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Ancient Roman baths


Although the Greeks invented the bathing regimen, which then became the foundation for modern spa procedures, the ancient Romans elevated it to an art form. Baths became the center of social and cultural life. Thanks to its complicated system of aqueducts, the Romans always had fresh water readily available. The bath structures ranged from pretty simple to incredibly complex, and they varied in size, arrangement, and decoration. Most contained an apodyterium—a room just inside the entrance where the bather stored his clothes. Next, the bather progressed into the tepidarium (warm room), then into the caldarium (hot room) for a steam, and finally into the frigidarium (cold room) with its tank of cold water. The caldarium, heated by a brazier underneath the hollow floor, contained cold-water basins which the bather could use for cooling. After taking this series of sweat and/or immersion baths, the bather returned to the cooler tepidarium for a massage with oils and final scraping with metal implements called strigils. Some baths also contained a laconium (a dry, resting room) where the bather completed the process by resting and sweating. Roman bathhouses offered amenities in addition to the bathing ritual. Ancillary spaces in the bathhouse proper housed food and perfume-selling booths, libraries, and reading rooms. Stages accommodated theatrical and musical performances. Adjacent stadia provided spaces for exercise and athletic competitions. Some baths were privately owned, but most of them were publicly owned and, although there was an entrance fee, they were affordable enough that any free man could enjoy them.

In Rome we can still find many of these baths as a testament to the importance of this ritual. The Baths of Titus and and Trajan were both built over the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea. The biggest and most impressive one, which could host more than 3000 people at the same time, were the Baths of Diocletian. Notable also are the Baths of Caracalla.

Come visit the wonders of Ancient Rome by taking part in one of our tours: skip-the-line tickets, an English-speaking guide, and small groups make the experience that much better. Witness how the Romans lived…and bathed!