BATHING WITH THE ROMANS
Ancient Roman Baths
For the ancient Romans, bathing in public was a significant part of daily life, a social ritual and cultural event deeply rooted in their life and culture. Typically, Romans bathed every day and spent long hours in their baths, which offered facilities for sports and recreation, meetings and discussions. Large baths even included libraries, lecture halls, and museum-like displays of art. By the 4th century AD, the city of Rome had more than 850 public baths, including ten or more thermae – gigantic and luxurious complexes. Even in small cities inhabitants enjoyed numerous public baths.
The bathers would start their visit in the apodyterium, where they disrobed and left their clothes. Then they proceeded through a series of rooms of increasing temperature: cool frigidarium with a cold-water tank, then warm tepidarium to prepare the body for the heat of the caldarium, where a hot-water basin was placed. Often, there would also be a sudatorium, a moist steam bath, or a laconicum, a dry, hot room much like the modern sauna. On the way out, they might take a refreshing plunge in the cold basin of the frigidarium. Rooms were heated by a system of channels and chambers under the floor (hypocaustum) connected to the furnace that also heated water for the hot bath. Hot air from the hypocaustum was evacuated through channels in the walls, providing additional heating.
In the ingenious design, the rooms and courtyards used by the bathers were completely separated from the service areas, often located on a lower level, where people were stoking the fire, removing ashes, and operating the water system.