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I assure you, medieval people bathed (2019)

kgeist

The Old Norse word for Saturday, laugardagr, literally means "washing day". This custom still survives here in countryside Eastern Europe where many people routinely go to sauna (banya) every Saturday (or Sunday like my family). Before the 20th century, a lot of Eastern Europe (especially Russia) still lived like they lived in the middle ages: 95% of the country were serfs on feudal property living in traditional wooden houses with no modern benefits of civilization, and the bathing culture was pervasive: there were saunas (banyas) everywhere, and most villages were close to a river so water access was not a problem. Saunas were also a place where people gave birth. I find it hard to believe that Russian peasants were living the same lifestyle for centuries and only recently decided to start bathing. My family comes from Old Believers, a religous group which rejected church reforms of the 1600's and went into hiding in taiga, they preserved pretty ancient customs and their bathing culture was pretty intricate: for example, there always must be a separate towel/bucket of water for head, body, feet - this wouldn't have developed without a rich bathing culture before. Those villagers who could not afford their own sauna bathed in... ovens (inside the house). It's one of the older customs still preserved in some places. The traditional oven was pretty large and a whole person could fit in it. My mother was bathed like that when she was a child in their Old Believer village. However, I don't know if this was specific to Eastern/Northern Europe or common in Western Europe, too. I remember reading that due to overpopulation and deforestation it was harder for West Europeans to have frequent bathing every week. But here, population wasn't dense and forests were abundant.

tuukkah

Most Finns still go to a sauna weekly to supplement the modern daily showers. In Finnish cities, old apartment buildings don't have a sauna room in every apartment (like in the 1980s) or a time-shared sauna suite in every building (like since maybe the 1940s?). Instead, there were big public saunas in every block or so, and people went bathing there once a week.

In Helsinki, only a handful of those old public saunas remain today, but they are now protected by UNESCO and there's been a revival with several fancy public saunas built downtown in the last years, and the wood-heated ones are still considered the best: https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do/activities/the-best-...

tlogan

But Nordic countries become Christian just in 12th century. And it took considerably longer for actual Christian beliefs to establish themselves among the people in these regions.

So all these “don’t bath” nonsense promoted by pope was ignored (like, Pope Innocent IV passed the verdict against Frederick II of being a heathen. The first accusation on his list was the King bathed daily.)

In short, people did not wanted to smell bad but church considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety (as mentioned by Saint Francis of Assisi).

coldtea

>But Nordic countries become Christian just in 12th century

Which is neither here, nor there, as Christian countries still bathed just fine.

>So all these “don’t bath” nonsense promoted by pope was ignored

They were ignored in Christian countries, include Rome and Byzantium, anyway.

Not to mention, they weren't meant that way anyway. From TFA:

"It’s true that we have medieval sources which warn against “excessive” bathing. But here’s the thing, that wasn’t really about being clean, it was about hanging out naked in bathhouses with the opposite sex. They didn’t want you to not be clean, they wanted you to not be going down the bath house and getting your fuck on. And yeah, some holy people didn’t bathe, notably saints who would forego bathing themselves but bathe sick or poor people. But if you bring that up you are missing the point. Medieval people thought that bathing and being clean was really nice, so giving it up and living with your stank was a sign that you had given up on the corporeal world and only thought of heaven. It was holy because it was uncomfortable, like wearing a hair shirt, or eating vegan, and hitting your chest with rocks and sitting in the desert trying not to wank. You know, standard saint stuff. It is mentioned because it is uncommon and uncomfortable."

rajup

Being vegan is holy? Which religion?

LtWorf

Do you have a source for this?

I could find nothing written in Italian about this.

LtWorf

If no source comes I'll just think it was a rumor spread by protestants to show people they should be protestants.

zeristor

“Old Believers” interesting in itself:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Believers

guerrilla

ohhhh so that's what Raskolnikov. I'm guessing most people don't get that reference when reading C&P.

> The name Raskolnikov derives from the Russian raskolnik meaning "schismatic" (traditionally referring to a member of the Old Believer movement). The name Rodion comes from Greek and indicates an inhabitant of Rhodes.

codesnik

There're colonies of russian old believers everywhere. Some were assimilated, like most californian ones. Some colonies are still well, in Brazil for example.

type0

Here's one interesting and heart breaking story about an old believer family: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/for-40-years-this-rus...

null

[deleted]

macleginn

The bathing culture was different in different parts of Russia. It is more developed in the north and people in the south, if fieldwork data are reliable, bathed rather infrequently. Of course, this may also have to do with less firewood being available.

(Also Old Believers' bathing practices have a lot to do with notions of ritual purity, so they cannot be easily projected to the general population.)

mongol

Yes and this is to this day the Swedish word for Saturday: lördag, from "lögardagen". Same etymology as laugardagr.

kzrdude

Well, laugardagr is the etymology, isn't it?

The modern shapes of this weekday name are still used in the scandinavian languages, and Icelandic, Finnish and Estonian.

mongol

Yes could be, it is obvious they are related, I don't know if laugardagr is the original or if they have common roots.

darkerside

How is one bathed in an oven?

kgeist

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_stove

"As well as warming and cooking, Russian stoves were used for bathing. Once the stove became hot the burning wood was removed, and cast iron containers were put into the stove and filled with water. That allowed people to bathe inside of the stove. A grown man can easily fit inside, and during World War II some people escaped the Nazis by hiding in the stoves."

aasasd

Okay, but can I get a schematic of how that's supposed to work? The opening on the pechka is on the side—what, you slide inside like in an MRI and then somehow chuck water onto yourself?

Pretty sure just filling a proper wooden tub with the hot water is a lot simpler.

