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Old July 23rd, 2012, 02:37 PM   #1
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Most hygienic cities and civilizations in the world? (1300-1700)


Around this time period, what are the most hygienic cities and civilizations?
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Old July 23rd, 2012, 11:07 PM   #2

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I don't know, but I do know that assumptions about how dirty medieval and early modern societies were is vastly exaggerated. People try to make out that nobody bathed, that there was no attempt to keep streets clean etc, which is not true.

in Daily Life in the Middle Ages, by Paul B. Newman, there is a chapter on cleaning, in which he points out that medieval cities had regulations about keeping streets clean, about removal of waste etc. There were regulations about the position of cesspits etc. For instance, in London as early as 1189 it was specified that cesspits had to be at least five and a half feet inside the property line (stone lined pits could be built to within two and a half feet of the property line).

Public toilets were a common feature in medieval cities. They were built for the use of both the permanent residents of neighboring homes that lacked private latrines, and for people passing through. They also served the function of collecting urine for commercial use, the urine was sold to wool processors.

Most cities and towns had laws that required citizens to keep the streets and pathways in front of their properties free from nuisances, including large or especially noxious trash. Records of legal actions to enforce such laws are common and heavy fines were often imposed, especially on repeat offenders.
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Old July 23rd, 2012, 11:18 PM   #3
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I think the lives of the general populace at these periods where generally dirty, miserable, and unhygienic. Dunno, I haven't any evidence, but that's what I assume with the lack of availability of most medical techniques at that time.

But based entirely on the image, I have a feeling that the elites of East Asia lived relatively "hygienically" at these times. I am considering the typical lives that the aristocracy and the other upper classes spent in countries like China and Japan. Compared to the drab grey and muddy images of medieval and early modern Europeans, the general conditions of Asian elites seems much more superior.

Again, I have no actual evidence, but simply an image.
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Old July 23rd, 2012, 11:46 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by radomu View Post
I think the lives of the general populace at these periods where generally dirty, miserable, and unhygienic. Dunno, I haven't any evidence, but that's what I assume with the lack of availability of most medical techniques at that time.

But based entirely on the image, I have a feeling that the elites of East Asia lived relatively "hygienically" at these times. I am considering the typical lives that the aristocracy and the other upper classes spent in countries like China and Japan. Compared to the drab grey and muddy images of medieval and early modern Europeans, the general conditions of Asian elites seems much more superior.

Again, I have no actual evidence, but simply an image.
But there is evidence that the lives of the general populace were not that dirty and unhygienic. There are city regulations about keeping streets clean, and about waste disposal. There were public latrines and public baths.

People did not bathe as much as they do now, because they mostly didn't have indoor plumbing, but they certainly did wash, even if not as much as people do now.

Whether they were miserable or not is another matter. Probably some were happier than others, just like nowadays.
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Old July 24th, 2012, 01:51 AM   #5

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From what I've read Aztec civilization (Tenochtitlan in particular) was quiet hygienic. The access to clean water provided by the springs and aqueducts was a big factor.

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Cleanliness was one of the most cherished virtues of Aztec society for all citizens, not just women. The Aztec used the fruit of the copalxocotl (called the “soap tree” by the Spaniards) and the root of the Saponaria americana for soap. These soaps were used to wash the body and to clean the laundry. Most people bathed often, and some bathed every day. It has been documented that Motecuhzoma bathed twice a day. However, not all of the people were very clean all of the time. Certain priests did not wash their hair so that the blood of sacrifices stayed in their long matted hair. Also merchants vowed not to bathe until they returned from a long, dangerous expedition. During the month Atemoztli, as penance, people did not use soap.
Handbook to Life in the Aztec World (PDF)

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A source of clean drinking water is essential, and the Aztecs were quite advanced in providing it. While London still drew its drinking water from the polluted Thames River as late as 1854, the Aztecs brought potable water to Tenochtitla´n from springs on the mainland by means of the aqueduct built by Nezahualcoyotl between 1466 and 1478. A second aqueduct was constructed in 1,499–1,500 by the ruler Ahuizotl when the first aqueduct became inadequate. Although the Aztecs had no citywide drainage system, and much of the wastewater ended up in the lake surrounding the city, they had a system to handle human waste by means of privies in all public places and many private dwellings from which excrement was collected in canoes. The excrement was applied as fertilizer to chinampas (floating parcels of land) or sold in the market to be used for tanning animal hides. Urine was collected in pottery vessels to be used later as a mordant for dyeing cloth. The Tenochtitla´n environment was obviously healthy for its time, especially in comparison to European cities. Public and personal hygiene contributed to minimize the incidence and severity of illnesses.
Potable water and sanitation in Tenochtitlan (PDF)

