Some Awesome People

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two Myths About the Middle Ages

By Jill Harness in Features, History, Neatorama Exclusives, Society & Culture
on Feb 29, 2012

Bad Hygiene Wasn’t Actually Common

For years, stories have been circulating that the average person of the Dark Ages would only bathe once a year and that the reason brides carried bouquets was to help them ward off the gross smell of the guests at their wedding, but really, people of the time had pretty decent hygiene. In castles, the wealthy would have a tub with a stool in it so they could sit and bathe for long periods of time. Many castles also had a special room next door to the kitchen that was exclusively for bathing parties.

While the poorer populace may not have had their own tubs inside their home, they still could visit the public baths in the city or bathe in rivers or lakes near their home. In fact, bathing didn’t fall out of fashion until the Renaissance, when it was believed that water could carry disease. So there’s a good chance that a peasant from the thirteenth century actually smelled a lot better than Leonardo da Vinci.

Their clothes didn’t smell horribly either, laundry soap was introduced from the Orient in the early Middle Ages and while clothing did go unwashed in the freezing winters, as soon as spring hit, laundresses went out in droves washing clothes on the local river banks.

Spices Weren’t Used to Hide the Flavor of Rotten Meat

 No doubt you’ve heard tales of spices being so important to people of this time period in part because it helped them hide the flavor of their rotting meat dinners, but really, even peasants at fresher meat than we do today. Because there was no refrigeration, when an animal was slaughtered or hunted, it would be divided between the parties consuming it and then eaten completely within the next few days.

When the meat did need to be preserved, it would be dried, smoked, brine-soaked and salt-packed to protect its freshness. It would never just be allowed to rot, only to be eaten anyway. Besides, it would take a ton of spices to hide that kind of rancid flavor and spices were far too valuable to waste on something like that. Not to mention, eating rotten meat would still make people sick just as it would today.

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