For the context, back in my childhood I spent several summers in a house with a pechka (it's still there), and visited a couple others. Those could only fit a child at best, but the principle is the same: you shove the pots from the side into the tunnel above the fire.

eastbound

> escaped the Nazis by hiding in the stoves

If I understand, the iron containers myst have been extremely hot, how do you walk in? Did the nazis dismiss the possibility of hiding there because it was already hot like an oven?

yrgulation

tremon

First of all, they say "here in countryside eastern Europe", so they're speaking of a situation they're intimately familiar with.

Secondly, they're describing a situation from "before the 20th century" and extrapolating societal customs and norms from that.

Nowhere does it say that current eastern europe lacks showers. The most they say about the now is that not all people can afford a sauna in their home.

kumarvvr

Its funny that western history distorts the history of the rest of the world.

I hear western kids saying no one used to bathe in the ancient times.

As an Indian, it was practically mandatory for each and every individual to take a bath at-least two times a day. Additionally the following customs were very prevalent till recent times.

  1. Washing legs after coming home from outside.
  2. Washing hands, face and legs before sitting to eat food.
  3. Washing whole body after sex.
  4. Washing legs before entering others homes.
  5. Leaving footwear outside the *gate* of any home before entering it.
  6. A full bath in a river / lake / house tank *before* sunrise and once *before* sunset.
Also, body was supposed to be massaged with oil of sesame seeds (once a week), and greengram flour was rubbed on every part of the body. After sitting in the sun like this for a few minutes, the flour was scrubbed off by hand, and then a hot water bath taken.

For shampoo, two traditional herbs are recommended. Kunkudukai and shikakai. Both are used as it is without any processing. Kunkudukai would be crushed and mixed with water to form a liquid and then applied on head. Amazingly, it would form a lather when rubbed on the head. I remember doing this type of head bath every sunday, until about 2005. Any shampoo was forbidden in our home. The items were dead cheap too.

[Edit]

Kinkudukai is also called soapnut.

https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/benefits-of-soapnuts-for...

The above site tends to exaggerate the benifits a bit, but it is believed that kunkudukai inhibhits dandruff and is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.

By personal experience, it tastes absolutely vomit inducing bitter and will burn your eyes to high hell if as much as a diluted drop enters it.

Its a natural, safe and environmentally friendly way of taking a head bath.

danmaz74

> I hear western kids saying no one used to bathe in the ancient times.

Which western kids did you hear from? Every western kid I know studied that in Roman times bathing was a very important activity; as a matter of fact there were very advanced public baths, thermae (which included "sauna" with hot and cold water) in every city.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermae

valtism

In my experience, a lot of western kids I know believe that bathing was almost non-existent in medieval times.

p3rls

hef19898

To bad for the Romans the wormhole did lead to the Samurai era. Space-time and tank barrel cutting Katanas would have prevented the fall of the Empire.

eru

Keep in mind that India was and is a huge and diverse place.

A unified India did not exist until fairly recently. Neither as a political entity nor as a culture one.

kumarvvr

This is blatantly false. A western trope resounding forever.

Culturally India was a unified entity for millenia. As in, perhaps not having a unified government, but having the same cultural and literary background throughout the region.

Ancient texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata talk about various places and practices across the length and breadth of India, which are remarkably similar and have a unified core.

The greatest temples of Hinduism are not concentrated in one place, but spread over the entirety of the continent. And those are ancient temples. From Saraswati Temple in Kashmir to the Bhagavathi temple in Kanya Kumari.

The idea that India was not a cultural entity was a British invention

origin_path

But surely by that definition Europe was also a unified entity in the medieval period.

prox

Yeah, this is also what I gathered from speaking to people from India, and my own research. Brahmanism/ belief in the vedas was pretty widespread and sanskrit is with a few local exceptions the “Latin” of India. As far as I know there was relatively little iconoclasm as most follow up empires usually respected what came before. The exception might by in the deep south? Not sure. Ofcourse this changed somewhat with islamism and British rule. Those two things reformed a lot in the identities of people during time up till now.

prox

Speaking to some people from India, and my own readings what combined their society was a couple of things : a deep connection to the traditions such as the vedas, sanskrit, gods, brahmanism. And even if there was divergence, it was usually with a deep respect for what had gone before. So surely while there was a lot of cultural divergence, there was also a lot of things that made it into the India we see today. Some empires also endured a long time to make more of cultural unity. I am not sure in how far Bharat was used for the whole subcontinent and where.

kumarvvr

True. There were a multitude of kings, queens and kingdoms across India, but the study and spread of the cultural and literary roots of India happened all across the sub-continent.

That is why, even today, the same chants used in temples in the north, are used in the south. The text, meanings, rituals, practices, etc, may have taken a regional flavor, but the essence is the same, the core is the same and the philosophical idea behind it is the same.

rendall

> Its funny that western history distorts the history of the rest of the world.

Is it? "Non-western history" more accurately portrays the history of the rest of the world?

honkdaddy

There’s a bizarre fantasy I see a lot of self-hating westerners reference which is that their hygiene and bathing practices were learned from other societies, which from what I’ve read from and what this article shows, is clearly a complete fiction.

Still though, searching “who taught Europeans how to bathe” will confidently return you lots of articles like

https://sawarimi.org/archives/2893

In which the author confidently states that it was only due to African influence that Europeans ever learned about hygiene. It’s a nice idea, maybe? But it’s just completely made up.

samarthr1

Wasn't Nandi's advice three baths and one meal?

kumarvvr

Yeah, but only for monks. Not for householders or the like.

A person who eats 3 meals a day is a rogi (Diseased)

A person who eats 2 meals a day is a bhogi (A content, satisfied person)

A person who eats 1 meal a day is a yogi (A person on the path to spiritual bliss)

bbarnett

While perhaps accurate, I find it absurd that this wasn't only a ruling class thing.

Massaged with oil? Water tanks?! Hot water? Come on, you can't tell me the poor, barely able to feed themselves, lucky to have fuel for cooking food, lucky to get porable water, barely a roof over their heads, had these luxuries?

