From Then to Now: An Abbreviated History of Bathing
Bathing is an essential piece in the expansive puzzle of our collective global history. Since the beginning of civilization, all over the world, bathhouse culture has provided spaces for building community, relaxing and healing.
Baths Around the World
No matter your cultural heritage, it is likely that your predecessors developed a communal bath or sweat structure at some point in their cultural narrative. From the oldest bath of the ancient world, to the saunas of frigid Finland, to today’s spas and float tanks, all have played a part in writing our shared bathing story.
Mohenjo-Daro Great Bath
The “Great Bath” was found when Indian archeologist R. D. Banerji discovered the Indus Valley’s lost city of Mohenjo-Daro in the 1920s. It is the oldest known water tank of the ancient world, dating back 4,000 to 5,000 years.
Located in modern-day Pakistan, the water-tight bath that boasts a volume of over 500 cubic feet is constructed of tightly packed baked brick, gypsum plaster and natural tar.
The tank served a population of around 35,000 people in the massive ancient city and is thought to have been used for special religious ceremonies involving water, where participants were purified and renewed.
Sadly the ruins of this city and its famed bath, which were preserved under dirt for thousands of years, are beginning to crumble as they are exposed to the elements and threatened by flooding. One day this lost city that is an irreplaceable stop on the historical bathhouse tour may be lost forever.
Mesopotamia Dead Sea Spa
Located in the heart of Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent, on the border of present-day Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea’s healing abilities have been recognized for ages.
Legend says the Queen of Sheba, who is claimed by both Ethiopia and Yemen, first believed in the Dead Sea’s mystical powers nearly 3,000 years ago when she came across the salty water during her vast travels. Centuries later, Egypt’s famed Queen of the Nile, Cleopatra, is said to have created the world’s first spa on the Dead Sea’s shores.
This historical body of water is called the Dead Sea because the high saline ratio prevents larger aquatic organisms, such as fish and plants, from living in it. However, it is often referred to as the Salt Sea as an alternate name.
Today, millions of people each year travel to the Dead Sea to slather themselves in the nutrient-rich mud and experience an enlightening float.
At Saltology, we source our indulgent Bokek® bath salt from the Dead Sea. Mineral-rich salt from the Dead Sea provides numerous therapeutic benefits and is especially ideal for healing skin issues like acne.
Ancient Greco Roman Public Baths
At the turn of the era, from around 700 BCE to 500 CE, the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations were powerhouses of the early western world. Along with their significant contributions to arts and culture, these societies introduced the first public baths.
To the Greeks and Romans, these baths were about much more than just getting clean. Visitors could exercise, socialize, watch entertainment and even snack on delicacies.
In addition to the hydrotherapeutic benefits of hot water, many people would use elements such as Epsom salt, clay and essential oils to draw toxins out of the body and help with relaxation. These ingredients are similar to the ones used in Saltology bath salts today.
In the present day, the communal spirit of the Greco Roman public baths lives on in the Turkish hammam spa—spaces where cleansing the body goes hand in hand with purifying the mind and soul.
Utilizing the volcanic activity across Japan’s landscape, onsen are naturally occurring hot springs that have been used for healing spiritual practices and relaxation since Buddhism came to Japan in the 6th century.
More than 1,000 years ago, onsen were used for purifying rituals in the Shinto religion and were often reserved for the comfort of emperors. Eventually, they began to be more commonly used by the general population of Japan.
Initially, these thermal baths were located outdoors, but now many are located indoors as a part of modern-day hotels and spas. Today, there are thousands of onsen scattered across Japan’s more than 400 inhabited islands.
Many health experts believe the onsen is one of the reasons Japanese people have the longest life expectancy in the world, as the hot springs’ minerals are known to help ease the effects of injury and disease.
A close cousin to bathhouses, various cultures worldwide have differing names for these detoxifying steam structures. Sweat rituals shared a common purpose of improving social life and facilitating health and relaxation.
The Native American sweat lodge experience, known as “inipi” to the Lakota people, can last for several hours at a time. It focuses on spirituality by pushing the body and mind to their limits. A sweat leader may even lead the group in prayer and song.
Dating back to the 12th century, there are millions of hot steam saunas powered by pouring water over hot stones throughout Finland. Many locals jump in a pile of snow or an ice-cold lake afterward to stimulate blood circulation.
Other names for these steam structures around the world, which are still used today, include “el temazcal” in Mexico and Central America, “teach alias” in Ireland, “sifutu” in South Africa, “banya” in Russia and “hanjeungmak” in Korea.
Today, ancient bathhouse heritage is honored in spas, hot springs, saunas and float tanks worldwide. As bathhouse culture has evolved into a modern, mainstream attraction, it is important to ensure that corners aren’t cut for profit.
At Saltology, we honor the heritage of our ancestors’ spas by only using the highest-quality ingredients that offer natural benefits. Only the best, all-natural ingredients can genuinely keep the legacy of the bathhouse alive. With the same communal spirit found in primordial spas, SaltWorks® entered into the bathing narrative in 2001 with Saltology®—a team of salt nerds who dared to imagine a better bath salt.
For decades, we have been on an innovative mission to provide high-quality, all-natural bath salts to everyone: from the premier resort to the novice home bather. We personally source our salt, essential oils and other ingredients from only the finest, unrivaled locations circumferencing the planet. These ingredients are then expertly combined at our facility in Woodinville, Washington, allowing us to offer a perfected selection of bath salts.