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Roman-hygiene-msg - 8/30/00


Hygiene of the Romans.


NOTE: See also the files: p-hygiene-msg, Mouthwash-art, perfumes-msg, p-manners-msg, p-dental-care-msg, bathing-msg, soap-msg, cosmetics-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy of  the information  given  by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status of these messages  is  unclear  at this time. If  information  is  published from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Sat, 01 Apr 2000 10:03:52 -0600

From: Jane Sitton-Logan <jesl at netzero.net>

To: ansteorra at ansteorra.org, elfsea at ansteorra.org, gdc at airmail.net,

        rio at austin.rr.com, psobaka at mail.myriad.net, ronna at primenet.com,

        jschumac at jcpenney.com, stefan at texas.net

Subject: Roman Hygiene (finally!)


Bonjour mes amis, from Madelina de Lindesaye!


Rome wasn't built in a day, but why did it take so long for me to get

this posted?  Well, the computer crashed back in August.  Then we

moved.  Finally got the computer running again, then the modem wouln't

be detected.  Got a new modem.  Got a new hard drive and motherboard to

solve some other conflicts.  Then it wouldn't detect the mouse.  Finally

got it all working, but since the old hard drive was reformated, I

thought I had lost the information.  Got connected to the old (free)ISP,

and lo and behold, all the old info was still there!  So it just took me

a while (after wading through almost 5,000 emails) to edit and compile

all the Roman hygiene information.  Since it was such a chore, I thought

I'd go ahead and post it to the list in the hopes that whoever wants it

can just download the file instead of me dealing with a lot of requests.


So if you're squeamish, don't open the file.  Those that do, I hope you

find the information interesting and perhaps useful.  (I like the idea

of the calderium myself.)




aka Jane Sitton-Logan


--------Start of messages sent by Madelina (Jane Sitton-Logan)-------

There's an article that claims there is such evidence (soap for cleaning

clothes): http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_413000/413747.stm


Morey Brill writes:

> Is there any written testimony or archaeological findings that the

> ancient Romans used soap for bathing or cleaning of clothes?


I cannot think of any mention of soap in any Roman Latin author I have read,

not even in Pliny the Elder, whom I expect would have covered it if he had

found it marginally important.


According to Partridge's etymological dictionary, the word -sapo- was

borrowed into Latin from a Germanic.or Celtic word; the native reflex of

which was -sebum-.  My understanding is that Roman bathers cleaned

themselves with olive oil, perfumes, and scrapers, but no soap.  Their

laundries used a number of oddments, including a nitro-phosphate rich

ingredient which is unlikely to make it into contemporary detergent

advertisements, but gave them the double-edged word -lotium- (lege:

*lav-tium) but no soap for them, either.



Date: Sun, 08 Aug 1999 16:55:53 +0200

From: "Andrew Miles" <gloriosus at ozemail.com.au>

To:   latin at mlists.net


They didn't use tooth paste either, although the famous Egnatius poem

(Catullus 39) tells us that urine did the job well.



From: "lchester" <lchester at massed.net>

To:   <latin at mLists.net>


I can recall reading that dolphins' blood was used by the Romans to cleanse

their teeth.  I believe that the information was provided on a poster

depicting the history of toothpaste put out by the Crest toothpaste company

some years ago. Linda Chester (lchester at massed.net)


From: "rwill627" <rwill627 at camalott.com>

To:   <latin at mLists.net>


There is the history of the word candidate, which various sources say came

from the word meaning shining white because the fullers beat chalk into the

wool togas to make them sparkling white for their customers who were

running for office. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF THE ROMANS says," It is remarkable

that with the vast numbers of slaves in the familia urbana it never became

usual to have soiled garments cleansed at home. Garments showing traces of

use were sent by the well-to-do to the fullers to be washed, whitened, or

redyed and pressed."

Rose Williams



From: "Ralph Hancock" <hancock at dircon.co.uk>

To:   <latin at mLists.net>


I have an article which says that soap was first brought to Europe from the

Middle East by the Phoenicians, about 600 BC, but that at least until the

second century AD it was used only medically, for example for the treatment

of scrofulous sores.


This was in an encyclopaedia of technology I edited over 20 years ago, and I

no longer have a record of the source of the article. We made much use of

the Derry/Holmyard/Williams History of Technology.


