Rubbish on the streets and Bathing houses

Hygiene in the Middle Ages

With population rising and house construction becoming much denser hygiene in the city became a considerable problem.

Piles of rubbish grow quickly

In those days a household produced much more rubbish than today due to the keeping of livestock and the absence of canalisation. There was also no municipal rubbish collection service. Refuse was therefore thrown into a cesspit in the courtyard or simply onto the road. As this led to critical conditions in the narrow alleys the citizens were obligated to take their rubbish outside the town. If rubbish was left for longer than three days, a fine of five shillings had to be paid.

Besides the normal rubbish, pigs in medieval cities posed another quite different problem. Because they simply ran around freely, they became a real menace and were often the cause of traffic accidents.

Unsanitary conditions inside the houses

Back in those days you have to imagine most residential buildings to be badly insulated and nearly impossible to heat. Walls and floors were damp and toilets and running water did not yet exist. Drinking water was known to be unhealthy as a lot of the fountains were situated close to cesspits. Rats and fleas were omnipresent. Hence it came as no surprise that epidemics spread quickly in such an unsanitary environment.

Bath houses were popular

Bath houses played an important role in the life of the citizens and they existed in most cities and probably even in the larger villages from the 13th century onwards. Although a visit to the bath house was regarded as more for fun than for hygienic reasons they were still major contributors to cleanliness. Numerous medieval instructions and descriptions led us to believe that people in those days looked after their personal hygiene despite external circumstances more than those in the 16th and 17th century.

Explanations and hints

Picture credits

  • aus: Alltagsleben im mittelalterlichen Braunschweig, Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum 1997, S. 9