Pontius Pilate would say yes! The necessity for him washing his hands was predicated, however, on his guilt or fear, not wanting to be the one to condemn a possibly innocent man in whom he could find no fault. It was not a matter of hygiene.
Of ancient civilizations, the city of Rome may be most notable for its reputation for hygiene in comparison. Mostly anyone who has heard of early Rome has heard of the baths, and probably of the public latrines, where people ‘sat’ and held conversations. But, though not as commonly known, daily handwashing was indeed part of Roman culture.
The habit of handwashing has waxed and waned, perhaps, in regard to its popularity, but in the ancient world, it was a matter of common sense for most, especially those in Rome. As silverware for eating was scarce, due to the expense of making it, most people ate with their hands. The ruling class of Rome would have servants wash their hands several times while eating.
Hands Across the Water
Hygiene was an important part of life for Roman citizens. The bathhouses and public latrines attest to that, as do the sewers and aqueducts for which Rome is so famous. Roman thought, however, was also that being clean was a sign of respect, so guests were given a towel and were offered to wash their hands at a basin upon entering one’s home.
Hygiene was not only for the rich, however. The aqueduct system provided plenty of fresh, running water throughout the city. There were fountains all over the city, some of which are still working today, and some of which had a basin in which to wash one’s hands.
Handwashing then was also part and parcel to their piety. Their pagan religion required them to be clean before their many deities. Before they offered prayers or sacrifices, they would wash their hands in a ritual called “sacrificatio”.
Washing Part Two
While the question focuses on hands, the thermae, or bathhouses were for washing, and so the hands were also part of the bath. Rome’s rivers and aqueducts fed these bathhouses, large and small, throughout Rome and the Roman Empire’s cities.
Washing was indeed integral to Roman life, and a public affair. And, it was part of the culture at the public latrines, in that everyone using the facility shared a sponge dipped in water with which was used to cleanse themselves after evacuating their bowels. The sponge would be washed after each use [hopefully], and many times was on a stick, but, nonetheless, the hands were involved, and were also washed after the process.
Roman life was indeed more sanitary than many might think, at first thought, and their public works systems made water abundant. It was a big part of their lives, and handwashing was one of the benefits of it, and may have, in some small way, contributed to the greatness of their times.