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Mon Jul 6, 2020, 07:10 AM

Clean Aztecs, Dirty Spaniards

This article was kindly written specially for us (well, we helped a little with the Aztecs bit...) by Katherine Ashenburg, prize-winning non-fiction author, lecturer and journalist. Her latest book, ‘The Dirt on Clean’, is a social history of Western cleanliness, which ‘holds a welcome mirror up to our intimate selves...’


Many things about Aztec civilization amazed the Spanish Conquistadores, including their intensive, highly productive agricultural system of chinampas or ‘floating gardens’ (Picture 1), and the size and sophistication of their great city Tenochtitlan (Picture 2). At a time in Europe when street cleaning was almost non-existent and people emptied their overflowing chamber pots into the streets as a matter of course, the Aztecs employed a thousand public service cleaners to sweep and water their streets daily, built public toilets in every neighbourhood, and transported human waste in canoes for use as fertilizer.




Pic 1: Some of the remaining ‘chinampas’, Xochimilco, near Mexico City

While London was still drawing its drinking water from the polluted River Thames as late as 1854, the Aztecs supplied their capital city with fresh water from the nearby hill of Chapultepec by means of two aqueducts, the first built by Netzahualcóyotl between 1466 and 1478, the second some 20 years later by the ruler Ahuitzotl. The symbolic importance of water to the Aztecs is clear from their (metaphorical) word for ‘city’ - altepetl which means literally ‘water-mountain’ in Náhuatl.
The aqueducts were described by Hernán Cortés in 1520: Along one of the causeways to this great city run two aqueducts made of mortar. Each one is two paces wide and some six feet deep, and along one of them a stream of very good fresh water, as wide as a man’s body, flows into the heart of the city and from this they all drink. The other, which is empty, is used when they wish to clean the first channel. Where the aqueducts cross the bridges, the water passes along some channels which are as wide as an ox; and so they serve the whole city.



Pic 2: The city of Tenochtitlan - painting by Miguel Covarrubias, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

But probably nothing seemed more bizarre to the Spaniards than the Aztec attitude to personal hygiene. In a word, they valued cleanliness. The conquistador Andres de Tapia reported, in a tone of wonder, that Montezuma bathed twice a day. He did, but there was nothing extraordinary about that for an Aztec, since everybody, according to the Jesuit historian Francisco Javier Clavijero, ‘bathed often, and many of them every day’ in the rivers, lakes or pools.



Pic 3: Stylized image of Aztec daily life: detail of mural by Regina Raúll ‘Paisaje Mexica’, 1964, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

They lacked true soap but made up for it with the fruit of the copalxocotl, called the ‘soap-tree’ by the Spanish, and the sticky root of the xiuhamolli or soap-plant [Saponaria Americana]; both gave a lather rich enough to wash body and clothes. The encyclopedic Florentine Codex, written with Aztec informants shortly after the Conquest, includes a small illustration and description of the amolli soap plant (see Picture 4): It is long and narrow like reeds. It has a shoot; its flower is white. It is a cleanser. The large, the thick [roots] remove one’s hair, make one bald; the small, the slender ones are cleansers, a soap. They wash, they cleanse, they remove the filth.



Pic 4: Copalxocotl (‘soap-tree’) (Left); Xiuhamolli (soap plant) (Middle & Right) - L & M: Badianus Manuscript (pls 104 & 11), R: Florentine Codex Book 11

More:
https://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/home/clean-aztecs-dirty-spaniards

Straight from the horse's mouth!

18 replies, 2845 views

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 07:35 AM

1. They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 08:01 AM

2. seems the rose colored glasses ignored the aztec slave trade as well as human sacrifices

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Response to beachbumbob (Reply #2)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 08:21 AM

3. Dozens of Neolithic 'Human Sacrifice' Victims Have Been Found in England

MICHELLE STARR16 APRIL 2019
An archaeological survey in Oxfordshire, England has produced another macabre mystery: 26 ancient skeletons in burial pits, suspected to be around 3,000 years old, dating back to the Iron Age before the Roman occupation of Britain.

What makes the find even more intriguing is evidence suggesting the pits were used for ritual burials.

