kgeist 12 days ago

The Old Norse word for Saturday, laugardagr, literally means "washing day". This custom still survives here in countryside Eastern Europe where many people routinely go to sauna (banya) every Saturday (or Sunday like my family). Before the 20th century, a lot of Eastern Europe (especially Russia) still lived like they lived in the middle ages: 95% of the country were serfs on feudal property living in traditional wooden houses with no modern benefits of civilization, and the bathing culture was pervasive: there were saunas (banyas) everywhere, and most villages were close to a river so water access was not a problem. Saunas were also a place where people gave birth. I find it hard to believe that Russian peasants were living the same lifestyle for centuries and only recently decided to start bathing. My family comes from Old Believers, a religous group which rejected church reforms of the 1600's and went into hiding in taiga, they preserved pretty ancient customs and their bathing culture was pretty intricate: for example, there always must be a separate towel/bucket of water for head, body, feet - this wouldn't have developed without a rich bathing culture before. Those villagers who could not afford their own sauna bathed in... ovens (inside the house). It's one of the older customs still preserved in some places. The traditional oven was pretty large and a whole person could fit in it. My mother was bathed like that when she was a child in their Old Believer village. However, I don't know if this was specific to Eastern/Northern Europe or common in Western Europe, too. I remember reading that due to overpopulation and deforestation it was harder for West Europeans to have frequent bathing every week. But here, population wasn't dense and forests were abundant.

  • tuukkah 12 days ago

    Most Finns still go to a sauna weekly to supplement the modern daily showers. In Finnish cities, old apartment buildings don't have a sauna room in every apartment (like in the 1980s) or a time-shared sauna suite in every building (like since maybe the 1940s?). Instead, there were big public saunas in every block or so, and people went bathing there once a week.

    In Helsinki, only a handful of those old public saunas remain today, but they are now protected by UNESCO and there's been a revival with several fancy public saunas built downtown in the last years, and the wood-heated ones are still considered the best: https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do/activities/the-best-...

  • tlogan 11 days ago

    But Nordic countries become Christian just in 12th century. And it took considerably longer for actual Christian beliefs to establish themselves among the people in these regions.

    So all these “don’t bath” nonsense promoted by pope was ignored (like, Pope Innocent IV passed the verdict against Frederick II of being a heathen. The first accusation on his list was the King bathed daily.)

    In short, people did not wanted to smell bad but church considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety (as mentioned by Saint Francis of Assisi).

    • coldtea 11 days ago

      >But Nordic countries become Christian just in 12th century

      Which is neither here, nor there, as Christian countries still bathed just fine.

      >So all these “don’t bath” nonsense promoted by pope was ignored

      They were ignored in Christian countries, include Rome and Byzantium, anyway.

      Not to mention, they weren't meant that way anyway. From TFA:

      "It’s true that we have medieval sources which warn against “excessive” bathing. But here’s the thing, that wasn’t really about being clean, it was about hanging out naked in bathhouses with the opposite sex. They didn’t want you to not be clean, they wanted you to not be going down the bath house and getting your fuck on. And yeah, some holy people didn’t bathe, notably saints who would forego bathing themselves but bathe sick or poor people. But if you bring that up you are missing the point. Medieval people thought that bathing and being clean was really nice, so giving it up and living with your stank was a sign that you had given up on the corporeal world and only thought of heaven. It was holy because it was uncomfortable, like wearing a hair shirt, or eating vegan, and hitting your chest with rocks and sitting in the desert trying not to wank. You know, standard saint stuff. It is mentioned because it is uncommon and uncomfortable."

      • rajup 11 days ago

        Being vegan is holy? Which religion?

        • coldtea 11 days ago

          Several, though not "holy" in itself, but befitting a holy person (saint-like behavior).

          In this particular instances he means in the practice of Christianity, which in the Catholic and Orthodox version (or the unified version before the schism) had strict lent period, with rules about abstaining from meat (and, for those following the stricter rules, dairy products two in most days (and in the traditional versions, a bread+water diet only on some important holy days). Regular christians followed (and follow) those at their own preference/faith/tolerance level, the clergy, monks, and saints, follow them strictly. And there are several stories of saints who followed them year round.

          But of course, veganism is also associated with holy behavior in Hinduism, Buddhism, and such.

          • bencollier49 11 days ago

            To add to the above, early medieval fasting rules in Christianity were brutal, arguably much tougher than comparable rules from other major religions at the same time. Then we got decadent.

            "Noon" is at lunchtime now because the ninth hour (Nones, Noon, 3pm) prayers, after which one could eat, got moved inexorably earlier to cater to the whims of impious monks.

            And incidentally, because it's interesting, fasting and veganism without corresponding prayer was/is seen as Satanic, "The fast of the devils", because "fallen angels neither eat nor pray".

        • somedudetbh 11 days ago

          A lot. for example: jainism, zen buddhism (shōjin ryōri), rastafarianism. There are also a lot of religious practices where the religious doctrine doesn't _require_ adherence to a vegan diet, but not eating animal products is considered more holy, and specifically because of the abnegation aspect the post is talking about. Catholics, for instance, have a long and complicated tradition of avoiding animal products for religious reasons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting_and_abstinence_in_the_...

    • LtWorf 11 days ago

      Do you have a source for this?

      I could find nothing written in Italian about this.

      • LtWorf 10 days ago

        If no source comes I'll just think it was a rumor spread by protestants to show people they should be protestants.

  • zeristor 12 days ago

    “Old Believers” interesting in itself:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Believers

    • guerrilla 12 days ago

      ohhhh so that's what Raskolnikov. I'm guessing most people don't get that reference when reading C&P.

      > The name Raskolnikov derives from the Russian raskolnik meaning "schismatic" (traditionally referring to a member of the Old Believer movement). The name Rodion comes from Greek and indicates an inhabitant of Rhodes.

      • codesnik 11 days ago

        There're colonies of russian old believers everywhere. Some were assimilated, like most californian ones. Some colonies are still well, in Brazil for example.

  • macleginn 11 days ago

    The bathing culture was different in different parts of Russia. It is more developed in the north and people in the south, if fieldwork data are reliable, bathed rather infrequently. Of course, this may also have to do with less firewood being available.

    (Also Old Believers' bathing practices have a lot to do with notions of ritual purity, so they cannot be easily projected to the general population.)

  • mongol 12 days ago

    Yes and this is to this day the Swedish word for Saturday: lördag, from "lögardagen". Same etymology as laugardagr.

    • kzrdude 12 days ago

      Well, laugardagr is the etymology, isn't it?

      The modern shapes of this weekday name are still used in the scandinavian languages, and Icelandic, Finnish and Estonian.

      • mongol 11 days ago

        Yes could be, it is obvious they are related, I don't know if laugardagr is the original or if they have common roots.

        • Tagbert 11 days ago

          laugardagr is the Old Norse word. Swedish developed from Old Norse (as did Norwegian and Danish). The Swedish lördag is derived from laugardagr.

          The “laug” portion comes from Old High German “louga”, from PIE root leue- "to wash."

          The “dagr” portion comes from the PIE root agh- "a day" with an initial “d” added as part of Old High German. OHG is the ancestor of Old Norse.

          This is from Etymonline - a great resource for language information https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=laug

          • kzrdude 9 days ago

            I think mongol is right to be careful. There wasn't one coherent old Norse, it had east-west variation even then for example.

            But it should give the broad strokes, just like talking about PIE is certainly a broad stroke.

  • darkerside 12 days ago

    How is one bathed in an oven?

    • kgeist 12 days ago

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_stove

      "As well as warming and cooking, Russian stoves were used for bathing. Once the stove became hot the burning wood was removed, and cast iron containers were put into the stove and filled with water. That allowed people to bathe inside of the stove. A grown man can easily fit inside, and during World War II some people escaped the Nazis by hiding in the stoves."

      • aasasd 12 days ago

        Okay, but can I get a schematic of how that's supposed to work? The opening on the pechka is on the side—what, you slide inside like in an MRI and then somehow chuck water onto yourself?

        Pretty sure just filling a proper wooden tub with the hot water is a lot simpler.

        For the context, back in my childhood I spent several summers in a house with a pechka (it's still there), and visited a couple others. Those could only fit a child at best, but the principle is the same: you shove the pots from the side into the tunnel above the fire.

        • vbezhenar 11 days ago
          • aasasd 11 days ago

            Thanks! This is very illustrative, just like I wanted. (Was too lazy to search myself, of course.)

            As expected, it's pretty tight in there. I know that rural people of old were much more fit than I am, and I would get cramps in several muscles of each leg and in my sides after three minutes in there.

            • vbezhenar 11 days ago

              I guess that tall people could build bigger ovens for themselves. Also oven usually has some extra space inside, so it's not as tight as it looks. But yeah, of course it's not something one would do other than of necessity.

          • sushid 11 days ago

            Thank you! So it's like a warm sponge bath.

        • macleginn 11 days ago

          > Pretty sure just filling a proper wooden tub with the hot water is a lot simpler.

          Water in a tub gets cold pretty quickly; vessels with water inside a stove keep warm for much longer.

          Old school Russian stoves have been hard to find in Russian villages now because they are too big and impractical, but a proper article, like one shown here https://zen.yandex.ru/media/1banya/kak-mylis-v-russkoi-pechi... , can easily fit a grown person.

      • eastbound 12 days ago

        > escaped the Nazis by hiding in the stoves

        If I understand, the iron containers myst have been extremely hot, how do you walk in? Did the nazis dismiss the possibility of hiding there because it was already hot like an oven?

        • aasasd 12 days ago

          I'm guessing people were hiding in cold stoves.

  • yrgulation 11 days ago
    • tremon 11 days ago

      First of all, they say "here in countryside eastern Europe", so they're speaking of a situation they're intimately familiar with.

      Secondly, they're describing a situation from "before the 20th century" and extrapolating societal customs and norms from that.

      Nowhere does it say that current eastern europe lacks showers. The most they say about the now is that not all people can afford a sauna in their home.

kumarvvr 12 days ago

Its funny that western history distorts the history of the rest of the world.

I hear western kids saying no one used to bathe in the ancient times.

As an Indian, it was practically mandatory for each and every individual to take a bath at-least two times a day. Additionally the following customs were very prevalent till recent times.

  1. Washing legs after coming home from outside.
  2. Washing hands, face and legs before sitting to eat food.
  3. Washing whole body after sex.
  4. Washing legs before entering others homes.
  5. Leaving footwear outside the *gate* of any home before entering it.
  6. A full bath in a river / lake / house tank *before* sunrise and once *before* sunset.
Also, body was supposed to be massaged with oil of sesame seeds (once a week), and greengram flour was rubbed on every part of the body. After sitting in the sun like this for a few minutes, the flour was scrubbed off by hand, and then a hot water bath taken.

For shampoo, two traditional herbs are recommended. Kunkudukai and shikakai. Both are used as it is without any processing. Kunkudukai would be crushed and mixed with water to form a liquid and then applied on head. Amazingly, it would form a lather when rubbed on the head. I remember doing this type of head bath every sunday, until about 2005. Any shampoo was forbidden in our home. The items were dead cheap too.

[Edit]

Kinkudukai is also called soapnut.

https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/benefits-of-soapnuts-for...

The above site tends to exaggerate the benifits a bit, but it is believed that kunkudukai inhibhits dandruff and is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.

By personal experience, it tastes absolutely vomit inducing bitter and will burn your eyes to high hell if as much as a diluted drop enters it.

Its a natural, safe and environmentally friendly way of taking a head bath.

  • danmaz74 12 days ago

    > I hear western kids saying no one used to bathe in the ancient times.

    Which western kids did you hear from? Every western kid I know studied that in Roman times bathing was a very important activity; as a matter of fact there were very advanced public baths, thermae (which included "sauna" with hot and cold water) in every city.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermae

    • valtism 8 days ago

      In my experience, a lot of western kids I know believe that bathing was almost non-existent in medieval times.

    • p3rls 12 days ago
      • hef19898 12 days ago

        To bad for the Romans the wormhole did lead to the Samurai era. Space-time and tank barrel cutting Katanas would have prevented the fall of the Empire.

  • eru 12 days ago

    Keep in mind that India was and is a huge and diverse place.

    A unified India did not exist until fairly recently. Neither as a political entity nor as a culture one.

    • kumarvvr 12 days ago

      This is blatantly false. A western trope resounding forever.

      Culturally India was a unified entity for millenia. As in, perhaps not having a unified government, but having the same cultural and literary background throughout the region.

      Ancient texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata talk about various places and practices across the length and breadth of India, which are remarkably similar and have a unified core.

      The greatest temples of Hinduism are not concentrated in one place, but spread over the entirety of the continent. And those are ancient temples. From Saraswati Temple in Kashmir to the Bhagavathi temple in Kanya Kumari.

      The idea that India was not a cultural entity was a British invention

      • origin_path 12 days ago

        But surely by that definition Europe was also a unified entity in the medieval period.

        • OJFord 12 days ago

          I was going to say the same thing, but then I realised the initial claim was also about 'cultural unity'. So fair enough, and yes a lot of Europe (or all of it in a few sections) has been culturally unified since time immemorial.

          It is a bit more complex though, certainly even today there's some very distinct 'culture' in different regions across India. But also shared themes and roots (e.g. Sanskrit & texts written in it, from which modern 'distinct' languages/beliefs/teachings have been derived) that kumarvr's far better placed to comment on than I am.

          • eru 12 days ago

            > [...] has been culturally unified since time immemorial.

            Could you be a bit more concrete?

            • hnfong 11 days ago

              Not the GP but I'll be more concrete in the other direction.

              The Roman Empire is located in Europe, is more recent than "time immemorial", and I'll claim that they didn't regard the various barbarians in Europe outside its sphere of influence as culturally unified with them.

              • eru 10 days ago

                It depends a bit on what we mean by 'time immemorial'. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_immemorial for some possibilities.

                In a legal context, 'time immemorial' is often much, much more recent than the Roman Empire, even the Eastern part.

        • bnralt 11 days ago

          To go even further: I imagine if the Arab world was politically unified with Europe today, there'd be a lot of people saying that it was always a unified Mediterranean cultural entity, sharing Monotheistic Abrahamic religions, Greek intellectual foundations, and having a long-term shared history in the Roman world. It's not a point of view commonly encountered today, though, probably because Europe and the Arab world aren't politically unified.

          That is to say, if you decide that a region should be seen as unified (perhaps because of modern political boundaries), one can cherry-pick common elements to try to reach that conclusion. It's not entirely incorrect, but it's a biased way of presenting the evidence in order to justify a preconceived belief.

        • kumarvvr 12 days ago
          • ahtihn 12 days ago

            > Christianity is so young, it hasn't had the time to develop into a serious religion.

            This is complete nonsense.

          • origin_path 12 days ago

            Lots of people question the unified nature of Europe! Whole world wars have been fought over that very question. Regardless of cultural or racial similarities, whether there's a single government or not is a major factor in deciding if an area is a unified entity. That's not some British invention, it's fundamental to the whole concept of a nation state to begin with.

          • oynqr 12 days ago

            All the people who died in the Thirty Years' War would like to have a word with you.

            • eru 12 days ago

              To be fair, that came quite a bit after the medieval period. However, there's plenty of division during the Medieval period.

              Eg the Iberian peninsula wasn't even Christian during most of that time. And neither was much of Eastern and Northern Europe.

