Spiritual pursuits of purity, hygiene and ritual purification were an important part of Japanese culture, and bathing was done communally without regard for division of the sexes.

However, as class distinctions became more pronounced, there was as much sexual activity taking place in the public baths as there had been with the Romans. Very quickly a law was passed segregating the sexes. Separate entrances and separate pools were created for the different classes, although sexes were not entirely kept apart.

Baths Losing Popularity

In the late 16th century, and for the next two centuries, bathing lost its popularity. Churches became increasingly more outspoken about the sins and self-indulgence of those who spent more of their time in the various bathhouses rather than in church, working, or looking after their families. The Ministers were particularly disturbed that so many illegitimate children were born from dubious encounters outside of marriage.

As time passed by, various citizens began to protest against the sins of the bathers. The new Christian trend was to become grubby because cleanliness was considered to be too sensuous and sexual. Dirt was a symbol of one's spiritual purity and indicated that the focus was outside one's self, rather than on personal hygiene. Refusing to bathe was proof that one was beyond such things, and thus not egotistical or self-absorbed.

It was also believed that dirt was a protection from germs, due to the numerous plagues that had previously killed a large population of England and Europe. Rather than being put off by the smell, body odour was thought to be a magnetic turn on. Powders, perfumes, wigs, cosmetics, and layers of clothes hid the grime and body odour. If overwhelmed by a particularly potent smell, a bit of snuff to clear one's nostrils was all that was needed.

Once water became plentiful, new water healing modalities were created to prevent or cure many diseases such as typhoid and fever. Going to the baths became fashionable once again, with Epsom, mineral and sulphur baths being especially popular. Spas were the rage all over Europe and became so important that hydrotherapy and thermal healing became taught in medical schools. Sessions at spas are still prescribed in numerous European countries.

Worldwide, people have adopted the same general attitudes towards water, using it to clean, socialise and heal. Spas, saunas, Jacuzzis, birthing pools, hot springs baths, and mineral or sulphur baths are once again popular.

Edited extracts from: Water Changes Everything by Lynne Jenkins



History of bathing
Turkish bath
Japanese bath
Russian bath
Roman bath


Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace the opinion of a qualified health care professional
and is not intended as medical advice.
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