History of Bathing


Bathing has always been practiced for personal hygiene, religious ritual, or therapeutic purposes. Bathing did not start at only one place or one country. Every country has their own way of cleaning themselves since the beginning of human existence. Humans have probably been bathing since the Stone Age, not least because the vast majority of European caves that contain Palaeolithic art are short distances from natural springs. There are a few data or evidence that show how ancient people bath from different countries. Here are a few examples.

Greece. Ancient Greece utilized small bathtubs, wash basins, and foot baths for personal cleanliness. Luxurious alabaster bathtubs have been found dating from the mid-2nd millennium BC. According to the historical data, people of Sparta were the original inventors of a hot-air bath, or laconica as it came to be known. When it spread to the city of Athens with its great social life, laconica soon became that perfect compromise between the needs of a body and the desires of human intellect. The harmony of both health and mind was reflected in the very design of Greek baths. Conveniently located between a gymnasium and a lecture hall, they became the place where Olympic athletes could listen to philosophical ideas of Plato and Socrates.

Japan. Sometime after adopting Buddhism and its principle of purity from China, the traditional bathhouses of the Buddhist temples became open to the general population. The first public baths in Japan were established in 8th century BC by Buddhist monks serving in shrines of Nara, the ancient Japanese capital. In fact, monks provided free baths for the poor up until the 16th century, when this tradition was abolished due to the constant wars between samurai clans. By the end of this century, when the country was united under Tokugawa family, the first commercial bath opened in Edo (present day Tokyo). The novelty was extremely successful, which brought about the boom of bathing. Soon Japan boasted 600 bath houses. This expansion process never ended: in the 1960s Japan had almost 23,000 public baths, or sento. As with many other cultures all around the world, sentos acquired a great social importance. Today, Japanese bathhouses are more like clubs, where people meet each other, discuss local news, and simply spend time with their friends.

Rome. Ancient Rome developed a network of aqueducts to supply water to large towns and population centers with pipes that terminated in homes and at public wells and fountains. In Ancient Rome, bathing in thermae was considered to be a cure from numerous diseases. This belief was supported by works of famous doctors, such as Hippocrates, Galen and Asclepiades. The latter was so devoted to thermae, he was nicknamed “bather”. He was absolutely convinced that moderate physical exercises, walks in fresh air, reasonable diet, massage, a clean body as well as regular sweating in hot-air rooms are absolutely essential for treating a vast number of diseases. As was expressed in one old saying carved in the wall of one of the bath-houses: “Thermae, love and joy – we are together”. Thermae played an important social and even political role in Rome. Senators preferred to informally discuss crucial political decisions that affected lives of citizens of the vast Empire. Ordinary people would than discuss those decisions as well as various news and rumors again in thermae. All Roman Emperors considered it a duty to construct thermae-or community bathhouses.

Native America. The culture of Native American sweat houses developed with no influence from ancient European civilizations, yet it in some aspects is very similar. It is known that ancestors of American Indians lived in Asia most likely, that is where the idea of the steam originated. Even though Indian tribes were on different stages of development, nearly all civilizations of North and Central America had a tradition of using steam for healing as well as for religious purposes. Recent archeological discoveries have proven that hot-air treatment was very well-known by Mayan people. Steam rooms of about 1,200 years old were found in Piedras Negras, Chichen Itza, and El Paraiso. Temescal (derived from Aztec teme, to bathe, and calli, house) is a small hut with a fire that heats stones, on which the water is poured to give off the healing hot vapor. American Indians used sweat lodges as a way to treat such common sicknesses as cold and rheumatism. Aztecs even had a similar tradition to the Russian venik platza, where they used bunches of herbs to treat bodily disorders.