      • prox 12 days ago

        Yeah, this is also what I gathered from speaking to people from India, and my own research. Brahmanism/ belief in the vedas was pretty widespread and sanskrit is with a few local exceptions the “Latin” of India. As far as I know there was relatively little iconoclasm as most follow up empires usually respected what came before. The exception might by in the deep south? Not sure. Ofcourse this changed somewhat with islamism and British rule. Those two things reformed a lot in the identities of people during time up till now.

    • prox 12 days ago

      Speaking to some people from India, and my own readings what combined their society was a couple of things : a deep connection to the traditions such as the vedas, sanskrit, gods, brahmanism. And even if there was divergence, it was usually with a deep respect for what had gone before. So surely while there was a lot of cultural divergence, there was also a lot of things that made it into the India we see today. Some empires also endured a long time to make more of cultural unity. I am not sure in how far Bharat was used for the whole subcontinent and where.

      • kumarvvr 12 days ago

        True. There were a multitude of kings, queens and kingdoms across India, but the study and spread of the cultural and literary roots of India happened all across the sub-continent.

        That is why, even today, the same chants used in temples in the north, are used in the south. The text, meanings, rituals, practices, etc, may have taken a regional flavor, but the essence is the same, the core is the same and the philosophical idea behind it is the same.

  • rendall 12 days ago

    > Its funny that western history distorts the history of the rest of the world.

    Is it? "Non-western history" more accurately portrays the history of the rest of the world?

  • honkdaddy 11 days ago

    There’s a bizarre fantasy I see a lot of self-hating westerners reference which is that their hygiene and bathing practices were learned from other societies, which from what I’ve read from and what this article shows, is clearly a complete fiction.

    Still though, searching “who taught Europeans how to bathe” will confidently return you lots of articles like

    https://sawarimi.org/archives/2893

    In which the author confidently states that it was only due to African influence that Europeans ever learned about hygiene. It’s a nice idea, maybe? But it’s just completely made up.

  • samarthr1 12 days ago

    Wasn't Nandi's advice three baths and one meal?

    • kumarvvr 12 days ago

      Yeah, but only for monks. Not for householders or the like.

      A person who eats 3 meals a day is a rogi (Diseased)

      A person who eats 2 meals a day is a bhogi (A content, satisfied person)

      A person who eats 1 meal a day is a yogi (A person on the path to spiritual bliss)

  • bbarnett 12 days ago

    While perhaps accurate, I find it absurd that this wasn't only a ruling class thing.

    Massaged with oil? Water tanks?! Hot water? Come on, you can't tell me the poor, barely able to feed themselves, lucky to have fuel for cooking food, lucky to get porable water, barely a roof over their heads, had these luxuries?

    I find it the same with how the west views its history. People viewing lords and ladies in castles, as how the would have lived 500 years ago.

    No.

    You are the peasant. No lands for you, you aren't a lord or lady, you're a peon like 99.999% of people. Almost no middle class, and you aren't upper! You're lower class.

    • kumarvvr 12 days ago

      In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue. Your statement reeks of colonialist attitudes of seeing natives of other lands as some sort of brutes and degenerates living in destitution in poverty.

      In India, Every village was in the vicinity of a water source. Every village had a temple, with a large pond.

      Massaging with oil and flour based cleansing was the staple of almost every household.

      Oils and Flours were cheap. Most of agricultural products were cheap in India. Portable water was not an issue, because industrialization did not yet happen and most water sources (and hundreds of wells dug around the country) would have clean, drinking water. Did you think a thousand years ago, people used water filters? The only filter that was used was a fine threaded cloth.

      Fuel for cooking food, as with any country in those times was usually wood, husk or similar material.

      > barely able to feed themselves

      Yeah, no. Leaving aside a few famines here and there, India was mostly self sufficient and had plentiful of food.

      In fact, selling food was considered the gravest sin. It was codified in societal practices that a householder should try to feed at-least one from outside before he has his food. Food donation was considered the highest ideal, even greater than money.

      > barely a roof over their heads.

      Most of the population lived in thatched huts or wood beam supported houses constructed from soil based cement like stuff. I assume this was true all over the world.

      >You are the peasant. No lands for you, you aren't a lord or lady, you're a peon like 99.999% of people. Almost no middle class, and you aren't upper! You're lower class.

      This is just an ignorant thing to say, without having any knowledge of world history, forget about Indian history. Also reeks of extreme contempt.

      If you are not aware, this was how most of the world lived. Lower class was the norm. We are now living in an age of disproportionate luxury.

      • Frost1x 12 days ago

        >Portable water was not an issue, because industrialization did not yet happen and most water sources (and hundreds of wells dug around the country) would have clean, drinking water. Did you think a thousand years ago, people used water filters?

        Potable water hasn't been an issue strictly introduced by industrialization, it was exacerbated by increased population density in areas where water sources were more likely to be contaminated. There are plenty of nasty biological contaminates out there that make water non-potable: various bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. as well as inorganics like lead leaching that led to bad water sources (not to mention droughts). Potable water has always been an issue (to this day), industrialization agreeably added new issues although it also introduced water processing science to make non-potable waters potable in many places.

        We should celebrate modern industrialized water processing, not shun it.

        • stavros 12 days ago

          Did they mean potable, or portable? You don't need potable water to wash your feet, but you do need it to be in your house somehow, I guess...

      • politelemon 12 days ago

        > In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue. Your statement reeks of colonialist attitudes of seeing natives of other lands as some sort of brutes and degenerates living in destitution in poverty.

        Your statements reek of nationalism and revisionist history, viewing the past through black-and-white-and-rose tinted glasses, and passing blame onto 'evil foreigners' for current problems. It's mind boggling that you think anyone would lap these statements up.

        • Vetch 12 days ago

          The original phrasing could be worked on but it's not so far out as you say either.

          > passing blame for current problems

          Humans think we're special but we're still slightly more complicated networked state machines. This means the issue of metastability, where a pathological state is entered and maintains even with the triggering stimulus removed, due to sustaining effects such as fitness criteria given rampant corruption, is real. Control and dynamical systems theory is as applicable to human systems as it is to traffic networks or distributed systems.

          This isn't to say current problems are solely because of past inequities but worth recognizing that once entered into, exiting by solutions which entail solving challenging coordination problems are extremely difficult to obtain.

          > black-and-white-and-rose tinted glasses

          I know next to nothing about Indian history but what they says sounds plausible even if causality for present is more involved. I have at least heard of the famous Indus Valley Civilization and its emphasis on baths, scientific precocity, exceptional levels of egalitarianism, pacifism and influence on subsequent Indian civilization. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_civilisation#Post...

          • BbzzbB 11 days ago

            Disclaimer: I know way too little about history of present-day India, I'm not looking to argue with anyone.

            But is what you're linking what GP is talking of? Because this is over 2k years old, while it's interesting it doesn't validate or invalidate living conditions of pre-colonial India. Wouldn't it be like linking to an article on propsperity from peak Roman empire when discussing much more recent feudalist Europe? Roman influence on Europe (and beyond) abound, but some early positive characteristics of it's statehood have been long gone by medieval times. And I thought the thread was on recent(ish) history.

        • jvanderbot 11 days ago

          Arguing across an ocean about the validity of anecdotal bathing practices is not the transhumanist future I though ubiquitous internet would provide.

          But what did I expect...

          • salawat 11 days ago

            I actually find this refreshing, and a reminder of the types of arguments that gave the internet it's original charm.

          • halfmatthalfcat 11 days ago

            This is actually the content I come to HN for. You could argue that HN specializes in one-upmanship or pedantry but it's also a breeding ground for a lot of good discussion on incredibly niche topics.

          • mensetmanusman 11 days ago

            This is also classic HN. Right above you someone is backing up their argument by proclaiming with gusto that humans are network computers.

      • ETH_start 12 days ago

        This is not true. We have reliable indicators of pre-modern poverty levels [1], and they were indeed brutal. India (in the mythical pre-invasion period) was no exception. [2]

        >>Most of the population lived in thatched huts or wood beam supported houses constructed from soil based cement like stuff. I assume this was true all over the world.

        This is what extreme poverty (pervasive in pre-modern times, aand still present today in the poorest regions of the world) looks like:

        "Official reports for Burgundy between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries are full of 'references to people [sleeping] on straw... with no bed or furniture' who were only separated 'from the pigs by a screen'."

        - Civilization & Capitalism [3]

        [1] https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty

        [2] https://theunbrokenwindow.com/Development/MADDISON%20The%20W...

        [3] https://archive.org/stream/fernand-braudel-the-structure-of-...

        • kumarvvr 12 days ago

          Depends on what you mean by poverty. I mean, how does one even measure it a 1000 years ago.

          I am suspicious of these reports.

          Every country has a history of good times and bad times. However, the culture of India is unique in the sense that the most strongest unit was the collective society and cultural practices (food donation being held as the highest ideal, practical prohibition of sale of food, a multitude of rituals for householders wherein donation of money, clothes, grain, etc was part of the ritual, societal support for disabled persons, etc). This led to a fairly decent life and times.

          Were there not people in extreme poverty, sure. Was the whole country in poverty, surely not.

          • formerkrogemp 12 days ago

            > Depends on what you mean by poverty. I mean, how does one even measure it a 1000 years ago.

            It's called anthropology, linguistics, geology, and history. They're legitimate fields with highly qualified and knowledgeable professionals. Through their efforts we have a decent idea of what various cultures and lives were like even a thousand years ago through carbon dating, archaeological digs, artefacts, and so forth.

            • cyber_kinetist 12 days ago

              I see some anthropologists themselves quarrelling over the definition of 'poverty' though. Yes they are much knowledgeable than us, but you shouldn't think of them having a straightforward 'answer' like what you usually have for math problems.

              So if you are bringing academic authorities to the question, at least namedrop some academics/books/papers, so people can have a constructive debate about this.

              • 9dev 12 days ago

                That’s not how this works; you cannot discredit an entire scientific field and then demand some papers and books for the lazy to get into it. Anthropology has a corpus of millions of papers, and you demand what? A proof that they aren’t full of themselves.

                • cyber_kinetist 12 days ago

                  I wasn't discrediting the field at all, quite the opposite! A healthy discourse is what keeps the academia in motion, especially for fields adjacent to the humanities. (Although you see this even in the field of 'hard' science like physics or mathematics, where people argue about even the most fundamental things like the validity of renormalization techniques or the usefulness of the law of the excluded middle).

                  And also, how can you possibly start a conversation about anthropology (or anything generally academic) without bringing any written literature? The worst way for academics to start a conversation with people outside of the field is "We are the authority on this topic, and you are ignorant so you should stop talking". Give us something interesting to ponder about, that's all!

                  EDIT: Since maybe I'm being a hypocrite by not providing any interesting links/sources myself, I'll have a try. The whole sub-field of developmental anthropology (some Wikipedia links below) seems to have close relations to the current modern concept of poverty (and to a broader extent global neoliberal politics) and is surely interesting. I'm also seeing many criticism towards their approaches from other anthropologists (Arturo Escobar is one prominent example), and taking a close look at this debate seems much more interesting than just claiming "Anthropologists are experts and we should let them just do their research" (which is a dead end to any interesting discussion on HN). And no, don't get started with "These people are fake anthropologists, real anthropologists use carbon dating and 3D scanning all that scientific jazz..." Anthropology has historically been intertwined with politics and ideology from the start, since it doesn't just end with obtaining the facts, but extrapolating and interpreting from the facts to infer what kinds of human societies were there in the past. And it is in that interpretation that all kinds of disagreements come in to play.

                  [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_anthropology

                  [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_poverty

                  [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropology_of_development

          • ETH_start 12 days ago

            We can see in markers of extreme poverty in remains of people who died in pre-modern times:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_bioarchaeology#

            >>Anne L. Grauer, Professor of Anthropology at Loyola University Chicago, assessed the presence of porotic hyperostosis and periosteal reactions in the population (n=1,014) from St. Helen-on-the-Walls in York, England. She used porotic hyperostosis and periosteal reactions to examine health and disease in urban medieval England. Grauer discovered that 58% of the population displayed evidence of porotic hyperostosis and 21.5% displayed evidence of periosteal reactions.[6]

            Without industrial civilization, the amount of labor people do is not sufficient for most of the comforts of modern life, like insulated and waterproof shelter, sanitary pads, diapers, vaccines, bandages, regular laundrying of clothing, etc etc.

            • swatcoder 12 days ago

              This would be more useful with detail on what share of the population lived in urban environments, as well as insight into what life was life for the share that didn’t.

              Do you know that? Do you have that?

              • simonh 12 days ago

                We have the Domesday Book from the 11th century which was a complete survey of the entire country, and we have parish and monastic records, wills, town charters and tax accounts from later periods. Of course there are gaps and ambiguities but we’re far from blind about those times.

          • ch4s3 11 days ago

            There have been plenty of collectivist societies in history and some had gift economies, this isn’t really unique. There are several Native American cultures that would have fit the same description. You could even see a faint parallel in cross-tribal clan membership.

      • bryanrasmussen 12 days ago

        >In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue.

        My assumption, when applied to India, would be that it would be an issue for the untouchables caste?

        >If you are not aware, this was how most of the world lived. Lower class was the norm. We are now living in an age of disproportionate luxury.

        Even so it still seems unlikely that every member of the society would be able to enjoy these amenities, the question really becomes at which cutoff point is one too poor to do so, and how much of the society was that poor?

        • andrekandre 12 days ago

            > My assumption, when applied to India, would be that it would be an issue for the untouchables caste?
          
          afaik untouchables as a concept was mostly enacted around (british) colonial rule (when they instituted the caste system we see even to today), so might not apply to the time period they are talking about...

          (happy to be corrected on this if i misunderstand)

          • unmole 12 days ago

            > afaik untouchables as a concept was mostly enacted around (british) colonial rule (when they instituted the caste system we see even to today), so might not apply to the time period they are talking about...

            This is revisionist nonsense. Ancient texts, both sacred and secular both describe a extant caste system.

            • msravi 11 days ago

              Um, no, they don't. They describe a jaati system, and a varna system, both of which do not take the same meaning as caste. The british conflated the two, and invented caste.

              The jaati system was a system of hereditary professional guilds - so you'd have different jaatis for accountants (Kulkarnis for example), farmers (Vokkaligas), teachers (Upaadhyayas), etc. The professional skill was jealously guarded and generally not open to outsiders.

              And then you had the varna system which literally means category. This categorized people into 4 categories - Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras based on their nature and actions, NOT profession. This was not hereditary.

              The british had zero idea of this, conflated jaati and varna into "caste" and made it rigid by bringing out voluminous reports that classified each jaati into a varna!

              • unmole 11 days ago

                Again, revisionist nonsense. Karna, one the greatest warriors of his time is not treated as a Kshatriya because of his birth. Shambuka, a Shudra is executed for daring to perform tapas. So much for the Varna is not hereditary theory. The Arthashastra makes it clear that privileges of being a Brahmin were accrued by birth. The Manusmriti describes the caste of the offspring based on the permutations of the parents castes in copious detail.

                Varna has always been hereditary. Anyone claiming otherwise is mistaken or making stuff up.

