How did the bathtub come about: from ancient legends to modern luxury

Discover the rich history of the bathtub, from its mythical origins to its widespread adoption in modern homes

Boy in bathtub bathing
Boy in bathtub bathing ©, Henley Design Studio

The concept of the bathtub, a staple in modern households, has a rich and intriguing history that spans thousands of years and various civilizations. Contrary to popular belief, the first bathtub didn't emerge a few decades ago but has its roots deep in prehistoric times.

Legend of the origin bathtub

According to an ancient legend, primitive humans initially bathed at the seashore. One day, an individual sat in a natural depression on the beach. As the tide came in, the hollow filled with water. This early human enjoyed splashing in the sun-warmed water and subsequently dug a similar pit near his dwelling. This practice caught on, and soon, these primitive bathtubs became a common sight near many caves. While this is a charming tale, it lacks concrete evidence.

Bathtub in Ancient Civilizations

Archaeological findings provide more credible insights. The oldest ceramic bathtub, dating back over 5,500 years, was discovered in India. Other ancient bathing vessels have been found in Pompeii, made of bronze, and in Crete, with a seated bathtub estimated to be 2,500 years old. Remarkably, these ancient tubs bear a striking resemblance to contemporary designs.

White bathtub with white towel
White bathtub with white towel ©, Deconovo

In the grandeur of Ancient Rome, bathtubs gained immense popularity. Romans, known for their meticulous hygiene habits, bathed frequently and for extended periods. The Romans refined the idea of public baths, creating thermae - vast complexes with various pools, saunas, and massage rooms. The bathrooms in the homes of wealthy Romans were luxurious and beautifully decorated.


Ancient Egypt also had a penchant for bathing. The famed Cleopatra is known to have bathed daily, filling her tub not just with water but also with milk and herbal concoctions. In Ancient Egypt, baths were a symbol of luxury. Only the wealthy could afford to have baths in their homes. They often used copper bathtubs.

The Greeks valued hygiene and cleanliness. They built large public baths that were not only meant for bathing but also for socializing.

Bathtub in Middle Ages

However, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of bathing took a backseat. It became a luxury only the affluent could afford. During the Middle Ages, a misconception arose that cleaning the skin's pores would lead to infections. The church further exacerbated this belief by declaring bathing a sin.

As a result, personal hygiene deteriorated, leading to overpowering body odors masked by copious amounts of perfume. This neglect of cleanliness is believed to have contributed to devastating epidemics like the plague and cholera. However, by the end of the Middle Ages, interest in hygiene was revived, and bathrooms became more popular.

Brown bathtub
Brown bathtub ©, shawnanggg

Meanwhile, in the Ottoman Empire, the tradition of bathing thrived. While initial hygiene practices were limited to hammams, during the medieval period, sultans and their consorts began bathing in marble tubs, exfoliating with terrycloth mitts. In more recent history, around the 16th century, bathtubs made their debut in European regions, initially crafted from wood and later from steel.


The pre-revolutionary era saw the introduction of cast-iron bathtubs.

Bathtub in 20th-21th Century

Thus, the idea of the bathroom evolved over many centuries and cultures. It cannot be said that a single individual or culture "invented" the bathroom; it was a long process of evolution.

Girl in bathtub holding white ceramic mug
Girl in bathtub holding white ceramic mug ©, Artem Labunsky

With the advancement of technology and infrastructure, bathrooms became a standard part of the home. The introduction of plumbing and sewage systems made bathrooms much more functional and accessible.


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