I find it the same with how the west views its history. People viewing lords and ladies in castles, as how the would have lived 500 years ago.

No.

You are the peasant. No lands for you, you aren't a lord or lady, you're a peon like 99.999% of people. Almost no middle class, and you aren't upper! You're lower class.

kumarvvr

In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue. Your statement reeks of colonialist attitudes of seeing natives of other lands as some sort of brutes and degenerates living in destitution in poverty.

In India, Every village was in the vicinity of a water source. Every village had a temple, with a large pond.

Massaging with oil and flour based cleansing was the staple of almost every household.

Oils and Flours were cheap. Most of agricultural products were cheap in India. Portable water was not an issue, because industrialization did not yet happen and most water sources (and hundreds of wells dug around the country) would have clean, drinking water. Did you think a thousand years ago, people used water filters? The only filter that was used was a fine threaded cloth.

Fuel for cooking food, as with any country in those times was usually wood, husk or similar material.

> barely able to feed themselves

Yeah, no. Leaving aside a few famines here and there, India was mostly self sufficient and had plentiful of food.

In fact, selling food was considered the gravest sin. It was codified in societal practices that a householder should try to feed at-least one from outside before he has his food. Food donation was considered the highest ideal, even greater than money.

> barely a roof over their heads.

Most of the population lived in thatched huts or wood beam supported houses constructed from soil based cement like stuff. I assume this was true all over the world.

>You are the peasant. No lands for you, you aren't a lord or lady, you're a peon like 99.999% of people. Almost no middle class, and you aren't upper! You're lower class.

This is just an ignorant thing to say, without having any knowledge of world history, forget about Indian history. Also reeks of extreme contempt.

If you are not aware, this was how most of the world lived. Lower class was the norm. We are now living in an age of disproportionate luxury.

Frost1x

>Portable water was not an issue, because industrialization did not yet happen and most water sources (and hundreds of wells dug around the country) would have clean, drinking water. Did you think a thousand years ago, people used water filters?

Potable water hasn't been an issue strictly introduced by industrialization, it was exacerbated by increased population density in areas where water sources were more likely to be contaminated. There are plenty of nasty biological contaminates out there that make water non-potable: various bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. as well as inorganics like lead leaching that led to bad water sources (not to mention droughts). Potable water has always been an issue (to this day), industrialization agreeably added new issues although it also introduced water processing science to make non-potable waters potable in many places.

We should celebrate modern industrialized water processing, not shun it.

politelemon

> In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue. Your statement reeks of colonialist attitudes of seeing natives of other lands as some sort of brutes and degenerates living in destitution in poverty.

Your statements reek of nationalism and revisionist history, viewing the past through black-and-white-and-rose tinted glasses, and passing blame onto 'evil foreigners' for current problems. It's mind boggling that you think anyone would lap these statements up.

ETH_start

This is not true. We have reliable indicators of pre-modern poverty levels [1], and they were indeed brutal. India (in the mythical pre-invasion period) was no exception. [2]

>>Most of the population lived in thatched huts or wood beam supported houses constructed from soil based cement like stuff. I assume this was true all over the world.

This is what extreme poverty (pervasive in pre-modern times, aand still present today in the poorest regions of the world) looks like:

"Official reports for Burgundy between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries are full of 'references to people [sleeping] on straw... with no bed or furniture' who were only separated 'from the pigs by a screen'."

- Civilization & Capitalism [3]

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty

[2] https://theunbrokenwindow.com/Development/MADDISON%20The%20W...

[3] https://archive.org/stream/fernand-braudel-the-structure-of-...

bryanrasmussen

>In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue.

My assumption, when applied to India, would be that it would be an issue for the untouchables caste?

>If you are not aware, this was how most of the world lived. Lower class was the norm. We are now living in an age of disproportionate luxury.

Even so it still seems unlikely that every member of the society would be able to enjoy these amenities, the question really becomes at which cutoff point is one too poor to do so, and how much of the society was that poor?

zeroonetwothree

Do you have a source for this? I’d be surprised if we know this much detail and accuracy about how peasants lived hundreds of years ago.

justanorherhack

If it was a cultural value to feed people outside of the home before yourself and food donation was a cultural promoted ideology then that means there were lots of people to feed..

dTal

>Food donation was considered the highest ideal, even greater than money

That doesn't sound like the kind of norm that would develop in a society where nobody has to worry about getting enough to eat.

firecall

Thankyou! Great responses! :-)

swatcoder

I don’t think you’re aware of how much any capable person can procure for themselves and their peers, throughout almost all of global history.

Peasants may not maintain secure access to everything, but historically it doesn’t take wealth to have a sturdy shelter, water, warmth, and food, and even some luxuries. It’s a little different in modern times, but those basics were mostly available to everyone just through labor and time, of which peasants have quite a lot.

badpun

Besides everything else, you also need to not be taxed into oblivion. Which wasn’t a rare practice in premodern times.

pvtAc7

Marco Polo writes(though south india)

Everyone, male and female, washes their whole body twice every day; and those who do not wash are looked down on

Dark skin is highly esteemed among these people. ‘When a child is born they anoint him once a week with oil of sesame, and this makes him grow much darker’

samarthr1

Sesame oil is the most commonly used oil in traditional cooking. It likely was a staple.

A family of four needs about half a days with of cooking oil to have a bath with oil.

sokoloff

Could you put some mL estimates on those two measures? It would seem to me that I'd need 50x as much oil to bathe in than I'd need to cook for a half a day, making me think I'm clearly thinking about either the bathing or the cooking quite a bit wrongly.

OJFord

Sesame oil & gram flour are fancy specialist relatively expensive ingredients here (gram flour a bit less so) - but they're grown in India, much more readily available, cheap, and (as another result) used more.

