Middle Ages – 5th to 8th century CE

© Bob Denton, 2016
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Divine Direction

Illustration of emptying chamber pots into the street
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

It was religions that set out to codify new rules for hygiene.

Buddhist hygiene rules were set out in the early centuries of the first millennium in the Vinaya Pitaka (literally Basket of Discipline). It for example suggests a monk should not grasp a drinking vessel with dirty hands and respect a whole series of items of decorum. Respecting the decorum would advance a monk within the community. It also proposed that the rules should not be just for the monastic community but also preached to those outside it.

Vinaya Pitak
Image source: baruabd.weebly.com

These early Buddhist practices linked bathing and health, it was not suggesting bathing for the skin but for its beneficial effects on various ailments and diseases. The rules did propose a bathhouse should be established, but also defines the approach when using a river or lake. A bathhouse was heated, as was the water, these could be constructed as square, round or octagonal. Bathing was considered a communal activity.

Image source: chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com

 The Dharmaguptakavinaya proposes a fortnightly bathe and suggests medicinal powders to use, but more frequent baths were accepted in the hot season, when the monk had been involved in heavy or dirty work. Female adherents were not supposed to bathe naked and defines the type and dimensions of a bathing robe. Male monks were not allowed to groom or shave another while either was naked. They were not permitted to clean their teeth, wash their hands or go to the toilet naked. They could not defecate on green grass and should not urinate while standing, unless sitting would make them dirty. They should not relieve themselves under, in the vicinity or looking towards a stupa of the Buddha.

For toilet visits it dismissed any seniority or RHIP rules, so that monks should use the toilet in the order they arrived at it. They should not carry an image of the Buddha into a toilet facility and not meditate there. On arrival they must cough to announce their presence, anyone in current occupation should cough to alert the arrival. You should not grunt while defecating. The rules suggest sharp grass or sticks used for wiping ran the risk of damage and subsequent ailments. You must not chew wood for tooth-cleaning while effecting your toilet. [The notion that Buddhist monks had such urgency to want to double-up on their hygiene tasks seems odd?]

The seventh-century hādīth sets out the sayings and habits of the prophet Muhammad and established the Islamic approach towards hygiene. The Qu’ran does suggest the importance of washing before prayer, after using the toilet and after contact with women, but otherwise remains silent on the topic.

In the hadith Muhammad suggested an odd number of stones should be used for anal cleaning, suggesting three as the ideal number – though many suggest he was following an earlier Greek tradition in suggesting this. It further suggests that cleaning should wipe upwards rather than downwards, then water should be used. Throughout the process on the left hand was to be used.

Later Islamic teaching set further rules – that relieving oneself should be regulated to a minimum, that prayer was important before using the toilet, you must enter a toilet left foot first, you should not carry anything bearing the name of Allah into a toilet, you musn’t eat in a toilet, while defecating you should not face the Kaaba in Mecca or face away from it, in a toilet you should not converse with others…

Bones from the Norwich well
Image source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13855238

In Europe during the Middle Ages, it was the monasteries and abbeys that proved to be the most innovative. For example, religious orders were the first establishments to offer refuge for travellers by building inns, hospices and hospitals to cater for those on the move. Inns multiplied, but they did not yet offer meals. Staging posts were established for governmental transports and as rest stops. They provided shelter and allowed horses to be changed more easily. Numerous refuges then sprang up for pilgrims and crusaders on their way around Europe and to the Holy Land.

Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Yamanashi, Japan
Image source: blog.gaijinpot.com

BRIEFER: The Guinness Book of World Records suggests the world’s oldest hotel is Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi, Japan. The hotel was first opened in 707 CE and was owned by the same family for forty-six generations.

As early as the 8th century monasteries were developing water management techniques for their various purposes. Siting a monastery always required a suitable water source and these were often diverted for watering gardens and orchards. Heavier usage like the irrigation of crops would require them to look further afield and divert larger water courses.

Korean Throne 8th century

Korean royal throne
Image source: archaeology.org

In 2017, a squatting toilet and drainage system was discovered at an ancient royal palace site in South Korea, east of Donggung. It is believed to have been built for a monarch of the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 CE). The toilet has two rectangular slabs either side of an oval drain, the slabs were not flat enabling waste and water to flow away. It had no flushing process so it was probably washed away with a water container.

Medieval canals 793

On a poor middle ages road a mule could carry an eighth of a tonne/ton, a horse was capable of transporting just over half a tonne/ton of material. But have that horse pull a barge along a river or canal and it could manage thirty tonnes/tons. Once this was appreciated canal developments followed as commerce developed in the Medieval Era.

Fossa Carolina canal
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In 793 CE the first artificial canal in western Europe was the Fossa Carolina in Bavaria. This date has been calculated using dendrochronology on the oak planks used. The first three kilometre (two mile) stretch was ordered by and named for Charlemagne, it would eventually connect the Danube and Rhine basins, Bavaria to the Rhineland. Today only 500 metres of it is extant.

© Bob Denton, 2016
Forward to 9th and 10th centuries
Advance to Discovery, Enlightenment, Revolution   –  Back to Classical Era
Back to Unpublished writing