The Importance of the Baths to Roman Society,

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The Importance of the Baths to Roman Society,
The Uses and who used them

How important were the baths in the Roman world? A modern scholar Fikret Yegül sums up the significance of Roman baths in the following way "The universal acceptance of bathing as a central event in daily life belongs to the Roman world and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that at the height of the empire, the baths embodied the ideal Roman way of urban life. Apart from their normal hygienic functions, they provided facilities for sports and recreation. Their public nature created the proper environment—much like a city club or community center—for social intercourse varying from neighborhood gossip to business discussions. There was even a cultural and intellectual side to the baths since the truly grand establishments, the thermae, incorporated libraries, lecture halls, colonnades, and promenades and assumed a character like the Greek gymnasium." (Baths and Bathing in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge: MIT, 1992) Just by the amount of baths there was in the Roman empire it is safe to say very important but what were the uses and who could use them? Roman baths had many uses in the Roman world. Obviously they were used for bathing but they had many other uses, for example the social use of the baths was very important to the Romans. The baths were very important to Roman society, this we can tell purely on the amount of baths there was in the Roman Empire and the grand scale of the baths that the emperors built for example the Diocletian baths, built by the emperor Diocletian and completed in A.D. 305 covered an area of 130,000 sq. yards. But where the baths important in other ways to the Romans and not just for bathing, for example were the baths used for Romanization? Bathing was a social phenomenon in ancient Rome. W. R. Inge in Society in Rome Under the Caesars (London 1888) argued that bathing has to be classed as an amusement because the average citizen spent so much of his day at the baths. Unlike today where bathing is very private bathing had a big social role in Rome. There were a lot of baths in Rome by the 4th century A.D. Rome had 11 thermae (public baths) and 856 private baths. It was the major reason for a big water supply to the city, so that the baths could be fed. Baths only became open to the public (as far as we know) in the 3rd century B.C. but the writer Plautus suggests that the Roman audience would not find them unfamiliar suggesting they may have been around for longer. The early baths were run for profit, the charge was very small though a quadraus, a quarter of an as. It was higher for women possibly because of hygiene reasons, long hair and menstruation. It wasn't until 33 B.C. that the first thermae was built by Aggripa, which was opened for free. The baths were made up of different areas, you had the bathing areas, baths had hot and cold pools, towels, steam rooms, saunas and exercise rooms. They had reading rooms and libraries, as most of the citizens, who went frequently to the baths, could read. Generally, Romans would first go to the unctuarium where they had oil rubbed onto their skin and would then exercise in the gymnasium O. F. Robinson suggests in Ancient Rome City Planning and Administration (Routledge 1992) that the emperor Nero was the first builder of the baths to link bathing with athletics. From here they would move to the tepidarium or warm room where they would stay and maybe talk to friends and even do business. Then they moved on to the Caldarium, similar to a Turkish bath, it was hot and steamy like a modern day sauna. Here they sat and perspired, having a slave scraping their skin with a strigil, a curved metal tool, or they themselves would do it if they couldn't afford a slave. Then they went into the caldarium (hot room) and after they went for a swim in the frigidarium (cold bath). After swimming, the bather might enjoy a massage where he might have oils and perfumes...
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