Tel: +7 (8142) 78 44 96;
11 Pushkinskaya St., 185000 Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation;
PhD (History), Senior Researcher, Ethnology Section, Institute of Language, Literature
and History, the Karelian Research Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences
The architectural, culturological, ethnographic and folklore facets of the steam bath phenomenon among Karelians, Vepsians and Russians in Karelia have been previously touched upon by many researchers. The author himself has also written about the role of the steam bath in traditional ritualism and daily practices of peoples in Karelia. Yet, the question of the bath's evolution into a cultural phenomenon among Finnic-Baltic nations and Slavs has remained practically beyond consideration. The author therefore finds the topic that sheds some light upon facets of the origin and spreading of the steam bath among people of Karelia quite relevant. This question can be handled exhaustively only if materials emerging far beyond Karelia are used.
The author argues that the oldest cultural-historical precursors of the traditional agricultist bath appearing among the peoples of Karelia originated first from the 'fire pit oven' and then from the 'fire pit bath', which had appeared in the circumpolar zone of Eurasia since the Mesolithic. It had been a pit digged in the soil and heated by bonfire. After hot charcoal had been removed, a person covered with a raw animal skin stayed in such a pit in order to ooze sweat (but without washing with water).
Coast-dwelling Chukchi and Eskimos had maintained this practice until the previous century. The Finnish dry-steam sauna has most probably descended from this phenomenon. Warming the body up in a semi-subterranean building rather than in a pit, by wet steam emitted by hot hearth stones as water is dabbled upon them, was an historical stage on the way towards the Russian steam bath, which is also familiar to Finno-Ugric peoples of the Volga-river's basin and Finnic-Baltic people. Assuming that N. Kharuzin's idea that Finnish Sauna has originated from plain bathhouses is correct, the habit of bathing in steam bathhouses with log walls must have been adopted by Russian colonists from the local Finnish-speaking population in the Middle Ages, while they were dispersing to the European North-west and the Volga region. The author however can notice no genetic affiliation between the 'Turkish' (Roman and Greek) bath on the one hand and the 'Finnish' Sauna and 'Russian' bath on the other.
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