Friday, March 15, 2024

Sleep Tight - History of the Bed


Photo by R-E-AL (talk | contribs | Gallery
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

When I think of a bed, my thoughts go to a soft memory foam that I can sink into as I lay down, covering myself with warm blankets. Today, rich or poor, most of us sleep on a mattress and foundation of some kind. But that wasn't always the case. Where you lived on the planet and your station in life all played a part in how comfy, dry, bug, rodent and snake free your bed was. Let's take a look back at some of the early beds and how they evolved.

Tutankhamun's gilded bed from the 14th century BC,
photo by Hans Ollermann
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Well before Christ, over 1000 BC, the Egyptians were already hard at work with their inventions. They designed a solid wood bed that was raised off the floor with legs. Imagine a cot, only wood. On top of that would be a woolen mattress and if you were wealthy, sheets and a stone pillow. You might be asking yourself how can this be an improvement. It was, because it made it a little harder for all the creepy crawly things of the night to crawl across your body. You have to remember houses weren't nearly as bug and snake proof as they are today. The wealthier you were the more elaborate your bed might be.

If you lived in Rome around 500 BC and you were upper class, you might sleep on a weaved bed. Think of some of the lounge chairs of today. The ones with woven metal strips that hold a cloth covered foam cushion. Just imagine it flat. The woven metal held up feather stuffed or straw stuffed mattresses. Once again, this bed was cot size. We were able to see one of these when we went to the Vatican Museum. Now if you were a middle-class citizen, you couldn't afford the metal bed so yours might still be raised and off the floor, but it would be wooden legs and the woven metal would be woolen strings to hold up the mattress. And like every society there is the poor. If you were poor, you got to sleep on the floor with your mat and all the little creepy crawlies.

Now, contrast that with beds found in Northern Scotland in a small village dating back to possibly 2200 BC. These too were raised beds, and if you lived in Scotland at this time, you'd find yourself sleeping on a raised bed of stone. But on an up-side, it was topped with something comfy...they think. 

Or contrast it with Africa in 3600 BC. If you lived then, you'd find yourself sleeping in a cave with flowering grass topped with more grass, topped with big shrub leaves. Nothing like inviting those creepy crawlies!

Photo by Hchc2009
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Enough of ancient beds. Let's move to medieval times. My hero in book 2 is a baron and has inherited a pretty nice castle. He sleeps well at night. So, if you were born of that rank or above, or even a wealthy merchant in medieval times, you'd sleep pretty well at night. The above bed is one of a merchant. If you scroll to the top of the page, you will see a picture of a bed that could be similar to a lord's bed in medieval time. Very massive, as the beds of that time were frequently massive and carved ornately of wood. It might even be tall enough that it required steps. The tall posters came into vogue at this time. Curtains were often hung around the bed for privacy and to keep insects at bay. You'd have linen sheets and a feathery down mattress and pillows. To stay warm you'd have a woolen blanket. 

However, if you were a peasant, and you had about a 90% chance that you'd be in born into that class, your sleeping arrangements wouldn't be quite so grand. You likely would sleep on leaves mounded on the ground and covered in animal fur, or if you were lucky, you had a mattress stuffed with hay that laid on the floor. To stay warm, you too get a woolen blanket but not the fine wool of the rich, you get the itchy rough wool. But look on the bright side, on those real cold nights you and your whole family can snuggle together to stay warm because you all just may share the same bed.

Photo by Wolfgang Sauber license
To end on a fun note, I have to mention the unusual box-bed aka closed-bed. It was just that a bed in a box. It looked much like a large cabinet and was often the shining star of the home. This type of bed was used from medieval times all the way through the 20th century, depending on where you lived. It was used for a large variety of reasons, again, depending on where you lived. The box kept body heat in and so the box-bed was used for warmth. It was also used so a bedroom wasn't needed. The box gave the privacy that you needed. If you lived in a home where you brought your livestock inside for safety, the box will keep your family from being trampled. And if you have kids, you can get a double decker. No yelling to tell you kids to stop messing around, you can just whisper it. 

Well, that's about it for beds. Makes me appreciate what I'll be sleeping in tonight. Thanks for stopping by our history blog and be sure to come back tomorrow to learn another tid-bit of history.

Deirdre Mackenzie has spent her life hiding from her father and hating the English. However, when she is caught stealing from an English laird, his unexpected kindness begins to melt away her hatred and strums lonely heartstrings longing for love. Bryce Warwick discovers the “boy” caught with his livestock is actually a young woman. After several attempts to lure the truth from her, he determines she is as deceitful as his late fiancée who nearly cost him his life. But the woman is the least of his worries with the turbulence brought on by threats of another border war and by King Richard's distrust of the nobles.

With old wounds in need of healing and adversaries who would ruin their chances at true love, both must learn to trust in a way they never knew possible.

The stakes are high, secrets prevail, and treason is just a kiss away.

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She writes in the medieval/renaissance period as well as 19th century. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 4 dogs, 4 horses, miniature donkey, and 12 ducks. Life is good!


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    1. Thank you for posting today. Oh my goodness, this made me appreciate my own bed, but mostly bug-free sleeping quarters!