Roman Structures > Roman Baths

Roman Baths

Background

The public and private Roman Bath structures known as the thermae were some of the most important structures throughout the Roman Empire. Wherever archaeologists uncover a bath complex, they know they have found evidence of Roman habitation in ancient classical antiquity.

These magnificent structures represented not only a technological feat at the time but were also centers of social activity and daily ritual. Some of the best preserved bath house structures are in Pompeii such as the Forum Baths or the Stabian Baths and attest to the great engineering capabilities of the Romans.

The bath houses themselves were often broken up into several different unique rooms based on the type of bath one wanted to partake in. These included the basic apodyterium or the changing room along with the frigidarium or the cold bath room as well as the tepidarium or the tepid bath room and the calidarium or the hot bath room.

Technology

One of the main architectural and technological achievements that allowed the Roman bath houses to be so successful was the vaulted arch along with the advancements made in the development of Roman concrete. These two components would serve as the key components to maintaining the structural integrity of the bath house. However, concrete and arches were not enough to create a successful bath house that included steam rooms, warm and cold water and many more luxuries.

In addition to supplying the bath houses with continual fresh water through aqueducts and other hydraulic technologies the actual mechanics of heating the bath houses through the development of the hypocaust was an engineering feat in and of itself.

Hypocaust

See Hypocaust

The Roman bath houses were so successful because they were able to manipulate thermodynamics and air through a series of 3 foot columns known as pili underneath the bath house that allowed the redirection of hot air through cavities in the wall. Large floor tiles were placed on top of the columns then covered in a layer of concrete and finally a layer of marble for aesthetics.

This subterranean structure known as the hypocaust was developed according to legend by the Roman engineer Caius Sergius Orata who was famous for his love of oysters. However, archaeologists found proof these structures existed long before Orata so many doubt this tale. Regardless of who invented the hypocaust, eventually it came to be an essential component of the prototypical Roman bath house that appears throughout the Roman Empire.

Roman Aqueducts

See Roman Aqueducts

One of the major Roman structures necessary in addition to the engineering and construction of the bath house itself was the ample supply of fresh water. This was often accomplished through the use of aqueducts and other hydraulic technology which the Romans expounded on more than other previous civilizations. By bringing together various different types of technologies the Romans were able to develop structures that had previously never been capable of being constructed before and following the collapse of the Romans would never be built in the same fashion again during classical antiquity. An example of this is the Aqua Claudia aqueduct built underground which helps supply water to the bath houses and the rest of the capital of Rome through the use of gravity.

Social Significance

The Roman baths represented more than just a place to clean ones body. They were a social and community center and daily ritual in Roman society. In essence the daily ritual of the bath houses was what it meant to be Roman. The bath houses were often massive sprawling complexes that featured pools, gymnasiums, gardens and other furnished spaces including bathrooms with plumbing.

While there were many examples of splendid private bath complexes for the high classed patricians there are also many public baths that were open to the plebeians of Rome which were still likely splendid by modern standards. It also does not seem there was a uniform standard for men and women interactions in bath houses either.

For example there were cases of men and women bathing together, and also having separate sections of bath houses such as in the Thermal Baths. Overall the Roman bath house structure represented one of the great technological and engineering feats of the Roman Empire as well as served a major social function in the daily lives of the citizens.

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