Hot water - I assume we're talking about a time period where it would've been heated over fire anywhere in the world.

jogjayr

Yeah the oil and hot water sounds crazy over-the-top. But India is a tropical country that's mostly warm year-round. Everyone probably took a dip in a nearby river, lake, or pond every day. Or took a bucket bath with well water, which would have been perfectly warm enough. This isn't possible, or at least far more uncomfortable, in most European countries due to their climate. Plus you sweat way more in the tropics, so daily bathing is an absolute necessity to feel human.

aetherson

While the large majority of people were peasants, the ratio obviously wasn't 99,999:1.

escape_goat

Wow, you went right ahead and did the thing.

malx0x

By personal experience, it's a shame those customs didn't continue.

dang

We've banned this account. Creating accounts to break the site guidelines will eventually get your main account banned too, so please don't.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

ralusek

Indians definitely still have certain specific hygiene practices that Westerners don't. Anybody who has worked at a large tech company will have taken note of the tooth brushes in the bathrooms. I found this to be very confusing at first, but then I noticed that a good amount of my Indian coworkers would brush their teeth after lunch.

dartharva

That is not something unique to India, nor is it a general practice here. You observed some isolated cases.

zeroonetwothree

I don’t think this is an Indian thing, western dentists recommend brushing teeth after each meal.

tremon

Curiously enough, mine doesn't. In fact, he explicitly recommends against it, since the tooth enamel is weakened by food and saliva, and brushing immediately after a meal scrapes off the weakened enamel.

Instead, he says it's best to wait half an hour between the meal and brushing the teeth.

LtWorf

But people just keep their brush in their own desk :D

OJFord

This Britisher brushes his teeth after lunch too, on the advice of his Polish dentist. (And not because they were in poor health or anything, just as a matter of policy, where did 2x daily come from, 3x is better, especially if you're eating 3x.)

(Now, even if I don't eat breakfast or lunch, which is quite typical, certainly not both, they'll start to feel unclean and I'll brush them before eating or drinking in the evening.)

frostwarrior

Wait, you people don't brush your teeth after lunch?

honkdaddy

Wait, you people bring a toothbrush and roll of toothpaste around with you everywhere? Do you only ever eat at your house or office?

pmontra

I'm a westerner and of course I brush my teeths after having had food. Why should I brush them if they are clean?

NeoTar

Interpreting “after having food” as immediately after eating (which may be unfair to you!) then the American Dental Association disagree with you:

> Brushing Right After Eating

> If you feel the need to clean your teeth after eating or drinking, wait at least 60 minutes before brushing—especially if you have had something acidic like lemons, grapefruit or soda. Drink water or chew sugarless gum with the ADA Seal of Acceptance to help clean your mouth while you are waiting to brush.

https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/brushing-mistakes-slideshow

watwut

I have seen non Indians do it.

null

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simonsarris

ughh I dislike when pop history takes this smarmy tone and is also not particularly accurate.

> In fact soap is a motherfucking medieval invention. Yes. It is. The Romans – whomst I don’t see a bunch of basics going around accusing of being filthy – did not, in fact have soap, in contrast. They usually washed using oil. Medieval people? Oh you better believe that they had soap.

Wait a minute, what about Aleppo soap? I thought the Romans knew of it and Wikipedia alleges the same in their article:

> Although it has been claimed that soap-making was introduced to the West from the Levant after the First Crusades, in fact, soap was known to the Romans in the first century AD and Zosimos of Panopolis described soap and soapmaking in c. 300 AD.

Citation: https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_History_of_Greek_Fire...

Then the OP author goes on to say:

> It was first introduced from the East, like most good stuff was at the time, but it took off rather quickly.

This contradicts their claim that soap was a medieval invention! It wasn't a medieval invention. It was adopted technology.

That's not a big deal I guess, but if you're going to make a rant about historical accuracies, what else isn't exactly accurate here? It seems the effort is put into the berating imaginary enemies rather than the writing.

culi

I think it's incredibly silly how tied we are to the idea that something was invented once and then spread. Soap is literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties (extremely easy to come by considering most secondary metabolites of plants are specifically produced to keep them from succumbing to bacterial/fungal degradation).

Soap has probably been "invented" a million times in thousands of different cultures around the globe

Paper was invented in pre-Columbian Americas (look up amate). The earliest evidence of metallurgy (smelting, soldering, annealing, electroplating, sintering, alloying, etc) was by the Moche of the Andes who seem to eventually have went "meh" and got tired of it. Prior to Edison, there was at least 20 other inventors who "invented" incandescent lightbulbs.

We like to think of inventions as some strokes of genius that come along in a semi-random way. When in reality inventions are born to meet particular needs and those needs are caused by environmental conditions. Charles Babbage designed the first real computer (see "analytical engine") based on steam power back in 1837 but never built it out. We could've had steampunk computers back in the 19th century but it wasn't until WW1 provided a real need for it that we saw real advancements

Soap was likely "invented" and even forgotten over and over again by whoever needed and stopped needing it

Jataman606

> Soap is literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties

It sounds literally like: "monad is just monoid in category of endofunctors, what is so hard to understand?"

culi

Ok what if I had said "soap is literally just a fat (e.g. deer fat) combined with a plant that, when placed in water, will kill fish."

