Comfy mattress offers great and fantastic night’s sleep. Today we are used to sleeping on extremely comfortable bed, such as the memory foam mattresses offered. But what did our ancient ancestors sleep on? Today we look at the ancient beds of early civilizations from the Ancient Egyptians through to the Roman Empire.
Early and Egyptian Beds
Early beds were little more than piles of straw or some other natural materials. An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid draughts, dirt, and pests. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang round. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood or metal.
Assyrians, Medes and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliqués of metal, mother-of-pearl and ivory.
The oldest account of a bed is probably that of Odysseus: a charpoy woven of rope, plays a role in the Odyssey. A similar bed can be seen at the St. Fagan’s National History Museum in Wales. Odysseus also gives an account of how he crafted the nuptial bed for himself and Penelope, out of an ancient, huge olive tree trunk that used to grow on the spot before the bridal chamber was built. His detailed description finally persuades the doubting Penelope that the shipwrecked, aged man is indeed her long-lost husband.
Homer also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the vase paintings.
The Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers; the last was used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two persons, and had a board or railing at the back as well as the raised portion at the head.
The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus had one of solid silver. In the walls of some of the houses at Pompeii bed niches are found which were probably closed by curtains or sliding partitions.
Ancient Romans had various kinds of beds for repose. These included:
• lectus cubicularis, or chamber bed, for normal sleeping;
• lectus genialis, the marriage bed, it was much decorated, and was placed in the atrium opposite the door.
• lectus discubitorius, or table bed, on which they ate for they ate while lying on their left side there being usually three people to one bed, with the middle place accounted the most honorable position;
• lectus lucubratorius, for studying;
• and a lectus funebris, or emortualis, on which the dead were carried to the pyre.
Ancient civilizations kick started bed development and the most wealthy members of their society probably slept as well as we do today. But you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy a good night’s sleep with range of memory foam mattresses.