Saturday 13 March
10 AM GMT
11 AM CET
9 PM AEDT
With Dr. Eireann Marshall
It is clear from the available evidence that going to the baths was central to the everyday lives of people living in the Roman world. Among the archaeological remains of every city in the Roman period cities, baths feature prominently, just as bathing is central to the description of daily life in the works of Roman satirists, such as Martial and Juvenal. From these accounts we know that both men and women went to public baths regularly, as did children and slaves.
People went to the baths in order to angle for dinner invitations and to find out the latest news, as much as they did in order to exercise and cleanse. From Seneca we know that baths were noisy affairs in which people got depilated and massaged, alongside eating and playing ball. As central as they were to every day life, baths were also sometimes seen in a negative light, as places where people schemed and where your clothes were pinched. Cicero describes Clodia’s posse of friends plotting in the baths, just as one of the curse tablets found in Bath was aimed at a thief who purloined clothes in a bathing establishment. Emperors spent a lot of their money building enormous thermae, as well as the aqueducts which would furnish them water, starting in the Augustan period when Marcus Agrippa had the Baths Agrippa, as well as the Aqua Virgo built.
Imperial baths grew in size to culminate in the Baths of Caracalla and Diocletian. At the same time, private individuals ran smaller, and often more sordid balnea such as the Surburban baths in Pompeii or the Baths of Lupus and Gryllus mentioned by Martial. In order to grasp what life was like in the ancient Roman world, you have to understand baths, where so much of their lives were spent.