We may consider bathing as a necessary practice; as something we do for the purposes of hygiene – and yes, this is certainly one aspect of our ablutionary relationship with water. But, as sociologist Julia Twigg wrote twenty years ago, “Baths have not always had the meaning that we give to them today. The close association that we make of bathing with getting clean is a relatively recent one.”
What we perhaps now think of in terms of ‘having a bath’ has traditionally been viewed as ‘bathing’: throughout cultures and centuries, immersing oneself in water has had a significance that is ritualistic, spiritual, healing and even social, as well as practical.
While we may now see our time in the bathroom as private, it was long viewed as a way of fostering connection between individuals. Reading descriptions of bathhouses in Greek and Roman times, it’s not difficult to imagine that these were the ancient equivalent of bars and boardrooms, with politics and finances discussed, and deals struck.
These gathering places were, perhaps, the precursors to contemporary spa days – except that instead of being seen as a ‘treat’ or ‘luxury’, they were part of the fabric of quotidian life.