Ancient Roman Baths
The history of the Roman baths began during the height of the Roman Empire and the larger public baths (thermae)were owned and operated by the government. Some large Roman baths could hold up to 3,000 people at any one time so the danger of theft was always a risk. There were no bars such as social and economic status to prevent anyone in Rome enjoying Roman public baths. A small admission fee was charged it but it was well within the means of even the poor people of Rome to visit weekly. The rich enjoyed the luxury of daily usage.
Roman baths were a central part of Roman social life busy, noisy and lively.Located in most Roman cities in Ancient Rome they also allowed the Roman citizens access to healthy exercise in the gym where the men enjoyed working out with strength training weights and the throwing of the discus. They also had a library and a café-type food area for treats such as fruit or cakes, oysters, meaty chops and spare ribs.
Men and women used separate bath houses, usually open at different times, as mixed bathing was considered unacceptable and was against bath house rules. Slaves were allowed, when taken by their masters/mistresses, to visit the baths, during which time the slaves servants to carry their towels, oils, and clothing and were expected to help them enjoy their bathing. They also stood guard over their clothes in the dressing rooms. The poor, for a fee could have their clothes watched over by bathhouses attendants. Children were not allowed to use them at all.
Heating the Baths
It is unlikely that the Romans, unlike the Greek men exercised “in the niff” though they probably wore only light clothing whilst bathing. They also wore special thick-soled sandals for protection whilst bathing because the floors were heated.
This was achieved by a unique system of heating known as hypocaust, invented by roman engineers. Pillars raised the floor off the ground and wall cavities allowed hot air from the furnace (praefurnium) to circulate through them. Rooms requiring the most heat were placed closest to the furnace, whose heat could be increased by adding more wood. Roman bath houses were a feat of engineering at the time. Drawing on natural hot springs from beneath the ground, a pump system drew water up into the large pool, wherever springs existed. Heaters were also created to maintain warm temperatures in the baths.
Accompanied by a slave carrying their towels, oil flasks and strigils, bathers would progress through rooms of various temperature….. tepid, hot and dry, warm and steamy and a final cold plunge bath in the aptly named frigidarium.
In the Tepidarium (Warm room) heated walls and floors and sometimes a pool warmed the water enough for the Romans to sit and relax in and also to rub themselves with olive oil. they would then move onto another hot room, the Laconium. This is a small round steam room acting like a sauna to encourage further sweating. Followed by the Natatio, a long warm water swimming pool served by the Spring. Towels were collected and clothes left in cupboards in the Apodyterium (Changing Rooms). closest to the furnace is the Caldarium (Hot room) consisting of a large tub or small pool full of super-heated hot water and a waist-high fountain (labrum) with cool water to splash on the face and neck. Finally the bather might return to the Tepidarium again before finishing in the Cold room (frigidarium) with a refreshing dip in the cold pool and massage with perfumed oils.
After exercise, bathers would have the dirt, sweat and oil scraped from their bodies with a strigil- a curved metal scraper. They could then enjoy a stroll in the gardens, visit the library, be entertained by performing jugglers and acrobats, listen to a literary recital, or indulge in a well earned bite to eat.
Roman Bathhouse Latrines
Roman Bathhouses also had large public latrines, (‘loos’ for the unenlightened!) Usually consisting of marble seats perched over channels of continually flowing water they were the earliest toilets to be flushable. A shallow water channel At the forefront of the seats, with their on-stick sponges for the use of the Roman bather after use of said latrines there was also a channel of shallow water, presumably for the cleaning of said sponges
The Roman Baths in the City of Bath
The splendid temple and bathing facility the Romans built around the only hot spring in Britain, still flows with natural hot water. The mystique of the Baths remains to this day attracting tourists from far and wide, drawn to the times when Roman citizens and centurions bathed in this pool and offered homage to the Minerva goddess of the waters.
Aquae Sulis (Latin for ‘waters of Sulis’)has three hot springs. The largest natural hot (46° C )Spring located central to the site is considered sacred to the goddess Sulis Minerva. An orange colour skirting the Spring is the a result of many different minerals such as iron dissolving. The spring is said to be a link to the Underworld, somewhere people would come to pray to the goddess Sulis Minerva throwing in gifts of jewellery and money , so the goddess would look after them and theirs.
Notes (‘curses’) written to the goddess on soft lead were also thrown in to the spring. For example, "To Minerva the goddess of Sulis I have given the thief who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether slave or free, whether man or woman. He is not to buy back this gift unless with his own blood."
Sometimes they were written back-to-front or in mirror-writing to make sure only the goddess could read them because it was believed that if the curse floated, it would spring back on the curse writer rather than the unfortunate victim it was meant for.
Statues of gods and goddesses stand in the water. Plants grow on the walls and sometimes birds fly through the windows. It seems more like a pool in a wood than a water tank in the town centre. Many ill people visit the baths because they believe they will get better if they swim in the waters of Sulis Minerva. All the rooms are roofed and many have high ceilings. They have colourful painted walls and some have mosaic floor.
Next to the Spring is the temple of the goddess Sulis Minerva. The Temple is in the middle of the open air Temple courtyard. This is where most of the ceremonies take place. In front of the Temple is the great altar where the priests make sacrifices to Sulis Minerva for example; cows, sheep and pigs. The gateway to the building housing the Spring contains at its peak an image of the sun . The adjacent building shows images of the four seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn.