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Working at the Baths Could Get You in Real Trouble

26 September 2011

This is a replica of a vase that might have held water to be used in the baths. I got this image at freedigitalphotos.net. Click on the image to learn more about the artist.

Not all bath attendants in the ancient world got in too much trouble, but those that enraged guests at the baths sure did. There is a text from Ancient Egypt that dates back to the Ptolemaic rule of Egypt where a Greek working woman was scalded at the baths by a male Egyptian attendant. The attendant poured very hot water over head as she was soaping herself and scalded her belly and left thigh down to her knee. The text then states that she brought the attendant to the local policeman as the bath attendant endangered her life.

This woman was so upset that not only did she hand this man over to the authorities, she sent a petition to “the King” on her behalf to ensure that she receives justice for the incident. Many people in Ancient Egypt petitioned the King to help them receive justice quickly, but in this case the petition went to an official in charge of the district and not the actual king. This woman must have felt that the local authorities might not have taken the case/incident seriously and wrote to the king or high official to make sure he was punished for scalding her. I also think that this text demonstrates the social climate at the time: not all Greeks and Egyptians got along well. Some Greeks thought themselves superior to Egyptians and could be quite cruel. I am not sure if it applies in this case, but it could be why she was determined to getting him in trouble, besides at getting back at him for scalding her body.

Even though the bath attendant was at fault for the incident, he probably received severe punishment for the incident. The ancients did not consider slaves and servants real people. They would (and were) used by owners for anything and everything, that’s why they had them. In addition, if they did something wrong to a guest, it was considered disrespectful towards their master and they were usually punished. I am sure that was the case with this bath attendant. The Greek woman wanted him to suffer as she did as he hurt her and might have cost her her livelihood. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what happened as a result of the incident, but the petition was received and docketed so there might have been a case after all.

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Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greeks, Hygiene

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