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  • Historical Cleaning Methods?

    I've heard before that history was pretty smelly, so I'm curious about the history of bathing and getting clean. I know the Japanese used hot springs, the Romans used bathhouses (but hadn't invented soap) and some colder societies used saunas and then rolled in the snow, but I don't really have details.

    Anyone have any ideas or good resources?



  • #2
    I dunno about bathing in it, but historically, more than a few folks used urine to get stains out of clothes or even to whiten teeth.

    (Gross as the stuff is, it's also sterile.)

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    • #3
      Originally posted by BrilliantRain View Post
      I've heard before that history was pretty smelly, so I'm curious about the history of bathing and getting clean. I know the Japanese used hot springs, the Romans used bathhouses (but hadn't invented soap) and some colder societies used saunas and then rolled in the snow, but I don't really have details.

      Anyone have any ideas or good resources?

      No, the Romans had soap. They imported it from Gaul and Germania.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap#History_of_soaps

      Amusingly, and contrary to "popular opinion", the "barbarians" had a cultural hard-on for cleanliness that confused the shit out of the Romans. Public bathhouses were nasty, mainly because they didn't really change the water regularly. Public bathhouses were more of a place for socialization (and prostitution) than actual cleanliness.

      Northern barbarian cultures were clean because cleanliness is a function of how warm clothing is. When clothing gets dirty, it loses insulative ability, as the air-pockets inside the fabric gets filled up with dirt and gunk. Therefore, you want to have clean clothing when it is cold out.

      In spite of public bathhouses being nasty-as-fuck places in general, the idea of them survived in Europe until well in the 14th century, and only really died out with the Black Death (yeah, let's gather a bunch of sick people in a warm, wet confined space, where the water doesn't get changed all that often.... sounds like a plan!). Most major cities had at least one.

      And, even then, bathhouses fell out of favor not because Europeans didn't like being clean, but because with the changing socioeconomic climate, they weren't really economically viable in most places. The Romans primarily heated the bathwater using wood, and guess where they got most of it?

      Europe. It was just lousy with trees, after all.

      With the "collapse" (which was far less 'apocalyptic' than most people realize. It took quite some time for the thing to shit the bed, and even then, most places just had a change of leadership as opposed to the RAPE BURN KILL-shtick that many people think of. Many, if not most, of the "barbarians" moving around in the Migration Period were Romanized to at least a slight degree, having served as foederati mercenaries, and even "the" representative of the Dark Ages, the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, was less an invasion and more of a slow migration of cultural and social ideology, with only the ruling Briton class being replaced.) of the Western Roman Empire (which was pretty German at that point, anyways), urban logistics and infrastructure started to break down, as Imperial bureaucracy retreated, and urban populations moved to the country, so they could grow their own food.

      Since there was now a larger rural population engaged in agriculture, they needed more farmland. So, they cut down a metric poop-ton of trees. This left less available firewood for both bathhouses and home-baths, and that, coupled with the time-intensive regimen of preindustrial agriculture, many people just didn't have time to relax in a bath every day. This, coupled with climate change (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_A...Little_Ice_Age) led to the demise of the sauna outside of Scandanavia, Russia and Finland.

      That didn't mean they didn't clean themselves, though, nor did they actually enjoyed being dirty/stanky. Of course, the Church preached against (public) bathing and vanity, but that was more of a diatribe against prostitution and pride than actual cleanliness.

      Many rural peoples tried to bathe at least once a week, and even then, they still took a swim in a pond or stream regularly, and changed and washed their clothing (especially undergarments) as often as they could. People prided themselves in starched, bleached linen and nettlecloth, and they had soap and "toothbrushes" (meaning, sticks with the ends splintered, used to floss) to clean themselves.

      Finally, ammonia (from urine) was used to clean everything. Splash it on the floor, scrub it clean. Dunk your undergarments in it, to bleach them and clean them. Rinse out your mouth with it, to whiten and clean your teeth.

      On the other hand, most cities (and towns of meaningful size) were indeed disgusting and smelly places, but that is more a result of the lack of effective waste disposal than any social hated of cleanliness. With the decay of Roman infrastructure, sewers and aqueducts, most waste disposal took the form of cesspits (with outhouses and chamberpots), gutters, or just throwing it into the river, which works fine ........ unless the river is tidal, which most European rivers are, close to the sea, and coincidentally where most cities of note were located. This is why most European cultures drank some sort of alcohol, as the water was generally unsafe to drink without boiling, and if you are going to boil water, might as well go full-hog and make some booze, which is also an easy way to preserve grain and make calories easy to digest.

