1. During medieval times, hair washing was about as important (or not) as bathing.
The wealthy — because their finances allowed them to afford the collection of clean water, servants, and the time to indulge more often in such luxuries as bathing and hair washing — washed their hair more frequently than peasant classes.
2. In spite of flowing finances, many royal kings, queens, and those in the noble classes, washed their hair only a few times per year. They preferred instead to wear crowns, hats, and headdresses.
In place of washing, powder was used to soak up scalp oils & attempt to suffocate head lice.
1. When the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., it was by invasion of Germanic peoples. Hair held great significance to these conquerors.
To the Germanics, hair length determined hierarchy in both military & societal arenas. In the military, long hair would be tied up in high knots on top of the head in order to make soldiers appear taller & more fearsome.
Within society, women wore their hair extremely long & freely flowing. They used these long tresses in a variety of ways to signify virginity, marital status, or availability.
2. For the Germanics, hair signified power, authority, beauty, acceptance.
1. Bath houses were adopted from Middle Eastern bathing practices, and became very popular throughout the West until the late-1200’s.
But water was heated by wood fires & wood became more expensive as forests were diminished. Over time, it became too expensive to maintain bath houses, and they began to go out of business. Attempts at replacing wood fuel with coal failed due to deaths from the unhealthy fumes.
2. From the 1300’s on, only the very rich were able to afford firewood to heat their bath water in winter. The rest of medieval society remained unbathed for the most part, bathing an average of 3 to 4 times per year, usually around important occasions. On these rare bathing occasions, entire families would share the same bath water.
Oftentimes, during low rains, extended family would be invited to share the immediate family’s bathwater, as well!
1. During medieval times, there were different views about bathing. These views changed often throughout the era, in accordance with the Church, the kings, medical beliefs, and common superstitions.
While Middle Eastern cultures enjoyed daily baths – often twice a day – many medieval Europeans feared bathing. European doctors believed that allowing water to touch, enter, swirl around the naked flesh caused disease, sickness, and eventual death. Water was believed to seep into the system through the skin’s pores, flooding the bather with impurities.
Even the drinking of water was considered a dangerous practice to most medievals, who drank ale instead.
“Yet the fact remains that no one knows where the Middle East is, although many claim to know. Scholars and governments have produced reasoned definitions that are in hopeless disagreement. There is no accepted formula, and serious efforts to define the area vary by as much as three to four thousand miles east and west. There is not even an accepted core for the Middle East. “
The ‘Middle East’ is actually a term imposed by British colonialists who defined the area from their European perspective, viewing the geographical area as being ‘East‘ of London, and in the ‘Middle‘ of the United Kingdom and India.
Today, the American perspective lumps the region into a generic geographical and cultural monolith, giving further weight to the historically erroneous term ‘Middle East.’
Those living in the ‘Middle East‘ do not define their area of the world by this term. Upon hearing the term, they’ll ask: “East of where?” or “Middle of what?”
1. The Ottoman empire reigned supreme from 1299 to 1923.
It began as a tiny Turkish state, expanding into the largest and longest lasting empire in history, spanning 3 continents encompassing the Caucasus and Northern Africa, most of Western Asia, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and the Balkans.
The empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern & Western worlds for 7 centuries.
“To marry for love without land or chattels could assure nothing but a life of penury.”
1. In medieval times, more than half the population of any given area was generally under 20 years old. Life expectancy back then was only about 42 years, and so girls were married at the ripe old age of 12 to boys as young as 15.
Women were rarely allowed to choose who they wanted to marry, but men were free to choose their wives.
There was one exception to this rule: if the girl was from a poor family who could not afford a dowry, she was free to marry whomever she wanted because her family had nothing to bargain with in the typical monetary marriage arrangement.
2. Medieval marriages had nothing to do with love. It was all about who had how much to give. Continue reading →
1. The origin of Valentine’s Day was not all hearts & flowers. In fact, the only heart involved was that of a priest who had his own ripped from his holy chest.
And the only flowers were those placed upon his grave.
2. In 3rd century Rome, Emperor Claudius II decreed that men with no wives or children made for better soldiers.
So, guess what he did?
He outlawed marriage for soldiers.
3. A priest, Father Valentine, saw this as a grave injustice. He defied Claudius’ ruling, and performed secret marriage ceremonies for soldiers. When Claudius uncovered the deception, he ordered that Father Valentine be tortured & killed. Continue reading →
1. January 1st was not considered a new year until recently. Most medievals celebrated New Year’s in mid-March, when melting snow followed by sprouting greenery signaled the awakening of new life.
2. The first medievals to celebrate the New Year on January 1st were the Romans in 153 B.C. January, as a month, did not even exist until Julius Caesar created a new calendar based on the sun instead of the moon.
In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, he extended the year to 355 days. It was this new ‘Julian’ calendar that included the months of January and February, and heralded the celebration of the New Year in January.
In medieval times, the celebration of this particular holiday was taken very seriously, for it was a celebration of the birth of Christ. Hours-long masses were attended daily during this holiday – which lasted until the Egyptian winter solstice on January 6th.
But that didn’t mean there was no fun to be had after mass. Who wouldn’t need to party after praying solemnly day after day for hours on end? Long masses were followed by performances and dances in villages and castles.
In the villages, peasants reveled boisterously with much singing, dancing, food donated by the rich, and fountains of ale arranged by the King.