                • msravi 10 days ago

                  You should read the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute's (BORI) Critical Edition of the Mahabharata - which is the definitive edition, rather than relying on unsubstantiated translations. When Kripacharya asks for Karna's royal lineage (not caste) to let him take part in the competition, this is what Duryodhana says:

                  Duryodhana said, “O preceptor! It is stated in the sacred texts that there are three ways to become a king—through noblebirth, through valour and through leading an army. If Phalguni is unwilling to fight with someone who is not a king, I install him as king in the land of Anga.”

                  Right there you have it. Different ways to become a King. None based on caste.

                  Our history has had several, several, instances where "Kshatriyas" have not been kings. There are umpteen people who are regarded as Gods and among the greatest, who do not belong to the "upper castes." The author of the Ramayana, Valmiki, was a hunter - which is also regarded as a "lower caste." The author of the Mahabharata was the son of a fisherwoman, also regarded as a "lower-caste." Shabari, from whom Rama accepted half-eaten berries was a tribal inhabitant from a hunting clan - also deemed to be "low-caste." All these people have been looked upon as great beings, almost equivalent to Gods, and have been worshiped.

                  So no, if there have been revisionists, it is the ones who have used distorted british translations, and mutilated our history.

                  • unmole 9 days ago

                    What are you even on about? Why bring a digression about royality when the comment was about varna being heridetary? Despite being the perfect embodiment of Kshatriya dharma, Karna is referred to as a sutaputra and a suta throughout the text. Quoting from the Bibek Debroy translation of the BORI edition you hold in such high regard:

                    "Rama angrily spoke these words to Karna. ‘O foolish one! No one who has been born as a brahmana can endure such great suffering. Your patience is like that of a kshatriya. I wish to hear the truth.’ Karna was frightened of being cursed. He sought his favours and said, ‘O Bhargava! Know me to be between a brahmana and a kshatriya, born as a suta."

                    > You should read the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute's (BORI) Critical Edition of the Mahabharata - which is the definitive edition

                    Please read the original Sanskrit or an edition that isn't watered down by wishy washy translation. For instance, in Sanskrit, the charactersitics of each varna are described as 'स्वभावजम्'. Bibek Debroy translates it to nature, focussing on the 'स्वभाव' and entirelly omitting the 'जम्' part. Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan preserves the full implications of the term and translates it as born of their nature.

                    > Shabari, from whom Rama accepted half-eaten berries

                    And which critical edition of the Ramayana did you read that story in? The irony of reaching for apocrypha to argue against perceived revisionism!

                  • kumarvvr 10 days ago

                    A small clarification.

                    Nowhere in the Ramayana does it say that Shabari offered half eaten fruits to Rama. Because that is not good conduct. These are stories that evolved from poetry based on Ramayana.

                    However, it is pertinent to note that Rama is a Kshatriya and Shabari was the disciple of Matanga Muni and Rama respected her due to her devotion and service to Matanga muni, and not for her caste or lineage.

              • turtleyacht 11 days ago

                This is interesting. Thank-you. Could you elaborate on the next piece from this idea?

                For example, from jaati and varna, what follows from that? Admittedly, a vague question but wanting to learn a bit more.

                Just saying this is the first perspective on HN I have read about caste being inaccurate, and wanting to understand this fresh context.

                • msravi 10 days ago

                  Sorry for not responding earlier, but it'll take a lot more than a comment to elucidate this in any amount of detail. Plus this needs lots and lots of references from a vast many sources to put together. Will put it together in a post sometime.

                • pySSK 11 days ago

                  It is revisionist nonsense.

          • monetus 12 days ago

            en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

            Seems like the British systems formed and formalized it, but that that itself was an amalgam of the cultural stratification that was sometimes already there. Multiculturalism turned monstrous... sad.

            • ch4s3 11 days ago

              There have been a number of genetic studies[1] that can identify caste heredity going back to almost the time of the Vedas showing VERY little genetic mixing between the castes.

              [1] https://hms.harvard.edu/news/genetic-study-finds-caste-syste...

              • monetus 11 days ago

                I think the link through in that article is sadly dead, but I still found it.

                Wow, that is less intermingling than I would have guessed. I knew that caste had been there for ages, but it is still a bit astonishing to read that.

                • ch4s3 11 days ago

                  Oops, I may have chopped off a few characters. Yeah there were essentially only a handful of upper caste men gathering children with lower caste women and virtually no other mixing for thousands of years.

          • bryanrasmussen 11 days ago

            I've heard this before, but always found it doubtful, conquerors tend to enact systems that mimic those in their home countries.

      • zeroonetwothree 12 days ago

        Do you have a source for this? I’d be surprised if we know this much detail and accuracy about how peasants lived hundreds of years ago.

        • kumarvvr 12 days ago
          • kortilla 12 days ago

            It’s shocking how incongruent your views are with the text from the book (see sibling comment). Do you just selectively choose which parts of the book to believe or do you not believe peasants were any substantial part of the population and are therefore not worth caring about?

            • kumarvvr 12 days ago
              • nwiswell 12 days ago

                You picked this book to present as evidence to support your (honestly outlandish) claims regarding living standards in ancient India. No one else even suggested it. All I did was read it (well, skim it, really) since I was surprised to hear that my schema was so out of whack with the historical reality.

                Pardon me if I am skeptical regarding your claims about what is in these other "hundred books", since you apparently were not particularly acquainted with the contents of this one.

              • gspr 12 days ago

                What an incredibly weird way to respond to a request for a source.

          • nwiswell 12 days ago

            Very good. Page 68:

            > In ancient times, distinction was made between several different categories of farmers. There were those who cultivated their own land, those who had it cultivated by wage-earning laborers, and those who leased their land to 'metayers', farmers who paid rent in kind, in this case half the harvest and crop. There were few big landlords, and the largest estates nearly all belonged to the king, that is to say, the State in fact. The temples, too, recieved vast properties as gifts and had them developed by hired labourers and staff. But these were exceptions, and most of the land was parcelled out in small lots, sometimes only big enough to feed a single family. Many small farmers, however, chose to work the land on a 'united family' basis, under the direction of a head of the family, pooling fields, cattle, agricultural implements, harvests, crops, and grazing-grounds. Under this system, they avoided fragmentation of the family property, and to some extent, they guarded against risks and responsibilities.

            > Theirs was not an easy life. The vagaries of the climate often brought seasonal catastrophe: tornadoes devastated the fields, drought scorched the land, floods wiped out whole crops. Apart from these natural hazards, there was the problem of the laws of hospitality, which were rigorously applicable and cost the farmers dearly; the most onerous of these obligations involved the provision of food and fodder for the king and his suite during the course of their cross-country tours of inspection. On such occasions, the absolute right of the king and his dignitaries to provision and stores from the local peasants might well reduce these communities to penury during a bad year, with no hope of replenishing their empty granaries before the following harvest.

            > To natural calamities and unavoidable obligations had to be added the burden of taxation. Taxes were numerous and were applied to collective enterprises as well as to individuals. The peasant had to pay not only a basic tax amounting to twenty-five or thirty per cent of the produce of his land at the moment when it was in full yield, but also a periodical (probably annual) contribution based on his income. He had to pay his share of the general tax levied by the State on his village, as well as special taxes that were set against the services rendered by the State to the rural population -- protection against theft in pasturages and fields, the cost of land-surveying, irrigation works, the upkeep and repair of canals. Fruit, herbage, honey and wood were all taxable. If the farmer was not the owner of the land he worked, he was liable to pay rentals or other concessionary fees in addition to the obligatory payment of communal dues and tolls. Under some reigns, tax and duty rates reached such heights that quite often villages would be abandoned by their entire peasant population, who preferred to risk bringing new land under cultivation in some other region rather than submit to such exorbitant demands.

            Lest we think these ancient peasants ever actually had it good before the foreigners showed up.

            And regarding your assertions about how plentiful water was before industrialization, Page 63-64:

            > We are told that, in ancient times, these canals were kept full either 'by hand', that is with the aid of water-skins or a balance-pole (tula), or else by transporting water on the backs of animals, or by using a bucket-chain. An ingenious system, still used in present times, was worked by oxen climbing up a gently sloping artificial ridge and descending it time after time, in so doing hauling up from a well on each occasion a leather bucket filled with water which was emptied into a supply-canal. The canals were excavated communally and served sometimes as demarcation lines between two neighbouring properties. It seems that the use of this commonly owned water often gave rise to keen disputes, and that it was not uncommon for the course to be diverted in the direction of one village's fields at the expense of another's. In such a case, violent quarrels resulted which developed occasionally into pitched battles between rival villagers, and the disagreement had to be brought before the local council for adjudication.

            Finally, a portrait of village life, Page 126:

            > Village houses were lower and more modest than town ones; their outer walls were covered with a mixture of lime, earth and cow-dung, the last being considered a purifcative agent. The shops were more like street-stalls, and the crowd that passed by their displays were of more humble stock: farmers returning from the fields, pushing ahead of them a small flock of skinny sheep; ragged foragers, grey with chaff, a sickle stuck through their belt, carrying home trusses of hay tied around their hips; women balancing on their heads large bundles of forage rolled inside a mat, to be used as animal fodder; porters trotting along, laden with baskets suspended from each end of a pole carried across the shoulders. Then there were artisans in the process of delivering their merchandise, pedlars transporting their gimcrackery in a bag, strolling players looking for a suitable place to present their turns. Cattle mingled freely with the human throng. Heavy wagons drawn by bullocks (gramasakaia or go-ratha) rolled along the main streets; these were (as they still are today) massive wooden constructions built by the village carpenter, who followed time-honoured traditions in the matter of design. The body was relatively shallow, balanced on two large, heavy, creaking wheels with protruding hubs. A shaft with a yoke at its end was designed to harness a pair of hump-backed bullocks, the yoke resting on their necks between the nape and the dorsal hump; long wooden pegs, carefully carved and painted, were stuck through the yoke, one on each side of the beast's neck, enclosing it, with the additional means of a halter. In addition, their nostrils were pierced and a cord was passed through them, this being intended as a check on their fiery temperament. Their tails were carefully tied flat against their flanks, so that the swishing would not annoy the driver. The latter, squatting at the front of the wagon, his feet on the shaft, guided the team with the aid of a simple whip consisting of a stick and a plaited cord. These vehicles were surmounted by hooped ribs covered by matting, and were used particularly for transporting grain at harvest time; the peasant's entire family, out in the fields, sought respite from the hot sun by sitting under its awning.

            > Apart from local and seasonal feast days (see pp. 144-8), rural existence offered only very rare distractions, and each day heralded the same repetitive rhythm of the farmer's routine. While the men worked in the fields, the housewives went about their daily chores and artisans followed their particular craft. Peace did not invariably reign between villagers, or even between villages, and Buddhist tales often mention the sometimes hilarious and bawdy quarrels which provided the only relief from the monotony of daily life.

            • bandrami 12 days ago

              Even this book (which frankly has some Hindutva BS in it) is saying "India" but means "The Ganges valley". The hyperspecific layers of types of farmer by tenancy just wasn't found in the Deccan.

            • kumarvvr 12 days ago

              > Lest we think these ancient peasants ever actually had it good before the foreigners showed up

              They sure as hell had it much worse after the invaders, looters and religious fanatics wreaked havoc in the region for 1000 years.

              • hef19898 12 days ago

                Poor, landless peasants had a hard life everywhere, regardless of whom they served. Believing otherwise means you are lying to yourself.

                The caste system, as all similar systems that existed in all kinds of places throughout history, is one of the worst, inhuman and unjust social systems that currently exists. It is basically apartheid based on religion and history. It is carried over from centuries ago, and right now all progress that was made in abolishing it is rolled back by higher caste Indian nationalists to score political points. And the latter part has nothing to do with colonialism and all the shitty things the British did in India.

                No country needs foreigners to screw things up, societies are quite at doing all of this themselves.

              • gspr 12 days ago

                Do you see how far you've moved the goalposts? You start out claiming things like food being plentiful and cheap for everyone, yet now it's "it was better before at least".

              • unmole 12 days ago

                > They sure as hell had it much worse after

                Which is very different from your original absurd claim.

      • justanorherhack 12 days ago

        If it was a cultural value to feed people outside of the home before yourself and food donation was a cultural promoted ideology then that means there were lots of people to feed..

        • smogcutter 12 days ago

          Yup, afaik these kinds of horizontal gifting relationships were about a) surplus being essentially impossible to store or accumulate as capital so you might as well give it away, and b) modest insurance against bad times - what goes around comes around.

        • southerntofu 12 days ago

          How do you reach this conclusion? I know many people in France who have difficulty feeding themselves / their family, yet depending on the region it may or may not be part of local culture to feed other people outside your home.

          In fact, it's definitely not local culture in any big city i've visited, and on the countryside it varies not by region but from one village to the next. From what i could see it it's really not correlated with local productivity.

          • greenpeas 11 days ago

            If food was plentiful and everyone had access to food, sharing food would not be a virtue. It's only a virtue if it's somewhat difficult for the person sharing (it means they are sacrificing something to help others) and at the same time is valuable to the receiver (the receiver really needs the food).

        • kumarvvr 12 days ago

          I wouldn't characterize it as that. Population was low enough, compared to food production.

          Feeding people is a cultural norm in India, rooted in the scriptures that ones hunger should not be a cause for doing business.

          The highest ideal in Hinduism is "Sarve jana, sukhino bhavanthu" (All living things should be happy)

          The reverse logic in your statement is also pertinent, in that if there was a lot of feeding going on, then there was a lot of food available.

          Indian norms and culture emphasizes on moving away from materialism and advocates for distribution of wealth. Greed is frowned upon and actively discouraged in a society. Wealthy are encouraged to perform rituals and festivals and distribute their wealth.

          India is the only civilization in the world where there are written references to kings of large sections of the country, leaving aside all their pomp and glory and going off into forests for meditation and penance. Mind you, they were not failures or banished. They voluntarily gave up their luxuries in search of the ultimate meaning of life.

          Indian civilization is a complex layered society where philosophy of life is seeped permanently in daily language, customs, cultures, practices, rituals and history.

          That the ultimate goal of life is not wealth, but of discovering the true nature of ourselves, the true nature of this world, the illusion that it is, is emphasized in every aspect of life.

          Take the example of the word "punyatma". It is an adjective used for someone who is pious and does good deeds. Similar to "Good samaritan". However, the word is a combination of two words "Punya" (Fruits of good deeds) and "Aatma" (Soul). The implication, and our philosophical belief is that the soul is eternal and is bound to re-births. And the fruits of our actions are tied to our soul, and that there is no escape from getting the results of your actions (good or bad alike).

          • kortilla 12 days ago

            > Indian norms and culture emphasizes on moving away from materialism and advocates for distribution of wealth. Greed is frowned upon and actively discouraged in a society. Wealthy are encouraged to perform rituals and festivals and distribute their wealth.

            This is also a bog standard description of Christianity and a bunch of other religions. There isn’t anything special about India here.

            > India is the only civilization in the world where there are written references to kings of large sections of the country, leaving aside all their pomp and glory and going off into forests for meditation and penance. Mind you, they were not failures or banished. They voluntarily gave up their luxuries in search of the ultimate meaning of life.

            Bullshit. Just the history of England and France alone are packed full of wealthy and privileged people focusing their life on the pursuit of enlightenment (spiritual, artistic, and/or scientific) and giving up pre-arranged lives of power and wealth.