It's almost equivalent but told through a different cosmology/epistemology

bobthepanda

I think a better example would be bread. Nearly every culture observed has independently created something like bread, which is just flour and water that is kneaded and baked, and if they don't have bread they probably have noodles, which is just flour and water that is kneaded, stretched and cut into strips.

jogjayr

Nah it would be pretty easy to discover soap accidentally. People have been using ash to scour metal for ages. Someone scours a plate or bowl with some leftover fat or oil or grease in it and it cleans really well, because it makes a kind of soap. It only takes one person to notice this fact, and the idea catches on.

shakna

> Soap was likely "invented" and even forgotten over and over again by whoever needed and stopped needing it

At least with the Sapindus family, and probably a few other plants (like lepisanthes) that produce naturally surfactant properties, nature itself provides something akin to "soap", and has been used in bathing for long enough that we're not even sure when it even began.

culi

Yup! Sapindus (aka Soapberries) is actually a genus... in the family Sapindaceae... in the order Sapindales. Same etymology as the phytochemical "saponins" which, besides making soap, has a ton of uses and is easy to identify

One very common use of saponin-containing plants is for stupefying fish. Get some fish in a pond, add some saponins, and dinner just floats right up to you. Although saponins are toxic humans have specifically evolved a mechanism to not digest saponins so we can safely eat them (but your dog can't!). Saponins also play a really important role in modern medicine

Saponins are quite common across many unrelated plant species. Ginseng, soapworts, horse chestnut, sapodillas, oleander, soap bark tree, and even spinach are some examples

Because of their myriad uses (as well as their particular taste) and ways to identify saponin-containing plants it's easy to imagine that, regardless of whatever cosmology some culture used to ascribe these properties, most people could easily identify these plants

benknight87

OMG this, so hard. This idea is tied to the "genius" myth where we think had people like Mark Zuckerberg not come around we wouldn't have social media, or had Einstein not been born nobody else could have conceived of relativity. No, the advancement of humanity itself creates the conditions for "new" ideas to be discovered/rediscovered, and these "geniuses" are simply the individuals who, by no small achievement, pushed the idea forward.

franknstein

The time creates a vacuum.

hutrdvnj

I used to think that the printing press has been invented once and then spread, how many times has the printing press with movable types been invented?

thrown_22

The "printing press" was invented multiple times in multiple locations.

Cast movable type was invented once and spread like wild fire.

The largest innovation from Gutenberg was finding an alloy that could withstand printing pressure and be dimensionally stable when it solidifies.

prox

History does not repeat but it does rhyme. Afaik as I know, two people invented the press at the same time. Before people where using woodblocks to copy works. So basically the invention was : use metal instead of wood, make enough letters so you can press anything you want.

wizofaus

I can just imagine the reaction of a stone-ager being berated because they hadn't come up with "literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties". I suspect you could pick just about any tech invented in the last decade and describe it as "literally just a pick-your-adjective noun with some other random nouns that have something-or-another properties"...

Explain again why anyone would stop needing soap? (other than having departed this world...)

frostwarrior

Turns out soap is not THAT essential to personal hygiene, if you have running water.

The point of bathing is to rub off dead skin cells, excess oil off your skin (note that I said excess). And you can actually do all that without soap.

Also note that sweat it's not that stinky when it evaporates quickly (for example, behind loose non-western clothes in a hot environment)

Soap helps a lot, of course, but the usual stench of being dirty is more because we use really tight clothes that keep sweat from evaporating

kixiQu

She mentions Aleppo soap in the piece, and cites the influence of a first century AD physician as being meaningful through the medieval period - so a charitable reader might assume that she's talking about widespread use rather than knowledge of the existence of a thing. In place of a charitable reader, this comment seems to be trying to say that "medieval invention" and "adopted technology" are mutually exclusive.

She has a doctorate in medieval history, and I've read her work. It's rather interesting to consider a Google Books link more authoritative.

kragen

Yeah, inventing a thing in one time period is mutually exclusive with adopting it from people who invented it in an earlier time period.

The author of the book to which the Google Books link linked also had a doctorate, in chemistry; WP describes him as "a key figure in the fields of history of science and chemistry in the beginning half of the 20th century" and "the first president of the Society for History of Alchemy and Early Chemistry". He probably knew more about the history of soap than Dr. Janega, but she might know things about it that hadn't been discovered when he died, and probably knows more about the social context of its medieval use than he did. Is your mention of Google Books intended to suggest that Google Books might be falsifying the text?

Archelaos

> ... and Wikipedia alleges the same in their article:

>> Although it has been claimed that soap-making was introduced to the West from the Levant after the First Crusades, in fact, soap was known to the Romans in the first century AD and Zosimos of Panopolis described soap and soapmaking in c. 300 AD.

... and the article on "Soap" has a lot more to say about the history of soap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap#History

> That's not a big deal I guess, but if you're going to make a rant about historical accuracies, what else isn't exactly accurate here? It seems the effort is put into the berating imaginary enemies rather than the writing

I would say, it is a big deal. Accuracy is the supreme virtue of a historian. A student who would submit such a poorly researched essay in my 101 course would get it back for factual (and stylistic) improvement.

zwirbl

But it's not even an essay, isn't it? I found the style in the historic context refreshing, but I wouldn't want to read a history book written this way

Archelaos

> But it's not even an essay, isn't it?

I was using the term "essay" because its definition is so vague that almost any short not so academically strict non-fiction text may be called an "essay", at least in a wide sense. (And you can even call a rather austere text that deals with a broader subject an "essay", like Hume's Essays.)

But I am open for a better alternative: So if we have a short non-fiction text that wants to make a statement in a more casual style, how would you classify it instead?

Ekaros

Which group of people we mean when we talk about Romans? And from what period? I mean sure some country had computers. After all they are used now so they must have been couple centuries back too right?

t-3

Indeed. Abaci have been used for millenia.

goto11

The author talks about roman soap in the comments.

meepmorp

> ughh I dislike when pop history takes this smarmy tone and is also not particularly accurate.

Smarmy means excessively or fulsomely flattering.

m33k44

There is a Hindu mythological story in India about how the elephant god ganpati/gajanan/ganesh(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesha) got his elephant head while his body is of a human.

The story goes something like this, Shiva/Shankar/Mahesh(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva) is a god of destruction in Hinduism. When he was out in the forest, his wife Parvati was alone and had to go for a bath. But she was concerned what if some stranger gets into the house while she was bathing. So to prevent anyone getting into the house she removes the layer of sandalwood and turmeric paste she had applied to her body and makes an idol of a boy and puts life into him. As the boy comes to life she instructs him to guard the house and not let anyone enter while his mother(Parvati) is having a bath.

