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Roman baths and bathing

Bathing formed an important part of Roman life. Baths were more than just places of hygiene; they were seen as a recreational activity, where people would go to carry out business activities as well as being a place of relaxation.

Most people did not have bathing facilities in their own homes and therefore the public baths were an important part of Roman towns. It was principally villa estates, based in the countryside, that had their own private facilities. The archaeological remains of bath foundations have revealed the mechanics of their heating system. A number of fires would send hot air underneath the floor space. This area was raised on small brick pillars (hypocaust) which, together with hollow wall tiles, circulated the heat into the rooms above.

Men and women generally bathed separately, and a typical visit to the bath might involve the following routine. The visitor would first enter the palaestra (exercise courtyard) where sport or exercise would take place. Having changed their clothes in the apodyterium (changing room) they would make their way through a series of progressively hotter rooms. This began with a plunge in the frigidarium (cold bath), followed by the tepidarium (warm or tepid room), and then the caldarium (hot room). The bather used olive oil instead of soap to cleanse the skin and then scraped themselves down with a hook shaped instrument, known as a strigil. Another cold plunge and a massage might complete the day's bathing.