Roman Baths

Roman bath_lady_PaintingThe origin of the baths actually dates back to ancient Greece. The name “balnea” itself that was used to identify the first Roman baths comes from the Greek “balanéion”, meaning 'place to take a bath'. It was from the Greeks that rich Romans learned to build a bathroom inside their homes. In Roman times, Roman baths were public buildings that now we would call sanitation facilities. These baths were one of the main meeting places in Rome starting from the 2nd century AC: they were practically free and anyone could go there. This was then a place to relax, to socialize. By the I century AC there were so many baths that Agrippa ordered a census and counted 170 of them.

Between 25 and 19 ac Agrippa donated to the city a new “spa facility” built in Campo Marzio and from then on the old 'balnea' changed their name to 'thermae'. This facility was an important place of culture and art: people liked to meet there to talk about art and read. The very first thermae were built where it was possible to take advantage of the natural springs of warm waters, but as new techniques to warm water where developed, the thermae became popular inside the cities as well. There were two classes of thermae: one intended for poorer people, and one more sumptuous for the patricians. All the thermae had a similar layout inside. They were all divided into three rooms: the “frigidario”, with cold waters; “the tepidario” with warm waters; and the “calidario” with hot waters. Other rooms included the sauna, the gym, and in some cases even a theater and a library.

Just like the Egyptians, the Romans liked to add to the water smells and spiced wines. To wash themselves they would use pumice and beech ash, or a paste made from powdered horsetail, clay, and olive oil. After washing, the people who used the baths would move through the rooms used for massages, that were made using scented oils and special ointments (like myrrh and almond oil).

The most famous Roman baths, or thermae, include the Terme di Agrippa, the Terme di Caracalla, and the Terme di Diocleziano.