File:Les mosaïques des thermes 2.JPG|The mosaics of the thermal baths
In ancient Rome
, ''thermae'' (from Greek θερμός ''thermos'', "hot") and ''balneae'' (from Greek βαλανεῖον ''balaneion'') were facilities for bathing. ''Thermae'' usually refers to the large imperial bath complexes
, while ''balneae'' were smaller-scale facilities, public or private, that existed in great numbers throughout Rome.
Most Roman cities had at least one – if not many – such buildings, which were centres not only for bathing, but socializing and reading as well. Bath-houses were also provided for wealthy private villa
s, town houses
, and for forts
. They were supplied with water from an adjacent river or stream, or within cities by aqueduct
. The water would be heated by fire then channelled into the caldarium
(hot bathing room). The design of baths is discussed by Vitruvius
in ''De architectura
''Thermae, balneae, balineae, balneum'' and ''balineum'' may all be translated as "bath" or "baths", though Latin sources distinguish among these terms.
''Balneum'' or ''balineum'', derived from the Greek
signifies, in its primary sense, a bath or bathing-vessel, such as most persons of any consequence among the Romans possessed in their own houses, and hence the chamber which contained the bath, which is also the proper translation of the word ''balnearium''. The diminutive ''balneolum'' is adopted by Seneca
to designate the bathroom of Scipio
in the villa at Liternum
, and is expressly used to characterize the modesty of republican manners as compared with the luxury of his own times. But when the baths of private individuals became more sumptuous and comprised many rooms, instead of the one small chamber described by Seneca, the plural ''balnea'' or ''balinea'' was adopted, which still, in correct language, had reference only to the baths of private persons. Thus, Cicero
terms the baths at the villa of his brother Quintus
''Balneae'' and ''balineae'', which according to Varro
have no singular number, were the public baths, but this accuracy of diction is neglected by many of the subsequent writers, and particularly by the poets, amongst whom ''balnea'' is not uncommonly used in the plural number to signify the public baths, since the word ''balneae'' could not be introduced in a hexameter
also, in the same sentence, makes use of the neuter plural ''balnea'' for public, and of ''balneum'' for a private bath.
''Thermae'' (Greek: , ''Thermai'', "hot springs, hot baths", from the Greek adjective ''thermos'', "hot") meant properly warm springs, or baths of warm water; but came to be applied to those magnificent edifices which grew up under the empire
, in place of the simple balneae of the republic
, and which comprised within their range of buildings all the appurtenances belonging to the Greek gymnasia
, as well as a regular establishment appropriated for bathing. Writers, however, use these terms without distinction. Thus the baths erected by Claudius Etruscus
, the freedman of the Emperor Claudius
, are styled by Statius
''balnea'', and by Martial
''Etrusci thermulae''. In an epigram by ''Martial''—''subice balneum thermis''—the terms are not applied to the whole building, but to two different chambers in the same edifice.
A public bath was built around three principal rooms: the ''tepidarium
'' (warm room), the ''caldarium
'' (hot room), and the ''frigidarium
'' (cold room). Some ''thermae'' also featured steam baths: the ''sudatorium
'', a moist steam bath, and the ''laconicum
'', a dry hot room much like a modern sauna
By way of illustration, this article will describe the layout of Pompeii
's Old Baths adjoining the forum
, which are among the best-preserved Roman baths. The references are to the floor plan pictured to the right.
The whole building comprises a double set of baths, one for men, one for women. It has six different entrances from the street, one of which (''b'') gives admission to the smaller women's set only. Five other entrances lead to the men's department, of which two (''c'' and ''c2''), communicate directly with the furnaces, and the other three (''a3, a2, a'') with the bathing apartments.
Passing through the principal entrance, ''a'' (barely visible, right side, one third of the total length from above), which is removed from the street by a narrow footway surrounding the building and after descending three steps, the bather would find a small chamber on his left (''x'') with a toilet (''latrina
''), and proceed into a covered portico
(''g, g''), which ran round three sides of an open court (''atrium
, A''). These together formed the vestibule
of the baths (''vestibulum balnearum''), in which the servants waited.
