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.””
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]