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Tradition, History & Development of Handcrafted Soap

The First Handcrafted Soap
Although the first recorded use of soap was for the cleaning of wool and cotton in the process of making clothing by the Babylonians in 2800 BC, it is most likely that humans were using a variation of soaps for thousands of years before such time.  Instead of soap being made with soap making equipment or soap equipment, soap developed as a by-product of other primitive practices or nature.  Primitive peoples would worship their gods by practicing the ritual sacrifice of burning animals, enemy tribes or even their own people.  Such sacrifices were generally performed at the top of mountains and/or hills, which would at some point make its way into rivers.  People would notice that “down river” their materials would be cleaned easier, so they would return to that spot. 
So popular is this theory that the Romans actually created a legend about it.  Per Roman Legend, soap was first discovered along the Tiber River at the bottom of Sapo Hill. Women would wash their clothes there and noticed that when washing clothes at particular locations in the stream, their clothing was cleaned far easier, with less effort and more effectively. As it turns out, Romans practiced animal sacrifice and would burn animals to their gods at the temples a top Sapo Hill.  The mixture of ashes and the grease from burned animal fat would mix with the rain, making soap which ran down the slope in the streams of rain water. In fact, the term saponification, the chemical name for the soap making reaction, originates from Sapo Hill.

The First Handcrafted Soap Was Not For Bodily Cleansing

The ruins of Pompeii actually reveal the remains of an actual soap making factory. Pompeii, part of present day Naples, Italy is one of the places The Romans would produce soap in a systematic fashion by combining goat's tallow, wood ashes and sea salt.  With this combination of ingredients, it is easy to understand why the Romans did not use soap for bodily hygiene and cleaning.  Despite the glorious public baths of Rome and the fact Romans would take herbal baths, Romans would cleanse using a mixture of olive oil and sand or salt.  
In fact, throughout history, most people like the Romans cleansed with other substances.  Early humans cleansed using perfumes and/or plant extracts like soapwort, yucca, horsetail, fuchsia leaves, jasmine and so on.  For example, the famous Egyptian Cleopatra was admired by the Romans for her cleansing using milk, honey and essential oils.

Handcrafted Soaps Become Used For Bodily Cleansing

Soap for personal washing only became popular during the later centuries of the Roman era, but did not prosper until closer to the first millennia long after the Roman Empire fell. 
Interestingly, as soap began being used for bodily cleansing, those of the Mediterranean (Italy, Spain, Greece, Southern France) modified their traditional Roman practice of cleansing with Olive oil and replaced animal fat in soap making with olive oil.  In time, the choice of using either olive oil based or animal fat based which was primarily a factor of geography.  Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, and Southern France used olive oil to make soap but Northern climates like Northern France, Russia, Germany and England.   Not surprisingly, the soaps made using olive oils were of a higher quality than those made by animal fats like Tallow (Cattle fat) and fish oils.

"Back To The Future" Handcrafted Soap is No Longer For Bodily Cleansing

The outbreak of the Black Plague (Bubonic Plague) decimated the European population and fear and despair were rampant regarding the possible causes of this deadly disease.  One of the causes became attributed to public baths and baths were closed down by the authorities to prevent the spread of the Plague.  
In order to “cleanse” people simply began using more perfumes and changing their clothing more often.  Of course, with more changing of clothing, there was more of a need for soap for washing.

Handcrafted Soap in the American Colonies

Although the first colonists brought soap with them, it was not long before they were making soap themselves.  In order to settle and build, it was normal to prepare the land for building by burning grass, bushes, shrubs and trees.  Also, since settlers would burn logs of wood for heating and cooking, there would be a continuous supply of ashes even after settlement.  They were able to combine these resulting ashes with the fat of animals that they would eat on a regular basis to make soap.

Today’s Handcrafted Soaps

Most of today’s soaps are dissimilar to the soaps made in history.  With better technology, we have been able to create soaps easier which are less abrasive, more environmentally friendly and safer. 

Unlike the past where the ashes of small forests would be used to make soap, today’s soaps are petroleum based products and/or very refined.  However, the basic chemical reaction in making soap is basically the same: Saponification which is the combining of an acid (animal fat or olive oil) with a base alkali (lye), whereby the alkali splits the fats or oils into their two major parts fatty acids and glycerin.

With modern technology, soaps are better, easier to make and more available to the public, which naturally results in more people using and buying soap.

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