Use of the atrium
This atrium was the exercise ground for the young men, or perhaps served as a promenade for visitors to the baths. Within this court the keeper of the baths (''balneator''), who exacted the ''quadrans
'' paid by each visitor, was also stationed. The room ''f'', which runs back from the portico, might have been appropriated to him; but most probably it was an ''oecus
'' or ''exedra
'', for the convenience of the better classes while awaiting the return of their acquaintances from the interior. In this court, advertisements for the theatre, or other announcements of general interest, were posted up, one of which, announcing a gladiator
ial show, still remains. At the sides of the entrance were seats (''scholae'').
The 1898 edition of ''Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
'' provided illustrations envisioning the rooms of the Old Baths at Pompeii
File:Apodyterium of the Old Baths at Pompeii by Overbeck.png|''Apodyterium''
File:Tepidarium of the Old Baths at Pompeii by Overbeck.png|''Tepidarium''
File:Caldarium of the Old Baths at Pompeii by Overbeck.png|''Caldarium''
File:Frigidarium of the Old Baths at Pompeii by Overbeck.png|''Frigidarium''
Apodyterium and frigidarium
A passage (''c'') leads into the ''apodyterium
'' (''B''), a room for undressing in which all visitors must have met before entering the baths proper. Here, the bathers removed their clothing, which was taken in charge by slaves known as ''capsarii
'', notorious in ancient times for their dishonesty. The ''apodyterium'' was a spacious chamber, with stone seats along three sides of the wall (''h''). Holes are still visible on the walls, and probably mark the places where the pegs for the bathers' clothes were set. The chamber was lighted by a glass window, and had six doors. One of these led to the ''tepidarium
'' (''D'') and another to the ''frigidarium
'' (''C''), with its cold plunge-bath referred to as ''baptisterium
'' (more commonly called ''natatorium
'' or ''piscina''), ''loutron'', ''natatio'', or ''puteus''; the terms ''natatio'' and ''natatorium'' suggest that some of those baths were also swimming pool
s. The bath in this chamber is of white marble, surrounded by two marble steps.
From the ''apodyterium'' the bather who wished to go through the warm bath and sweating process entered the ''tepidarium'' (''D''). It did not contain water neither at Pompeii nor at the Baths of Hippias, but was merely heated with warm air of an agreeable temperature, in order to prepare the body for the great heat of the vapour and warm baths, and, upon returning, to prevent a too-sudden transition to the open air. In the baths at Pompeii this chamber also served as an ''apodyterium'' for those who took the warm bath. The walls feature a number of separate compartments or recesses for receiving the garments when taken off. The compartments are divided from each other by figures of the kind called atlantes
, which project from the walls and support a rich cornice above them in a wide arch.
Three bronze benches were also found in the room, which was heated as well by its contiguity to the hypocaust
of the adjoining chamber, as by a brazier
of bronze (''foculus
''), in which the charcoal ashes were still remaining when the excavation was made. Sitting and perspiring beside such a brazier was called ''ad flammam sudare''.
The ''tepidarium'' is generally the most highly ornamented room in baths. It was merely a room to sit and be anointed in. In the Forum Baths at Pompeii the floor is mosaic, the arched ceiling adorned with stucco and painting on a coloured ground, the walls red.
Anointing was performed by slaves called ''unctores
'' and ''aliptae
''. It sometimes took place before going to the hot bath, and sometimes after the cold bath, before putting on the clothes, in order to check the perspiration. Some baths had a special room (''destrictarium
'' or ''unctorium
'') for this purpose.
From the ''tepidarium'' a door opened into the ''caldarium'' (''E''), whose mosaic
floor was directly above the furnace or hypocaust
. Its walls also were hollow, behind the decorated plaster one part of the wall was made from interconnected hollow bricks called ''tubuli lateraci'', forming a great flue filled with heated air. At one end was a round basin (''labrum
''), and at the other a quadrangular bathing place (''puelos'', ''alveus'', ''solium'', ''calida piscina''), approached from the platform by steps. The ''labrum ''held cold water, for pouring upon the bather's head before he left the room. These basins are of marble in the Old Baths, but we hear of ''alvei'' of solid silver. Because of the great heat of the room, the caldarium was but slightly ornamented.
The Old Baths have no ''laconicum
'', which was a chamber still hotter than the ''caldarium'', and used simply as a sweating-room, having no bath. It was said to have been introduced at Rome by Agrippa
and was also called ''sudatorium
'' and ''assa''.
The ''apodyterium'' has a passage (q) communicating with the mouth of the furnace (i), called ''praefurnium'' or ''propigneum'' and, passing down that passage, we reach the chamber M, into which the ''praefurnium'' projects, and which is entered from the street at ''c''. It was assigned to the ''fornacatores'', or persons in charge of the fires. Of its two staircases, one leads to the roof of the baths, and one to the boiler
s containing the water.
