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The History of Bathing and Bath Houses

Cindy has a strong interest in the world around her. Her interest and research lead to the creation of this article

History of Bathhouses

Water is essential for good health and provides a comforting sense of peace. Humans have utilized these and many other healing properties of water since the beginning of time.

Public bathhouses have been in existence for almost 2000 years. The Romans and the Greeks erected many luxurious and extravagant bathhouses which were used for many other purposes than bathing, however. In fact, business was conducted between colleagues, and gossip exchanged between friends. Bathhouses were a place to eat, drink and arrange sexual encounters. Although bathhouses were sometimes segregated between the sexes, many were mixed and served the sexes together.

Some bath halls were so elaborate that they contained oratory halls, meditation or reflection rooms, art galleries and prayer compartments. Some also provided separate smaller compartments for more “personal” business matters and entertainment.

Some of the more prominent bathhouses combined the healing arts with other activities which included recreation, revelry and fitness. It was normal for a soldier to retreat to, and find comfort in, the bathhouses after a battle, where his wounds would be well-tended often by the finest healers.

Most of the bathhouses were impressive and lavishly decorated. Many could accommodate up to 6,000 bathers at a time, in addition to their servants which accompanied them to provide the services of errand boy, chef and masseuse.

The Greeks and the Romans ascertained the benefits of bathing at approximately the same time, but they each had their own particular methodology for the bathing experience.

While the Romans bathed to maintain health, the Greeks felt that it was only necessary for the women to be fully immersed in the bathwater. The Greek’s felt that bathing was necessary before conducting business, after a hard day of work, or before taking part in a battle or philosophical debate/discussion.

Although their bathhouses never measured up to Roman standards, the Greeks built many elaborate bathhouses for both sexes. The Romans were believed to be the first to fully comprehend and utilize different colored plasters on the walls to address the different needs of various disorders or complaints.

In a Roman bath, a client-bather was serviced all at once by many healers who were knowledgeable in gems, herbs, colors or oils. In fact, the services of these healers were often sought after and desired over the services of the local physicians.


Verbiage From Signs at Bet She'an Bathhouse

Verbiage From Signs at Bet She'an Bathhouse

Turkish Bathhouses

Aside from the Romans and the Greeks, other cultures also sought the pleasures a bathhouse had to offer. The Turks created an extremely hot bathing experience that is still known to this day as a Turkish steam bath. The Turkish bathhouses were lavish and artistically decorated with carpets/rugs, tapestries and columns. They were also decorated with ornate fixtures of gold, silver or brass.


Bathhouses and Disease

After a time, bathhouses became the suspected cause for the spread of many water-borne diseases, plagues, and epidemics throughout Europe and England. It was determined that many of the early lead-based waterways caused toxicity and poisoning, resulting in sickness, impotence and sterility. Once the connection was made between disease and these conditions to the bathhouses, their popularity waned, leading to their closures.


The Japanese and Bathing

For many centuries, as well as recent times, the Japanese culture has been known for its obsession with cleanliness and its bathing rituals/customs. Bathing was communal in earlier times without division of the sexes; and sexual activity was as rampant as it had been in Roman bathhouses. It did not take long for laws to be passed separating the sexes, creating separate entrances and pools. Even today, bathing is considered an indulgence in Japanese culture.


Muslims and Bathing

The Muslims also built bathhouses, often on the same streets as the mosques. They used bathhouses as places to think, meditate or pray.


Bathhouses and Morality

Late in the 16th century, bathhouses fell out of popularity. The church was concerned over the number of illegitimate children being born and the amount of time being spent in bathhouses rather than in church or providing for their families’ needs. The church, therefore, came against the bathhouses and the sins they appeared to encourage.

Grubbiness became the vogue. Refusing to bathe and dirt/grime represented spiritual purity and the turning away from the sensual and sexual aspects of the bath. It was also believed that dirt protected one from the illnesses and plagues that had earlier spread through the waters. Because of this attitude toward bathing, body odor was thought to be a huge turn on. Various cosmetics, perfumes, powders, wigs and layers of clothing were used to mask and hide the dirt and body odors.

Bathing is Back

When England was struck with sickness and plague in the early 1800s, an investigation discovered that water was not the cause of sickness and disease. Instead, it was discovered to be part of the cure. England soon became a leader in the creation of bathroom technology.

Bathhouses gained popularity again, including baths using additions of Epsom, minerals and/or sulfur.

People all over the world now use water to clean themselves, for socialization and to provide healing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Cindy Murdoch

Comments: "The History of Bathing and Bathhouses"

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on February 22, 2012:

Millionaire Tips - I think it would be interesting to see some of the ancient ones and admire the architecture and artwork (frescos). Thanks so much!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on February 22, 2012:

FGual - Water does provide us with many beneficial uses, and it is enjoyable to touch, see and hear. Thanks!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on February 22, 2012:

thumbi7 - Yes the bathhouses are very beautiful. Although I am not keen on public bathing, I think the beauty of the structures and the peacefulness of the water could be quite relaxing. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on February 21, 2012:

Trsmd - I am glad that I could share the history of bath houses with you. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Shasta Matova from USA on February 21, 2012:

Great history of bathing! I've been to Bath too, but didn't go tot he bath house. We did see bathhouses when we went to Pompeii last summer. I have a friend in Japan whose husband really likes to go to bath houses - I think they go about once a month or maybe more often.

FGual from USA on February 21, 2012:

Quite interesting hub. Great that the 1800s brought a bathing renewal. The steam room and saunas at fitness centers today are the equivalent of the historic bath houses. Water is enjoyable and good for you, that will never change.

JR Krishna from India on February 21, 2012:

Wow! beautiful pictures!

I really enjoyed the hub.

So much of information and history on the one activity we do everyday

Just wonderful!

Thanks for SHARING:)

Trsmd from India on February 21, 2012:

Homestead bound, never thought the background and history of bathing, even though we are taking bath daily, never thought how and who initiated the idea of taking bath. Thanks for posting different ideas and sharing:)

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on December 13, 2011:

Arlene V. Poma - I'm pleased that you enjoyed the history of bathing and bathhouses. Too bad the one that you would have been able to visit is closed.

I can go for that Calgon feeling myself.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cindy Murdoch (author) from Texas on December 13, 2011:

Beth Pipe - I'm glad that you enjoyed this hub. I bet the baths are not far from you are they?

Thanks for stopping by!

Arlene V. Poma on December 13, 2011:

Fantastic history lesson on something as simple as bathing. Unfortunately, the historic bathhouse along the Sacramento River is no more, but what a sight it must have been in its day. Voted up for the "Calgon, Take Me Away" feeling!

Beth Pipe from Cumbria, UK on December 13, 2011:

Love it! What a fascinating history. I've been to the city of Bath but not visited the bath houses. What wonderful buildings too.