            > That the ultimate goal of life is not wealth, but of discovering the true nature of ourselves, the true nature of this world, the illusion that it is, is emphasized in every aspect of life.

            Again, this is standard guidance you’ll find in all of the major religions. One of the most common criticisms of materialists in America is how they are not following Christianity. Wealth and the eye of a needle, etc.

            India was not special. It was just as poor as any other pre-industrialized nation. You’re just looking back on it with rose colored glasses because we haven’t internalized the misery of dying from simple infections, dysentery, famines from floods, etc.

            • kumarvvr 12 days ago

              > This is also a bog standard description of Christianity and a bunch of other religions.

              I never said India is special in this regard.

              >Bullshit. Just the history of England and France alone are packed full of wealthy and privileged people focusing their life on the pursuit of enlightenment (spiritual, artistic, and/or scientific) and giving up pre-arranged lives of power and wealth.

              Name 2 kings or monarchs who did this voluntarily.

              >Again, this is standard guidance you’ll find in all of the major religions.

              Where does it say in Christianity or Islam that this world is an illusion, that there is one god, that all paths lead to the same god, or that the soul inside you is the very same god you pray to ?

              >India was not special.

              Spiritually, It is special, in the sense that Hinduism is not a religion but a philosophical way of life, that encourages debate, discussion, logical analysis and introspection. Historically, the only gift for questioning ones religion was a beheading in the case of Christianity and Islam.

              Christians roam around the world converting people. Its so annoying. I never understand this obsession of "my god is the only path, your god is false, and if you don't follow my god and don't accept my god, you will go to hell and are not even fit to be considered a human being". Christianity has lost its soul. The history of the church is the history of Christianity and how low it has fallen from the true path of Christ.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramakrishna

              • allendoerfer 12 days ago

                > Where does it say in Christianity or Islam that this world is an illusion,

                Christianity is very obviously all about eternal live in heaven with god. That's the main selling point: Your suffering on earth is not actually the real thing and you do not have to be afraid of death. You do not have to worry. Also something, something, love is good. That is how it gets sold.

                > that there is one god, that all paths lead to the same god,

                That's the main thing that unites the three abrahamic religions.

                > or that the soul inside you is the very same god you pray to ?

                Literally in Genesis. And god created men in his own image.

                I had to comment on this thread, because what you and others are writing here just seems like some Indian exceptionalism. Seems like you are trying to defend something and overshooting quite a bit.

                Above the state of India 1000 years ago got mentioned. As a European I give you this perspective: I feel like I can be a bit more relaxed regarding other nations, because everybody was invading each other all the time, so most certainly I would not exist genetically if my (proto-)nation would have won all these conflicts. I have nothing to do with my nation 1000 years ago. We are all the result of history.

                • hnfong 11 days ago

                  (I am not taking sides, just to comment on a minor point here)

                  > > or that the soul inside you is the very same god you pray to ?

                  > Literally in Genesis. And god created men in his own image.

                  An "image of God" is not "God" itself, just as a JPG photo of you is not the "real" you. In Christian traditions the only person who is simultaneously human and "God" is Jesus, and he's the only one so far. The average Christian is encouraged to pray to external deities (Jesus, God, Mary, Saints, etc.) instead of recognizing the deity within. My understanding is that the eastern philosophies that the GP refers to consider the soul of every human literally equivalent to god, or at least an integral part of such. I think there's a substantial difference here, even if some concepts overlap at the edges.

              • bawolff 12 days ago

                > > >Again, this is standard guidance you’ll find in all of the major religions.

                > Where does it say in Christianity or Islam that this world is an illusion, that there is one god, that all paths lead to the same god, or that the soul inside you is the very same god you pray to ?

                But that's not what you were replying to. The original context was feeding the hungry and giving charity. Which is something found in a lot of religions (albeit often convinently forgotten when it comes time to actually do it)

                > >Bullshit. Just the history of England and France alone are packed full of wealthy and privileged people focusing their life on the pursuit of enlightenment (spiritual, artistic, and/or scientific) and giving up pre-arranged lives of power and wealth.

                > Name 2 kings or monarchs who did this voluntarily.

                You can be wealthy/privleged without being a king.

                Marcus Aurelius is well known for his philosophy, although i suppose he didn't give up his position. A quick google also finds James of Aragon.

              • galaxyLogic 12 days ago

                That is the great thing about Hinduism as a religion, that it does not preach one true dogmatic doctrine, but love of the universe. Buddhism is not too far from that either.

                Still the teaching can be great but what about practice and where is it going now? Are Hindus becoming less tolerant of other religions? See for example: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-02-16/india-...

                • hef19898 12 days ago

                  Nor sure how the Muslim minority sees Hinduists (as opposed to Hinduism, most religions preach love of your neighbors in theory and ignore it in practice, Buddhism included) "love of the universe".

      • dTal 10 days ago

        >Food donation was considered the highest ideal, even greater than money

        That doesn't sound like the kind of norm that would develop in a society where nobody has to worry about getting enough to eat.

      • firecall 12 days ago

        Thankyou! Great responses! :-)

      • bbarnett 12 days ago
        • nemothekid 12 days ago

          >I stopped reading here.

          But he's right; I don't know if I would call it colonialist, but you are applying your current perspective of how the poor lives to a culture extremely far removed from our own. I think our current situation of extremely disproportional wealth is a new phenomenon and we should be careful in blindly applying our current viewpoints backwards. India has always been an extremely fertile and arable continent; it isn't far fatched that being massaged in oil could have been widespread.

          • Max-q 12 days ago

            > I think our current situation of extremely disproportional wealth is a new phenomenon

            Isn’t it more an old phenomenon coming back? All over Europe you had the kings, which were very rich, under them a rich upper class with big houses and staff, tradesmen as the middle class and peasants doing all the work living in extreme poverty.

            • eru 11 days ago

              > [...] tradesmen as the middle class and peasants doing all the work living in extreme poverty.

              That's a weird view.

              (Urban) tradesmen were sort-of next to peasants, not above them. And many parts of Europe had quite wealthy peasants during many periods.

          • badpun 12 days ago

            Fertile and arable lands just lead to more population density, they don’t improve living standards.

          • pedrosorio 11 days ago

            > it isn't far fatched that being massaged in oil could have been widespread

            someone was doing the massaging, and it wasn't the same people who were being massaged

        • apocolyps6 12 days ago

          How many generations ago did you write that comment?

        • kingkawn 12 days ago

          You’re changing the subject to avoid the truth of what he’s saying. Logic can absorb any input. Set aside defensiveness to see more of the world through these peaceful and difficult challenges to the worldview.

        • kumarvvr 12 days ago
          • palmetieri2000 12 days ago

            I learned a lot from your replies to that individual, so thanks for the efforts even if the target recipient doesn't appreciate them.

            • fastball 12 days ago

              He mostly seems to be making it up so I wouldn't assume you learned too much.

              • olibhel 12 days ago

                +1 to this, as an Indian. There's been a recent trend in my country where people, educated or not, have suddenly started finding unnecessary pride in our past - mostly centered around culture and one specific religion - Hinduism.

                This pride in the past, is helping our current government win elections in great majority.

                But our past, like every other country's past, is riddle with good and bad. While there are many many good things about our culture, there are several things that were wrong and they still are.

                For example:

                - Women rights

                - Caste system

                - Servility

                - Human suffering, exploitation of poor by the ruling class etc

                The usual narrative is - everything wrong with the country is because of people from outside (invaders, colonists etc) and everything right in the country is because of our great Hindu culture.

                And most "debates" with such people will end up with them mud slinging on another religion or country.

                • palmetieri2000 12 days ago

                  I'm sorry but I don't see how the original comment did any of those things... it doesn't even make mention of any of the topics you have listed.

                  • OJFord 12 days ago

                    Well, not to take a side here, but it wouldn't, would it? The topics GP listed are (allegedly) 'continuing bad things from past', so why would someone with 'pride in their past' mention them?

                    • palmetieri2000 12 days ago

                      Where has this 'pride in their past' narrative come from except for the comment that lists those topics? The comment I appreciated kumarvvr posting makes no proclamations about pride or India or Hinduism, it talks about cleaning practices and traditional herbs almost exclusively.

                      • OJFord 12 days ago

                        > Where has this 'pride in their past' narrative come from except for the comment that lists those topics?

                        Nowhere, but that's the thread we're in. I was just pointing out you perhaps misread what it was a list of, because it seemed to me perfectly consistent with the rest of the comment.

                        > The comment I appreciated kumarvvr posting makes no proclamations about pride or India or Hinduism, it talks about cleaning practices and traditional herbs almost exclusively.

                        I appreciated it too - and still do - just perhaps more so before reading some of the others.

                        Again, not 'taking a side' here, I don't really even know enough to judge what I'm being told, if you see what I mean. Here I was only intending to make a sort of meta-comment about your reply and the comment it was on, I'd have said the same in isolation without seeing the rest of the thread/submission.

                        (E.g. note I said 'allegedly' and 'someone' - I wasn't making any claims about anyone and certainly nothing personal.)

                        • palmetieri2000 11 days ago

                          Thanks for explaining!

                          >I appreciated it too - and still do - just perhaps more so before reading some of the others.

                          I think we are on the same page.

                      • pedrosorio 11 days ago

                        Selected excerpts from comments of the user you mentioned, in this thread:

                        > The highest ideal in Hinduism is "Sarve jana, sukhino bhavanthu" (All living things should be happy)

                        > Spiritually, It is special, in the sense that Hinduism is not a religion but a philosophical way of life, that encourages debate, discussion, logical analysis and introspection. Historically, the only gift for questioning ones religion was a beheading in the case of Christianity and Islam.

                        More generally, "pride in their past" comes across in every comment they posted and the narrative that "disruption from outsiders caused poverty, before then food was plentiful, poverty as described in European middle ages was not present in India":

                        > In ancient times, right until the attacks by Islamist marauders and "civilized" Britishers, none of what you have mentioned were an issue. Your statement reeks of colonialist attitudes of seeing natives of other lands as some sort of brutes and degenerates living in destitution in poverty.

                        In response to someone claiming that there were (like in medieval Europe, the topic of this post) many poor people in India in the same time period:

                        > Come on, you can't tell me the poor, barely able to feed themselves, lucky to have fuel for cooking food, lucky to get porable water, barely a roof over their heads, had these luxuries?

                        The user in question replies:

                        > Yeah, no. Leaving aside a few famines here and there, India was mostly self sufficient and had plentiful of food.

                        No one said India was not "self-sufficient", we're talking about peasants in those times, having a low quality of life.

                        The only source the user shared for their assertions, seems to confirm peasants lived in poverty at the time (like anywhere else in the world): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32364750

                        • palmetieri2000 11 days ago

                          It is strange to believe that my comment must remain accurate in perpetuity.

                          At the time of my writing, the user had two comments in this thread, one about cleaning practices and traditional herbs (that almost no one took issue with).

                          >In response to someone claiming that there were (like in medieval Europe, the topic of this post) many poor people in India in the same time period:

                          That is not at all what was claimed by that comment.

                          "No. You are the peasant. No lands for you, you aren't a lord or lady, you're a peon like 99.999% of people. Almost no middle class, and you aren't upper! You're lower class." is an ignorant statement.

                          >No one said India was not "self-sufficient", we're talking about peasants in those times, having a low quality of life.

                          You don't dictate what 'we are talking about'.

                          What you seem to struggle to comprehend is the linearity of time. When Kumavvr made their first and second comments, the topic was about medieval bathing. Now it has changed as the conversation developed yet you think the comments made before the topic changed are expected to also cover the topic which did not exist at the time of their writing.

              • palmetieri2000 12 days ago

                I've read the other comments and I feel comfortable with my statement.

                Things I learned from the original comment that I feel extremely comfortable believing:

                1. Indian cleaning customs that were prevalent until recently. 2. Two traditional herbs I had never heard of before. 3. The practice of oiling and massaging with sesame seed oil and the greengram flour practice too.

          • bbarnett 12 days ago
            • weakfish 12 days ago

              Nobody said you were. You’d know this, if you read the full comment :-)

    • swatcoder 12 days ago

      I don’t think you’re aware of how much any capable person can procure for themselves and their peers, throughout almost all of global history.

      Peasants may not maintain secure access to everything, but historically it doesn’t take wealth to have a sturdy shelter, water, warmth, and food, and even some luxuries. It’s a little different in modern times, but those basics were mostly available to everyone just through labor and time, of which peasants have quite a lot.

      • badpun 12 days ago

        Besides everything else, you also need to not be taxed into oblivion. Which wasn’t a rare practice in premodern times.

    • pvtAc7 12 days ago

      Marco Polo writes(though south india)

      Everyone, male and female, washes their whole body twice every day; and those who do not wash are looked down on

      Dark skin is highly esteemed among these people. ‘When a child is born they anoint him once a week with oil of sesame, and this makes him grow much darker’

    • samarthr1 12 days ago

      Sesame oil is the most commonly used oil in traditional cooking. It likely was a staple.

      A family of four needs about half a days with of cooking oil to have a bath with oil.

      • sokoloff 12 days ago

        Could you put some mL estimates on those two measures? It would seem to me that I'd need 50x as much oil to bathe in than I'd need to cook for a half a day, making me think I'm clearly thinking about either the bathing or the cooking quite a bit wrongly.

        • mplanchard 11 days ago

          I’d imagine this is talking about more of a sponge bath situation than an immersion situation.

    • OJFord 12 days ago

      Sesame oil & gram flour are fancy specialist relatively expensive ingredients here (gram flour a bit less so) - but they're grown in India, much more readily available, cheap, and (as another result) used more.

      Hot water - I assume we're talking about a time period where it would've been heated over fire anywhere in the world.

    • aetherson 12 days ago

      While the large majority of people were peasants, the ratio obviously wasn't 99,999:1.

    • jogjayr 11 days ago

      Yeah the oil and hot water sounds crazy over-the-top. But India is a tropical country that's mostly warm year-round. Everyone probably took a dip in a nearby river, lake, or pond every day. Or took a bucket bath with well water, which would have been perfectly warm enough. This isn't possible, or at least far more uncomfortable, in most European countries due to their climate. Plus you sweat way more in the tropics, so daily bathing is an absolute necessity to feel human.

    • escape_goat 12 days ago

      Wow, you went right ahead and did the thing.

  • malx0x 12 days ago

    By personal experience, it's a shame those customs didn't continue.

  • ralusek 12 days ago

    Indians definitely still have certain specific hygiene practices that Westerners don't. Anybody who has worked at a large tech company will have taken note of the tooth brushes in the bathrooms. I found this to be very confusing at first, but then I noticed that a good amount of my Indian coworkers would brush their teeth after lunch.

    • dartharva 12 days ago

      That is not something unique to India, nor is it a general practice here. You observed some isolated cases.

    • zeroonetwothree 12 days ago

      I don’t think this is an Indian thing, western dentists recommend brushing teeth after each meal.

      • tremon 11 days ago

        Curiously enough, mine doesn't. In fact, he explicitly recommends against it, since the tooth enamel is weakened by food and saliva, and brushing immediately after a meal scrapes off the weakened enamel.

        Instead, he says it's best to wait half an hour between the meal and brushing the teeth.

      • LtWorf 12 days ago

        But people just keep their brush in their own desk :D

    • OJFord 12 days ago

      This Britisher brushes his teeth after lunch too, on the advice of his Polish dentist. (And not because they were in poor health or anything, just as a matter of policy, where did 2x daily come from, 3x is better, especially if you're eating 3x.)