There were three boilers, one of which (''caldarium'') held the hot water; a second, the tepid (''tepidarium''); and the third, the cold (''frigidarium''). The warm water was filled into the warm bath by a pipe through the wall, marked on the plan. Underneath the hot chamber was set the circular furnace ''d'', of more than 7 ft. in diameter, which heated the water and poured hot air into the hollow cells of the hypocaustum. It passed from the furnace under the first and last of the caldrons by two flues, which are marked on the plan. The boiler containing hot water was placed immediately over the furnace; as the water was drawn out from there, it was supplied from the next, the ''tepidarium'', which was raised a little higher and stood a little way off from the furnace. It was already considerably heated from its contiguity to the furnace and the hypocaust below it, so that it supplied the deficiency of the former without materially diminishing its temperature; and the vacuum in this last was again filled up from the farthest removed, which contained the cold water received directly from the square reservoir seen behind them. The boilers themselves no longer remain, but the impressions which they have left in the mortar in which they were embedded are clearly visible, and enable us to determine their respective positions and dimensions. Such coppers or boilers appear to have been called ''miliaria'', from their similarity of shape to a milestone
Behind the boilers, another corridor leads into the court or atrium (''K''), appropriated to the servants of the bath.
The adjoining, smaller set of baths were assigned to the women. The entrance is by the door ''b'', which conducts into a small vestibule (''m'') and from there into the ''apodyterium'' (''H''), which, like the one in the men's bath, has a seat (''pulvinus, gradus'') on either side built up against the wall. This opens upon a cold bath (''J''), answering to the ''natatio'' of the men's set, but of much smaller dimensions. There are four steps on the inside to descend into it.
Opposite to the door of entrance into the ''apodyterium'' is another doorway which leads to the ''tepidarium'' (''G''), which also communicates with the thermal chamber (''F''), on one side of which is a warm bath in a square recess, and at the farther extremity the ''labrum''. The floor of this chamber is suspended, and its walls perforated for flues, like the corresponding one in the men's baths. The ''tepidarium'' in the women's baths had no brazier, but it had a hanging or suspended floor.
The baths often included, aside from the three main rooms listed above, a ''palaestra
'', or outdoor gymnasium where men would engage in various ball games and exercises. There, among other things, weights were lifted and the discus thrown. Men would oil themselves (as soap
was still a luxury good and thus not widely available), shower
, and remove the excess with a strigil
(cf. the well known Apoxyomenus
from the Vatican Museum
). Often wealthy bathers would bring a ''capsarius'', a slave that carried his master's towels, oils, and strigils to the baths and then watched over them once in the baths, as thieves and pickpockets were known to frequent the baths.
The changing room was known as the ''apodyterium
'' (from Greek ''apodyterion'' from ''apoduein'' "to take off").
In many ways, baths were the ancient Roman equivalent of community centres. Because the bathing process took so long, conversation was necessary. Many Romans would use the baths as a place to invite their friends to dinner parties, and many politicians would go to the baths to convince fellow Romans to join their causes. The thermae had many attributes in addition to the baths. There were libraries, rooms for poetry readings, and places to buy and eat food. The modern equivalent would be a combination of a library, art gallery, mall, restaurant, gym, and spa.
One important function of the baths in Roman society was their role as what we would consider a “branch library” today. Many in the general public did not have access to the grand libraries in Rome and so as a cultural institution the baths served as an important resource where the more common citizen could enjoy the luxury of books. The Baths of Trajan
, of Caracalla
, and Diocletian
all contained rooms determined to be libraries. They have been identified through the architecture of the baths themselves. The presence of niches in the walls are assumed to have been bookcases and have been shown to be sufficiently deep to have contained ancient scrolls. There is little documentation from the writers of the time that there did exist definitive public libraries maintained in the baths, but records have been found that indicated a slave from the imperial household was labelled ''vilicus thermarum bybliothecae Graecae'' ("maintenance man of the Greek library of the baths"). However, this may only indicate that the same slave held two positions in succession: "maintenance man of the baths" (''vilicus thermarum'') and "employee in the Greek library" (a ''bybliothecae Graecae''). The reason for this debate is that, although Julius Caesar
and Asinius Pollio
advocated for public access to books and that libraries be open to all readers, there is little evidence that public libraries existed in the modern sense as we know it. It is more likely that these reserves were maintained for the wealthy elite.
