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About That Bathtub

Some lovely clay/terracotta tubs have come out of Minoan and Mycenaean sites. This pretty example equipped with painted decorations and a handy drain comes to mind:

Anyone who has ever visited the archaeological site of Pylos in Messenia or seen pictures of the excavation will probably recognize this tub:
It's located just down the corridor from the king's megaron, and may have been used for rituals the way the bathtub in the traditional story of the murder of Agamemnon was used: for purification rites following a return from war.

But while you're comparing these tubs to your modern tub with all its amenities, remember that in the Aegean Bronze Age tubs were also used for burial:


This specimen comes from the Archanes Archaeological Museum in Crete, and features several individuals reburied in a family larnax.  That's what these tubs were called when employed for funerary purposes: a larnax/larnakes.  Why they looked so much like bathing tubs is a mystery.  Maybe it had something to do with the ceremonial function of some tubs, that of purification; that is, after a period of several years, during which the corpse decomposed, the remains were cleaned and reburied with relatives in a purifying vessel.

The most elaborate of these funerary larnakes is the Hagia Triadha sarcophagus:



The Mycenaean and Minoan elite did bathe, as shown by the discovery of terracotta and ceramic bathtubs in their palaces.  A bather would either soak or sit down in the tub and have water poured over them.  Channels in the floor allowed the tub to be drained later.  Since only the first floors of the palaces survive, it's debatable whether bathtubs existed on the upper floors, since the floors would have been wood plastered over with stucco, and there wouldn't have been the usual channels.  Having a tub upstairs might be creative license on my part. 

Bathers probably used oil, sand, and a strigil after strenuous activity just like their Classical descendants a thousand years later.

Agamemnon's famous tub would have been a ritual bath.  Kings returning from war had to purify themselves by bathing and making a sacrifice so they didn't bring any blood-taint into the house.

The bathtub shown in the image is from Pylos.  Some tubs were freestanding, but this one is more-or-less fixed to the wall, with a block to help a bather step in and out.

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