Heating system in a Roman-period bath in Egypt: Th. Fournet 2016 (CNRS / Ifpo)
Ancient Baths in Egypt
Under the rule of the Ptolemies, numerous public baths were built in Egypt following the Greek model: they included circular rooms, separate for men and women, with a number of individual hip-baths against their walls. Water was poured from jars over the persons sitting in the basins. Later, large communal basins for a relaxing dip were added, usually in rooms with a separate entrance, but the tradition of using individual hip-basins continued for a long time in Egypt. By the first century AD, Roman-style bathhouses became popular, characterized by a sequence of gradually hotter rooms heated by the underground hypocaustum. Forty-six “Greek style" baths have been discovered in Egypt, almost a half of those known in the entire Greek world, while from the Roman period between the 1st and the 6th centuries AD, archaeology revealed at least forty-nine more.
In the capital Alexandria, twelve baths have been discovered in excavations; there certainly were more. Big cities in the Delta also had multiple bathhouses, and bathing establishments were built throughout Egypt. Even the remote desert forts that guarded roads from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea had elaborate bath facilities. The great imperial-style late Roman bath at Kom al-Dikka in Alexandria covered more than 5,000 square meters (more than an acre), had walls and floors sumptuously decorated with multi-coloured marble, and was serviced by elaborately engineered water distribution and disposal, and heating systems. Surrounded by grand porticoes and located next to the lecture halls of the Alexandrian Academy, it must have been at the centre of the city’s social life. Small bathhouses in provincial towns were much more modest, but also skilfully designed for comfort and relaxation of the bathers and efficiency of service.
The North Bath in Karanis is minute in size, but even in this provincial and not very rich town remnants of at least four bathhouses have been found.