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AROMATIC BATHS OF THE ANCIENTS

February 16, 2016 | Author: admin image 2

Since the earliest times, baths with decoctions of aromatic plants were used to treat a variety of diseases. The earliest written information about therapy by bathing with decoctions of aromatic herbs is contained in the Indian Vedas dating back to 1500 b.c.e. Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hebrews widely applied this practice for hygienic and medicinal purposes.

For example, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (69-30 b.c.e.), bathed with rose petals. After bathing, Egyptians would apply perfumes and ointments from cinnamon, peppermint, white lily, sweet marjoram, Indian frankincense, and oils derived from almond, castor, olive, and sesame.

The Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460-377 b.c.e.), known as the Father of Medicine, learned about the healing properties of aromatic baths from the ancient Egyptians. He subsequently developed teachings about using water as a form of treatment, which he called hydropathy.

Medicinal bathing also was called thalassotherapy or hydrotherapy (water cure). The name thalassotherapy may come from ancient Greek thalassa (small sea) or from the Greek philosopher Thales (circa 636-546 b.c.e.), who believed that the physical world derives from a single underlying substance: water.

This treatment method was later adopted by Roman physicians and gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean. The bathhouses (thermae) of ancient Rome became famous, owing to their fragrant decoctions and balmy ointments. Such scholars as Dioscorides (1st century c.e.) and Galen (circa 130-200 c.e.) recommended aromatic baths for urological and genital disorders, as well as for tumors, wounds, colds, bad mood, and fatigue.8 Galen treated patients for fever in the famous Hadrian baths.

Some public thermae in Rome were huge, magnificent buildings having separate rooms with hot, warm, or cold water, and special sections for massage, sports, and physical exercises. The Caracalla Baths in Rome were especially impressive and famous during the 3rd century c.e. People not only bathed there, but also were treated with water, massage, and aromatic herbs, they also relaxed, visited with friends, and entertained.

According to Greek historians, native inhabitants of Central, Northern, and Western Europe also used primitive herbal baths. For example, the Greek historian Herodotus (circa 484-425 b.c.e.) mentions that the Scythians, a nomadic tribe of the Ukraine region, used hempseed to medicate a vapor bath: "The Scythians take some of this hempseed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives off such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed."

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century c.e., Western Europe plunged into the Middle Ages, a dark era of ignorance (circa 400-1450 c.e.), which in some countries continued up to the Renaissance and Reformation (circa 1450-1700 c.e.). However, during the Renaissance and Reformation, the Church forced the demise of saunas and nearly rendered the European bathhouse extinct. Only Finnish, Russian, and Scandinavian peoples continued their traditions of herbal bathing.

Farid Alakbarov (Alakbarli). Aromatic Herbal Baths of the Ancients.