      (Now, even if I don't eat breakfast or lunch, which is quite typical, certainly not both, they'll start to feel unclean and I'll brush them before eating or drinking in the evening.)

    • frostwarrior 12 days ago

      Wait, you people don't brush your teeth after lunch?

      • honkdaddy 11 days ago

        Wait, you people bring a toothbrush and roll of toothpaste around with you everywhere? Do you only ever eat at your house or office?

    • pmontra 12 days ago

      I'm a westerner and of course I brush my teeths after having had food. Why should I brush them if they are clean?

      • NeoTar 12 days ago

        Interpreting “after having food” as immediately after eating (which may be unfair to you!) then the American Dental Association disagree with you:

        > Brushing Right After Eating

        > If you feel the need to clean your teeth after eating or drinking, wait at least 60 minutes before brushing—especially if you have had something acidic like lemons, grapefruit or soda. Drink water or chew sugarless gum with the ADA Seal of Acceptance to help clean your mouth while you are waiting to brush.

        https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/brushing-mistakes-slideshow

    • watwut 12 days ago

      I have seen non Indians do it.

simonsarris 12 days ago

ughh I dislike when pop history takes this smarmy tone and is also not particularly accurate.

> In fact soap is a motherfucking medieval invention. Yes. It is. The Romans – whomst I don’t see a bunch of basics going around accusing of being filthy – did not, in fact have soap, in contrast. They usually washed using oil. Medieval people? Oh you better believe that they had soap.

Wait a minute, what about Aleppo soap? I thought the Romans knew of it and Wikipedia alleges the same in their article:

> Although it has been claimed that soap-making was introduced to the West from the Levant after the First Crusades, in fact, soap was known to the Romans in the first century AD and Zosimos of Panopolis described soap and soapmaking in c. 300 AD.

Citation: https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_History_of_Greek_Fire...

Then the OP author goes on to say:

> It was first introduced from the East, like most good stuff was at the time, but it took off rather quickly.

This contradicts their claim that soap was a medieval invention! It wasn't a medieval invention. It was adopted technology.

That's not a big deal I guess, but if you're going to make a rant about historical accuracies, what else isn't exactly accurate here? It seems the effort is put into the berating imaginary enemies rather than the writing.

  • culi 12 days ago

    I think it's incredibly silly how tied we are to the idea that something was invented once and then spread. Soap is literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties (extremely easy to come by considering most secondary metabolites of plants are specifically produced to keep them from succumbing to bacterial/fungal degradation).

    Soap has probably been "invented" a million times in thousands of different cultures around the globe

    Paper was invented in pre-Columbian Americas (look up amate). The earliest evidence of metallurgy (smelting, soldering, annealing, electroplating, sintering, alloying, etc) was by the Moche of the Andes who seem to eventually have went "meh" and got tired of it. Prior to Edison, there was at least 20 other inventors who "invented" incandescent lightbulbs.

    We like to think of inventions as some strokes of genius that come along in a semi-random way. When in reality inventions are born to meet particular needs and those needs are caused by environmental conditions. Charles Babbage designed the first real computer (see "analytical engine") based on steam power back in 1837 but never built it out. We could've had steampunk computers back in the 19th century but it wasn't until WW1 provided a real need for it that we saw real advancements

    Soap was likely "invented" and even forgotten over and over again by whoever needed and stopped needing it

    • Jataman606 12 days ago

      > Soap is literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties

      It sounds literally like: "monad is just monoid in category of endofunctors, what is so hard to understand?"

      • culi 12 days ago

        Ok what if I had said "soap is literally just a fat (e.g. deer fat) combined with a plant that, when placed in water, will kill fish."

        It's almost equivalent but told through a different cosmology/epistemology

      • bobthepanda 12 days ago

        I think a better example would be bread. Nearly every culture observed has independently created something like bread, which is just flour and water that is kneaded and baked, and if they don't have bread they probably have noodles, which is just flour and water that is kneaded, stretched and cut into strips.

      • jogjayr 11 days ago

        Nah it would be pretty easy to discover soap accidentally. People have been using ash to scour metal for ages. Someone scours a plate or bowl with some leftover fat or oil or grease in it and it cleans really well, because it makes a kind of soap. It only takes one person to notice this fact, and the idea catches on.

    • shakna 12 days ago

      > Soap was likely "invented" and even forgotten over and over again by whoever needed and stopped needing it

      At least with the Sapindus family, and probably a few other plants (like lepisanthes) that produce naturally surfactant properties, nature itself provides something akin to "soap", and has been used in bathing for long enough that we're not even sure when it even began.

      • culi 12 days ago

        Yup! Sapindus (aka Soapberries) is actually a genus... in the family Sapindaceae... in the order Sapindales. Same etymology as the phytochemical "saponins" which, besides making soap, has a ton of uses and is easy to identify

        One very common use of saponin-containing plants is for stupefying fish. Get some fish in a pond, add some saponins, and dinner just floats right up to you. Although saponins are toxic humans have specifically evolved a mechanism to not digest saponins so we can safely eat them (but your dog can't!). Saponins also play a really important role in modern medicine

        Saponins are quite common across many unrelated plant species. Ginseng, soapworts, horse chestnut, sapodillas, oleander, soap bark tree, and even spinach are some examples

        Because of their myriad uses (as well as their particular taste) and ways to identify saponin-containing plants it's easy to imagine that, regardless of whatever cosmology some culture used to ascribe these properties, most people could easily identify these plants

    • benknight87 12 days ago

      OMG this, so hard. This idea is tied to the "genius" myth where we think had people like Mark Zuckerberg not come around we wouldn't have social media, or had Einstein not been born nobody else could have conceived of relativity. No, the advancement of humanity itself creates the conditions for "new" ideas to be discovered/rediscovered, and these "geniuses" are simply the individuals who, by no small achievement, pushed the idea forward.

    • hutrdvnj 12 days ago

      I used to think that the printing press has been invented once and then spread, how many times has the printing press with movable types been invented?

      • thrown_22 12 days ago

        The "printing press" was invented multiple times in multiple locations.

        Cast movable type was invented once and spread like wild fire.

        The largest innovation from Gutenberg was finding an alloy that could withstand printing pressure and be dimensionally stable when it solidifies.

      • prox 12 days ago

        History does not repeat but it does rhyme. Afaik as I know, two people invented the press at the same time. Before people where using woodblocks to copy works. So basically the invention was : use metal instead of wood, make enough letters so you can press anything you want.

    • wizofaus 12 days ago

      I can just imagine the reaction of a stone-ager being berated because they hadn't come up with "literally just a fatty acid salt with some phytochemicals that have antimicrobial properties". I suspect you could pick just about any tech invented in the last decade and describe it as "literally just a pick-your-adjective noun with some other random nouns that have something-or-another properties"...

      Explain again why anyone would stop needing soap? (other than having departed this world...)

      • frostwarrior 12 days ago

        Turns out soap is not THAT essential to personal hygiene, if you have running water.

        The point of bathing is to rub off dead skin cells, excess oil off your skin (note that I said excess). And you can actually do all that without soap.

        Also note that sweat it's not that stinky when it evaporates quickly (for example, behind loose non-western clothes in a hot environment)

        Soap helps a lot, of course, but the usual stench of being dirty is more because we use really tight clothes that keep sweat from evaporating

        • wizofaus 12 days ago

          Obviously it's not strictly essential at all, given how many 10s of 1000s of years humanity survived without it - but once invented among a particular population I would think its usefulness (for various purposes) would be obvious enough that unless the raw materials become impossible to obtain, production would continue.

        • culi 12 days ago

          yeah for most cultures soap was probably used for cleaning other things first. In general it's a good way to loosen bits of dirt off of something. Very useful in making and maintaining fabrics. The idea to use them on our own skin likely came as a secondary innovation

  • kixiQu 12 days ago

    She mentions Aleppo soap in the piece, and cites the influence of a first century AD physician as being meaningful through the medieval period - so a charitable reader might assume that she's talking about widespread use rather than knowledge of the existence of a thing. In place of a charitable reader, this comment seems to be trying to say that "medieval invention" and "adopted technology" are mutually exclusive.

    She has a doctorate in medieval history, and I've read her work. It's rather interesting to consider a Google Books link more authoritative.

    • kragen 12 days ago

      Yeah, inventing a thing in one time period is mutually exclusive with adopting it from people who invented it in an earlier time period.

      The author of the book to which the Google Books link linked also had a doctorate, in chemistry; WP describes him as "a key figure in the fields of history of science and chemistry in the beginning half of the 20th century" and "the first president of the Society for History of Alchemy and Early Chemistry". He probably knew more about the history of soap than Dr. Janega, but she might know things about it that hadn't been discovered when he died, and probably knows more about the social context of its medieval use than he did. Is your mention of Google Books intended to suggest that Google Books might be falsifying the text?

  • Archelaos 12 days ago

    > ... and Wikipedia alleges the same in their article:

    >> Although it has been claimed that soap-making was introduced to the West from the Levant after the First Crusades, in fact, soap was known to the Romans in the first century AD and Zosimos of Panopolis described soap and soapmaking in c. 300 AD.

    ... and the article on "Soap" has a lot more to say about the history of soap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap#History

    > That's not a big deal I guess, but if you're going to make a rant about historical accuracies, what else isn't exactly accurate here? It seems the effort is put into the berating imaginary enemies rather than the writing

    I would say, it is a big deal. Accuracy is the supreme virtue of a historian. A student who would submit such a poorly researched essay in my 101 course would get it back for factual (and stylistic) improvement.

    • zwirbl 12 days ago

      But it's not even an essay, isn't it? I found the style in the historic context refreshing, but I wouldn't want to read a history book written this way

      • Archelaos 11 days ago

        > But it's not even an essay, isn't it?

        I was using the term "essay" because its definition is so vague that almost any short not so academically strict non-fiction text may be called an "essay", at least in a wide sense. (And you can even call a rather austere text that deals with a broader subject an "essay", like Hume's Essays.)

        But I am open for a better alternative: So if we have a short non-fiction text that wants to make a statement in a more casual style, how would you classify it instead?

        • Klais 10 days ago

          The structure of an essay follows certain general guidelines. Regardless of the type of essay, the introduction should be an introductory sentence that introduces the topic and sets the stage for the body. The body of the guidelines for writing an essay https://www.college-paper.org/news/General_Essay_Writing_Gui... should then develop the main idea by presenting a reasoned argument based on evidence. Each body paragraph should develop the main idea and support the argument, and the conclusion should explain how the topic fits into a broader context.

  • Ekaros 12 days ago

    Which group of people we mean when we talk about Romans? And from what period? I mean sure some country had computers. After all they are used now so they must have been couple centuries back too right?

    • t-3 12 days ago

      Indeed. Abaci have been used for millenia.

  • goto11 12 days ago

    The author talks about roman soap in the comments.

  • meepmorp 12 days ago

    > ughh I dislike when pop history takes this smarmy tone and is also not particularly accurate.

    Smarmy means excessively or fulsomely flattering.

m33k44 11 days ago

There is a Hindu mythological story in India about how the elephant god ganpati/gajanan/ganesh(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesha) got his elephant head while his body is of a human.

The story goes something like this, Shiva/Shankar/Mahesh(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva) is a god of destruction in Hinduism. When he was out in the forest, his wife Parvati was alone and had to go for a bath. But she was concerned what if some stranger gets into the house while she was bathing. So to prevent anyone getting into the house she removes the layer of sandalwood and turmeric paste she had applied to her body and makes an idol of a boy and puts life into him. As the boy comes to life she instructs him to guard the house and not let anyone enter while his mother(Parvati) is having a bath.

Her husband returns after a while. Parvati is still in the bath. And as he tries to enter the house, the boy prevents him from doing so saying that his mother has instructed him not to let anyone inside the house. Shiva, known for his temper, gets angry and throws his weapon, trishul(trident), at the boy which chops off his head and it falls somewhere in the forest. Parvati, when she returns from her bath sees the headless body of her son and gets angry at Shiva and demands that he bring the boy back to life. But there is a problem, the head is missing. So Shiva goes in search of the head into the forest but he is unable to find it. So when he sees an elephant in the forest, he chops off the head of the animal and attaches it to the boys body and puts life back into it. That is how people of HN, the Hindu god Ganpati got his elephant head :)

Now, did I mention this is a mythological story? So please be kind to this gentle soul. I only narrated this story because it includes the concept of bathing :D

There are lot of such stories in Indian mythology where there is mention of bathing.

walrus01 12 days ago

If you read translations of early medieval Arabic language travelers that visited Europe, they were almost all universally appalled by the state of hygiene and sewage/waste in major cities in general.

Not saying people didn't bathe at all but it clearly didn't meet societally acceptable standards of an educated person from Cairo or Baghdad.

  • rendall 12 days ago

    > medieval Arabic language travelers that visited Europe

    There was only one IIRC, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who wrote disparagingly only of the habits of the Vikings of the upper Volga river.

  • drops 12 days ago

    Could you recommend some of the mentioned translations?

  • selimthegrim 11 days ago

    Kath and Gurganj were not exactly up to their standards either.

andrew_ 12 days ago

Had me right up until the last paragraph. One does not have to be a colonialist or carry bias to have misconceptions about the midevil period. Ignorance is a fine reason. I myself am a huge fan of history but mostly ignorant about that time period. It's just never been my jam. I'll admit I'd probably think the "bring out your dead" and "oh Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here" sketches in Monty Python's Holy Grail was somewhat accurate before reading the article.

  • Osmose 12 days ago

    The article doesn't claim that the misconception makes you colonialist, it says that this kind of ignorance ultimately _perpetuates_ a colonialist interpretation of history, which is why she feels strongly about what may seem like a minor issue to others. It's not about blaming you in particular, it's about why this was important enough to her to write about.

  • goto11 12 days ago

    Ironically, the depiction of the middle ages in Holy Grail is satirizing the popular misconceptions about the middle ages as a place of filth and stupidity. Terry Jones, the director of the movie, studied medieval history at Oxford before becoming part of Monty Python, so he knew better, but they had a lot of fun with the caricature.

  • southerntofu 12 days ago

    > One does not have to be a colonialist or carry bias to have misconceptions about the midevil period.

    No obligation indeed, but there is a historical correlation, at least where i come from (France). Myths about the medieval era as times of barbarism and suffering have emerged with the "renaissance" (and its witch hunts which did not take place during the medieval era) then the "enlightenment" (Lumières) of the 18th century.

    That's entirely correlated with the emergence of the "civilizing mission" of republican colonialism [0], whereas king/church-driven colonization before that was based on the idea that colonized peoples were not human and did not have a soul, as was ruled during the Valladolid trials of the 16th century [1].

    In Western Europe, to my knowledge, it took until the late 19th/early 20th socialist/anarchist thinkers (Friedrich Engels, Pierre Clastres) to recognize that there were different cultures and that social/societal progress was not universal and linear. These ideas are still not really accepted across society as the entire field of economics is based on the idea of linear material progress and that those poor "backwards"/"underdeveloped" peoples need help from us "enlightened" westerners (see also David Graeber for a critique of such productivity metrics [2]).

    [0] For example, a famous french politician who's remember in the nationalist propaganda as the father of public schools (Jules Ferry), would say that it's "the role of more civilized peoples to educate the lesser peoples".

