uring the early period of the 14th century, going to a public bath became a common activity as, at the time, having a bath in a tub or even a pool was considered quite the luxury. Most people who partook in this activity were peasants who could only afford basic needs, and hygiene wasn’t one of them. Besides the extremely unhygienic practice, there have been many stories of sexual abuse in such places as there was no segregation between men and women.
Bath of diseases
In our modern society, when you go to a public pool you will find that a good percentage of the water you swim in is mixed with chlorine in order to kill most of the bacteria that are brought in. Well, in the 14th century, chlorine wasn’t as readily available and as such wasn’t used, therefore you would have hundreds of people bathing in the same water. Some of these public baths didn’t change the water on a regular basis, they would just add some more or wait for it to rain if the bath was outside.
As people were not aware of hygiene, many who came to these public baths had open wounds which would come into contact with germs brought in by others, causing the wound to gangrene and the person to either have a limb cut off or die. Another perspective to keep in mind is that most people in the 14th century were filthy, especially those using public baths as most people were hard labor workers full of oil, sweat, and dirt from head to toe.
Don’t imagine that these people came here every day, as I mentioned before, hygiene was not something that people worried about so they usually would attend such public baths once a week or even once a month. An interesting study has been recently conducted where they analyzed the sort of immune system people from the medieval era had. From the results, they conclude that people from the medieval era (12th to 15th century) had an immune system that was 2 times stronger than the average person in today’s society.
Nevertheless, this does not excuse not washing more often, especially living in a time when diseases and plagues were everywhere. The contact that was taking place in such baths certainly didn’t help.
You can imagine the sort of place this was, a place where you had to bring your children in order to get cleaned. Those present had to bear witness to sexual abuse at a time when it wasn’t taboo. You would have your low-class worker that would come here after a few drinks which would influence their sexual urges. It is also mentioned in some historical books which are representing the social aspect of the medieval era that some women went to public baths to have their way with a man.
Now you can imagine that it wasn’t just germs floating about these waters. So closely associated are sex and bathing, numerous slang phrases for sex (and sex work) are derived from the medieval bathhouses; ‘lather’, as in ‘to lather up’ was sixteenth-century slang for ejaculation. The word ‘bagnio’, meaning a brothel, derives from the Latin ‘balneum’, meaning ‘bath’. Many prostitutes would bring some of their clients to such public baths and do their business in front of everyone.
By looking at this we can see how much we have evolved as a society, but also in some cases proving that there is still a lot of space for improvement. For society back in the medieval era, such activities were seen as something normal due to their different mindset that was more simplistic as it wasn’t influenced by any external factors.