Bathing in ancient Rome

“The Romans had some crazy ideas” - well, at least on bathing we have to disagree. Even back then people knew about the healing and relaxing effect of a lengthy soak in the bath. And baths occupied a very important place in the life of the Romans.

Bathing as the focal point of the life of the Roman community

For the ancient Romans (just like us today), baths were used for relaxation and cleaning purposes and were taken regularly. But the social aspect of communal bathing was important, too: Thermal baths were places where people met, communicated or even conducted business negotiations. The ancient Romans even used the baths for religious acts.

The bathing ritual would almost always follow the same pattern: After undressing in the apodyterium (changing room), visitors would first spend some time in the lukewarm bath known as the tepidarium (heated area for relaxation). Next in the program was a hot water bath in the caldarium (hot water bath), followed by the laconicum (steam bath). Before repeating the procedure visitors could refresh themselves briefly in the frigidarium (cooling room with pools of cold water).


At first, men and women bathed separately

For many years, men and women were not allowed to bathe together in ancient Rome. So there were separate baths for men and women. In the late Republican era, morals were relaxed and mixed bathing was also allowed.

Roman bathing customs were increasingly refined over the years and also spread beyond the empire’s borders, even to the frontier area beyond the river Danube. Many public bath houses remained in use until the 15th and 16th centuries, when they were abandoned out of fear of infection (with syphilis, for example). Later on, in Germany it was Sebastian Kneipp in particular (link to The Kneipp World > Kneipp and his Philosophy > Sebastian Kneipp’s Life), who re-established bathing as a regular custom.

The baths were magnificent

The public thermal baths were built by specialist architects and builders from all across the empire. Their brief was to be as magnificent and luxurious as possible. High-quality mosaic and marble floors, lots of bathing pools, rooms for sweat baths and steam baths made them quite exceptional prestige buildings.

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