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valladolid_debate

    [2] Managerial Feudalism and the revolt of the caring classes

macrolime 12 days ago

Clicking through here led me down a medieval rabbit hole and I reading about medieval math education, it seems music was an integral part of mathematics at the time with arithmetic (numbers as abstract concepts), geometry (numbers in space), music (numbers in time) and astronomy (numbers in space and time).

These days using music or sound as an aid in mathematics is very uncommon. These days we only use graphs, diagrams, geometrical figures and. We have stopped using one of our senses for math. When did this happen?

I imagine sound could be useful for alternative ways of experiencing mathematical object as not just geometry, but also as ways to explore concepts in higher dimensions by using audio for some dimensions. In complex analysis, colors are used to visualize four dimensions but audio remains very niche.

A bunch of numbers in a table is often difficult to make sense of by looking at the numbers but can give many intuitive insights when visualized. I imagine there are probably things that are easier to make sense of if your hear it than visualize it. Maybe music should be put back in math education.

phyzome 12 days ago

Tangential question: Why do humans place emphasis on bathing, when most other animals don't seem to need to do it? (I think in the US we bathe more than we actually need to, but on the other hand I assume that the strong cross-cultural emphasis indicates that we do actually need to do it to some degree to stay healthy.) Maybe something about our unusual skin, and how we sweat to stay cool?

  • sdwr 12 days ago

    A lot of animals bathe/groom. Birds, other primates, cats. Tons of mammals swim as well. Deer, bears, etc (what other animals are there??)

    I've noticed that the more I exercise, the cleaner + healthier my skin is. Showers only get me partly there - I need to sweat through a full rinse cycle to get all the funk out.

    • culi 12 days ago

      The only reason our sweat even stinks is because of the way it's metabolized by our skin's microbiome. It turns out if you have AOB (ammonia oxidizing bacteria) they can oxidize our sweat and prevent us from stinking

      AOBs are found in soils pretty much everywhere. But they're extremely sensitive and can easily be washed away. In contrast, the particular microbes that have closely evolved alongside us to adapt to our skin microbiome often live several layers deep in our skin. When we take a hot shower or soap up we kill them on the surface but, luckily for our skin's health, they can be replenished. However, the AOBs don't have this deep relationship with us because they are not anaerobic. Instead it's likely that we've evolved to expect a constant influx of soil-based bacteria on our skin

      Indeed if you look at any other hairless mammals, one of their favorite things is mud baths. Elephant, pigs, rhinos, etc. We're still learning the full extent of how our skin microbiome plays into our health, but the recent research on the gut-brain-skin axis shows it's likely deeply integrated into our evolutionary past

      • fingerlocks 12 days ago

        How many mammals actually sweat? I was surprised to learn that dogs don’t sweat, which seems obvious after the fact

        • culi 12 days ago

          Good question. Human sweat _is_ indeed a pretty unique thing. Many animals sweat (e.g. horses, monkeys, hippos, etc). Some animals actually sorta do sweat but it doesn't play as big of a role in their biology as it does in humans. Dogs and cats only sweat in their paws for example

          Humans are some of the weirdest hunters because of our incredible endurance. We're pretty slow creatures. If you're an ungulate that just got hit by an arrow, you can easily run away. But a human can keep following you for hours. Some hunter-gatherer groups will keep a persistent hunt going for up to 3 days

          So yeah human sweat probably plays a pretty unique role in our physiology compared to most animals, but sweating is definitely not a uniquely human thing. And it's particularly more common in furless mammals

    • anyfoo 12 days ago

      > I've noticed that the more I exercise, the cleaner + healthier my skin is. Showers only get me partly there

      Define "cleaner"? What is not clean about your skin that requires exercise to get clean? After every shower, my skin is just "clean"?

      • sdwr 12 days ago

        My face skin looks way better with regular exercise. Something about the pores + overall tone. I start to notice a difference after 2 sedentary days, and am repulsed by it after a week+ without exercise. I also get a musk coming from my groin that seems to seep through clothes, and is barely affected by showering.

        By sedentary I mean full-on jacked-in to the Matrix, 14 hour days on the computer. Someone with a more balanced life will probably experience it differently.

        • rendall 12 days ago

          Agreed. The more I exercise, the better I smell.

        • anyfoo 11 days ago

          Interesting. Exercising has positive effects on me, but my skin seems unaffected. (I certainly believe you, though.)

      • Flex247A 12 days ago

        I think he meant 'clearer'.

    • 2-718-281-828 12 days ago

      showers can't get your funk "out" anyway. or do you mean off?

  • bolangi 12 days ago

    Cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, a kind of bathing, that keeps their fur smooth.

    A strong reason to bathe is acceptance by others. One of the first things we do for a newborn or someone injured after getting first aid is to clean them up. We want people to respond positively to us, and being clean is a part of that.

    I doubt you'll see a dirty newscaster.

    ISTR that the Aboriginals in Australia didn't bathe. But what if they encountered a river? Did they wash and then immediately roll in dirt to ward off mosquitos?

  • klodolph 12 days ago

    Most other animals? Well, most birds bathe. Elephants shower themselves with their trunks. Cats bathe themselves with their tongues, dogs get in the water and then shake themselves dry, and pigs wallow in the mud.

    Seems like what makes humans different here is that we use soap.

    • bbarnett 12 days ago

      Animals also use things akin to soap. Birds love to bath in the ashes of a fire, the lye burns parasites, the dust chokes them.

      I've watched many a bird do so, after a fire.

      • AngryData 12 days ago

        Using ashes/lye directly on greasy human skin forms a primitive sort of soap too and isn't unheard of in human hygiene practices. And real fine dusts and grits in general seems pretty common as a method of hygiene for animals and humans alike.

      • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

        Some animals even rub themselves on ants' nests because formic acid kills bacteria.

    • goto11 12 days ago

      A lot of animals use sand - rolls in it or throws it at themselves.

      I know it is not the same as soap, but it is an interesting parallel.

    • taeric 12 days ago

      Charity to the question, I think it is a good question why we bathe as much as we do. Water animals spend a ton of time bathing, no surprise. Many animals are fine with dust baths, though. And many are severely hampered by being wet. Look up a picture of a wet owl.

      • fian 12 days ago

        Unlike many (but not all) other animals, humans spend considerable time in close proximity to other humans in enclosed spaces. If you are pungent, other people in an enclosed space with you will not appreciate your smell. I've done quite a few multi week hikes with only fresh water bathing (no soap, no deodorant) with others (2-18 other people). During the hikes we are outdoors and although we gather reasonably close (less than 1m, or a couple of feet) around a campfire or common place to eat it isn't often you'd be offended by someone else's smell. At the end of these hikes when we first get back to civilisation and are in an enclosed space again - you bet we suddenly notice how much we stink.

        Many humans cross paths with hundreds to thousands of other humans every day and the set of people interacted can have great variability across days. Growing up we were taught at home and in school how important it is to regularly wash your hands. The only other examples of such a high level of social mingling for other species that springs to mind are insects swarms/hives/nests and when there are plagues (mice, locusts etc). Unlike these groups, humans are unique in having a very high degree of share tool use (door handles, public seating for transport, cross walk and lift buttons), so there is a huge potential for cross contamination. Bathing and washing with soap is probably one of the key reasons we are able to live in cities the way we do without regular disease epidemics.

        • taeric 11 days ago

          Body oder is an odd one. I saw a sibling post talk about skin biome and I feel that has was more traction than it is credited.

          As an example, I can definitely develop body oder. However, it generally takes me longer than the rest of my family. I can do 30 miles on my bike and just need to change clothes. And I basically never use deodorant.

          To see this at a notional level, consider that deodorant is not common in Japan.

          There was an amusing viral video not long ago about people remembering growing up that they had a bath day. Typically Saturday or Sunday, when they would bathe for the week. This is not that uncommon. Well, was not.

          • happyopossum 11 days ago

            Everyone I’ve ever met who thinks they don’t stink, does.

            • taeric 11 days ago

              Certainly not discountable. But the number of folks I've shocked by letting them know I don't use deodorant is rather amusing. They typically think I'm lying.

              Edit: more relevantly, the number of times I've seen people complain about how someone must not shower, to then learning that person showers daily, is also amusing. BO is something that has a quick onset for a large number of people.

        • phyzome 11 days ago

          This is a very interesting point. Indoors is quite different from outdoors.

          Not so sure about the disease spread part. Hand-washing was... not particularly universal, not so long ago.

  • refurb 12 days ago

    Animals bath or at least groom.

    And if you’ve ever hunted you’d know wild animals often stink terribly and have a multitude of health issues ranging from parasites, worms, skin infections, etc.

    Humans could get away with minimal bathing as well if they are willing to put up with those things as well.

  • sn41 12 days ago

    A lot of animals and birds have a quick dip and groom. There's a water lily pond outside our family home, where in the evening, magpie robins drink and have a dip - sometimes, multiple times.

  • Swizec 12 days ago

    Most other animals don’t sweat. Also they use smells to communicate and identify each other. We use words and faces.

    That said, my bird spends half his day preening and making sure the feathers look good.

  • xhevahir 12 days ago

    Maybe it's an arms race, like with teeth whitening and breast augmentation.

    I've never looked into this s aspect of grooming and beauty but after googling it I'm not surprised that someone at The Economist has written about this in the past: https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2008/12/23/breaking-...

    Edit: sorry, paywalled article

  • captainoats 12 days ago

    Humans are pretty unique in being (relatively) hairless and sweating as our primary method of keeping cool. Sweat invited bacteria and traps dirt. I’m no anthropologist but I’d guess manual bathing became a regular thing when early humans developed these traits.

  • verisimi 12 days ago

    It's business. Create a market for something that you don't need (and is arguably is bad for you), get people to pay for it, make it a 'norm' via advertising.

    All that product that can be sold, to be literally poured down the drain and strip your body off the natural, protective oils and bacteria on your skin and hair.

  • khazhoux 12 days ago

    You should ask the guy at my gym who apparently doesn't shower, and singes my nose hair from 10 feet away.

    Honest question: is there any way to tell a stranger they stink, without it being horribly awkward and even inappropriate? Truly, this is a gap in our social customs.

    • bbarnett 12 days ago

      There is no gap, you just tell the person they stink!

      Some things are awkward no matter what, mostly because the perpetrator made it so, not you.

    • vorpalhex 12 days ago

      Recommend a soap. Talk about how much you like it.

      • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

        Some people will miss subtle hints and think you're just a weirdo who likes talking about soap. Just tell the truth, as it is. Hey dude, you kinda stink, mind showering more often? Thanks.

  • yunohn 12 days ago

    Did you actually ever research this viewpoint of “animals don’t bathe”? There are numerous replies proving it wrong, but I’m just curious how you seemingly just made it up and posted it.

    • Kiro 12 days ago

      Have you? They are still right - most other animals do not in fact bathe.

      • yunohn 11 days ago

        I’m not saying they manufacture soap and showers, it’s very obvious that they have different ways of bathing. I think most people understood this as self-cleaning, so dust, water, licking, everything.

tlogan 11 days ago

Here are some contra points:

- Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

- The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden

- the pope instructed all public bath to be closed

- The monks order clearly said to bath only once a year

- general decline of the cities caused that a lot of public baths to be closed. Rome had none in medieval time.

- Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were

My understanding was that bathing was strongly discouraged by church and in places where church did not have a lot on influence or they become Christian latter like Skandinavia bathing was still considered important.

  • nemo 11 days ago

    >The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden

    There's no "The Cristian Church," I think you're referring to a modern misconception on a Catholic ban on mixed bath houses. They still had bath houses, they just banned men and women being naked in them together. These bath houses were often also brothels, which makes the ban perhaps still prudish, but nothing extraordinary.

    Monks did bathe rarely, which is discussed in the article.

    While most of the great old public baths of the Roman era closed, there are illustrations and archaeological evidence of bathhouses in the Middle Ages. They're wooden and much smaller affairs, but they still exist.

    I recognize a few other common misconceptions of in the rest of your list, and there's a number of issues with "Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were." There were certainly cases where "Westerners" thought "Muslims" and "Byzantines" were dirty too, that's a standard way to otherize other cultures. Cross-cultural judgments of hygiene are not a thing one should take at face value. But also all three of the labels "Western" "Muslim" and "Byzantine" are broad generalizations. To generalize about their attitudes towards others or bathing is to be in error, as these were neither constants nor universals nor even truly discrete groups.

  • edmundsauto 11 days ago

    > - Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

    The conquistadors spent months packed on a boat together with pigs and other livestock, then were basically camping out as they traveled. And the Triple Alliance* were extremely clean people, so this might not be the fairest comparison. I smell pretty unpleasant after a single day on a roadtrip, kids can confirm.

    * I think this is a more accurate term than Aztec, based on my rereads of 1491.

  • goto11 11 days ago

    > Aztecs were burning incense around the conquistadors to hide their unpleasant body odor (documented)

    The article specifically mention that people tend to confuse medieval and early modern periods when it comes to things like this. But conquistadors was early modern.

  • webmobdev 11 days ago

    > The Christian Church actually said bathing naked was forbidden ... the pope instructed all public bath to be closed ... The monks order clearly said to bath only once a year ... My understanding was that bathing was strongly discouraged by church ...

    The article does highlight and bring some context to this:

    ... Well the idea that medieval people didn’t bathe is a persistent myth ... Why is that? Well part of it is a modern misunderstanding of the idea of bathing. It’s true that we have medieval sources which warn against “excessive” bathing. But here’s the thing, that wasn’t really about being clean, it was about hanging out naked in bathhouses with the opposite sex. They didn’t want you to not be clean, they wanted you to not be going down the bath house and getting your fuck on.

    ... And yeah, some holy people didn’t bathe, notably saints who would forego bathing themselves but bathe sick or poor people ... But if you bring that up you are missing the point. Medieval people thought that bathing and being clean was really nice, so giving it up and living with your stank was a sign that you had given up on the corporeal world and only thought of heaven. It was holy because it was uncomfortable, like wearing a hair shirt, or eating vegan, and hitting your chest with rocks and sitting in the desert trying not to wank. You know, standard saint stuff. It is mentioned because it is uncommon and uncomfortable ... These things, while they make sense in context are often taken by people who have never learned a damn thing about the middle ages and read in the worst possible light.

    > Muslim and Byzantine records mentioned how dirty westener were

    That may have been probably true from the perspective of muslims because in Islam personal hygiene is part of the religious obligations of muslims. Religious muslims are supposed to pray 3/5 times a day, but before they do so they are supposed to clean themselves as per a prescribed ritual called wudu ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wudu ). So a religious muslim, even in the medieval times, would be cleaning himself atleast 3/5 times a day (and that's apart from regular bathing). Thus, in comparison to that, some non-muslims could have been perceived as "dirty". It would have been even more so for them if they also learnt of christian saints and / or leaders promoting not bathing as a path to salvation, when their religion tells the exact opposite.

  • happyopossum 11 days ago

    Addressed in the article - the church’s opposition to bathing came much later than the medieval period according to the author.

    • tlogan 11 days ago

      Later?

      Pope Gregory I declared baths should be only used to cure the sick. Of couse, we read his words different today (like he allowed it) but bathing was considered sinful. There was a belief that bathing invited demonic possession and that the dirt, sweqt, etc. actually repelled demonic forces.