      Amusingly, the "real' Dung Ages was after the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance. The spread of New World diseases (including syphilis), the various plagues (of which the Black Death was one, with multiple recurring outbreaks), and another bout of climate change, all lead to the effective dieoff of "real" cleanliness in Europe, until about the 19th century.

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheDungAges (warning: TV Tropes link!)
      https://youtu.be/WcHoqXChcyY?t=3571

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      • #4
        I think even America used Urine as a source of ammonia 100 years ago to clean.

        I figured things were simple, hot water and scrubbing, and if you had it soap. For fancier people they would have fragrant oils to apply to themselves as well.


        It is a time for great deeds!

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        • #5
          In my games, the Shogunate was the equivalent of Imperial Rome, with the technology to match, so anywhere Shogunate-influenced is going to have infrastructure like "Shogun Roads" (Roman roads, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_roads), Aqueducts (both the suspended-bridge type and underground piping), sewers and other assorted stuff (concrete being a big one).

          Cities left over from the Shogunate (of which there aren't many, with them being abandoned during the Great Contagion) are pretty much almost always going to have at least one public bathhouse, along with under-street sewers and public running water supplies, in the forms of fountains and the like. In most cases, these will be "powered" by "standard" things: wood, coal, natural gas, etc, but in places used by the Dragonblooded, they will have things like water being provided and heated by summoned and bound elementals, along with air conditioning, heated floors, etc (and the elementals are pissed about being stuck there for so long, as they got regularly relieved during the Shogunate Era.)

          In my current still-not-finished Brittanic campaign, the Kingdom of Vestlandr, one of the major states on the island, is located on the southwest side of the island, and is where most of the Shogunatization happened. Now, a couple decades/a century or so later, it has the largest amount of Shogunate infrastructure left (which isn't a lot), mainly in the form of Shogun Roads, and the capitol of the kingdom, Lundevic, has paved, grid-pattern streets with underground sewers (that drain to the River Thorne), a few public fountains supplied by an aqueduct, and (mostly collapsed, and largely reinforced with timber and packed-earth oppidum-style walls) brick-and-mortar walls and breakwaters. As a result, Vestlandr is the most powerful (but not the largest) of the post-Shogunate petty kingdoms on the island, and the most centralized.

          On the other hand, this requires a large degree of maintenance, and the three obligations of the free populace at certain times of the year are: road-work (including bridges), burh-work (maintenance of fortified sites, which include both rebuilt Shogunate Era sites and new forts), and military service. In addition, the King also levies a tax on all freemen (one penigas a year for each adult member of a household), a tax on property (one peningas per hide of land owned, which most tenants are not going to have to pay, and is done mainly to curb the power/wealth of landowners), and a fee/fine/toll for the use of bridges and harbor breakwaters. In addition, Vestlandr has a strongly developed management "class", in the form of the reeve, who is responsible for the running, upkeep, and ordering of infrastructure, as well as other more esoteric things, like serving as a Magistrate, etc. (Manor-reeve, Hundred-reeve, Port-reeve, Burh-reeve, Shire-reeve, etc).

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          • #6
            Originally posted by TheCountAlucard View Post

            (Gross as the stuff is, it's also sterile.)
            ​As a matter of fact, a major thing that would make people think of urine as gross (the smell) is actually a result of the ammonia that gives it the useful cleaning properties.

            ​The main thing that will make the past more unpleasant smelling will have been more about lack of waste management than standards of bathing; if you don't have a sewage network or system for removal of rubbish, waste products are just going to accumulate in the street.

            Also if you have anything to do with textiles; dying and leather tanning were so bad that they would be confined to their own quarters in cities.

            ​EDIT:
            Originally posted by Boston123
            TV Tropes link!)
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            I have approximate knowledge of many things.
            Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
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            • #7
              Tangentially related: Cleaning metal of rust and dirt was often done by placing it in a barrel filled with sand and rolling that around with a some gusto, or so I'm told. It was apparently one of the most time efficient ways for a squire to clean his knight's chainmail, especially in the absence of suitably small tools. It was probably also used for other metal items, but chainmail would have been really really fiddly to clean any other way.

              Metal armour and weapons in those times were highly susceptible to rust, as they were by design often exposed to weather, sweat and blood, and steel was barely able to be forged at all, let alone in corrosion resistant alloys.


              I thank the Devs for the great game of Exalted!

