West Asian Beds - Ancient West Asia
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West Asian Beds

Ohalo bed
Drawing of the grass bed inside a reed hut
from Ohalo II (Galilee, 21000 BC)

When people came to West Asia from Africa about 60,000 BC, they seem to have brought the idea of sleeping in beds with them. People in Galilee (modern Israel) seem to have been sleeping in beds in the Paleolithic time period, about 21,000 BC. While earlier African beds were arrangements of leaves and grasses, these West Asian beds were made of grass covered with a thin coating of clay.

Sumerian bed
Sumerian toy model of a bed from Ur (ca. 2000 BC)

By the time of the Sumerians, people were using beds that looked a lot like yours. Sleeping higher up off the ground was warmer in cold weather, and protected you from bugs in warm weather. People lay bundles of reeds across a mud-brick platform to make a bed, with a woven reed mat on top. A lot of poor people just slept right on these reed mats, but richer people had linen sheets and wool blankets to make their beds more comfortable.

Assurbanipal at Nineveh
Nineveh, ca. 650 BC

A little more than a thousand years later, about 650 BC, the Assyrian king Assurbanipal had a fancier couch to lie on - he has a blanket, and soft pillows under his elbow, and his bedframe is made of fancy carved wood. He also has slaves waving reeds to keep the bugs off him! Like the Greeks and the Etruscans about the same time, King Assurbanipal isn't sleeping in his bed - he's eating and drinking wine. And like the Greeks (but not the Etruscans), women don't rate couches. His wife, the queen, is sitting in a chair next to him.

Bibliography and further reading about ancient West Asia:

Chinese houses and furniture
Roman houses and furniture
West Asian Architecture
Ancient West Asia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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