A German Description of the "Different Bathing of the Russians".

[excerpted from The Present State of Russia, being an Account of the Government Country, both Civil and Ecclesiatical; of the Czars forces by Sea and by Land, the Regulation of His Finances, the several Methods he made use of to civilize his People and improve the Country, his Transactions with several Eastern Princes, and what happened mlost remarkable at his Court, particularly in relation to the late Czarewitz, from the Year 1714, to 1720. Translated from the High Dutch. (London: W. Taylor, 1723), pp. 31-33]

 

The next day we went to see the Russian way of bathing, which they make use of for an universal medicine against any indisposition. There are four different sorts of baths, out of which they choose one which they think to be the most proper against their distemper. Some sit naked in a boat, and having brought themselves by violent rowing into a great sweat, suddenly throw themselves into the river, and after having swum for some time, they get out and dry themselves either by the sun, or with their shirts. Others leap cold into the river, and afterwards lie close to a fire which they make on the shore, rubbing themselves over the whole body with oil or grease, and turn themselves so long about the fire till it is chafed in; which in their opinion renders their Limbs supple and nimble. The third sort is the most common: Behind the Finlandish Slaboda in the forest along a little river are built upwards of thirty Bagnios, one half for men, and the other half for women; on the tops of the houses are placed children who cry that their Bagnios are thoroughly heated. Those who have a mind to bath, undress under the open sky, and run into the Bagnio; after having sufficiently sweated and got cold water poured upon them, they go to bask and air themselves, and run up and down through the bushes sporting with one another. It is astonishing to see not only the men, but also the women unmarried as well as married in their several districts, running about, to the number of forty or fifty, and more together, stark naked without any sort of shame or decency, so far from shunning the strangers who are walking thereabouts, that they even laugh at them. The Russians in general both men and women use this sort of bathing winter and summer twice a week at least; they pay one copeck a head, the Bagnios belonging to the Czar. Those that have Bagnios in their houses pay yearly something for it; which universal bathing throughout Russia brings a considerable revenue into the Czar's coffers. There is a fourth sort of bathing which is their molt powerful remedy in the greatest distemper: They cause an oven to be heated as usual, and when the heat is somewhat abated (yet still so hot that I was not able to hold my hand on the bottom above a quarter of a minute) five or fix Russians, more or less, creep into it, and having stretched themselves out at their full length, their companion who waits without, shuts the hole so fast, that they can hardly breath within: When they can endure it no longer they call, upon which he that is upon the watch lets the sick come out again, who after having breathed some fresh air, creep into the oven again, and repeat this operation till they are almost roasted, and coming out, their bodies being ruddy like a piece of red cloth, throw themselves in the summer time into the water, or in winter which they love best, into the snow, with which they are covered all over, leaving only the nose and eyes open, and so they lie buried for two or three hours according to the state of their distemper ; this they count an excellent method for the recovery of their health. The last time that the Czar returned from Riga, passing through a place called Duderhof, he was informed that the Ruffian commissary there never would drink Hungary wine because it did not agree with him, he gave orders to ply him so hard with bumpers of it, that he soon was knocked down, The Czar being gone, the commissary's servants seeing their master sick to death and having almost no life in him, they stripped him naked, carried him into the yard and buried him under the snow to take a nap for twenty four hours, after which time he rose again, and went briskly about his business.