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The bath is an ancient article of human living with predecessors being built as far back as 2000 BC, such as those in the city of Mohenjo-Daro in India. There have been bathing structures also found in Crete, Egypt, and Greece dating between 1700 and 400 BC, the later ones were those built as separate structures offering hot, mild, and cold water, while most of the former baths were simply additions to gymnasiums and only offered cold water. By the second century BC there were bath houses in Rome that featured extensive construction: a central courtyard served as a place of exercise and was surrounded by a dressing room (apodyterium), a hot bath (calidarium), a steam bath (laconicum), a warm bath (tepidarium), and a cold bath. Hot air was circulated through these bath houses with flues while aqueducts brought in water from great distances. Some of these Roman bath houses also had shops, gymnasiums, lectures halls, libraries, and gardens. Due to the mixed-gender nature of many of these baths, they became quite renowned as centers of debauchery.

During the middle ages, the Church presented the notion that bathing was an indulgence and discouraged it as being unhealthy and unclean (imagine that). Much of the negative reputation of baths was created by the perverse nature of the earlier Roman bath houses mixing with the virtues of the Church. At the same time, in Finland and Russia, the steam bath was becoming increasingly common. The steam bath (the Finnish word for which is sauna) was basically a wooden hut with benches lining the wall; water was exposed to heated stones in the center of the room which caused it to fill with steam, the occupants would then wash themselves clean before submersing themselves in either icy water or snow. Also, at this time, were baths common in Islamic societies which valued bathing for hygienic, medical, and even religious purposes. The Islamic bath was quite sophisticated compared to others at this time, it was a large dome that was heated by steam and surrounded by many smaller, more private, rooms. Baths of such kinds were only seen in cities also containing a mosque, and were social palaces that one could enjoy refreshments and meet with friends in.

The Japanese might hold a slightly more familiar form of bathing to Westerners, for even the earliest of Japanese bathing was done in private by an individual, this was preceded by the fact that almost every Japanese home had its own bath. However, families and friends often would bath together in larger “hot tubs” when they desired, and public bathing was usually done in a mineral or hot spring. If you were to visit Japan today you might recognize these customs as they have not changed (much) in the centuries past.

It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that bathing became a common (and now secular) habit among the rich. But the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century caused dirt and uncleanliness to spread so much that eventually the entire upper class began to adopt baths in their homes and public baths were being made by the city for the lower class made of such materials as wood, copper, and iron. Finally, in the late 20th century, cleanliness became valued so highly by Westerners that almost every habitat was now being built with private bathrooms installed. The baths of this era were typically built of porcelain enamel, which eventually gave rise to the modern-day shower.

Sources:

Microsoft Encarta 2002, Baths

Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples

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