If the summer heat has you feeling a little grubby, take heart: you”re probably nowhere as gross as your ancestors, both the ancient and the not-so-ancient. Today, we take for granted things like hygiene, indoor plumbing, and sanitation things many people, even today, don”t have access to. Yet in times past, people had to make do with what they had to stay clean and healthy. Sometimes, what they had seemed like the complete opposite of cleanliness.
1. Bathing was sporadic and often communal.
For a while, public bathhouses, usually with communal bathwater, were popular, but they declined. Why? Well, the church thought that being naked was evil. Another reason was that bathhouses were also sites popular with prostitutes, also a no-no. Finally, there was this idea that the cleanliness of a person”s clothes was more important than the cleanliness of their body, probably because it reflected a person”s social status. Only the wealthy regularly took baths in their homes. Other people would simply wash the visible parts of their bodies, like their faces, necks, and hands, at home. The rest of the body? Not so much.
2. Laundry was important, but probably didn”t smell wonderful.
While soap for humans has been around for almost 3,000 years and has stayed remarkably similar, laundry detergent has changed. Original additives to laundry included lye, ashes, sulfur, charcoal, and even urine. Even modern, nice-smelling laundry detergent has had its share of gross problems in the form of environmental damage via phosphates.
3. Urine was…recycled.
Urine was considered really important back in the day. To be fair, this led to learning about how it reflects a person”s internal health and the introduction of certain chemicals, and it was used in the production of gunpowder. However, people also used it in medicines, like the kind you ingest, and as a cleaning agent for cloth and for the face. In ancient Rome, it was even used to whiten teeth. Urine does break down into ammonia, so they were kinda on the right path.
4. Urine (and more) was easily collected…right in your room.
Up until fairly recently, the idea of having a separate room for doing your business was nonexistent. People either went outside in outhouses or used chamber pots. Often, both were used. The chamber pot would usually be kept under the bed, so having to go in the middle of the night didn”t require a trip outside. Convenient? Yes. Pleasant? Probably not even close.
5. Toilet paper? Not even a thing.
Soft, gentle tissue for your soft, gentle bum wasn”t a staple in most households up until the 1850s. It was actually first recorded in China about 2,200 years ago, and Arab travelers thought it was gross. Elsewhere in the world was worse, though; if you can think of it, it was used to wipe a butt, including wool, hemp, lace, leaves, stones, sticks, wood shavings, moss, corncobs, and sand. But the prize for the worst goes to the Romans. They used a sponge tied to a stick. That doesn”t sound so bad until you learn that they”d just stick it in a bucket of vinegar after each use…and that it was communal.
6. Rotting plants served as flooring.
While the wealthy had tile, stone, wooden flooring, and rugs, everyone else covered their floors with a layer of straw or dried rushes. The idea was that when the rushes soaked up enough dirt, food, and whatever else, they could be thrown out and replaced. Some people did this, but others just piled new rushes on top of the old ones.
7. Bugs everywhere.
Parasites like bedbugs, lice, and fleas were rampant, to the point where epidemics like the bubonic plague are attributed to them. Places like inns were notable for them, especially because travelers, even strangers, would usually share beds. Combined with people”s remiss bathing habits, bed linens were notoriously full of tiny bloodsuckers.
8. Flowers were for more than just looking pretty.
To their credit, the people of the old days knew their world stank. They might have expected it, but they still thought it was gross. To mask the stench of the unwashed masses, noble people would carry flowers and attach them to their clothing. The flowers also probably doubled as perfume for their own unwashed bodies.
9. Fashion was also smelly.
The poor bore the brunt of being considered responsible for the smelliness of the past, but the rich weren”t exactly fresh, either. The towering, powdered wigs favored by the elite in the 18th century were styled using a rather pungent mousse made from animal fat.
10. Leeches cured everything.
Leeches, the creepy, bloodsucking things that live in ponds, have been used in medicine for years. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant so they can keep drinking your sweet, sweet blood, and ancient people noticed that this was perfect for bloodletting. Letting out the “bad blood” was considered a form of therapy. Today, leeches are actually still used in surgeries to solve issues with drainage and blocked blood flow.
11. Silverware was shared.
Place settings at the table during the Middle Ages were different in that people shared utensils. Forks weren”t popular until the Renaissance, so people mainly ate with knives and spoons, and pairs of people would share a place setting plate, cup, knife, and spoon. Of course, this was in wealthy homes. Poorer families usually just gathered around one communal bowl.
12. Cauterization was pretty common.
This is another thing that”s still done today, and it”s actually really important. To stop bleeding and seal an open wound from infection, a piece of metal called a cauter, or sometimes just a regular fireplace poker, was heated up and pressed to the wound. It would essentially burn the wound closed and, yes, hurt a lot. It also probably saved a lot of people from serious blood loss. It even worked at killing the rabies virus when applied to animal bites.
(via All Day)
Do you think you could live like this? We suppose it”s only what these people were used to back then. In another 1,000 years, though, someone will likely write an article about all the gross things we do in the name of hygiene today.
Still, the increase in bathing is something we can all appreciate.
For more things that used to be considered totally normal, check these out: