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Thread: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

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    Vir Triumphalis's Avatar Sōkō no yari
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    Default how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    I'm just curious. Since the collapse of the Roman Empire it is known that most of the technology that the Romans used were forgotten and that includes personal hygiene. How did people throw there waste?

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    Orko's Avatar Centurio Primus Pilus
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    In western and central Europe, it was kinda bad. The water were not the cleanest you can get. and people bathed only once a week or two in summer. I suppose that not at all during winter. they hardly washed their hands or face, either.
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Waste was thrown into the street or into rivers, and was sometimes taken away from the town in carts in rich areas. There were rules about killing animals, tanning, and placing fecal material in populated places coming to practice by the end of the 14th century however.

    Personal hygiene was not great, some people cleaned their teeth by chewing scented herbs, charcoal rubbing and sage brushing, and most rinsed their mouths with water. Many town dwellers and lords bathed in barrels full of warm water, and people in the country washed in rivers. People washed their hands before dining.

    People in towns and cities often had piped water to public fountains, or to their houses if they were well off. On special occasions, these were made to run with wine.
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    Odovacar's Avatar I am with Europe!
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vortimore the Conqueror View Post
    I suppose that not at all during winter. they hardly washed their hands or face, either.
    That's not true.
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    Manco's Avatar The Deathless King
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    I was under the impression personal hygiene was a lot worse in the 16-1700's than during the Middle Ages (though The term covers a long period and region)

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    Heavy Weapons Guy's Avatar Intelligent Heavy
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    French kings didn't washed at all!!!! (Except arms and face maybe)!!!
    That's a life!!!!!!!!!
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    cupoftea's Avatar Pili Posterior
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Maybe not the middle ages but I heard that the inhabitants of the palace of Versailles didn't washed themselves because the doctors said it was bad for you, and just used a ton of parfume to cover the smell...

    And there were no toilets.

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    Stavroforos's Avatar Legatus Legionis
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Well people were certainly cleaner in the Byzantine and Arab lands than they were in the West, though that does not mean that those in the West were unwashed barbarians...anymore...
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    CtrlAltDe1337's Avatar Ronin
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    It depends on what part of the Middle Ages we are talking about. In the early period people spread out into small villages and towns, so they didn't have a huge issue with waste and filth building up. Rivers/streams/lakes were usually available to bathe in, though I'm sure they didn't wash all that often. Later on as towns grew and people began crowding together, they had worse sanitary conditions, though probably not as bad as many would think at first.

    edit: I'm talking mainly about Western Europe. Of course other areas were a bit different. The Romans in the east preserved the baths and such, for example.


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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Life expectancy was quite low, for an average peasant in Western Europe it was around 30 or so. Then again, hygiene wasn't any better later on. By 1800 average life expectancy was still around 35 years, and by 1900 about 45 or so.
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    Vir Triumphalis's Avatar Sōkō no yari
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    in some extreme cases some people bath once a year, is that true?
    Western Europe is what I'm talking about

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    Ima Farmathar's Avatar Hastatas Prior
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    have you ever smelled a modern day rusian?
    "The chickens don't seem to mind"

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    RuleBritannia's Avatar Princeps Prior
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    It isn't that people were too stupid or poor to take baths then, it's just it was popular belief then that bathing actually made you dirtier, which is why even monarchs very rarely bathed, and used perfume to "wash off". The common peasant was quite poor and was quite filthy, though middle-class peasants were a bit better. It's a common stereotype that in the Middle Ages, peasants were nothing but these filthy, poor fools, and thought this was generally true, it definately wasn't the only type of lifestyle a peasant had.

