Bathing and Cleanliness - Life in Medieval Days

It's amusing how many people have a Monty Python image of medieval life - of people rolling around in the mud, of people not bathing for years. We're not talking caveman times here! The medieval period came AFTER the Roman Empire, and the Romans were famous for loving baths, taking baths daily as an important social event. The medieval people definitely had noses. They liked clean smells. They actively took steps to prevent bad breath and body odor.

The typical medieval bathtub was a large half barrel, big enough for 1-2 people. The richer the household, the more fancy the bath, of course. People would not get into slimy, gross baths! Remember, these people had lakes and streams around them. They knew what fresh water was like. The barrel would have a plank laid across one edge to hold soaps and other items like rose petals. Yes, medieval people had soap!! They knew how to make soap. Olive oil was especially prized but was expensive in England, as it had to be shipped in from more southerly locations.

There's an internet myth running around about "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" that claims that babies would bathe last in gross, dirty water and therefore could be thrown out when the bathwater was thrown out. This is ridiculous. Babies were treated with great care in medieval times, since there were so many infections and dangers that could harm them. If anything they would get the FIRST freshest water, and they wouldn't tend to be bathed in the large "adult tub". There would be a smaller bucket or barrel used for them, appropriate for their small size, since as any parent knows, babies are slippery :)

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