see it clearly

Ancient Roman Baths

Ancient Roman baths became popular around the second century B.C.E. The first baths were built in the private villas of the extremely wealthy, although public baths were opened as the aqueduct system was improved. While many of these bathhouses were public, they weren't free nor were they initially open to women. By 33 B.C.E., there were 170 public baths in the city of Rome.

Ancient Roman Baths

Roman Spa Life

The concept of a Roman bath depicted in many films of pop culture is a combination of steam rooms and swimming pools, but the baths were actually much more. In the English City of Bath, the ancient Roman baths are very well preserved and attract thousands of tourists annually.

Each bath had hot and cold pools, towels, saunas, exercise rooms, steam rooms, hair-cutting salons, reading rooms, libraries, and massage therapists. In many ways, the Roman baths mirror modern day spas and fitness centers. Patrons were charged for access to the baths, but they provided the wealthy with a place to read, socialize, exercise, relax, and take care of personal hygiene.

Typical Day at the Baths

The wealthy Romans who favored the baths typically came from the merchant class or nobility. They could afford to spend an afternoon cultivating new opportunities and social networking while indulging in the baths offerings. As women grew their own wealth, they, too, wanted to take advantage of the bathhouses. This required either separate facilities or separate times.

Bathhouses featured hot and cool pools. Upon arrival, Romans would enter the apodyterium or changing room. Slave attendants would help their Roman change, hold their towel, and escort them while taking care of their belongings so they were not stolen.

Men typically visited the unctuarium first. There, their skin would be well oiled and rubbed before they stepped out into the yards to exercise. From there, they could move to the tepidarium, or sauna, with a very warm pool where they could sweat off the excess and chat with friends.

Visitors might then choose to go the masseur for a rub down with more warm oil and a gentle scraping to exfoliate the skin. Other choices might be:

  • Caldarium – extremely hot bathing pools, like hot tubs, that were heated volcanically
  • Hypocaust – quiet bathing chamber with warm floors and water, ideal for soaking and meditating
  • Frigidarium – icy pools designed to brace after the drowsy heat
  • Sudatria – a sauna-like room for relaxing in a dry heat
  • Natatio – a large, open swimming area where visitors may swim, cool down, and chat

At any time during the visit, bathers could choose to visit the library, garden, or even a private room for discussing private matters or business. Food and drinks could also be served and typically consisted of warm wines and sweets. Visits to the baths were opportunities to see and be seen.