thermae
The Baths of Senex Caecilius

In addition to the large, imperial baths, or thermae, there were the smaller, more common balneae for mass public bathing. Some private residences had baths as well. Regardless of size, the baths had a few features in common: a subfloor heating sytem (hypocaustrum), a suite of rooms offering hot and cold pools, and an exercise area (palaestra).

After paying a nominal fee, or perhaps none at all, a visitor to the baths headed for the apodyterium to undress. From there the bather might follow a number of courses, but eventually he or she would experience the frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), and the caldarium (hot room). (Some baths included a laconium, which provided intense, dry heat.) Part of the bather's routine involved applying oil to the body, exercising in the palaestra, and then scraping off the oil, dirt, and dead skin with a strigilis, a curved metal implement. The visit might end with a cold plunge in the natatio.

Here are a few more facts about the baths in ancient Rome.

  • In the first census of 33 BC, there were 170 small baths in Rome; by the early fifth century there were 856 of them, as well as 11 large imperial baths.
  • The imperial baths served as vast recreation, community, and social centers where libraries, gardens, and meeting rooms were provided in addition to bathing facilities.
  • The Baths of Trajan were opened on June 22, 109 AD, and are the earliest example of the imperial thermae plan of which scholars can be sure.
  • Other imperial baths include those of Agrippa, Nero, Titus, Caracalla, Diocletian, and Constantine.

    Here are additional sources of information on the Roman baths:

  • An account of The Roman Balnea and Thermae provides a thorough description of the physical and social history of the Roman baths.
  • A virtual tour of the temple of Sulis Minerva and the Roman baths in Bath (Aquae Sulis) in Britain includes a brief history and a gallery of pictures as well.
  • A resource site on Ancient Baths includes a museum of images, a glossary of terms related to the baths, and a bibliography for additional references.
  • An article by Wally Kowalski entitled Roman Ball Games describes a half dozen ancient games played with a ball and contains references to ancient sources along with illustrations from frescoes and mosaics.

  • Some of the preceding information comes from The Ancient City, written by Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge and published in1998 by The Oxford University Press (New York).

    Vicus | Ianua | Fauces | Atrium | Library | Tablinum | Kitchen | Triclinium | Lavatory | Cubiculum
    Taberna | Viridarium | Museum | Mausoleum | Tabularium | Odeum | Scriptorium | Tropaeum
    Peristylium | Hortus | Lararium |
    Baths | Farm | Ludi | Album