Her husband returns after a while. Parvati is still in the bath. And as he tries to enter the house, the boy prevents him from doing so saying that his mother has instructed him not to let anyone inside the house. Shiva, known for his temper, gets angry and throws his weapon, trishul(trident), at the boy which chops off his head and it falls somewhere in the forest. Parvati, when she returns from her bath sees the headless body of her son and gets angry at Shiva and demands that he bring the boy back to life. But there is a problem, the head is missing. So Shiva goes in search of the head into the forest but he is unable to find it. So when he sees an elephant in the forest, he chops off the head of the animal and attaches it to the boys body and puts life back into it. That is how people of HN, the Hindu god Ganpati got his elephant head :)

Now, did I mention this is a mythological story? So please be kind to this gentle soul. I only narrated this story because it includes the concept of bathing :D

There are lot of such stories in Indian mythology where there is mention of bathing.

fithisux

Beautiful

walrus01

If you read translations of early medieval Arabic language travelers that visited Europe, they were almost all universally appalled by the state of hygiene and sewage/waste in major cities in general.

Not saying people didn't bathe at all but it clearly didn't meet societally acceptable standards of an educated person from Cairo or Baghdad.

rendall

> medieval Arabic language travelers that visited Europe

There was only one IIRC, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who wrote disparagingly only of the habits of the Vikings of the upper Volga river.

drops

Could you recommend some of the mentioned translations?

selimthegrim

Kath and Gurganj were not exactly up to their standards either.

andrew_

Had me right up until the last paragraph. One does not have to be a colonialist or carry bias to have misconceptions about the midevil period. Ignorance is a fine reason. I myself am a huge fan of history but mostly ignorant about that time period. It's just never been my jam. I'll admit I'd probably think the "bring out your dead" and "oh Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here" sketches in Monty Python's Holy Grail was somewhat accurate before reading the article.

Osmose

The article doesn't claim that the misconception makes you colonialist, it says that this kind of ignorance ultimately _perpetuates_ a colonialist interpretation of history, which is why she feels strongly about what may seem like a minor issue to others. It's not about blaming you in particular, it's about why this was important enough to her to write about.

goto11

Ironically, the depiction of the middle ages in Holy Grail is satirizing the popular misconceptions about the middle ages as a place of filth and stupidity. Terry Jones, the director of the movie, studied medieval history at Oxford before becoming part of Monty Python, so he knew better, but they had a lot of fun with the caricature.

southerntofu

> One does not have to be a colonialist or carry bias to have misconceptions about the midevil period.

No obligation indeed, but there is a historical correlation, at least where i come from (France). Myths about the medieval era as times of barbarism and suffering have emerged with the "renaissance" (and its witch hunts which did not take place during the medieval era) then the "enlightenment" (Lumières) of the 18th century.

That's entirely correlated with the emergence of the "civilizing mission" of republican colonialism [0], whereas king/church-driven colonization before that was based on the idea that colonized peoples were not human and did not have a soul, as was ruled during the Valladolid trials of the 16th century [1].

In Western Europe, to my knowledge, it took until the late 19th/early 20th socialist/anarchist thinkers (Friedrich Engels, Pierre Clastres) to recognize that there were different cultures and that social/societal progress was not universal and linear. These ideas are still not really accepted across society as the entire field of economics is based on the idea of linear material progress and that those poor "backwards"/"underdeveloped" peoples need help from us "enlightened" westerners (see also David Graeber for a critique of such productivity metrics [2]).

[0] For example, a famous french politician who's remember in the nationalist propaganda as the father of public schools (Jules Ferry), would say that it's "the role of more civilized peoples to educate the lesser peoples".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valladolid_debate

[2] Managerial Feudalism and the revolt of the caring classes

macrolime

Clicking through here led me down a medieval rabbit hole and I reading about medieval math education, it seems music was an integral part of mathematics at the time with arithmetic (numbers as abstract concepts), geometry (numbers in space), music (numbers in time) and astronomy (numbers in space and time).

These days using music or sound as an aid in mathematics is very uncommon. These days we only use graphs, diagrams, geometrical figures and. We have stopped using one of our senses for math. When did this happen?

I imagine sound could be useful for alternative ways of experiencing mathematical object as not just geometry, but also as ways to explore concepts in higher dimensions by using audio for some dimensions. In complex analysis, colors are used to visualize four dimensions but audio remains very niche.

A bunch of numbers in a table is often difficult to make sense of by looking at the numbers but can give many intuitive insights when visualized. I imagine there are probably things that are easier to make sense of if your hear it than visualize it. Maybe music should be put back in math education.

phyzome

Tangential question: Why do humans place emphasis on bathing, when most other animals don't seem to need to do it? (I think in the US we bathe more than we actually need to, but on the other hand I assume that the strong cross-cultural emphasis indicates that we do actually need to do it to some degree to stay healthy.) Maybe something about our unusual skin, and how we sweat to stay cool?

sdwr

A lot of animals bathe/groom. Birds, other primates, cats. Tons of mammals swim as well. Deer, bears, etc (what other animals are there??)