Ralph Hancock

<hancock at dircon.co.uk>




From: "Steven A. Gustafson" <stevegus at aye.net>

To:   latin at mlists.net

The Roman way of bathing, using public pools, probably was not

particularly conducive to making extensive use of suds and lather,

especially given that everyone shared the same water.


Pliny the Elder -does- briefly mention soap.  It's in book 28, chapter

51, and it has nothing to do with bathing or cleaning.  His recipe does

contain a number of oddments apparently added for magical reasons, but

just perhaps because of their alkalinity.  His recipe apparently calls

for goat suet and beechwood ashes.  He has apparently not considered

that it might be of value in bathing, but is more useful as hair slickum

for Gauls (Gauls never change, do they?) and apparently notes with some

surprise that German guys use it more than the women do:


Prodest et sapo, Galliarum hoc inventum rutilandis capillis. Fit ex sebo

et cinere, optimus fagino et caprino, duobus modis, spissus ac liquidus,

uterque apud Germanos maiore in usu viris quam feminis.


Steven A. Gustafson, attorney at law

Fox & Cotner: PHONE (812) 945 9600   FAX (812) 945 9615




From: Steven Boozer <sboozer at midway.uchicago.edu>

To:   latin at mLists.net


Steven A. Gustafson, attorney at law, wrote:

: The Roman way of bathing, using public pools, probably was not

: particularly conducive to making extensive use of suds and lather,

: especially given that everyone shared the same water.


The Japanese seem to manage.  First you wash and rinse yourself off with a

bucket of water (have a friend or an attendant do your back), *then* you go

for a nice long soak in the hot water with everyone else.


Steven Boozer   University of Chicago Library   s-boozer at uchicago.edu



From: azmjb at aztec.asu.edu (MOREY BRILL)

To:   latin at mLists.net


I want to thank all, especially Professor Gill, for the abundance

of information on soap and the ancient Romans. The website from

BBC News is very informative. Apparently much of the information

contained therein comes from archaeological research rather than

from the writings of the ancient Romans. Of particular interest

was the collective use of urine in large jars to create ammonia

to be used to wash clothes. Also, many thanks for the citations

from Pliny on Roman oral hygiene. All of this makes us realize

how fortunate we are today to be at this point in the development

of science for the betterment of human life.


Morey Brill



From: "William P Thayer" <petworth at 21stcentury.net>

To:   latin at mlists.net


>They didn't use tooth paste either, although the famous Egnatius poem

>(Catullus 39) tells us that urine did the job well.


Yes on the Catullus urine poem, but no on the toothpaste. They did -- or at

least tooth powder -- and among the refs is in fact a curious poem by

Apuleius in the Apologia (pro se de Magia). Rather than tease anyone, here

it is (Ap. 6):


Calpurniane, salve properis vorsibus.

misi, ut petisti, tibi munditias dentium,

nitelas oris ex Arabicis frugibus,

tenuem, candificum, nobilem pulvisculum,

complanatorem tumidulae gingivulae,

converritorem pridianae reliquiae,

ne qua visatur tetra labes sordium,

restrictis forte si labellis riseris.


Notice that it covers much of the same ground as modern commercials...

Nihil novi sub sole.


Bill Thayer   LacusCurtius




From: Dexter Hoyos <dexter.hoyos at antiquity.usyd.edu.au>

To:   latin list <latin at mLists.net>


Linda Chester wrote (8 viii) :

<< I can recall reading that dolphins' blood was used by the Romans to cleanse

their teeth.  >>


I don't know about this but Pliny the Elder's descriptions of what people used

for their teeth make for exciting and informative (and generally repulsive)

reading.  The main discussion is at Nat Hist 28, sections 178-79 and 182 where

we learn, for instance, that much in use were


   - the ashes of deer's horn, or else powdered deerhorn, 'whether [the teeth]

are rubbed down or rinsed'

   - the ashes of a wolf's head ('magnum remedium')

   - the ashes of a hare's head (and if you add nard it kills bad breath)

   - the ashes of 'the pastern bone of an ox', or of that of a freshly killed

she-goat, or of various pig bones

   - goat's milk or bull's gall.

These useful recipes are accompanied by others, or by variants, of the

greatest help in fixing loose teeth and mouth sores (e.g. for bad teeth you

can apply 'workman's glue boiled down in water', though you must then rinse

the teeth with wine boiled with sweet pomegranates' rind).  