      In my part of the world, there are still stories how church was telling people that you should take a bath only on Đurđevdan (and joke is that only Gypsies followed that).

      You do know that the devil is lurking from the water don’t you? I guess folk tales cannot be used as proof since they are no written records.

      • zigzag312 10 days ago

        Can you provide source? I find such claims fascinating, so I did a quick google search, but what I found doesn't support your statements.

        From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygiene_in_Christianity:

          Early Christian clergy condemned the practice of mixed bathing as practiced by the Romans ...
        
          The Church also built public bathing facilities that were separate for both sexes near monasteries and pilgrimage sites ...
        
          ... baths were normally considered therapeutic until the days of Gregory the Great, who understood virtuous bathing to be bathing "on account of the needs of body" ...
        
        > You do know that the devil is lurking from the water don’t you? I guess folk tales cannot be used as proof since they are no written records.

        As far as I know, these tales were meant for children to stay away from bodies of water to prevent drowning of kids.

Max-q 12 days ago

Nice article that would have been even better without all the “ass” and “fucking”.

  • posed 12 days ago

    Exactly. I had to stop reading once it got out of hand.

  • birthday 10 days ago

    What! No I loved it. Gave me a good laugh once or twice. Read it with a smile.

gala8y 12 days ago

It's interesting to note that, when water is really scarce, people can take care of themselves without water. Himba people, living nomad life on savannas of Namibia and Angola, practically do not use water for everyday hygiene. Shaving heads (men), making dreads with mud (women), oiling body with liquid butter with ochre pigment from soil. Additionally, women use herbs incense as anti-microbial and fragrance.

Added: As culi points out in another comment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32364340) "(...) ammonia oxidizing bacteria can oxidize our sweat and prevent us from stinking. AOBs are found in soils pretty much everywhere."

kgeist 12 days ago

I thought it varied by country, class, etc. I remember reading that Anna of Kiev (if I'm not mistaken), after visiting France, had a culture shock that French aristocracy smelled badly, apparently due to inadequate bathing.

ninefathom 11 days ago

This article is peppered with factual errors. While none of them detract from the core idea, they do lead one to question Dr. Janega's scholarship. Here's a modest sampling:

- Soap is given as a medieval invention, but this is stretching to the extreme both the idea of "inventing soap" and the idea of "medieval." In reality it was widely made and used at least as a hair wash by the waning days of the Western Roman empire.

- The ingredients list for soap contains a number of equivalent or derived ingredients listed as though totally separate, as if the author weren't aware of the relationships and went copy-pasta crazy from mixed sources.

- Aleppo soap is described as if made exclusively from laurel oil (rather than the correct mixture of laurel and olive oils).

- The photo shown of a light brown bar of soap with a caption seeming to suggest that it's Castille soap is in all likelihood actually Aleppo soap (cf. the text of the Arabic seal, which is rather humorously shown upside-down).

- The description of a deodorant made using "salvia and sage" is rather perplexing, as salvia is the Latin word for sage... and the name of the modern genus of plants containing common sage. A reference to salvia in the colloquial modern sense of Salvia divinorum seems unlikely in the extreme.

All told, while this is an interesting read, and does contain some useful information, from a scholarly perspective it seems to be, at best, slipshod.

pipeline_peak 12 days ago

> In fact soap is a motherfucking medieval invention

Soap goes as far back as Babylon, you Anglophilic weeaboo.

eevilspock 12 days ago

History is written by the upper class, especially in past times when only the upper caste could read or write.

Even if what the author says is true about medieval upper caste people (I don't doubt it), I have trouble believing that peasants could afford the cost and time required of regular bathing. Water didn't come easily unless you happened to live next to a river or have a well next to your house. We've all seen women in third world countries carrying water for cooking and drinking on their heads, often long distances. And we haven't even gotten to the costs of the other things she mentions. Poor people rarely ate meat because they couldn't afford it; where are they going to get animal fat to make soap?

The author doesn't provide any evidence, just makes claims using words to imply you're stupid if you doubt her. All the "photographic" evidence she provides all pretty clearly DO NOT depict poor people.

  • kumarvvr 12 days ago

    > We've all seen women in third world countries carrying water for cooking and drinking on their heads, often long distances

    This aspect of 3rd world countries is commented upon again and again. But, what I find most amusing is that in modern times, water comes to your home, but you go to the gym to slog it out for an hour. Just waster your energy that you over ate the day before.

    Its true that women used to carry water over a few kilometers every day. But in most cases, water sources were available nearby (Most settlements happened in the vicinity of water sources, and there are many historical references that show whole villages up and leaving in search of water sources if their current source seems depleted)

    Across the board, obesity is high, BP problems are high, Diabetes problems are high, people have lesser stamina and strength and a whole host of health problems, that were not even an issue a few decades ago are now mainstream.

    In ancient times, we depended on nature and it necessitated regular work for living a life. Getting water from local well or pond, cooling for long hours, household chores like washing clothes, etc took a long time. People traveled a lot by foot, etc. Life was hard, but life was healthy too. To account for accidents, health issues in old age, etc, joint families were the norm, where the family and the society supported a disabled person or an incapacitated person to the extent possible.

    Modern living in convenient, but not healthy. Is luxurious, but not cheap. Is plentiful, but not sustainable.

    • kortilla 12 days ago

      People had a much worse life expectancy back than. Babies frequently died. Treatable illnesses were just death sentences (e.g. type 1 diabetes).

      > Modern living in convenient, but not healthy. Is luxurious, but not cheap. Is plentiful, but not sustainable.

      You’re very confused if you think the way people lived in India 1000 years ago was sustainable. Packing up the village when a well ran dry should hint at something for you. It was both sparse and unsustainable.

      • kumarvvr 12 days ago

        By sustainability, I meant environmental sustainability. Indians cooked in earthen pots, ate in banana leaves, wore hand woven clothes and the local economies were largely self sufficient.

        • kortilla 11 days ago

          You mentioned villages running wells dry and moving. That’s not sustainable.

  • bsder 12 days ago

    > Water didn't come easily unless you happened to live next to a river or have a well next to your house.

    I'm pretty sure that "existence of village" almost always implies "next to a river" in Europe/Americas up until the 1800s. I'm trying to think of a notable exception and failing spectacularly. Long distance goods transport via roads basically didn't exist. Not being next to a river would be a horrible handicap in almost every way possible.

    It's something that we take for granted in modern times, but Bret Deveraux (acoup.blog) talks about how if armies couldn't forage (water, wood, food, and fodder) an army simply couldn't go there. https://acoup.blog/2022/07/29/collections-logistics-how-did-...

  • andrew_ 12 days ago

    I enjoyed the color in the language, it was entertaining. But it definitely wasn't a scholarly article haha.

  • kgeist 12 days ago

    >Water didn't come easily unless you happened to live next to a river or have a well next to your house

    According to [0], "over 50% of the world's population lives closer than 3 km to a surface freshwater body, and only 10% of the population lives further than 10 km away." They also note that it varies by region, and Europe is among regions where people live closest to water.

    Walking 10 km by foot to the nearest river to bathe is not a gargantuan task, especially for medieval people who were used to walking by foot.

    [0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110782/

  • ziotom78 12 days ago

    I am not a historian, but I reckon that in the Middle Ages, villages and towns were only built if a river was nearby.

    In 1000 A.C. the estimated world population was ~200–300 million people, so it was probably easier than today to settle people near fresh water.

  • Ekaros 12 days ago

    There is also good question how bathing worked and how much of water was actually used. A family or multiple persons could have shared the same bath water. Thus sharing the heating and procurement costs. Or they could have simply rinsed themselves. 10-20l is quite good enough for washing a body if bucket and something like ladle is used.

cm2012 12 days ago

I feel very grateful for reddit.com/r/askhistorians. I feel like they are the only source I can trust on figuring out the best truth we know about history.

  • _gabe_ 12 days ago

    > I feel like they are the only source I can trust on figuring out the best truth we know about history.

    I hope this isn't a widespread belief. If it is, then this concerns me.

    • prox 12 days ago

      The answers are usually quite rigorous. The best answers usually give a good state of affairs in academia as well. All of the answers are sourced. In the fields where I know something about, it’s usually correct/as I know it to be.

verisimi 12 days ago

History is only an expedient story, not that much to do with reality.

We really can't know how people lived a 1000 years ago, despite what might appear to be mountains of evidence. This evidence is actually the creation of historians in the past century... and when you look at their sources for yourself, you will see that they are open to interpretation despite being presented as fact.

For the ruling structure today, saying that the peasants of yesteryear were dirty, and even the nobility, supports the idea that we are progressing and have never had it so good. As if better tech means we have better lives.

To me, it is a perfectly plausible idea that how people lived in the 'medieval' times was far more equitable, natural and healthy than today. But that story doesn't 'sell' - who would want the tech dystopia we are coding ourselves into, if a pastoral idyll were held up to it?

History is what is expedient for the present. It is the story the present governance structure would like you to believe.

  • prox 12 days ago

    While that is true for writing (who wrote this? Why? How critical is the author?) There is a ton we do know. From literature/art to archeological excavations. Ofcourse, the further you go back, you get more and more filters that make things fuzzy. Lots of things were made of wood for instance, it doesn’t survive on the whole.

    Medieval lives in the west were very prone to disturbing forces : invasions, successions of lords/kings, religious clashes, poverty, draughts and deceases. My own ancestors in the 17th/early 18th century died from 6 different deceases and floods and harsh winters. There were “poor hunters” , hunters who kept out the poor from the village. Of 14 children, only one ancestor survived in that time of whom I descent.

    Another part of the family in another section of the country lived reasonably well and in peace at least. They were able to marry into better living conditions.

    Life in medieval times could be pastoral, but it could just as well be a wretched existence. It depends where you look and in what time.

    • verisimi 12 days ago

      > There is a ton we do know. From literature/art to archeological excavations.

      What do you think 'we' know? Is 'knowing' even a group activity? It is not of course, we can only know what we personally verify.

      Now you can say that you are familiar with what an archeologist has written about what he found, but it is another thing to look at the sources for yourself and see if you concur with the conclusions.

      I'd be interested to hear more on how you know so much about your family in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially if they were poor. If you have good information and sources that would definitely be unusual, at least as far as what I have found. Most people have hardly any records of their family history.

      • prox 12 days ago

        In West Europe at least you get ecclesiastical records from the early 16th century onwards. In it are usually the names of the ones baptized, the parents and sometimes the ones witnessing (often the godmother/father but not always)

        Futher records to piece together their lives are tax records, registries (like doing inventories for the government) and you have guilds and orders who wrote things down. From simple bookkeeping to extensive chronicles. If you are lucky you have early authors and artists describing the locale. Even better are judicial records which tend to be exhaustive and on the whole quite accurate in description. Often noting the exact words of the of ones involved. Also there are a ton of objects surviving. Just go to your local antiquarian and be ready to dive into the world of our ancestors.

        All in all you get a pretty good picture of your ancestors lives and context they lived in.

        While knowing is a personal accomplishment, and you can go through lengths to verify all by yourself, some sources can be trusted and create a bedrock of knowledge. Like if you know C# you don’t have to go and verify if every command works as described. You trust the authors and you know it was done with rigor.

        • verisimi 12 days ago

          > My own ancestors in the 17th/early 18th century died from 6 different deceases and floods and harsh winters. There were “poor hunters” , hunters who kept out the poor from the village.

          I am amazed you were able to deduce the above, via the use of ecclesiastical records, tax records, registries, etc. As an aside, what is a "poor hunter"? You write the term as if it a type of profession, but could it be that they lived off the land? Genuinely interested to hear more.

          I agree that knowing is akin to a programming language, and that being able to test the methodology others describe brings it in line with the scientific method. This is personal verification.

          History is assuredly NOT like this - it is an art form, a pastiche of bits of info that may (or may not) be authentic. History is re-written by the victor, and was likely a biased account in the first place! Moreover, we apply our modern way of thinking and interpretation onto what evidence we have. It's an interpretative act - what does this evidence evoke in you?

          Professional historians are no different - they are just empowered to write the history we are taught today. And, of course, all history can be interpolated from a specific position - eg communist, feminist, capitalist - etc.

          As I said, the history we are given/find is what is expedient, primarily for the governance structure. If that is not enough and you are personally interested, you can dig deeper. In that case you still don't know, but you will find a reflection of yourself. It won't be something outside of yourself that is in some way independently true. That personal analysis (personal story) has its own value, but its not that 'we know' about the historical world.

          • prox 12 days ago

            Oh absolutely, there might be a bias in some the ways we look at them, but there is also a lot who can say without doubt (as in did person X live there —-not much bias about that for instance) or what kind of foods did they eat (also a lot of documentation about those things)

            Recently I had a back and forth with a German historian and German history is a lot more less prone to filling in the gaps, where as in the anglicized sphere there is a bit more interpretation/extrapolation (in the academia)

            A “poor hunter” was someone hired by the community (usually the towns council I believe) to keep the poor, the beggars and so on from the lands and homes. It was a profession! Some people had multiple jobs, and this could be one of them.

            Doing genealogical research is great to do because you get out of the big scope of things and you follow your family through time into a historic context. It’s a long way from the broad strokes you learn at school, and it gets personal. I highly recommend it for anyone to do!

  • UncleMeat 11 days ago

    > This evidence is actually the creation of historians in the past century...

    Academic history tends to refer to primary sources. It is true that what survives in the archive is a curated collection, but curating the archive is not the same as doing history and should be thought of differently.

    Historians have absolutely no trouble with the idea that the archive can produce multiple narratives and that no narrative is the absolute truth. A lot of people from engineering and scientific backgrounds find this to be some huge blow to the field of history but really it is basic material covered in intro classes. I find it frustrating to see so many people with no or minimal background in anything resembling the discipline making wide proclamations about the limitations of history writing. We don't tend to rely on what seems plausible to untrained people.

    • verisimi 11 days ago

      > Historians have absolutely no trouble with the idea that the archive can produce multiple narratives and that no narrative is the absolute truth.

      and

      > I find it frustrating to see so many people with no or minimal background in anything resembling the discipline making wide proclamations about the limitations of history writing.

      I think I already made the same point as you, ie that no narrative is the absolute truth.

      You then say how my comment frustrates you. In fact, you provide a case in point about how easily things can be misunderstood!

      You accurately quote what I said about evidence, but failed to provide the context from the preceeding remark, where I talk about the appearance of 'mountains of evidence'. I'm not sure if it is intentional, but I feel like you have cherry picked something too make your point, despite my intention!

      Here is what I said:

      > We really can't know how people lived a 1000 years ago, despite what might appear to be mountains of evidence. This evidence is actually the creation of historians in the past century... and when you look at their sources for yourself, you will see that they are open to interpretation despite being presented as fact.

      • UncleMeat 11 days ago

        Your comment has a very strong connotation of "therefore history writing is either to be mistrusted or even downright wrong." You argue that history writing is a tool of the state or other power structures rather than honest analysis by competing professionals. That interpretation does not follow from the understanding that history writing is construction of narrative.

        I think you are unreasonably critical of historical writing and are presenting a false claim about what historical writing today looks like.

        • verisimi 11 days ago

          Do you not think that historical writing is a tool of the state or, as I prefer to call it, the governance system? (I think the state is also a part of the governance system, a red v blue puppet show.)