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    Ima Farmathar's Avatar Hastatas Prior
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    wasnt it also related to cold? when it is very cold you can get sick if you bath, europe was colder back then, and there was no water heating
    "The chickens don't seem to mind"

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    Manco's Avatar The Deathless King
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Croccer View Post
    Life expectancy was quite low, for an average peasant in Western Europe it was around 30 or so. Then again, hygiene wasn't any better later on. By 1800 average life expectancy was still around 35 years, and by 1900 about 45 or so.
    Which was mostly due to child mortality. If you lived to be an adult, you'd probably get to be 50/60 as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by REUBEN23 View Post
    in some extreme cases some people bath once a year, is that true?
    Western Europe is what I'm talking about
    Normal people would bathe semi-regularly. Hell, the Church even opposed bathing houses because they grew too popular and were indecent (lost of harlots probably)
    Quote Originally Posted by RuleBritannia View Post
    It isn't that people were too stupid or poor to take baths then, it's just it was popular belief then that bathing actually made you dirtier, which is why even monarchs very rarely bathed, and used perfume to "wash off". The common peasant was quite poor and was quite filthy, though middle-class peasants were a bit better. It's a common stereotype that in the Middle Ages, peasants were nothing but these filthy, poor fools, and thought this was generally true, it definately wasn't the only type of lifestyle a peasant had.
    The disdain of bathing and the use of perfumes is later though, that's Louis XIV's time (who is said to have never bathed at all)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ima Farmathar View Post
    wasnt it also related to cold? when it is very cold you can get sick if you bath, europe was colder back then, and there was no water heating
    The Medieval Climate Optimum lasted from 800-1300 and the Little Ice Age came after that. (that first period was warm, nearly the same as the second half of the 20th century.
    Last edited by Manco; January 04, 2010 at 04:53 PM.

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    Ima Farmathar's Avatar Hastatas Prior
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    still when it is not that warm today, when it is snowing, and you do not have water heating pipes, you do not take a bath. bathing hoses had water heating, thts the source of their popularity.
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    dogukan's Avatar Auxiliarius
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stavroforos View Post
    Well people were certainly cleaner in the Byzantine and Arab lands than they were in the West, though that does not mean that those in the West were unwashed barbarians...anymore...
    Byzantine and Muslim lands...yeah, the question "where" should be asked because it varied.
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    I dont know elsewhere but in Venice, people were clean and parfumed (not only the nobles) and houses had a primitive small bathroom inside. People were usual to bath everyday (not in the lagoon ofcourse) using hot water bowls and soaps. The real problem was that all the trash was literaly thrown off the window. At conclusion: people very clean, roads very dirty

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    ivan_the_terrible's Avatar Auxiliarius
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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    Put it this way: improvements in hygiene in the last century is the main reason people live ~80 years, instead of 40.

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    Default Re: how clean or dirty were people during the medieval age?

    First of all, there were huge regional differences across Europe.
    Second of all, there is a dependency on time we are talking about.

    As a matter of fact, the turning point and the crucial factor was the black death, which was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, peaking in Western Europe between 1348 and 1350.

    Before the black death, people in Western Europe still used baths. But when the black death massacred Europe, western doctors stated that a contact with water is unwholesome. That is why we can see a huge regress in hygiene in Western countries since 14th c.
    However not the whole Europe was massacred by the black death to the same degree. Eastern Europe was in much better situation and ideas of Western doctors weren't too popular here. People still used baths although the popularity of public baths decreased.
    Some of you mentioned the king Louis XIV. He is a perfect example of the school of avoiding water. He had the first contact with a water in the age of 5 (we know it from detailed notes of his personal doctor). But Louis XIV's experience can't be applied to the whole Europe. For example French travelers in 17th c. were shocked when they saw that mothers in Poland washed their children completly every day and that even old men, during a hard frosts, washed their faces and hands every day.

    Another thing - toilets.
    It's true that Versailles didn't have toilets. But it is only some French specificy. Teutonic Knights had toilets in their castles built in 14th c. already. They still exist.
    Toilets were obligatory in houses of Plish nobility. There were temporairly toilets too (for example in a military camp - and it was obligatory for every 'poczet' to have its own toilet). Cities in Poland had public toilets. There is a famous (in Poland of course ) Jan Kochanowski's poem (from 16th c.), who complains that he had to pay more for a public toilet than for an egg he ate just before it.

    All in all, hygiene in Europe depended on times and regions.
    Last edited by Radosław Sikora; January 04, 2010 at 11:53 PM.

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