I've noticed that the more I exercise, the cleaner + healthier my skin is. Showers only get me partly there - I need to sweat through a full rinse cycle to get all the funk out.

culi

The only reason our sweat even stinks is because of the way it's metabolized by our skin's microbiome. It turns out if you have AOB (ammonia oxidizing bacteria) they can oxidize our sweat and prevent us from stinking

AOBs are found in soils pretty much everywhere. But they're extremely sensitive and can easily be washed away. In contrast, the particular microbes that have closely evolved alongside us to adapt to our skin microbiome often live several layers deep in our skin. When we take a hot shower or soap up we kill them on the surface but, luckily for our skin's health, they can be replenished. However, the AOBs don't have this deep relationship with us because they are not anaerobic. Instead it's likely that we've evolved to expect a constant influx of soil-based bacteria on our skin

Indeed if you look at any other hairless mammals, one of their favorite things is mud baths. Elephant, pigs, rhinos, etc. We're still learning the full extent of how our skin microbiome plays into our health, but the recent research on the gut-brain-skin axis shows it's likely deeply integrated into our evolutionary past

fingerlocks

How many mammals actually sweat? I was surprised to learn that dogs don’t sweat, which seems obvious after the fact

anyfoo

> I've noticed that the more I exercise, the cleaner + healthier my skin is. Showers only get me partly there

Define "cleaner"? What is not clean about your skin that requires exercise to get clean? After every shower, my skin is just "clean"?

sdwr

My face skin looks way better with regular exercise. Something about the pores + overall tone. I start to notice a difference after 2 sedentary days, and am repulsed by it after a week+ without exercise. I also get a musk coming from my groin that seems to seep through clothes, and is barely affected by showering.

By sedentary I mean full-on jacked-in to the Matrix, 14 hour days on the computer. Someone with a more balanced life will probably experience it differently.

Flex247A

I think he meant 'clearer'.

2-718-281-828

showers can't get your funk "out" anyway. or do you mean off?

bolangi

Cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, a kind of bathing, that keeps their fur smooth.

A strong reason to bathe is acceptance by others. One of the first things we do for a newborn or someone injured after getting first aid is to clean them up. We want people to respond positively to us, and being clean is a part of that.

I doubt you'll see a dirty newscaster.

ISTR that the Aboriginals in Australia didn't bathe. But what if they encountered a river? Did they wash and then immediately roll in dirt to ward off mosquitos?

klodolph

Most other animals? Well, most birds bathe. Elephants shower themselves with their trunks. Cats bathe themselves with their tongues, dogs get in the water and then shake themselves dry, and pigs wallow in the mud.

Seems like what makes humans different here is that we use soap.

bbarnett

Animals also use things akin to soap. Birds love to bath in the ashes of a fire, the lye burns parasites, the dust chokes them.

I've watched many a bird do so, after a fire.

AngryData

Using ashes/lye directly on greasy human skin forms a primitive sort of soap too and isn't unheard of in human hygiene practices. And real fine dusts and grits in general seems pretty common as a method of hygiene for animals and humans alike.

hypertele-Xii

Some animals even rub themselves on ants' nests because formic acid kills bacteria.

goto11

A lot of animals use sand - rolls in it or throws it at themselves.

I know it is not the same as soap, but it is an interesting parallel.

taeric

Charity to the question, I think it is a good question why we bathe as much as we do. Water animals spend a ton of time bathing, no surprise. Many animals are fine with dust baths, though. And many are severely hampered by being wet. Look up a picture of a wet owl.

fian

Unlike many (but not all) other animals, humans spend considerable time in close proximity to other humans in enclosed spaces. If you are pungent, other people in an enclosed space with you will not appreciate your smell. I've done quite a few multi week hikes with only fresh water bathing (no soap, no deodorant) with others (2-18 other people). During the hikes we are outdoors and although we gather reasonably close (less than 1m, or a couple of feet) around a campfire or common place to eat it isn't often you'd be offended by someone else's smell. At the end of these hikes when we first get back to civilisation and are in an enclosed space again - you bet we suddenly notice how much we stink.

Many humans cross paths with hundreds to thousands of other humans every day and the set of people interacted can have great variability across days. Growing up we were taught at home and in school how important it is to regularly wash your hands. The only other examples of such a high level of social mingling for other species that springs to mind are insects swarms/hives/nests and when there are plagues (mice, locusts etc). Unlike these groups, humans are unique in having a very high degree of share tool use (door handles, public seating for transport, cross walk and lift buttons), so there is a huge potential for cross contamination. Bathing and washing with soap is probably one of the key reasons we are able to live in cities the way we do without regular disease epidemics.

refurb

Animals bath or at least groom.

And if you’ve ever hunted you’d know wild animals often stink terribly and have a multitude of health issues ranging from parasites, worms, skin infections, etc.

Humans could get away with minimal bathing as well if they are willing to put up with those things as well.

sn41

A lot of animals and birds have a quick dip and groom. There's a water lily pond outside our family home, where in the evening, magpie robins drink and have a dip - sometimes, multiple times.

Swizec

Most other animals don’t sweat. Also they use smells to communicate and identify each other. We use words and faces.

That said, my bird spends half his day preening and making sure the feathers look good.

xhevahir

Maybe it's an arms race, like with teeth whitening and breast augmentation.

I've never looked into this s aspect of grooming and beauty but after googling it I'm not surprised that someone at The Economist has written about this in the past: https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2008/12/23/breaking-...

Edit: sorry, paywalled article

captainoats

Humans are pretty unique in being (relatively) hairless and sweating as our primary method of keeping cool. Sweat invited bacteria and traps dirt. I’m no anthropologist but I’d guess manual bathing became a regular thing when early humans developed these traits.

tlogan

Here are some contra points:

- Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

- The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden

- the pope instructed all public bath to be closed

- The monks order clearly said to bath only once a year

- general decline of the cities caused that a lot of public baths to be closed. Rome had none in medieval time.

- Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were

My understanding was that bathing was strongly discouraged by church and in places where church did not have a lot on influence or they become Christian latter like Skandinavia bathing was still considered important.

nemo

>The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden

There's no "The Cristian Church," I think you're referring to a modern misconception on a Catholic ban on mixed bath houses. They still had bath houses, they just banned men and women being naked in them together. These bath houses were often also brothels, which makes the ban perhaps still prudish, but nothing extraordinary.

Monks did bathe rarely, which is discussed in the article.

While most of the great old public baths of the Roman era closed, there are illustrations and archaeological evidence of bathhouses in the Middle Ages. They're wooden and much smaller affairs, but they still exist.

