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13th century sources re: bathing?

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  • willo
    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
    Message 1 of 5 , Aug 1, 2005
      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.

      Anyone?

      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
      archaeological record?

      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
      period.

      I'm happy to hear what people recall from their own research, or
      where I might look to learn more.

      Thanks!

      --willo
    • Tiffany Brown
      ... I come to this from a perspective of 12th C Norman (little difference from england to france) nobility. We have lots of pictures of wooden tubs, sometimes
      Message 2 of 5 , Aug 1, 2005
        On 8/2/05, willo <willolevin@...> wrote:
        > Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in what
        > manner) people bathed?

        I come to this from a perspective of 12th C Norman (little difference
        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
        eating.
        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
        way.


        > 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.

        The very rich seem to have been able to source large quantities of
        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.

        Teffania
      • Iolanthe
        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
        Message 3 of 5 , Aug 1, 2005
          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.

          Iolanthe
          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?
          >
          > Thanks!
          >
          > --willo
        • Iolanthe
          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.
          Message 4 of 5 , Aug 1, 2005
            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.
            http://www.atlantia.sca.org/pipermail/atlantia/2005-May/016822.html

            Iolanthe
            --- In Authentic_SCA@yahoogroups.com, Tiffany Brown <teffania@g...>
            wrote:
            > On 8/2/05, willo <willolevin@y...> wrote:
            > > Does anyone have good sources regarding how often (and in what
            > > manner) people bathed?
          • Marc Lauterbach
            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
            Message 5 of 5 , Aug 1, 2005
              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.
              Matthaeus
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