13th century sources re: bathing?
- Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in what
manner) people bathed?
I'm particularly interested in England and Spain in the 13th
century, but earlier and later periods are also interesting for
comparison. What I say below is often about Jewish behaviour, but
I'd like to know what Christians and others did as well. :)
I *know* (but don't have documentation) that Jews bathed regularly
in period and that there were prejudices/nasty-comments-made about
how often they (Jews) washed compared to non-Jews. (For example, a
Jewish woman of childbearing age must immerse herself completely
following her monthly cycle and following childbirth, according to
religious law set down in the medieval period. If she
doesn't/didn't, her husband couldn't have relations with her again
until that bath happened, so he probably really wanted her to do so!)
I've *heard* (but would like to find documentatation) that:
1) Christians at some point used "being like Jews" as a reason to
avoid bathing often.
2) English people actually bathed more in very early times, but that
deforestation made wood scarce and bathing in warm water (which
requires lots of fuel) less often became the encouraged choice. This
might be as early as when Roman (loves-to-bathe) culture fell apart.
I might've heard this on a tour of the Roman baths in Bath, England.
As to *how* people washed, I also wonder about how likely people
were to immerse themselves (take a tub bath) versus sponge-bathing
(wipe themselves down)? How were hands washed? At what point do we
see the basin-and-pitcher arrangement appearing in the
Again, from Jewish religious practice, for reasons of purity, Jews
needed a special bath tub (mikvah) in which to immerse, although a
body of "living" water (river, lake, ocean) could be used when
available. Since washing was necessary all year round, though,
building a mikvah was likely a very early act of any new Jewish
community, even in period. I know a medieval Jewish mikvah was
excavated in London in the past five years or so.
Modern Jewish hand-washing ritual prescribed in the (period-era)
Talmud uses water poured over the hands from a small pitcher or cup.
This suggests to me that pouring water over the hands to wash them
might've been the common way to do it in Jewish communities in
I'm happy to hear what people recall from their own research, or
where I might look to learn more.
- On 8/2/05, willo <willolevin@...> wrote:
> Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in whatI come to this from a perspective of 12th C Norman (little difference
> manner) people bathed?
from england to france) nobility.
We have lots of pictures of wooden tubs, sometimes with fires
underneath them (maybe those ones aren't wooden). They look like half
barrels, and are usually depicted as fairly narrow - just wide enough
for a person to sit on a stool in, and tall enough to reach their
chest seated. Apparently such barrels could serve as a base for a
table in between uses.
This of course gives no idea of frequency.
I've read of a romance with a girl who bathes in the household
vivarium (an artificial fish pond in courtyard or kitchen to store
fresh caught live fish until eating), wearing only her shirt, on hot
days. (it was considered fairly shocking that she did so in front of
males). So a quick dip in the river might be the go for males.
There is quite a ritual of washing the hands before a feast. Romances
(and I've read 2 early 13th C ones that seem to continue the practise)
talk of the ritual for welcoming a knight, after travel or hunting.
Before the feast begins he is presented a basin of water and a towel
to wash his hands. U.T.Holmes "Daily Living in the Twelfth Century"
suggests water might be poured from a pitcher, over the hands, into
the basin and that soap might be offered as an occasional luxury, but
not everywhere. There are also big wash basins in romanesque
monastaries so the monks could perform this ritual washing before
He also talks of some rather strickt hygene rule that operate while
eating or preparing food - not so much washing as not touching the
nose or mouth, using the correct hand etc.
As for frequency, seems like the knights in 12th C romances hardly
ever bathe (only for ritual purposes), but then again they never go to
the toilet either.
Holmes' book also gives glancing mentions of:
bath keepers and public baths,
bathing in the mineral springs at bath for your health,
babes in swaddling being bathed every 3 hours (perhaps spounged?),
the season of bloodlettign for monks being a season of bathing and relaxation,
HRE Freidrick Barbarossa drowning while stopping at a river to bathe
on route to crusade
Unfortunately although I'm yet to prove prof. Holmes wrong on any
point (in one or two costume points he's just seeing a slightly
differnt light), he very seldom gives sources (yay for 1950's
literature). But one by one I am finding sources that back up many of
his assertations, or at least evidence that could make one think that
> 2) English people actually bathed more in very early times, but thatThe very rich seem to have been able to source large quantities of
> deforestation made wood scarce and bathing in warm water (which
> requires lots of fuel) less often became the encouraged choice. This
> might be as early as when Roman (loves-to-bathe) culture fell apart.
> I might've heard this on a tour of the Roman baths in Bath, England.
almost anything they wanted, so this doesn't sound as likely to me.
Heating water is also very labour intensive if you no longer have a
bathhouse and it has to be carried up the stairs bucket by bucket.
(you see pictures of this occasionally).
While i haven't answered about frequency (I'd love to know that
myself), I hope I've answered some of your other questions, and given
you some leads on things to search for.
- I swear that I've seen a picture that had people of both genders bathing
wearing only their headgear and jewlery. But I can't for the life of me figure
how to find it again.
just my 2 cents
--- In Authentic_SCA@yahoogroups.com, "willo" <willolevin@y...> wrote:
> Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in what
> manner) people bathed?
- I did a little digging and came up with this link. It seems to have
information on different time periods and pictures from period documents.
--- In Authentic_SCA@yahoogroups.com, Tiffany Brown <teffania@g...>
> On 8/2/05, willo <willolevin@y...> wrote:
> > Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in what
> > manner) people bathed?
- I have read in numerous academic sources (I misremember which
exactly, but I believe Norman Cantor and others) that basically until
the black death in the mid 14th century bathing was fairly frequent.
Granted, it varied greatly upon social status, proximity of water,
weather, and whatnot. Likewise, these scholars also maintain that the
level of personal hygene and cleanliness in pre-plague Europe was a
high water mark that would not be acheived again until the early 19th
century. However Cantor, while a great scholar, is very opinionated
and may not be the most reliable source.