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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Soap in History

The earliest reference to soap was in the 4th c., when Galen, that great medical researcher, said people should use it to keep impurities from the body. During the middle ages, they knew to cleanse their hands before eating, but they only dipped them in perfumed water, which was better than nothing. I suspect it was to get rid of unsightly dirt rather than to cleanse, but we’ll never know about that.
One of the earliest uses of soap was to prepare wool for weaving. Later, soap began to be an elemental part of bathing, and soap-making guilds became prominent in Italy and Spain. Soap-making was sometimes considered “women’s work”, although as it became a prized commodity the skill became one of craftsmanship, with one soap-maker trying to outdo the next with softening agents.
Gradually, coloring agents and perfumes were added, and soap was sold in both liquid and solid forms. Marseille and Castile soap are made from mostly olive oil, and are considered more pure than those with harsher chemicals.
A soap bar cost about one-third of a dinar (dinero, denier) in the tenth century.
A Persian chemist wrote recipes for making soap, as did other soap-makers. Here is a recipe from a 13th century document:
Take sesame oil, a sprinkle of potash, alkali, and some lime, mix together and boil. Pour into molds and leave to harden.


Mary Ricksen said...

Thank God we don't have to make it anymore. It was nasty job at best.
Interesting blog!

Amy De Trempe said...

I had no idea soap dated back so far. Very interesting post.

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Very informative, thanks for sharing.
All the very best,