This is another interesting article. It speaks about Aztec hygiene as well as medieval European, and Spanish in particular. It mentions the Moors and Arabs in Spain as well. I imagine Muslim cultures have tended to be pretty hygienic given the whole Salah thing. Interesting to read that many in Europe may have been turned off of water by the Plague. I also found an article that suggests some Christians feared bathing would wash away the holy water of their baptism.

Of course, some of the stuff in some of those articles tends to paint a traditionally bad picture of medieval European hygiene. I think people have always liked to be clean (relative to their respective hygienic capabilities at least). It's in our nature as it is in most creatures. That said, I think I'd rather have been outside of medieval Europe when it comes to clean environments.
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Old July 24th, 2012, 03:44 AM   #6

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During the Middle Ages in Europe, public bathhouses were a popular feature of every city, and people in towns frequently bathed. But this phenomenon was abandonded followed the Black Plague, and bathing became indeed a very rare thing in early modern times. Some random washing and lots of perfume was preferred by the wealthy, while the poor had to make do with taking a quick washing at the town post.

However during the Middle Ages there was next to no public waste disposal, so, much to the joy of modern archaeologists, street levels in towns kept rising on account of layers of waste accumulating, and houses had to be rebuilt or new basements dug out. This mostly changed in early modern times, around the time of the Renaissance, where public waste disposal was instituted. It did not in any way mean that the cleanliness of the streets was comparable to today, they were still extraordinarily filthy, and waste did accumulate to such an extent that the pavement (if there was any) was rarely visible, as people still threw their waste into the street, expecting the street cleaners to take care of it. The measures taken to remove the garbage was by all accounts hopelessly inefficient, but they did prevent the street level from rising from this period on, much to the dismay of modern archaeologists, who from this time on no longer has such obvious stratifications in urban areas as they had during the Middle Ages (however the garbage pits of the early modern period kind of evens it out archaeologically).

So it may be said that in this period individual hygiene declined, while public hygiene gradually became better. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the standard of hygiene we now adhere was accepted.

There were obviously local differences to the degree of hygiene to be found. I seem to remember that Dutch and Swiss towns were noted for their cleanliness in the 17th century by foreign travellers. But when one considers the standard they compare it to, one should perhaps be vary with reading too much into such praise.
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Old July 24th, 2012, 05:51 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Louise C View Post
But there is evidence that the lives of the general populace were not that dirty and unhygienic. There are city regulations about keeping streets clean, and about waste disposal. There were public latrines and public baths.

People did not bathe as much as they do now, because they mostly didn't have indoor plumbing, but they certainly did wash, even if not as much as people do now.

Whether they were miserable or not is another matter. Probably some were happier than others, just like nowadays.
Of course this isn't the case that covers all, even if there are exceptions (which is why I said "generally"). These systems did not exist back then and it was not until the mid to late 19th century that the most advanced cities in Europe started having a water supply that guaranteed an extent of sanitation.

And the next question is, which city? It certainly doesn't apply to all.

Not only that, but I don't know what to base "hygienic" on when in most big cities more children died then survived well into the late 19th century.
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Old July 24th, 2012, 06:07 AM   #8

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Well I would like to add Vijaynagar which was second largest city after Paris circa 1500. They had public baths and besides in Hinduism it is barbaric not to take bath every morning.
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Old July 25th, 2012, 08:44 PM   #9
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Well I would like to add Vijaynagar which was second largest city after Paris circa 1500. They had public baths and besides in Hinduism it is barbaric not to take bath every morning.


Actually thats true, I read somewhere that the practice of Bathing every morning is a Hindu ritual which was adopted by the West. It also went on to say that when the English started importing sugar from India the Indians 'forgot' to mention the concept of the toothbrush.
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Old July 25th, 2012, 08:59 PM   #10

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Constantinople?
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