People in ancient societies lived a very different life from what is standard and common for people living today. Soap and personal hygiene products used in today's society simply did not exist for those living long ago. This does not mean that ancient people did not bathe and try to keep themselves clean, though. Some common myths persist about ancient societies and their cleanliness. For example, some believe that these people only bathed once a year. While the level of personal hygiene enjoyed by people today was probably not possible in the Middle Ages, these individuals definitely cared about keeping clean and smelling nice. Historians have found details about how often people in the Middle Ages bathed, and in fact, some people might have bathed several times each day. Other civilizations actually had laws requiring citizens to go to a public bath house at least once each week. Those who did not want to bathe this often might have had to pay a fine or they might have been incarcerated. Ancient people even used herbs and oils that worked as perfume to help them maintain personal cleanliness and smell nice.
Cleanliness in the Different Social Classes
Attitudes about cleanliness and bathing varied greatly over time and even among different social classes. Public bath houses were popular among the Romans, but this custom was likely in use in civilizations that predate the Roman Empire. People from these eras connected personal hygiene with their religious beliefs. People also gradually became aware of the connection between personal hygiene and health. As plagues swept through civilizations, people searched for causes of the outbreaks. They likely discovered that disinfecting their hands led to better health. People of various economic and social groups would visit public bath houses to clean themselves. After bathing, they probably remained to socialize with each other. Some cultures soaked in tubs, while others utilized steam or saunas to clean themselves and possibly even purify their souls. People in the higher social classes might have had their own private bath houses so they did not have to visit the public ones.
People found a way to make a rudimentary type of soap out of ashes and animal fats. Another soap recipe used water, plant oil, and alkali, heating the ingredients to make a very basic mixture that would clean the skin. History shows that people began to understand the importance of washing their hands before and after eating, presumably to kill germs. Common etiquette of this era also suggests that people did what they could to clean their teeth and faces as they began their day. Basins and water jugs were present in manor houses so people could perform these basic personal hygiene tasks.
Different Scents Used to Make Perfumes and Different Purposes
Unpleasant smells were probably much more prevalent in ancient times due to less advanced cleaning techniques and products. To deal with unpleasant aromas, people tried to cover them up. People used scented oils on their bodies, and they burned incense to mask odors. Perfume was used in the burial process, and people also incorporated it into worship rituals. Using oils such as olive oil and almond oil as a base for perfume, ancient civilizations made different scents with essential oils, spices, and herbs. They even used glandular oils from animals to create musky scents. Herbs and spices used in perfumes included rosemary, saffron, and cloves. Ground cloves were also used for medicines to relieve pain. Essential oils used for scents included lavender, patchouli, sandalwood, and lemon. Many of these essential oils added desirable scents, and they often had medicinal properties that helped with health symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Flowers and leaves were also used to make perfume. Roses, lilies, and irises are three examples of flowers with aromatic blossoms. Ancient people discovered that when they soaked these blossoms in oil or heated them, they could extract a liquid that was highly aromatic. They could then add this liquid to other oils to make perfume or scented salve. Some people in ancient civilizations even wore tiny containers filled with solid perfume under wigs to emit a scent.