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              • #8
                I hear in real ancient times people took showers by having wooly mammonts spray water on them with their trunks

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by vampire hunter D View Post
                  I hear in real ancient times people took showers by having wooly mammonts spray water on them with their trunks
                  Why is it that even though I have been playing Exalted for over a decade and a half, I never thought to introduce a Flintstone's inspired city where people use pet dinosaurs to handle everyday tasks? I feel like I've been wasting my life all this time.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by vampire hunter D View Post
                    I hear in real ancient times people took showers by having wooly mammonts spray water on them with their trunks


                    considering exalted, then that there could very well be an image from the High First Age - perhaps from a Lunar's palace.

                    Remember: Beasts of Resplendent Liquid are a thing. There must have been other 'utilitarian' animals as well


                    Malfeas F'Tagn - go check out my epic MLP/Exalted crossover "The Scroll of Exalted ponies" @ Fimfiction

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                    • #11
                      Salt was also used in cleaning. That in addition to food preservation (a biggie) is why it was a big deal and a common currency of sorts(hence the old "they paid soldiers in salt!" thing). It's reasonably portable, everyone needs at least a hundred pounds of it a year (for cleaning/preserving, not all for eating), so it's in that sweet-spot of bulky enough to make easy measuring of small value easy, but in high enough demand that it's valuable.


                      Odd_Canuck is not a topical medication or food product and is not to be taken internally or seriously.

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                      • #12
                        Soapberries!

                        http://evie-s.com/news/2011/04/22/di...m-soapberries/


                        On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by webkilla View Post
                          Remember: Beasts of Resplendent Liquid are a thing. There must have been other 'utilitarian' animals as well
                          ​Technically all domesticated animals are utilitarian, and Beasts of Resplendent Liquid are only slightly more fantastical than using yeasts to ferment sugar.

                          ​The question is, is it more effective to have an animal spray water around like that rather than just use it to power a pump with its muscles?

                          ​I suppose it's conceivable that one could engineer an elephant that doesn't have mucus membranes inside of its nose so that spraying water through it at you become less unhygienic, but what's the point?

                          ​(I suppose that this is all mostly meant in jest, but beasts of resplendent liquid and false equivalences is a bad combination with me)


                          I have approximate knowledge of many things.
                          Watch me play Dark Souls III (completed)
                          https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDtbr08HW8RW4jOHN881YA3yRZBV4lpYw Watch me play Breath of the Wild (updated 12/03)

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                          • #14
                            Since "Marukani = Mongols" is one of the more direct Creation-to-Earth analogs in Exalted, here's a quick word about the Mongols, their religious beliefs, and how those beliefs influenced their personal hygiene:

                            Despite reports of "odors most foul" given by those who survived encounters with Ghengis Khan's all-conquering horsemen (reports originating as consistently in the Xia Dynasty, Kara-Khitan Empire and Kwharezmian Empire, as they did in Georgia, Bulgaria and the Russian Principalities/), the Khan's forces were in no way ignorant of bathing, or of matters of personal hygiene. However, their religious beliefs placed strong emphasis on fresh water as being sacred to the sky-god, Tengri, and using such water to bathe, to wash tools or clothing, or for any purpose other than drinking, was unthinkable, and as much a cultural outlook as a religious belief. Even as recently as the early 20th century, many of the tribes inhabiting the steppes still held a cultural bias against lake- or river-fishing, and the consumption of fish entirely. Add these attitudes to the ubiquity of yak butter (invariably described by non-Mongols as "rancid," even today) in Mongol life, not just as food, but as a rust-preventer, a salve for wind-burn, as lamp oil, a beverage staple, as a cosmetic and hair pomade, and as a component of their religious rituals, and you get the peculiar truth of the Mongols at the time of the Khan were a people who held the concepts of purity and cleanliness to be far too sacred to waste on something as petty as personal hygiene.

                            Of course, it's important to remember the Mongols' penchant for religious tolerance and acceptance, a near-unique trait in the annals of empire. To them, blaspheming Tengri by dipping in the river to wash off blood and sweat was an abomination, but they had no problem with anyone else doing so--after all, Tengri wasn't their god, so he wouldn't bother to care if they had cultural, personal, or religiously-based beliefs compelling them towards constant bathing. As long as there remained enough water to support the city's inhabitants, the subjects of of the Khanate could keep as clean as they liked.

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                            • #15
                              Related to the use of salt, natron was used a lot in antiquity for things like cleaning and production of soap. It's probbly something I see the Realm using quite a bit actually since it apparently has decent salt deposits.

                              And stuff.


                              And stuff.
                              Made signature by moderator request. Any actual typing of "And stuff." is out of habitual reflex.

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