The chthonic spaces of the British Isles are riddled with so much human history that there is legislation requiring archaeological assessment prior to major spatial works.

These remains were discovered prior to a project by Thames Water, which is laying a pipeline to protect Letcombe Brook, a rare and valuable chalk stream.

"The new Thames Water pipeline provided us with an opportunity to examine a number of previously unknown archaeological sites," said Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology.

"The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest. Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice."

More
https://www.sciencealert.com/dozens-of-neolithic-human-sacrifice-victims-have-been-found-in-england

~ ~ ~

Did the Celts or Druids Perform Human Sacrifice?

Here’s the short answer: yes, the Celts do appear to have performed human sacrifice as part of their religious rituals. And, since the Druids were the religious/scholar/priestly social class, they almost certainly would have participated in human sacrifices, and probably officiated at them.

We have three sorts of data regarding Celtic human sacrifices. We have the words of Classical Greek and Roman writers, usually with a political agenda, and often reporting hearsay (Strabo for instance, was repeating the observations of the earlier no longer extant author Poseidonius), we have a few references in medieval Irish texts, primarily in the mythological tales, and we have archaeological data that is increasingly important.

First, here are some extracts about human sacrifice among the Celts from two Classical authors.

According to Strabo (64/63 B.C.E. – 21 C.E. at least) in his Geography (4.1.13):

The Romans put a stop both to these customs and to the ones connected with sacrifice and divination, as they were in conflict with our own ways: for example, they would strike a man who had been consecrated for sacrifice in the back with a sword, and make prophecies based on his death-spasms; and they would not sacrifice without the presence of the Druids. Other kinds of human sacrifices have been reported as well: some men they would shoot dead with arrows and impale in the temples; or they would construct a huge figure of straw and wood, and having thrown cattle and all manner of wild animals and humans into it, they would make a burnt offering of the whole thing (trans. by Benjamin Fortson, in Koch and Carey 1995, 18).

More:
https://www.digitalmedievalist.com/opinionated-celtic-faqs/human-sacrifice/

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Response to Judi Lynn (Reply #3)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:21 AM

8. Thank you for adding perspective and facts

And for all your informative posts. I click on your posts more than any other, and I know others do the same.

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Response to beachbumbob (Reply #2)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 08:25 AM

4. What an absurd comment. This article is about water systems and bathing.

Does every single article about the United States - no matter what subject - discuss slavery?

Aren't you remotely interested in what we might learn from Aztec culture - good and bad? No intellectual curiosity at all?

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Response to yardwork (Reply #4)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:29 AM

11. +1

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Response to beachbumbob (Reply #2)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 08:26 AM

5. The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed

This article is more than 4 years old

A new BBC documentary tells how a trove of documents lays bare the names of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners, including relatives of Gladstone and Orwell

David Olusoga

Sat 11 Jul 2015 19.04 EDTLast modified on Wed 1 Jul 2020 13.12 EDT



A print shows African captives being taken on board a slave ship. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty

The past has a disconcerting habit of bursting, uninvited and unwelcome, into the present. This year history gate-crashed modern America in the form of a 150-year-old document: a few sheets of paper that compelled Hollywood actor Ben Affleck to issue a public apology and forced the highly regarded US public service broadcaster PBS to launch an internal investigation.

The document, which emerged during the production of Finding Your Roots, a celebrity genealogy show, is neither unique nor unusual. It is one of thousands that record the primal wound of the American republic – slavery. It lists the names of 24 slaves, men and women, who in 1858 were owned by Benjamin L Cole, Affleck’s great-great-great-grandfather. When this uncomfortable fact came to light, Affleck asked the show’s producers to conceal his family’s links to slavery. Internal emails discussing the programme were later published by WikiLeaks, forcing Affleck to admit in a Facebook post: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed.”

It was precisely because slaves were reduced to property that they appear so regularly in historic documents, both in the US and in Britain. As property, slaves were listed in plantation accounts and itemised in inventories. They were recorded for tax reasons and detailed alongside other transferable goods on the pages of thousands of wills. Few historical documents cut to the reality of slavery more than lists of names written alongside monetary values. It is now almost two decades since I had my first encounter with British plantation records, and I still feel a surge of emotion when I come across entries for slave children who, at only a few months old, have been ascribed a value in sterling; the sale of children and the separation of families was among the most bitterly resented aspects of an inhuman system.