Elswhere one discovers other formulae:  

   - ashes of dog's teeth in wine, boiled down to half the original quantity

   - oyster-shell ashes (also good for burns and, mixed with honey, for sore

tonsils and sores on the head, inter alia)

   - for decayed teeth, whale's flesh dried overnight in a furnace and mixed

with an equal quantity of salt


Et cetera. Interspersed with these toothpastes are recommended ways of

dealing with bad teeth, including various other mixes which in some cases are

to be poured into the ear (e.g. earthworms boiled down in oil:  NH 30.23).  Or

again, 'into hollow teeth is stuffed ash from mouse dung, or the dried liver

of lizards' (this at NH 30.22).  And 'if the mouth has been scalded by

over-hot things, bitch's milk will give an immediate cure' (30.27), which

means it is a good thing to keep a litter of newborn puppies and their mom

close by;  or relays of these, if you are given to hot foods.  


Just a lunchtime contribution ...         Dexter H. / Sydney



From: Michael Kirk <bricktosser at netzero.net>

To:   latin at mLists.net


Weren't stirgils/scrappers used instead of soap?


Michael Kirk

bricktosser at netzero.net



From: "Ralph Hancock" <hancock at dircon.co.uk>

To:   <latin at mLists.net>


The system was to first smear yourself with olive oil, then have a good long

workout at the palaestra, then scrape the resulting mixture of oil, sweat

and dirt off with your strigil. Probably very good for the skin, rather like

removing makeup with cold cream. However, one wonders what the equivalent

procedure was for women. Also, it must have had a terrible effect on spotty

Roman teenagers -- though perhaps a steaming session in the calidarium

counteracted it.


Ralph Hancock

<hancock at dircon.co.uk>




From: Pallanteum at aol.com

To:   latin at mlists.net


Wouldn't this technique also scrape off a good amount of hair?  Was

removing/being without body hair fashionable?


Mark Keith

pallanteum at aol.com

Chancellor High School

Fredericksburg, VA USA



From: "Ralph Hancock" <hancock at dircon.co.uk>


Yes. I think men even had the hair pulled out of their armpits with

tweezers. You didn't want to look like a hairy barbarian.


Ralph Hancock

<hancock at dircon.co.uk>




From: "N C Lee et al." <nlee2 at isd.net>

To:   <latin at mLists.net>


Eduardus sodalibus s.p.d.


sapo, saponis m.: dippiddy doo

Remember that a pomade made of beechwood ashes and goat suet would suds up

just fine the next time the jelled hair went to the thermae.


smegma, smegmatis n.: soaps suds or scum.

This is what Susanna was going to use for bathing in the orchard, as

recounted in the deuterocanonical appendix to the Book of Daniel.

Unfortunately she was interrupted by a couple of voyeuristic geezers:


17 Dixit ergo puellis: Afferte mihi oleum, et smigmata, et ostia pomarii

claudite, ut laver. 18 Et fecerunt sicut pr¾ceperat: clauseruntque ostia

pomarii, et egress¾ sunt per posticum ut afferrent qu¾ iusserat.

nesciebantque senes intus esse absconditos


The word also occurs somewhere in Pliny in the sense of a detergent lotion.



--------End of messages sent by Madelina (Jane Sitton-Logan)-------



Date: Sun, 02 Apr 2000 21:49:42 MST

From: "C. L. Ward" <gunnora at realtime.net>

Subject: ANST - Roman Soap

To: Ansteorra at ansteorra.org


Pliny does mention soap, to wit:


Prodest et sapo, Galliarum hoc inventum rutilandis capillis. Fit ex sebo et

cinere, optimus fagino et caprino, duobus modis, spissus ac liquidus,

uterque apud Germanos maiore in usu viris quam feminis.


Soap is the invention of the Gauls and this is used to redden the hair. It

is made from fat and ashes -- the best is beech wood ash and goat fat, the

two combined, thick and clear. Many among the Germans use it, the men more

than the women.


(Pliny the Elder Historia Naturalis)


It is likely that this soap was not being used to clean the hair but rather

to bleach it.  You make the soap strongly basic, and it does bleach hair.

The beechwood and goat fat are not magical ingredients -- Pliny is simply

reporting the best type of lye source (beechwood ashes) and fat source

(goat fat) for use in soap.



mailto:gunnora at bga.com


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org