History of the bath

Since the beginning of time, the art of bathing in water has been essential to one’s good health and peace of mind. As early as the third century, bathing emporiums quickly became the fashion.

The Greeks and Romans were the leaders in erecting many elaborate, expensive bathhouses in which they could conduct business, gossip with friends, eat, drink, or arrange sexual liaisons.

Some public baths were so grand that they could easily contain lecture halls, art galleries, meditation rooms, and prayer stalls. As well there were always numerous separate enclosures for “private” business.

The larger bathhouses combined healing practices with entertainment, social festivities, and physical fitness. It was not uncommon for wounded or weary soldiers to find comfort after a battle before returning to society.

Some of the finest healers worked in the baths and could tend their wounds.

The majority of the bathhouses were very spectacular and ornate, accommodating as many as 6,000 bathers at one time. The elite would bring their servants to run errands, feed or massage them.

Although the Greeks and Romans discovered the perks of bathing around the same time, each had their own unique approach. The Romans bathed to keep themselves healthy while the Greeks believed only women should immerse their whole body in water.

The Greeks viewed bathing as something one simply did to cleanse one’s self before conducting business, after a day’s work, or before taking part in philosophical discussions, or battle.

Nevertheless, the Greeks built numerous rich, beautifully designed bathhouses for both sexes but the baths were not quite as splendid as those built by the Romans.

The Roman, Greek, and Egyptian baths were known as temples of beauty, much like those from Atlantean times, and many therapies were developed to either heal or beautify those who entered through their doors. The Romans were believed to be the first who used different coloured plasters for specific ailments.

As many as seven healers at one time would take a client into a bath with each healer taking responsibility for a specific area of the body.

Each had a field of expertise such as knowledge of herbs, oils, gems, or colours and their services were more sought after than local physicians were.


Not only Europeans, but also many other cultures had a passion for the many pleasures bathhouses offered them. The Turks developed very hot baths, which to this day are still known as Turkish Baths, or steam baths.

Their bathhouses were very artistic and expensive with rich hand-woven carpets, tapestries and ornate columns, and gold, silver, or brass fixtures.

Bathhouses became so popular in Rome that not long after the third century the government learned to transport water by means of aqueducts. The initial reward was all of Rome was supplied with abundant water for their needs.

The aqueducts became so successful that soon they were being built all over Europe. To this day remnants of these majestic aqueducts are still visible by the roadsides of Europe, especially Italy and Spain.

The success of the bathhouses was short lived as many plagues, epidemics and diseases were quickly spread by water throughout the population of Europe and England. The early viaducts were made of lead and it was discovered that this was the source of the poisoning or toxicity.

As well as disease, many people suffered from a form of poisoning while others became impotent or sterile. The baths soon became suspect and attendance dropped once the connection was made between the bathhouses and the spread of disease. It was not long before they were very quickly ordered closed.

For centuries, Japan has been another culture known for its bathing customs and obsession about cleanliness. Spiritual pursuits of purity, hygiene and ritual purification were an important part of Japanese culture and bathing was done communally without regard for division of the sexes.

However, as class distinctions became more pronounced, there was as much sexual activity taking place in the public baths as there had been in the Roman. Very quickly a law was passed segregating the sexes. Separate entrances and separate pools were created for the different classes, although sexes were not entirely kept apart. Where there is a will, there is a way. To this day bathing is still a major Japanese indulgence and passion.

The Moslems also erected bathhouses where one could meditate, pray to the Creator, or think. It was the custom to cleanse at a public bath before going to the mosque to worship and many mosques were therefore conveniently erected in the same streets as the bathhouses.

In the late 16th century, and for the next two centuries, bathing lost its popularity. Churches became increasingly more outspoken about the sins and self-indulgence of those who spent more of their time in the various bathhouses rather than in church, working, or looking after their families. The Ministers were particularly disturbed that so many illegitimate children were created from dubious encounters outside of marriage.

As time passed by, various citizens began to protest against the sins of the bathers. The new Christian trend was to become grubby because cleanliness was considered to be too sensuous and sexual. Dirt was a symbol of one’s spiritual purity and indicated that the focus was outside one’s self, rather than on personal hygiene. Refusing to bathe was proof one was beyond such things and thus not egotistical or self absorbed.

It was also believed that dirt was a protection from germs due to the numerous plagues that had previously killed a large population of England and Europe. Rather than being put off by the smell, body odour was thought to be magnetic and a turn on. Powders, perfumes, wigs, cosmetics, and layers of clothes hid the grime and body scent. If overwhelmed by a particularly potent smell, a bit of snuff to clear one’s nostrils was all that was needed.

Provisions for bathing were scant because there was not enough simple plumbing to make household consumption available. When the plagues hit England in the early 1800’s, so many people became ill or died that, an immediate investigation was made as to how to connect the average home with water. It was found that water was not the cause of the problem but part of the cure. England spent a lot of time and money researching this and soon became a leader in bathroom technology.

Once water became plentiful, new water healing modalities, which used water, were created to prevent or cure many diseases such as typhoid and fever. Going to the baths became fashionable again, with Epsom, mineral and sulphur baths being especially popular. Spas were the rage all over Europe and became so important that hydrotherapy and thermal healing were taught in medical schools. Sessions at spas are still prescribed by the Government of numerous European countries and clients are sent to spas that specialise in treatments for their particular ailments.

World wide, people have adopted the same general attitudes towards water, using it to clean, to socialise and to heal. Spas, saunas, Jacuzzis, birthing pools, hot springs baths, and mineral or sulphur baths are once again increasing in popularity.

Extracts from: Water Changes Everything by Lynne Jenkins



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