Slavery resurfaces in America regularly. The disadvantage and discrimination that disfigures the lives and limits the life chances of so many African-Americans is the bitter legacy of the slave system and the racism that underwrote and outlasted it. Britain, by contrast, has been far more successful at covering up its slave-owning and slave-trading past. Whereas the cotton plantations of the American south were established on the soil of the continental United States, British slavery took place 3,000 miles away in the Caribbean.

More:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/12/british-history-slavery-buried-scale-revealed

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Response to beachbumbob (Reply #2)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:18 AM

7. I'd love to hear what you have to say about both the tequitl and

sacrifice.


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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 08:59 AM

6. Thank you, as always, for a most enlightening post.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:22 AM

9. K&R

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:23 AM

10. In Christian Europe, cleanliness became far from Godliness.

In Christian Europe, cleanliness became far from Godliness.

"Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros, himself a Franciscan - wrote Ford - persuaded King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to close and abolish the Moorish baths after their conquest of Granada. They forbade not only the Christians but the Moors from using anything but holy water. Fire, not water, became the grand element of inquisitorial purification."
---------------------
"During the Inquisition, one of the worst things that could be said about Jews as well as Moors was that they were ‘known to bathe.’ "

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Response to keithbvadu2 (Reply #10)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 10:13 AM

14. I'm not as familiar with Spain in the Middle Ages, but...

But in England, France, and Germany (and my guess in many other places too), people bathed as often as they could. For poorer people, that might include relatively infrequent baths (every few weeks), but for better-off people, weekly baths were common, and the very well off could afford to bath several times a week. Most people wore clean inner garments every few days. Outer garments were washed on an as-needed basis.

The main issue in Medieval cities was poor sewage control, and thus why cholera outbreaks were frequent in cities. The record is full of efforts of city officials trying to avoid public random dumping of feces, but the infrastructure to support it was.... poor. Never-the-less, there is plenty of evidence (archaeological and documentary) of public privies and bathhouses. Laundry services were a common business even in very small towns. In the country, however, even poorer houses would have their own outhouses and/or cesspits.

Medieval people's oral hygeine was better than you might expect. They didn't eat much sugar, and suffered less tooth decay than their descendants. They frequently chewed mint and other herbs to freshen their breath.

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Response to Happy Hoosier (Reply #14)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 10:33 AM

15. I remember an old black and white comedy, Danny Kaye I think, as the king's physician in France.

I remember an old black and white comedy, Danny Kaye I think, as the king's physician in France. He told the king he should bathe once a year , preferably twice. The king said, that often?

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Response to keithbvadu2 (Reply #15)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 11:11 AM

16. Ha! I enjoy that one.

Yeah, there does seem to be some variation, but royalty would have bathed frequently as a general rule. Depictions of people taking baths are surprisingly common in medieval art. There are enough pictures on a man in one tub and woman in another to constantly keep you mind of a Cialis commercial. Public baths were common in larger towns. You could get a bath in "common" water (used by more than one guest... higher price for first and second use) for a cheaper price, and a private bath (with fresh water, heated up, just for you!) would not be inexpensive because of the labor and time involved. Wealthy Merchants (Upper Middle Class) and above could have afforded their own tub and servants to heat the water and fill it. But even relatively poor people would have had a wash basin and a towel to give themselves a quick scrub on a near daily basis.

I'm speaking about the later Middle Ages here, mostly (13th, 14th, 15th centuries).

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Response to Happy Hoosier (Reply #16)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 11:49 AM

17. Galvanized tub out in the shed. Brought it into the kitchen. Filled it up.

Four kids in the 50s and 60s. I was the oldest so I had first dibs.

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Response to keithbvadu2 (Reply #17)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 11:55 AM

18. LOL. Not much different!

In the middle ages, it would have been a wooden tub (mostly). Like a a great big half barrel.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 09:41 AM

12. Thank you for your always interesting posts, JL.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Mon Jul 6, 2020, 10:07 AM

13. Thanks! So interesting...as always.

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