Long ago, it was believed that sleeping in large groups was safer for people. Even today, some African, Guinean and Australian tribes maintain the tradition of group sleeping. At night, entire tribes get placed in big buildings constructed especially for sleeping. These tribes believe that sounds made by groups of sleepers – snoring, breathing and baby cries – may scare off demons of night. This is also the reason why domestic animals are often allowed to spend nights indoors. Animals are believed to be able to warn of evil forces coming from the other world.
So, at the dawn of the human civilization people slept in groups immediately on the ground covered with grass, twigs or animal skins. The situation changed when people began to build houses and organized special rooms for sleeping in their houses. It first happened in Sumer about 5,000 years ago. In bedrooms, Sumer, Assyrian and Egyptian aristocracy arranged special hard and narrow couches for sleeping.
But ancient Romans did not like the asceticism. Effeminate patricians liked comfortable sleeping, and consequently invented beds. Their first beds were eminences covered with gorgeous clothes and furs. Deputies were basically these effeminate patricians. They visited territories conquered by Romans and spread their own traditions, habits and household goods there. But prostrate Gauls, Teutons, Saxons and Brits did not adopt the Roman bed and still slept on the ground.
The situation changed in the Middle Ages when construction of stone buildings and castles began in Europe. Because of draughts that spread about the floors of buildings people made their beds higher. This is how first beds on pedestals appeared, and then people even made beds where one could sleep after climbing a staircase. Soon, beds turned into pieces of art: they were made of precious woods, covered with intricate carving and decorated with various figures. Such beds often became trophies of war.
Romans often made semi-transparent curtains around their beds to get protected from insects. In medieval Europe, the light bed curtain got transformed into a valance that enveloped beds from every side and protected form insects and cold. At that, valances gave the illusion of solitude to couples even when there were many people in the room. Rich families spent much money on making valances of gorgeous fabrics and decorated with gold embroideries. Families with lower incomes had valances made of simple light fabric.
In Russia, first beds appeared in the early 17th century and got widely spread in the country under Peter the Great's rule. The tsar demanded that people should wear not only European clothing but also arrange their houses according to European standards. However, the innovation concerned just courtiers while peasant families still slept on polati that were high boards of wood. The Russian furnace was considered the cosiest place in the house, and sleeping on it was the privilege of elderly, little children and ill people only. Other members of big peasant families slept on polati. And this tradition was maintained by many peasant families until the 20th century.
Families of merchant had a definite set of furniture in their bedrooms: a bed, a china cabinet and a silver samovar. Everything that a family had in the bedroom was traditionally the wife’s dowry. Parents made huge soft down-beds of down and lots of light pillows. Usually, mothers started making the dowry for their daughters soon after they were born.
Even though Russians are Christians they still often revealed pagan beliefs and fears. For instance, Russians believed that wood spirits, bogies and mermen actually existed, and that is why Russians never slept in beds with their legs directed toward the entrance. Otherwise they believed that evil forces could take sleeping people out of the house.
At that, some of the old Russian traditions agree with some Chinese ones. It was believed that a place in the house where a cat lies is the best for arranging a bed. The cat was the symbol of fertility in Russia that is why a place it indicated in the house guaranteed that a couple would have healthy and strong babies. In China, it was believed that cats can find the positive energy epicenter that was important for couples.
Translated by Maria Gousseva