          I hesitate to mention this, but here is an overt example of state management. You know it is a criminal offence to discuss certain events in World War 2 in many countries, including Germany and Canada? I use this as an example to illustrate that honest analysis of history is not possible if there is no freedom of speech. If potentially important information is unavailable, we are being 'guardrailed' - only certain authorised lines of thought can occur. History is not a naturally unfolding cronicle of reality.

          For the masses, it is even more simple - just manage what is on the school syllabus and they will never know. But, they will believe what they are taught is true as it is presented unambiguously, rather than a provided narrative - we agree on this. This is intentional - the main value of history is that it is accepted as truth. History is what is expedient for the masses to believe in the present. Only sanctioned historians can alter it.

          Also, do you realise that professional historians typically live their entire lives beholden to the state for their livelihoods? Could you risk biting the hand that feeds you?

          So, I think it is quite possible that the historians believe they are being honest and well-intentioned AND also be supportive of the governance structure. Their education will provide them with a clear but narrow sense of what is acceptable. They will know when they are flying close to the wire or over-stepping the line.

          I don't think this is a history specific issue btw. I think all education serves a role, though most people are unaware of how they are guided through their lives. So science, history, economics, technology, etc, etc have all been bent to serve a purpose that is not in our interests. We can pretend it isn't so if we like... but the evidence is there when we look.

          • UncleMeat 11 days ago

            Weaponization of historical memory is absolutely a thing that states can do for their own benefit. But you've got the logic backwards. This is not proof that history academics are tools of the state and are producing propaganda. In fact, historians are deliberately attacked by various political forces for being subversive or otherwise.

            I am married to a history professor. I am quite aware of the relationship that historians have with funding bodies and state-run universities. I do not conclude anything close to resembling what you conclude in your post. I think you are making a completely false and ignorant claim about the field and about the author of the linked blog post in particular. This "we cannot actually trust what professionals write" and "go look at the sources yourself" approach is just folly. Professionals who've spent thousands and thousands of hours studying methodology and embedding themselves in the archive are simply able to understand the archive better than laypeople can.

astrobe_ 12 days ago

Someone mentioned in the comments of TFA, but soap-making was an industry in a southern french town since ancient times. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marseille_soap

  • othello 12 days ago

    Absolutely! Also “town” seems rather uncharitable as Marseille has been a city without interruption for the past 2600 years since it’s founding as Massalia by Greek colonists - making it almost as old as Rome. It’s home to 1.8 million today, and a beautiful place to visit!

    [0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Marseille

  • tgv 12 days ago

    > The first documented soapmaker was recorded there in about 1370.

    That's not ancient times. That's practically Renaissance.

    • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

      Wikipedia says [0] it's late middle ages, and only mentions the beginning of Italian reneissance. Though the word "ancient" has more specific meaning in history than is being used here, probably, referring to pre- middle ages (classical antiquity).

      It's not ancient times, but also not quite reneissance yet.

      [0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_century

kurupt213 11 days ago

The writing is obnoxious

  • DrewADesign 11 days ago

    Kinda cringeworthy, TBH. Great info though and her later entries seem much better.

nevershower 12 days ago

I always had sensitive skin. I stopped using products in my hair, then I stopped showering my head, then I stopped showering altogether. Now I shower about once a month, washing only parts between the legs daily. I am the most smelly after I shower, that sour sweaty smell. Incidentally I read that this is some kind of fad in Hollywood.

  • rendall 12 days ago

    > then I stopped showering altogether

    After having had over the course of my life a small number of friends who stopped bathing for one reason or another, and my successfully talking them back into the habit, I will tell you what I told them:

    With respect, I guarantee you, you stink to the people around you, and you cannot smell it yourself. Find a soap that does not irritate your skin and use it.

    Also, launder your clothes. We humans sweat proteins, which when they decay, smell bad. If we sweat into our clothes, the proteins remain there and smell bad. The people around you unconsciously interpret this as illness, and will instinctively avoid you.

    My friends who stopped cleaning (and were not ill in some way) almost universally were questioning societal standards after childhoods with controlling parents, as hippies or otherwise back-to-nature transcendentalists. Not sure if that's you, but if so, it checks.

peoplefromibiza 11 days ago

bathing and hygiene were not in direct correlation in ancient history, the correlation between unwashed hands, germs and diseases was long to be discovered.

Bathing was mostly a ritualistic activity or a social activity (see Roman thermal baths)

We know Romans, Egyptians and very possibly other cultures shaved themselves almost completely both as a social gathering activity (barbershops were very popular places for gossips and news) and to prevent lices.

So yeah they bathed, some ancient cultures did that a lot, they might have been clean people, doesn't mean their hygiene was generally good nor better than the civilizations before them.

They still walked around in cities or villages with no sewage systems where people and animals lived together.

It's no mistery and no wonder that medieval times were plagued by all kinds of diseases and epidemics.

lemursage 12 days ago

I found Katherine’s Ashenburg „Dirt on clean” book a nice read on how perception hygiene evolved over ages. It definitely reads as popscience, but for uninitiated ignorants like myself it was pretty sufficient. I see the author cites one of her other books in [6] as well.

dqpb 11 days ago

You don’t need a whole tub to bathe. A person can take a reasonable “shower” with a bucket of water and a cup. It’s much easier to heat one bucket of water than to fill a whole tub. I would be surprised if peasants didn’t primarily take bucket baths.

birthday 10 days ago

Now I want to go inside a sauna, put some clay on my body. Detox, clean, mmmm and moisturize when done. Then get into freshly washed Egyptian cotton sheets to have a good night's sleep for 8 hours.

t-3 12 days ago

Not sure how true it is, but my HS European history teacher blamed the Catholic Church and nobility for misinformation regarding the so-called Dark Ages. Apparently, they weren't too happy about widespread atheism or peasants burning the tax and accounting records.

elzbardico 11 days ago

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the medieval ages, starting with the tired and utterly wrong “dark ages”

dqpb 11 days ago

> (and were largely owned by the Bishop of Winchester (as you do).

I read to the end. He never closed his parentheses.

deepzn 11 days ago

That's why a lot of medieval RPG's have soaps in them. Even Elden Ring has it lol.

wackget 11 days ago

The content of the article was interesting but the writing style was stupid and infantile. You couldn't share this article with a colleague, a parent, or anyone who might not understand the "quirky" writing style filled with references to pop culture memes and expletives.

TL;DR immaturely written for no reason.

  • humanistbot 11 days ago

    The site is called "Going Medieval: Medieval History, Pop Culture, Swearing." I'm pretty sure it is not intended to be an academic article.

punnerud 12 days ago

Don’t remove my scroll bar

raarts 12 days ago
  • simion314 12 days ago

    >Where are all the bath tubs found in excavations?

    At least here in Easter Europe we were still using wood "bath tubes" until recent times. Wood stuff does not preserve. Also there was no room for "bath", this bath-tubes are portable, so you get the out when you need them then store them away. Sorry for the bad quality of img, this are traditional fromRomania

    https://adroa.top/ant/?header=Covat%C4%83+de+lemn+foarte+vec....

    https://frankfurt.apollo.olxcdn.com/v1/files/13e2dt7g3zx82-R...

    • raarts 12 days ago

      Wood stuff does not preserve? Other furniture does. And even then, they need iron bands to hold them together. Also, rain barrels.

      • simion314 12 days ago

        This wood tubes do not use metal or nails, are made from just one piece of wood. When I was a child we had a big ree, one day my grandffather brought a family of wood workers , they cut the tree and madfe a ton of wood stuff from it, including big and small "tubes" , the small ones are used for backing or as containers, big and small spoons, other wood stuff I don't remember. But it was all curved, no nails or glue. This is possible because this tree is very soft and easy to work with, so you will not find 2000 years old wood tools in an ancient city or village ruins but you will find them in a few hundred years old homes in museums.

        I was attempting to show that you should not demand archaeologists to find you bathrooms so you are convinced people were bathing. Peasant homes do not have a room dedicated for bath, and the bath tubes are wooden tools not stone or metal so you could find them if you know how to google but I can't tell you the english name for this.

        • raarts 12 days ago

          I appreciate you explaining this. I'm not an expert on the history of baths. I may be wrong but I still think the tubes you're describing are the exception and not the rule.

          • simion314 12 days ago

            So you think there were better quality ones and bathrooms or that the peasants just washed in the river or with snow?

            • raarts 12 days ago

              I meant baths were not constructed the same way all over the world. You described a specific soft kind of wood and a particular construction method.

  • Osmose 12 days ago

    You're gonna be disappointed in the rest of the internet and a significant amount of the adults in the world if this language is so foul as to bother you. Completely unnecessary callout.

    Either way, a skim of some google results looking for other articles on medieval bathing references evidence in the form of obituaries mentioning deaths of peasants while bathing in rivers, as well as the existence of bathhouses in small towns and recorded prices that were within a peasant's budget. It seems pretty plausible.

    • raarts 12 days ago

      - soap is a motherfucking medieval invention - Your peasant ass - Medieval bathhouses were big fucking business. - Sex workers be showing right TF up in the public baths. - clearly, fucking clearly medieval people bathed - they wanted you to not be going down the bath house and getting your fuck on. - Hitting your chest with rocks and sitting in the desert trying not to wank

      This is completely unnecessary.

      You forget this is supposed to be a scientist we're talking about here. Someone with a PhD. Great adult example for the kids.

      • UncleMeat 11 days ago

        It's a fun blog, not a journal article. And it seems to be successful. She's one of the more widely known public historians of the medieval period.

        Medievalists, in my experience, love this stuff. If you spend time on medieval twitter you'll find them sharing loads and loads of dirty images found in old books.

      • Osmose 12 days ago

        Folks with PhDs (and/or scientists) swear _all the time_, especially on their own blog that has "swearing" in the subheader as the third most important descriptor and that isn't aimed directly at children. This has nothing to do with the credibility of the article except as tone policing.

        • raarts 12 days ago

          Being part of a (STEM) college faculty, I communicate with scientists on a regular basis. They are usually very polite and precise in their language.

          Sidenote: nothing wrong with tone policing most of the time. It is exactly what parents do when they raise kids.

      • prvc 11 days ago

        Also worth considering that the author refers to herself with the title "Dr.", suggesting an implicit demand to receive all the respect and prestige that presumptively attends such an honorific.

    • nkurz 11 days ago

      > You're gonna be disappointed in the rest of the internet and a significant amount of the adults in the world if this language is so foul as to bother you

      Yup, you've got that right.

      > Completely unnecessary callout.

      Nope, it can still be worthwhile to try to maintain high standards even if they are not universally followed.

      I'm not offended by this article, but I thought it was less effective than it could have been if it had used vulgarity more selectively. Presumably the author thinks it helps her to reach the audience she is aiming for, and she might be right, but it was a turn-off for me, and apparently quite a few others on this thread.

    • glogla 11 days ago

      Looking at comment history, the gp is arguing with people about free speech and defending "true conservative ideas". His comment is also the only one mentioning the blog authors gender and political leaning.

      So this is probably just casual misogyny from a usual suspect.

  • zwirbl 12 days ago

    Why mention what the author identifies with on Twitter? Is that even remotely relevant?

    What if Donald Knuth self-identified as a sparkly little electricist?

    • raarts 12 days ago

      Because of the word 'dirty', which was the point of my reply. Dirty language.

  • peoplefromibiza 11 days ago

    > Where are all the bath tubs found in excavations?

    medieval bath tubs have survived intact in many places, they are not so old that you need excavation to retrieve them.

    > Why the low life expectancy?

    Because people died young much more often.

    Just like in the west today is for USA.

  • UncleMeat 11 days ago

    > The writer presents little numbers on prevalence.

    Imagine if you wanted to obtain information about the bathing habits of people today. Where would that information come from? The universe doesn't simply provide it. People have to collect it! The do polling. Polling for bathing behavior wasn't a thing in the medieval period. It isn't like the numbers existed and were lost, they never existed in the first place.

    You are thinking about history in completely the wrong way and expecting things that cannot exist.

  • aasasd 11 days ago

    Regarding the tubs, afaik large barrels were sometimes used for bathing, though I'm not sure when and where. I'd guess these wouldn't stand out specifically as bathing implements.

    Although a barrel-with-a-seat would probably still be more convenient, in this vein: https://yourhautecouture.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/half...

  • tgv 12 days ago

    > The writer presents little numbers on prevalence.

    IMO, the writer doesn't present any argument at all. All she does is repeat that "clearly, fucking clearly medieval people bathed and were clean and into it" in a number of linguistic variations. The evidence presented consists of a list of rules from a public bath and some skincare tips from Hildegard von Bingen. How that implies "[M]edieval people bathed regularly. I am very serious. It is true." is beyond me.

    Unless it's a joke?

  • tasuki 12 days ago

    Interestingly, I found the foul language refreshing. It is visceral and easy to read. I guess if most of the things I read were written in this style it'd get old quickly, but every now and then it's fun.

  • goto11 12 days ago

    > The writer presents little numbers on prevalence.

    It is probably impossible to provide such numbers. The best we can do is study the sources, which suggest bathing was a common occurrence.

    • UncleMeat 11 days ago

      Not just probably impossible.

      Imagine if you wanted to obtain information about the bathing habits of people today. Where would that information come from? The universe doesn't simply provide it. People have to collect it! The do polling. Polling for bathing behavior wasn't a thing in the medieval period. It isn't like the numbers existed and were lost, they never existed in the first place.

      • happyopossum 11 days ago

        > Where would that information come from

        The observance that every house in the US has bathing facilities, even housing built for poor people.

        The observance of building codes requiring bathing facilities exist in all new housing built in order to get a permit.

        That’s just 2 items off the top of my head…

        • UncleMeat 11 days ago

          Those are just as contingent as the evidence described in the blog post.

ncmncm 12 days ago

As it was explained to me, the soap people made themselves in the old days was so much better than today's, a bath could last you weeks, or even months.

This modern stuff you can buy barely lasts a day.

  • Boltgolt 12 days ago

    Maybe, but i don't think the best soap the world has ever seen will keep me from smelling like sweat after a few hot days

    • ncmncm 12 days ago

      Yeah, like I said, modern soap. You can't buy the good stuff at all.

      • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

        Where do you shop that doesn't sell plain old soap bars?

        Need me to mail some for you?

        • ncmncm 11 days ago

          Obviously, plain old soap bars will not suffice to make a bath last for weeks or months. As I said pretty clearly, and you must have read, you cannot buy the good stuff.

          • happyopossum 11 days ago

            You’re gonna need a lot more evidence than “it was explained to me”…

            It’s trivially easy to find ancient soap recipes and revert them at hope. Or one can buy Aleppo soap, or Castilian soap from specialty markets.

            It’s not like there’s some lost secret, or extinct ingredients - it’s soap, and it’s been a pretty simple thing to make for thousands of years.

            • ncmncm 11 days ago

              You may try finding soap that will make a bath "last" for weeks. If you do find somebody claiming that, and actually give them your money, that is on you. I promise you will not get any of it.

              • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

                This is starting to sound like a 'no true bath soap' fallacy.

                • ncmncm 11 days ago

                  You are ranging on the target now, but you are still off in the weeds. Don't give up yet!

          • hypertele-Xii 11 days ago

            Stuff's pretty good that I buy. And I bathe very infrequently.

    • ncmncm 11 days ago

      Poe's Law strikes again.