Baths were a site for important sculpture; among the well-known pieces recovered from the Baths of Caracalla
are the ''Farnese Bull
'' and ''Farnese Hercules
'' and over life-size early 3rd century patriotic figures somewhat reminiscent of Soviet Socialist realism
works (now in the Museo di Capodimonte
The Romans believed that good health came from bathing, eating, massages, and exercise. The baths, therefore, had all of these things in abundance. Since some citizens would be bathing multiple times a week, Roman society was surprisingly clean. When asked by a foreigner why he bathed once a day, a Roman emperor is said to have replied "Because I do not have the time to bathe twice a day." Emperors often built baths to gain favour for themselves and to create a lasting monument of their generosity. If a rich Roman wished to gain the favour of the people, he might arrange for a free admission day in his name. For example, a senator hoping to become a Tribune
might pay all admission fees at a particular bath on his birthday to become well known to the people of the area.
Baths sprang up all over the empire. Where natural hot spring
s existed (as in Bath, England
; Băile Herculane
or Aquae Calidae
) ''thermae'' were built around them. Alternatively, a system of ''hypocaust
a'' (from ''hypo'' "below" and ''kaio'' "to burn") were utilised to heat the piped water from a furnace (''praefurnium'').
Remains of Roman public baths
A number of Roman public baths survive, either as ruins or in varying degrees of conservation. Among the more notable are the Roman baths of Bath
and the Ravenglass Roman Bath House
as well as the Baths of Caracalla
, of Diocletian
, of Titus
, of Trajan
and the baths of Sofia
Probably the most complete are various public and private baths in Pompeii
and nearby sites. The Hammam Essalihine
is still in use today.
* Ancient Roman bathing
* Diocletian window
* Greek baths
* History of sanitation
* Roman architecture
* Roman culture
* Roman engineering
* Roman technology
* Spa town
* ''Thermae Romae
'' (''manga'' and film)
* Turkish Bath
* Victorian Turkish bath
*Bruun, Christer. 1991. ''The water supply of ancient Rome: A study of Roman imperial administration.'' Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica.
*DeLaine, Janet. 1997. ''The Baths of Caracalla: A Study In the Design, Construction, and Economics of Large-Scale Building Projects In Imperial Rome.'' Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology.
*DeLaine, Janet, and David E Johnston. 1999. ''Roman Baths and Bathing: Proceedings of the First International Conference On Roman Baths Held At Bath, England, 30 March-4 April 1992.'' Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology.
*Fagan, Garrett G. 2001. "The genesis of the Roman public bath: Recent approaches and future directions." ''American Journal of Archaeology'' 105, no. 3: 403–26.
*Manderscheid, Hubertus. 2004. ''Ancient Baths and Bathing: A Bibliography for the Years 1988-2001.'' Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology.
*Marvin, M. 1983. "Freestanding sculptures from the Baths of Caracalla." ''American Journal of Archaeology'' 87: 347–84.
*Nielsen, Inge. 1993. ''Thermae Et Balnea: The Architecture and Cultural History of Roman Public Baths.'' 2nd ed. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.
*Ring, James W. 1996. "Windows, baths and solar energy in the Roman Empire." ''American Journal of Archaeology'' 100: 717–24.
*Rotherham, Ian D. 2012. ''Roman Baths In Britain.'' Stroud: Amberley.
*Roupas, N. 2012. "Roman bath tiles." ''Archaeology'' 65, no. 2: 12.
*Yegül, Fikret K. 1992. ''Baths and bathing in classical antiquity.'' New York: Architectural History Foundation.
*--. 2010. ''Bathing In the Roman World.'' New York: Cambridge University Press.
*William SmitRoman Baths (Balneae)
from "A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities", pub. John Murray, London, 1875.ThermeMuseum (Museum of the Thermae) in HeerlenTraianus
– Technical investigation of Roman public works
An interactive site using the Baths of Caracalla as an example
*Barbara F. McManu
*3d reconstruction of a Roman bathLimes in AustriaRoman Baths of Weissenburg Digital Media Archive
-licensed photos, laser scans, panoramas) with data from a City of Weissenburg/CyArk
research partnershipVictorian Turkish bath
Information regarding a 19th-century version of the Roman or "Turkish" bath
Category:Ancient Roman baths