The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Roman bath
An integral part of daily life in ancient Rome, the baths gave citizens of all classes the chance to mingle, gossip and relax. They were viewed as fundamental to Roman civilization and an obvious example of Rome’s superiority to the rest of the world.

Every day, Romans would finish work around the middle of the afternoon and make their way to the baths. Men of all social classes mixed freely together. Old, young, rich and poor would share the daily ritual of the baths.

A symbol of Rome

This ritual was so entrenched in daily life that, to many citizens, it was nothing less than a symbol of Rome itself. To Romans, the baths proved that they were cleaner – and therefore better – than inhabitants of other countries.

As the Roman Empire spread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, the baths followed, bringing daily civilization to millions of people.

Inside the Thermae

Most bath complexes were Thermae. These large, friendly places included outdoor areas for exercise and sports. There were also food stands and attendants who offered every sort of service.

Inside the Thermae were the actual baths, a series of heated rooms and pools. Many were carefully situated to make the most of the heat of the sun. They were also built to strict specifications, so that their ‘hypocaust heating’ would work properly.

This system used water, heated in fiery furnaces under the raised floors of the baths. The resulting steam was channeled through special chambers under the floors and in the walls. This mechanism was very efficient – so much so that unless bath floors were very thick, they would be too hot to walk on.

The ritual of the baths

When at the baths, Romans would visit the different rooms in a specific order. They would start at the Apodyterium, or dressing room, where they would undress and leave their clothing, which would be watched over by a servant or slave.

They would then visit the Palaestra, or Gymnasium, where they could exercise and where they would have their body oiled before the baths themselves. Next up was the Frigidarium, or cold room, which contained a cold plunge bath, before they visited the Tepidarium, or warm room, to recover.

The final room was the Caldarium, a steamy hot room which might also have a hot plunge bath, or labrum. After all this, the oil would be scraped off their skin by a servant, using a special tool called a strigil. They would then visit the same rooms in the opposite order, ending up at the Apodyterium where, the afternoon’s activities over, they would get dressed and head home, before visiting again with their fellow Romans the following day.

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The Social Order in Ancient Rome

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The Roman Empire - In The First Century