Traveling poses problems when it comes to plumbing. We travel to third world countries and out-of-the way places that seem to have fixtures from an ancient civilization. Not that we know much about them, but we assume the most primitive accommodations. My interests lie in Egyptian history. What was it like then to cleanse oneself? Was it private or public? Was it practical or seen as a luxury indulgence? I thought I would spend a few minutes finding out. Turning to hieroglyphics is not my forte and reading wall paintings does not yield clues. There are a few painted images and drawings from private letters. You need to work backward from later innovations to see what existed before major breakthroughs in bathing essentials.

With a preference toward showers, I sought to know if they existed. We do assume baths with fragrant oils for the rich. River bathing was probably more likely for the masses. Think about Moses floating downstream in his barren basket. I see lovely ladies in white diaphanous garb dipping their toes in the water before going in. Some kind of modest soap must have been available and leaves for scrubbing.

A shower is not likely, at least as we know it today. No adjustable shower head spewing forth streams of gentle liquid to rinse away the dirt and grime of Nile life. They probably went makeshift with baskets or vessels with heated water poured by servants for the family. Perhaps a shower was preferred over a bath to save time and conserve water. Unless you were the Pharaoh’s queen, you probably had to share facilities. Sitting in dirtied water has less appeal than a light bucket dousing.

There isn’t much in Egyptian mythology that gives us a clue. Deities don’t bathe or shower, and Cleopatra had the latest thing in aromatherapy. How often did people indulge? Later civilizations considered it a privilege and rare treat. They wore perfumes to mask body odor and their clothes would often reek. People got used to it I suppose. Unguents and oils were also characteristic practices of the ancient Egyptians kept in beautiful containers and jars. They were somewhat fanatic about cleanliness. Archeological finds tell a tale of cosmetics and natron paste for soap. Animal and vegetable oils along with clay, ash, and/or alkaline salts could create a nice lather. If there were indeed showers, no doubt they were delightful accompanied by pleasant scents.

We know the Egyptians had foot baths as they walked barefoot in the dusty soil and had earth floors in their houses. They had wash basins although few actual bathrooms in the modern sense—maybe just a designated alcove. In addition to the river or canal, there were public bath houses that are said to have included showers using modest devices, far from forerunners of today’s amazing shower heads. They had to manually heat the water and therefore manually administered it to the body. Perhaps their showerheads were more akin to hand held shower heads as we now know them. The definition of a shower is probably more loosely conceived in an ancient culture denoting a flow of water rather than sitting in a filled basin.