Ancient Roman bathing


Ancient Roman bathing

:"This page is on the activity in general - see thermae for buildings in which it was carried out."Bathing played a major part in Ancient Roman culture and society.

Of all the leisure activities, it was one of the most important, since it was part of the daily regimen for men of all classes, and many women as well. Today many cultures see bathing as a very private activity conducted in the home, but bathing in Rome was a communal activity, conducted for the most part in public facilities called thermae that in some ways resembled modern-day spas. They raised bathing to a high art as they socialized in these communal baths. Courtship was conducted, as well as sealing business deals, as they built lavish baths on natural hot springs. Such was the importance of baths to Romans that a catalogue of buildings in Rome from 354 AD documented 952 baths of varying sizes in the city. [cite book | first=Axel | last=Boëthius | authorlink=Axel Boëthius | coauthors=Ward-Perkins, J. B. | year=1970 | title=Etruscan and Roman architecture | publisher=Penguin | location=Harmondsworth | id=ISBN 0-14-056032-7] Although wealthy Romans might set up a bath in their town houses or in their country villas, heating a series of rooms or even a separate building especially for this purpose, and soldiers might have a bathhouse provided at their fort (as at Chesters on Hadrian's Wall, or at Bearsden fort), they still often frequented the numerous public bathhouses in the cities and towns throughout the empire.

Small bathhouses, called "balneum" (plural "balnea"), might be privately owned, but they were public in the sense that they were open to the populace for a fee. The large baths, called thermae, were owned by the state and often covered several city blocks. The largest of these, the Baths of Diocletian, could hold up to 3,000 bathers. Fees for both types of baths were quite reasonable, within the budget of most free Roman males.

The Romans emulated many of the Greek bathing practices. Romans surpassed the Greeks in the size and complexity of their baths. As in Greece, the Roman bath became a focal center for social and recreational activity. As the Roman Empire expanded, the idea of the public bath spread to all parts of the Mediterranean and into regions of Europe and North Africa. With the construction of the aqueducts, the Romans had enough water not only for domestic, agricultural, and industrial uses, but also for their leisurely pursuits. The aqueducts provided water that was later heated for use in the baths. Today, the extent of the Roman bath is revealed at ruins and in archaeological excavations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.cite book | last = Paige | first = John C | authorlink = | coauthors = Laura Woulliere Harrison | title = Out of the Vapors: A Social and Architectural History of Bathouse Row, Hot Springs National Park | publisher = U.S. Department of the Interior | date = 1987 | location = | pages = | url = http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/hosp/bathhouse_row.pdf | doi = | id = | isbn = ]

These Roman baths varied from simple to exceedingly elaborate structures, and they varied in size, arrangement, and decoration. In taking a Roman bath, the bather induced sweating by gradually exposing himself to increasing temperatures. To accommodate this ritual, all Roman bathhouses contained a series of rooms which got progressively hotter. Most contained an "apodyterium" — a room just inside the entrance where the bather stored his clothes. Next, the bather progressed into the "frigidarium" (cold room) with its tank of cold water, the "tepidarium" (warm room), and finally the "caldarium" (hot room). The caldarium, heated by a brazier underneath the hollow floor, contained cold-water basins which the bather could use for cooling. After taking this series of sweat and/or immersion baths, the bather returned to the cooler tepidarium for a massage with oils and final scraping with metal implements. Some baths also contained a "laconium" (a dry, resting room) where the bather completed the process by resting and sweating.

The layout of Roman baths contained other architectural features of note. Because wealthy Romans brought slaves to attend to their bathing needs, the bathhouse usually had three entrances: one for men, one for women, and one for slaves. The preference of symmetry in Roman architecture usually meant a symmetrical facade, even though the women's area was usually smaller than the men's area because of fewer numbers of patrons. Usually solid walls or placement on opposite sides of the building separated the men's and women's sections. Roman bathhouses often contained a courtyard, or "palestra", which was an open-air garden used for exercise. In some cases the builders made the palestra an interior courtyard, and in other cases the builders placed the palestra in front of the bathhouse proper and incorporated it into the formal approach. Sometimes the palestra held a swimming pool. Most often a colonnade outlined the palestra's edges.

Republican bathhouses often had separate bathing facilities for women and men, but by the First Century AD mixed bathing was common and is a practice frequently referred to in Martial and Juvenal, as well as in Pliny and Quintilian. However, gender separation was restored by Hadrian.Fact|date=February 2007

Roman bathhouses offered amenities in addition to the bathing ritual. Ancillary spaces in the bathhouse proper housed food and perfume-selling booths, libraries, and reading rooms. Stages accommodated theatrical and musical performances. Adjacent stadia provided spaces for exercise and athletic competitions. Inside the bathhouses proper, marble mosaics tiled the elegant floors. The stuccoed walls frequently sported frescoes of trees, birds, and other pastoral images. Sky-blue paint, gold stars, and celestial imagery adorned interior domes. Statuary and fountains decorated the interior and exterior.

The Romans also developed baths in their colonies, taking advantage of the natural hot springs occurring in Europe to construct baths at Aix and Vichy in France, Bath and Buxton in England, Aachen and Wiesbaden in Germany, Baden, Austria, and Aquincum, Hungary, among other locations. These baths became centers for recreational and social activities in Roman communities. Libraries, lecture halls, gymnasiums, and formal gardens became part of some bath complexes. In addition, the Romans used the hot thermal waters to relieve their suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, and overindulgence in food and drink. The decline of the Roman Empire in the west, beginning in A.D. 337 after the death of Emperor Constantine, resulted in Roman legions abandoning their outlying provinces and leaving the baths to be taken over by the local population or destroyed.

Thus, the Romans elevated bathing to a fine art, and their bathhouses physically reflected these advancements. The Roman bath, for instance, included a far more complex ritual than a simple immersion or sweating procedure. The various parts of the bathing ritual — undressing, bathing, sweating, receiving a massage, and resting — required separated rooms which the Romans built to accommodate those functions. The segregation of the sexes and the additions of diversions not directly related to bathing also had direct impacts on the shape and form of bathhouses. The elaborate Roman bathing ritual and its resultant architecture served as precedents for later European and American bathing facilities. Formal garden spaces and opulent architectural arrangement equal to those of the Romans reappeared in Europe by the end of the eighteenth century. Major American spas followed suit a century later.

References

Further reading

* [http://www.thermenmuseum.nl/default.asp?taal=eng ThermeMuseum (Museum of the Thermae) in Heerlen]

* "The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World",Thomas A.J. McGinn, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2004.

See also

*Baths of Caracalla
*Baths of Diocletian
*Baths of Trajan


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