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and that the outside walls of the baths of Caracalla extend about a quarter of a mile on each of the four sides. A visit to the remains of the baths of Titus, of Diocletian, or of Caracalla impresses the mind strongly with a sense of the vast scale on which they were erected, and Ammianus’s designation of them as provinces appears scarcely exaggerated. It is said that the baths of Caracalla contained 1600, and those of Diocletian 3200 marble seats for the use of the bathers. In the largest of the thermae there was a stadium for the games of the young men, with raised seats for the spectators. There were open colonnades and seats for philosophers and literary men to sit and discourse or read their productions aloud or for others to discuss the latest news. Near the porticoes, in the interior open space, rows of trees were planted. There was a sphaeristerium or place for playing ball, which was often over the apodyterium; but it must be confessed that the purposes of many portions of these large edifices have not been made out in as satisfactory a way as those of smaller baths. A more definite idea of the thermae can be best got by an examination of the accompanying plan of the baths of Caracalla (fig. 5). A good deal of the plan is conjectural, the restorations being marked by lighter shading.

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Fig. 4.—Section of baths of Pompeii.

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Fig. 5.—Ground plan of the baths of Caracalla.

At the bottom of the plan is shown a long colonnade, which faces the street, behind which was a series of chambers, supposed to have been separate bathing-rooms. Entering by the opening in its centre, the visitor passes what was probably an inner colonnade round the main building. Passing in by either of the gates (2, 2), he reaches the large chamber (3), which has been variously called the natatio or large swimming-bath, or the tepidarium. The great central room (4) in all probability was the calidarium, with two labra (6, 6) on opposite sides, and with four alvei, one in each corner, represented by small circular dots. (9) has been regarded by some as the laconicuim, although it appears very large for that purpose. The rooms (15, 15) have been variously described as baptisteria and as laconica. Most authors are agreed in thinking that the large rooms (13) and (16) were the sphaeristeria or places for playing ball.

Returning to the outside, (1) and (18) and the corresponding places on the other side are supposed to have been the exedrae for philosophers, and places corresponding to the Greek xysti. (20) and (19) have been considered to be servants’ rooms. (22) was the stadium, with raised seats for the spectators. The space between this and the large central hall (9) was planted with trees, and at (21) the aqueduct brought water into the castellum or reservoir, which was on an upper storey. There were upper storeys in most portions of the building, and in these probably were the libraries and small theatres.

The piscinae were often of immense size—that of Diocletian being 200 ft. long—and were adorned with beautiful marbles. The halls were crowded with magnificent columns and were ornamented with the finest pieces of statuary. The walls, it has been said, were covered with exquisite mosaics that imitated the art of the painter in their elegance of design and variety of colour. The Egyptian syenite was encrusted with the precious green marbles of Numidia. The rooms contained the works of Phidias and Praxiteles. A perpetual stream of water was poured into capacious basins through the wide mouths of lions of bright and polished silver, water issued from silver, and was received on silver. “To such a pitch of luxury have we reached,” says Seneca, “that we are dissatisfied if we do not tread on gems in our baths.”

1911 Britannica - Baths - Alipterium.png
Fig. 6.[1] Ring on which
are suspended some of
the articles in use in the

The richer Romans used every variety of oils and pomades (smegmata); they scarcely had true soaps. The poorer class had to be content with the flour of lentils, an article used at this day for the same purpose by Orientals. The most important bath utensil was the strigillus, a curved instrument made of metal, with which the skin was scraped and all sordes removed.

The bath servants assisted in anointing, in using the strigillus and in various other menial offices. The poorer classes had to use their strigils themselves. The various processes of the aliptae seem to have been carried on very systematically.

The hot baths appear to have been open from 1 P.M. till dark. It was only one of the later emperors that had them lighted up at night. When the hot baths were ready (for, doubtless, the plunge baths were available at an earlier hour), a bell or aes was rung for the information of the people. Among the Greeks and Romans the eighth hour, or 1 o’clock, before their dinner, was the commonest hour for bathing. The bath was supposed to promote appetite, and some voluptuaries had one or more baths after dinner, to enable them to begin eating again; but such excesses, as Juvenal tells us, occasionally proved fatal. Some of the most effeminate of the emperors are said to have bathed seven or eight times in the course of the day. In early times there was delicacy of feeling about the sexes bathing together—even a father could not bathe with his sons; but latterly, under most of the emperors, men and women often used the same baths. There frequently were separate baths for the women, as we see at Pompeii or at Badenweiler; but although respectable matrons would not go to public baths, promiscuous bathing was common during the Empire.

The public baths and thermae were under the more immediate superintendence of the aediles. The charge made at a public bath was only a quadrans or quarter of an as, about half a farthing. Yet cheap though this was, the emperors used to ingratiate themselves with the populace, by making the baths at times gratuitous.

Wherever the Romans settled, they built public baths; and wherever they found hot springs or natural stufae, they made use of them, thus saving the expense of heating, as at the myrteta of Baiae or the Aquae Sulis of Bath. In the cities there appear to have been private baths for hire, as well as the public baths; and every rich citizen had a set of baths attached to his villa, the fullest account of which is given in the Letters of Pliny, or in Ausonius’s Account of a Villa on the Moselle, or in Statius’s De Balneo Etrusco. Although the Romans never wholly gave up cold bathing, and that practice was revived under Augustus by Antonius Musa, and again under Nero by Charmis (at which later time bathing in the open sea became common), yet they chiefly practised warm bathing (calida lavatio). This is the most luxurious kind of bathing, and when indulged in to excess is enervating. The women were particularly fond of these baths, and were accused, at all events in some provincial cities, of drunkenness in them.

The unbounded license of the public baths, and their connexion

  1. The figure represents four strigils, in which the hollow for collecting the oil or perspiration from the body may be observed. There is also a small ampulla or vessel containing oil, meant to keep the strigils smooth, and a small flat patera or drinking vessel out of which it was customary to drink after the bathing was finished.