I recognize a few other common misconceptions of in the rest of your list, and there's a number of issues with "Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were." There were certainly cases where "Westerners" thought "Muslims" and "Byzantines" were dirty too, that's a standard way to otherize other cultures. Cross-cultural judgments of hygiene are not a thing one should take at face value. But also all three of the labels "Western" "Muslim" and "Byzantine" are broad generalizations. To generalize about their attitudes towards others or bathing is to be in error, as these were neither constants nor universals nor even truly discrete groups.

edmundsauto

> - Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

The conquistadors spent months packed on a boat together with pigs and other livestock, then were basically camping out as they traveled. And the Triple Alliance* were extremely clean people, so this might not be the fairest comparison. I smell pretty unpleasant after a single day on a roadtrip, kids can confirm.

* I think this is a more accurate term than Aztec, based on my rereads of 1491.

goto11

> Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

The article specifically mention that people tend to confuse medieval and early modern periods when it comes to things like this. But conquistadors was early modern.

webmobdev

> The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden ... the pope instructed all public bath to be closed ... The monks order clearly said to bath only once a year ... My understanding was that bathing was strongly discouraged by church ...

The article does highlight and bring some context to this:

... Well the idea that medieval people didn’t bathe is a persistent myth ... Why is that? Well part of it is a modern misunderstanding of the idea of bathing. It’s true that we have medieval sources which warn against “excessive” bathing. But here’s the thing, that wasn’t really about being clean, it was about hanging out naked in bathhouses with the opposite sex. They didn’t want you to not be clean, they wanted you to not be going down the bath house and getting your fuck on.

... And yeah, some holy people didn’t bathe, notably saints who would forego bathing themselves but bathe sick or poor people ... But if you bring that up you are missing the point. Medieval people thought that bathing and being clean was really nice, so giving it up and living with your stank was a sign that you had given up on the corporeal world and only thought of heaven. It was holy because it was uncomfortable, like wearing a hair shirt, or eating vegan, and hitting your chest with rocks and sitting in the desert trying not to wank. You know, standard saint stuff. It is mentioned because it is uncommon and uncomfortable ... These things, while they make sense in context are often taken by people who have never learned a damn thing about the middle ages and read in the worst possible light.

> Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were

That may have been probably true from the perspective of muslims because in Islam personal hygiene is part of the religious obligations of muslims. Religious muslims are supposed to pray 3/5 times a day, but before they do so they are supposed to clean themselves as per a prescribed ritual called wudu ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wudu ). So a religious muslim, even in the medieval times, would be cleaning himself atleast 3/5 times a day (and that's apart from regular bathing). Thus, in comparison to that, some non-muslims could have been perceived as "dirty". It would have been even more so for them if they also learnt of christian saints and / or leaders promoting not bathing as a path to salvation, when their religion tells the exact opposite.

happyopossum

Addressed in the article - the church’s opposition to bathing came much later than the medieval period according to the author.

tlogan

Later?

Pope Gregory I declared baths should be only used to cure the sick. Of couse, we read his words different today (like he allowed it) but bathing was considered sinful. There was a belief that bathing invited demonic possession and that the dirt, sweqt, etc. actually repelled demonic forces.

In my part of the world, there are still stories how church was telling people that you should take a bath only on Đurđevdan (and joke is that only Gypsies followed that).

You do know that the devil is lurking from the water don’t you? I guess folk tales cannot be used as proof since they are no written records.

zigzag312

Can you provide source? I find such claims fascinating, so I did a quick google search, but what I found doesn't support your statements.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygiene_in_Christianity:

  Early Christian clergy condemned the practice of mixed bathing as practiced by the Romans ...

  The Church also built public bathing facilities that were separate for both sexes near monasteries and pilgrimage sites ...

  ... baths were normally considered therapeutic until the days of Gregory the Great, who understood virtuous bathing to be bathing "on account of the needs of body" ...
> You do know that the devil is lurking from the water don’t you? I guess folk tales cannot be used as proof since they are no written records.

As far as I know, these tales were meant for children to stay away from bodies of water to prevent drowning of kids.

Max-q

Nice article that would have been even better without all the “ass” and “fucking”.

posed

Exactly. I had to stop reading once it got out of hand.

birthday

What! No I loved it. Gave me a good laugh once or twice. Read it with a smile.

gala8y

It's interesting to note that, when water is really scarce, people can take care of themselves without water. Himba people, living nomad life on savannas of Namibia and Angola, practically do not use water for everyday hygiene. Shaving heads (men), making dreads with mud (women), oiling body with liquid butter with ochre pigment from soil. Additionally, women use herbs incense as anti-microbial and fragrance.

Added: As culi points out in another comment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32364340) "(...) ammonia oxidizing bacteria can oxidize our sweat and prevent us from stinking. AOBs are found in soils pretty much everywhere."

ninefathom

This article is peppered with factual errors. While none of them detract from the core idea, they do lead one to question Dr. Janega's scholarship. Here's a modest sampling:

- Soap is given as a medieval invention, but this is stretching to the extreme both the idea of "inventing soap" and the idea of "medieval." In reality it was widely made and used at least as a hair wash by the waning days of the Western Roman empire.

- The ingredients list for soap contains a number of equivalent or derived ingredients listed as though totally separate, as if the author weren't aware of the relationships and went copy-pasta crazy from mixed sources.

- Aleppo soap is described as if made exclusively from laurel oil (rather than the correct mixture of laurel and olive oils).

- The photo shown of a light brown bar of soap with a caption seeming to suggest that it's Castille soap is in all likelihood actually Aleppo soap (cf. the text of the Arabic seal, which is rather humorously shown upside-down).

- The description of a deodorant made using "salvia and sage" is rather perplexing, as salvia is the Latin word for sage... and the name of the modern genus of plants containing common sage. A reference to salvia in the colloquial modern sense of Salvia divinorum seems unlikely in the extreme.

All told, while this is an interesting read, and does contain some useful information, from a scholarly perspective it seems to be, at best, slipshod.