Roman baths were part of the day-to-day life in Ancient Rome. Bath in Somerset, contains one of the best examples of a Roman bath complex in Europe. There are two good examples at Pompeii.
Roman houses had water supplied via lead pipes. However, these pipes were taxed according to their size, so many houses had just a basic supply and could not hope to rival a bath complex. Therefore for personal hygiene, people went to the local baths. However, the local bath complex was also a gathering point and served a very useful community and social function. Here people could relax, keep clean and keep up with the latest news.
The building of a bath complex required excellent engineering skills. Baths required a way of heating up water. This was done by using a furnace and the hypocaust system carried the heat around the complex.
Water had to be constantly supplied. In Rome this was done using 640 kilometres of aqueducts – a superb engineering feat. The baths themselves could be huge. A complex built by the emperor Diocletian was the size of a football pitch. Those who built them wanted to make a statement – so that many baths contained mosaics and massive marble columns. The larger baths contained statues to the gods and professionals were on hand to help take the strain out of having a bath. Masseurs would massage visitors and then rub scented olive oil into their skin.
It was very cheap to use a Roman bath. A visitor, after paying his entrance fee, would strip naked and hand his clothes to an attendant. He could then do some exercising to work up a sweat before moving into the tepidarium which would prepare him for the caldarium which was more or less like a modern sauna. The idea, as with a sauna, was for the sweat to get rid of the body’s dirt. After this a slave would rub olive oil into the visitor’s skin and then scrap it off with a strigil. The more luxurious establishments would have professional masseurs to do this. After this, the visitor would return to the tepidarium and then to frigidarium to cool down. Finally, he could use the main pool for a swim or to generally socialise. Bathing was very important to the Ancient Romans as it served many functions.
However, not everyone was overjoyed by them: