Electric blanket

Discover the history of the pillow

21 Oct, 2023
Ilona Migdalski

When you think of a pillow, you probably immediately think of the soft, cozy one you lay your head on every night. However, the history of the pillow tells us that pillows have come in all sizes, shapes and materials. Dive back in time with us for a moment?

Headrests among Mesopotamians and Egyptians

We discover the first form of head support – one cannot immediately speak of a “pillow” here – in 7000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq. In fact, Mesopotamians used a rectangular stone. The top was carved in the shape of a crescent that served as a support for the neck. This stone support also provided protection from insects that could crawl into the mouth, nose and ears. A purely functional use, then.

In contrast, the ancient Egyptians (from 3300 B.C. onward) believed that the head was an important spiritual center of the body and therefore deserved extra attention. After all, with a head half erected, you would be less vulnerable to evil powers. The moon-shaped “weres” about 20 cm high was made of pottery, limestone or alabaster, and later mostly solid wood. The Egyptians placed it between the head and shoulder, sometimes with a soft cloth between them, and thus slept on their sides.

Archaeologists found them in the tombs of pharaohs but also in many ordinary homes. This indicates that they were not only part of the Egyptian death cult, but also an everyday utensil. Admittedly not one with a high comfort level right away.

History of the pillow among the Chinese

In ancient China in 500 B.C., we see other materials such as porcelain, bronze, bamboo and jade. Headrests in a soft material would, according to their faith tradition, take the energy and vitality out of the body. The Chinese did turn them into real showpieces with elegant, lavish decorations. Of course, in those days the headrest was reserved only for wealthy citizens.

The history of Japanese pillows

In medieval Japan, the focus was not on crawling insects or traditional religious practices. Here, pillows are primarily a privilege of noblewomen with their particularly artful hairstyles. At night, these Japanese ladies laid their heads on a takamakura, which literally means “high pillow. Thanks to this high standard of wood, their haircut could survive the night unscathed.

And the Europeans?

In the Middle Ages, Europeans considered a pillow rather an expression of weakness. A pregnant woman, that was still forgivable, but others did not need it right away. The empires of ancient Greece and Rome considered a pillow a luxury item. They were only too happy to cover themselves in comfortable fabrics and, unlike the Asians, did use soft materials. They chose a filling of straw, wool, horsehair, reeds and even goose feathers already.

Starting in the 16th century, after the relentless Middle Ages, a pillow was no longer a status symbol, but an everyday item of use for more and more citizens. Because natural materials are susceptible to insects and mold, the stuffing had to be replaced regularly.

Only from the 19th century do we see pillows as we know them today, focusing on sleeping comfort. Nowadays, the sleep industry does not stand still and the range of pillows is becoming more and more varied. We owe this to the continuous development of new materials and technologies.

By the way, did you know that about a hundred years ago, people often slept sitting up? In fact, they thought that if you lay flat in bed for a long time, too much blood would flow to your head, resulting in all kinds of diseases. Fortunately, that period is far behind us and we can lay down our tired heads after a busy day and enjoy a comfortable pillow with optimal support!

History of the Pillow: FAQ

Before the invention of beds and pillows, humans simply slept on the ground usually in fetal position. It’s not unlikely that makeshift pillows out of hay or leaves were formed.

In the 1700s most people would have slept with their head on a pillow. They would have been made from natural materials that were available, as the pillow and its stuffing had to be replaced regularly.

Humans simply slept on the ground in a fetal position. Scientists believe that this is simply to preserve body heat, however, protection from predators also plays a role. If they were in a more permanent location, a sort of nest may be constructed from soft materials that were available like leaves or furs.