How did the Romans keep clean?
Washing and keeping clean was an important part of the daily routine for the Romans. Roman public bath houses were common in Roman towns all across the Roman Empire and many rich Romans also had baths in their own villas.
For Romans, bathing was not a private activity, and it wasn’t just about keeping clean. Public Roman bath houses (thermae) were more like today’s health spas, and they allowed the Romans to socialise, exercise and bathe.
Most Roman men and women would visit the bath houses daily. Women usually went early in the day (when the men were at work) and the men usually went after work.
The Romans tended to follow a set routine when they went to a bath house.
- First they would get changed and oil their bodies. Male bathers would then go and do some exercise (such as weight-lifting, running, wrestling, ball games or swimming).
- After exercise, the dirt and oil would be scraped off their bodies using a tool called strigil, and the bathing would begin. The Romans often started in the tepidarium (a warm room), then moved onto the caldarium (a very hot pool), before finishing in the frigidarium (the cold room).
- After bathing, the Romans often went for a walk in the bath house gardens, enjoyed some food from the snack bar, or read a book in the on-site library.
Bath houses were designed to be pleasant places to spend time. They had mosaics, paintings, high ceilings and they allowed in a lot of natural light.
How were the baths heated?
The hypocaust was a heating system designed by the Romans. The floors of the bath house rooms were built on pillars, leaving a space below the floor and inside the walls. This space was filled with hot air from a furnace (called a praefurnium) and heated the room. The temperature could be increased by adding more fuel to the fire. In the hottest rooms of a Roman bath house, bathers had to wear special sandals to protect their feet from the hot floor-tiles.
Roman bath houses also contained public toilets. Marble seats were built over a continuously flowing water supply which would act as a flush.
This video clip provides some excellent information about the size of a bath house complex and clever engineering the Romans had to use to make them work.