Many women as well as men exercised at the baths.

Before stepping into a series of baths, you and other visitors—young and old, male and female—exercised in open courtyards.

The exercise was usually neither extremely vigorous nor competitive. It was done, instead, to maintain health, as was recommended by the Roman medical profession. Doctors believed that bathing, exercise, massage, and a good diet—all things that a bath provided—were the basic ingredients of good health.

Exercise also worked up a light sweat recommended before a bath. If you were a man, your workout might consist of running, wrestling, boxing, or fencing. Ball games such as handball were also played.

Women also partook in this prelude to bathing. Trochus, a game that consisted of rolling a metal hoop with a hooked stick, was considered a more appropriate woman's exercise, as was swimming. One Roman, Juvenal, mocked brazen society women who worked out with weights and dumbbells for infringing on a sport that he obviously considered solely part of the male domain.

Photo: courtesy of VRoma Project