Roman baths – water and cleanliness in ancient Rome

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The big cold swimming pool at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

The big cold swimming pool at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

Roman people usually didn’t have hot baths in their houses, because it was too hard to heat up the water. And people who lived in cities had to live in small apartments, often a whole family in one room, and so they didn’t have room for baths or any yard to exercise in. So instead they used to go to public baths.

Public baths were something like our community centers today, or like a health club. They had swimming pools fed by aqueducts, and hot tubs, and exercise equipment, and often gardens and libraries and theaters as well. Some Roman bath complexes had temples, like the Mithraeum in the Baths of Caracalla. As with our community centers, you had to pay a small fee to get in, but Roman baths (like our community centers) sometimes also had free days.

But unlike most community centers today, Roman baths were made to be really impressive, beautiful buildings. They had high, vaulted ceilings, and the walls were decorated with marble and frescoes. The floors had complicated mosaics.

Pretty much any town in the Roman Empire had at least one bath building, and many had more than one. Army camps had baths, too. But of course the biggest, fanciest baths were in the city of Rome.

One example of a public bath building that is still pretty well preserved is the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (built in the early 200s AD).

Learn by doing: go to a public swimming pool
More about the Baths of Caracalla

Bibliography and further reading about Roman baths:

 

The Romans: Bacillus and the Beastly Bath, by Ann Jungman (2002). For kids (basically British kids).

Bathing in Public in the Roman World, by Garrett Fagan (1999).

Baths and Bathing in Classical Antiquity, by Fikret Yegl (reprinted 1996).

Roman Baths and Bathing, edited by Janet Delaine and David Johnston (2000). A supplement to the well-regarded Journal of Roman Archaeology. By specialists, for specialists.

The Architecture of the Roman Empire: An Introductory Study, by William MacDonald (1982). Actually not so introductory, but it’s got great illustrations that really make the building techniques clear. Explains how bath buildings were built.

Baths of Caracalla
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By | 2017-08-25T17:05:04+00:00 August 25th, 2017|Architecture, Romans|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Roman baths – water and cleanliness in ancient Rome. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 25, 2017. Web. December 17, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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