You might imagine that before modern times, people were dirty and barbaric, not bathing for weeks or months at a time. To my surprise, I learned that isn’t true! Ancient Romans created expansive aqueducts that supplied indoor plumbing and bathhouses with water. These public bathhouses were basically the ancient form of a spa, offering all of the benefits of modern times – massages, exercise and entertainment.
Although in these ancient times they did not have the evidence showing the importance of hygiene like we do today, but cleanliness was often associated with power and beauty. Ancient Egyptians believed that the cleaner and well-oiled the person was, the closer they were to the gods. Hygiene, makeup, and clothing were also important when burying the dead, as it was said to assist them during the Judgement of the Dead, their gateway into the afterlife.
“Showers” in ancient Egypt involved rich people having private rooms in which servants poured jugs of cold water over them. In the Roman era, the city of Bath was notorious for being a city of bathing. An array of public baths with hydrothermal springs and sophisticated water systems were placed around the city. These public baths were hubs for exercise, relaxation, and socializing, and were often the first thing to be built in a new town. The buildings were complex with a series of rooms with different temperature water ranging from hot to cold.
In more modern times, the notion that baths could serve a medical purpose became more prevalent. In the late 1700s, the idea that water could be used therapeutically – hydrotherapy- gained some popularity. In the early 1900s, the typical Saturday night for American families involved fetching and warming water in the kitchen then filling the bath with it. The father would bathe first, followed by the mother, then the children – with the youngest having their turn last.
Today, the average person showers daily – some even twice daily. Showering or taking baths is now a private affair, but it isn’t hard to see that bathing in general has more benefits than just removing dirt from our skin’s surface. Taking baths have been found to reduce stress, relax muscles, and aid in better sleep. Our ancestors were definitely onto something, and we can only learn more about the benefits of bathing from this point forward.