of Ancient Roman Baths

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It is early afternoon in 80 A.D. Clients have visited patrons, the curia has adjourned and every man in Rome has but one thought...to the baths! Why were the baths so much a part of daily life? Why did the wealthy frequent public or privately owned baths when they had their own in their homes? Why, when we travel throughout Europe and the middle east do we find ruins of spectacular structures? Why this need for cleansing daily? Seneca had written that in the early days of Rome, Romans did not wash ALL OVER except once a week. He chastised the patricians in his stoic manner that their ancesters had been content to bath once a nundinae thus they too should abstain from such luxurious behavior. Now we Americans are fanatical about our daily bathing and take for granted a plentiful supply of water. But even today, this is not the case when water is an expensive commodity. Historically bathing was considered unhealthy up to the late 19th century when twice a year was considered just fine. So why is it that Romans littered the landscape with baths?

We know that baths have existed in Roman life since the 2nd century BC and were initially for men only. I suppose that they were even then considered places for important matters and business to be discussed and thus there was no need to consider an area for women. The first baths which are referred to with the neuter word balneum, were privately owned. Thus we can assume that the poorer folk were not cleansed along with the women. They, too, had no business or important matters to discuss thought the 'important' men of the day.


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