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Natural Soap

Cleaning in ancient times

The first accounts of soap-making have been found on Sumarian clay tablets dating back to around 2500 BC.

One legend has it that soap was discovered when Roman women were washing their clothes in the River Tiber below Mount Sapo, where animals were burned as a sacrifice to the gods. Animal fats from the sacrifices mixed with alkalis from the ashes, ran down into the river, and created a soapy mixture on the rocks. The women soon found that using this soapy mixture made it easier to clean their clothes. Another theory is that the Romans leaned the art of soap-making from the Celts, who called it 'saipo'. Either way, by the time Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and destroyed the town of Pompeii, a soap factory was one of the buildings preserved in the ashes.

In fact, although the Romans used soap for laundering clothes, they did not value it for cleaning people. Instead, they massaged olive oil into the body, together with fine sand. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, bathing was a social pastime. People met up in large pools to relax and talk over the events of the times - the fact that they got clean in the process was just a lucky side effect!




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Practical Action - Technology challenging povertyEuropean Commission - Department for International Development

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