Ew. Can we all just agree right now the hygienic practices of 2,000 years ago were f’in disgusting? Okay. Awesome! Have a great day…
When we think of ancient civilizations we tend to have this romanticized view of them. They had bathhouses, and the rich had a tub, and the poor had lakes and rivers and majestic waterfalls. They also believed that getting wet could kill you. No, really. They were afraid of water. Well, not really, but sort of.
Only the rich, and I mean disgustingly rich, could afford to go to bathhouses. They were a social hub for the highest classes of very few cultures. They were also used a maximum of 4 times a month. Let that sink (ha) in. Once a week you went to a building full of other dirty people, stripped down, and submerged yourself into a swimming pool full of germs, dirt, and people-funk without any chlorine or sanitizing anything. Ew!
Okay, bathing rarely happened and was not an option for most of the populations of the world. Let’s talk about the streets, shall we? Dirt. There was a whole lot of dirt. And horses, sheep, goats, and other livestock. Oh! And cats, dogs, rats, and people. All these creatures walking around on that dirt, beat it into a nice path until it rained. Then it became a muddy, rutty, treacherous place to be. People had to make way for wagons, which wasn’t always an easy task. The wagons were essentially locked into one track because the ruts got so deep. But wait, there’s more.
Though the Roman Empire did introduce aqueducts and rudimentary plumbing to the areas they conquered, it was not wide spread. Most of the world still used the trusty old bucket or chamber pot. Now, remember that they didn’t exactly have a sanitation service available. All that excrement went out the door, or window, onto the street, and sometimes people, below. Grossed out yet? Just wait.
So, now we have a muddy, rutty, poopy mess. Add to it the fact that all those animals I mentioned before weren’t concerned where they dropped one. NOW factor in the people trudging through this to cross the street.
Yeah, I know, this is kinda making me gag too. But once they made it through the gunk, they got to their locations and tracked it all over the floors there. And, if we wanted to bring this full circle, those caked, dripping people took off their minimal clothes and dunked themselves into the bathhouse vat that was most often a stomach churning shade of brown. OR, they took all their clothes to a central place to wash them. In this instance, the river or lake is a much better option for bathing. Finally! Something relatively clean!
So, when you read books staged in ancient civilizations, or watch movies based in those time periods, don’t trust the pristine image in your mind or on the screen. It was actually quite disgusting and many of history’s biggest epidemics occurred because it was so dirty in so many ways. Having said that, I urge you not to research this further. At the very least, don’t go looking for pictures. Stay with the pretty ones in your imagination because some things simply can’t be unseen.