Medieval Bathing Link Round Up – watch out there’s nudity!

I knew almost nothing about how people in pre-modern Europe took baths at the start of yesterday and then fell down a rabbit hole and learned all sorts of things.

So to start:

  • Obviously, I knew the Romans had communal baths and England even has a town named after the fact (Manchester*)
  • Jewish and Islamic cultures had there own things going on with baths and bathing.
  • Russia, Finland and Scandinavia had a whole bunch of other things going on with saunas.
  • Yes, there are blogs about medieval baths.

This article seems to be a very good overview of baths and bathing http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/baths.html

“The use of couple bathing as a romantic prelude to coition is demonstrated in 14th through 16th century illustrations. Legal history suggests that ordinary public bath-houses were often segregated by gender, or different times or days were restricted for each gender. Private bath-rooms in castles, such as the one at Leeds, could often accommodate multiple bathers as well.”

Running through this is history are several contrasting themes:

  • Baths as a source of cleanliness and the association of cleanliness with virtue and health.
  • Baths as a recreational activity, a luxury and a source of luxury.
  • Baths as sexy.
  • Baths as not-at-all sexy as you had to have your bath by yourself in clothes and with cold water.
  • Baths as social activities.
  • Baths as a dangerous source of disease (not without cause because people mingling but often based on spurious theories).

Fair to say that the messages around baths and bathing were a bit mixed for much of European history.

I don’t know how well sourced some of these claims are so please do your own due diligence. However, I liked this snippet: http://www.medievalists.net/2013/04/did-people-in-the-middle-ages-take-baths/

“Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons believed that the Vikings were overly concerned with cleanliness since they took a bath once a week.”

And this snippet with accompanying picture:

“In her book Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity Virginia Smith explains,”By the fifteenth-century, bath feasting in many town bathhouses seems to have been as common as going out to a restaurant was to become four centuries later. German bath etchings from the fifteenth century often feature the town bathhouse, with a long row of bathing couples eating a meal naked in bathtubs, often several to a tub, with other couples seen smiling in beds in the mid-distance.””

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The Wikipedia article has a broad survey of public bathing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_bathing

This post is another broad overview: http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/medieval-bathing-for-cleanliness-health.html

“King Henry III even had a special room for the purpose of washing his hair.”

And here we get an overview that includes brushing your teeth: http://www.historyundressed.com/2008/07/history-of-hygiene-bathing-teeth.html

*[OK not Manchester but it is funnier if it is Manchester]


5 thoughts on “Medieval Bathing Link Round Up – watch out there’s nudity!

  1. ** Strolls by, whistling the Spiderman theme ** —> “Nudity! Nudity. …Watch out, there’s nudity!”

    PS — Everything is funnier when it’s Manchester.

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