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GREEK AND ROMAN BATHS


Greek Baths.--In Greece from very early times inability to read and to swim were considered the marks of the ignorant. In Homer's time over-indulgence in warm baths was considered effeminate.[41] The system of bathing was never so complete in Greece as in Rome, but in the former country there were both public and private baths, and ancient Greek vases display pictures of swimming-baths and shower-baths, and also of large basins for men and for women round which they stood to bathe. The Greek baths were near the gymnasia. After the bath, the bathers were anointed with oil and took refreshments. Sometimes a material consisting of a lye made of lime or wood-ashes, of nitrum and of fuller's earth was applied to the body. Towels and strigils were employed for rubbing and scraping after the anointing; the strigil was, as a rule, made of iron.

Natural warm springs used for curative purposes are mentioned by ancient Greek writers.

Roman Baths.--Bathing, which was not much in vogue in Rome in the most ancient times, was more common during the Republic, and became a factor in the decay of the nation in the time of the Empire. Seneca informs us that the ancient Romans washed their arms and legs every day and their whole bodies once a week. The bath-room was near the kitchen in the Roman house, to be convenient for the supply of hot water. Scipio's bath was "small and dark after the manner of the ancients." In the time of Cicero, the use of baths, both public and private, was general, and hot-water and hot-air baths are both mentioned. It has been computed that there were 856 baths in Rome in the time of Constantine.

The public baths were at first used only by the poor, but the mother of Augustus went to the public bath, and in time even the emperors patronized them. The baths were opened at sunrise and closed at sunset except in the time of Alexander Severus, when they were open also at night. The charges for admission were very low. The ringing of a bell announced that the bath was ready. Baths were taken seven or eight times in succession when the people were given to luxury, and some of them wasted almost the whole day there. The voluptuaries of the Empire bathed not only before the principal meal of the day, but also afterwards to promote digestion as they thought. The perspiration induced by the bath took the place of honest sweat induced by work or exercise, and excessive hot-bathing and perspiring in some cases had a fatal ending.

Galen and Celsus differ in their directions to bathers. Galen recommended first the hot-air bath, next the hot-water bath, then the cold bath and finally rubbing; Celsus recommended sweating first in the tepid chamber, then in the hot chamber, and next the pouring of hot, then tepid, and lastly, cold water over the head, followed by the use of the strigil, and anointing and rubbing.

The plan of the baths at Pompeii, which was largely a pleasure resort, is typical of the public baths that were in general use. These baths had several entrances, and the principal one led to a covered portico from which a lavatory opened. The portico ran round three sides of a courtyard (atrium) in which the attendants waited, and it was also the exercise-yard for the young men. Advertisements of the theatres and gladiatorial shows were exhibited on the walls of the atrium. The undressing room was also the reception room and meeting-place. The bathers' garments were handed over for custody to slaves, who were, as a general rule, a very dishonest class. The frigidarium contained a cold bath 13 ft. 8 in. in diameter, and a little less than 4 ft. deep. It had two marble steps, and a seat under water 10 in. from the bottom. Water ran into the bath through a bronze spout, and there was a conduit for the outflow, and an overflow pipe. The frigidarium opened into the tepidarium which was heated with hot air from furnaces, and furnished with a charcoal brazier and benches. The brazier at Pompeii was 7 ft. long and 2-1/2 ft. broad. The tepidarium was commonly a beautifully ornamented apartment, while the anointing-room was conveniently situated off it. Pliny has described the various unguents used by wealthy and luxurious Romans. From the tepidarium the bather might enter the caldarium or sweating room, an apartment constructed with double walls and floor, between which hot air was made to pass. This room contained a labrum, or circular marble basin, containing cold water for pouring over the head before the bather left the caldarium. The method of heating rooms by passing hot air between the "hanging" and the lower floor was in use in the better class of houses, and the device can at present be seen in some of the buildings on the Palatine Hill in Rome, and in the ruins of the great Baths of Caracalla. After a course of sweating the bather had the sweat removed from his body by the strigil, in much the same way as a horse is scraped with a bent piece of hoop-iron by a groom. The guttus was a small vessel with a narrow neck adapted for dropping oil on the strigil to lubricate its working edge. Pliny states that invalids used sponges instead of strigils. Rubbing with towels followed the use of the strigil, and the bather finally lounged in the tepidarium for a varying period before entering the outer air.

The boilers in use at Pompeii were three in number. The lowest one, immediately over the furnace, contained the hottest water. The next above and a short distance to the side held tepid water, and the farthest removed contained cold water. This system was economical because as the very hot water was drawn off from the lowest boiler a supply of tepid water flowed down from the boiler next above, and from the highest to the middle boiler.

A smaller suite of bathing apartments adjoining the men's establishment was for the use of women.

The most important baths formed only a part of the great establishments called thermæ. Adjoining the baths of the thermæ were a gymnasium for sports and exercises, a library for the studious, lounging places for the idle, halls for poets and philosophers, in which they declaimed and lectured, museums of art, and sometimes shady groves. These complete establishments were first erected by Marcus Agrippa in the time of Augustus. Succeeding emperors vied with each other in providing magnificent thermæ, and the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla remain in a wonderful state of preservation to this day. The building of these baths began in A.D. 216. The structure, 1,050 ft. long and 1,390 ft. broad, was on a scale of almost incredible magnificence. Priceless statues and rare objects of art have been unearthed from the ruins. In recent years excavations have revealed a complicated system of subterranean corridors and galleries which existed for the purpose of carrying leaden water-pipes to the baths, and providing a passage-way for the host of slaves who acted as bath-attendants. The great buildings were well lit by windows in the walls of the courtyards, and these openings also allowed for ventilation. A great stadium and beautiful gardens adjoined the Baths of Caracalla. In the north-west section of these baths Alessio Valle has very recently discovered the remains of a great public library. When Caracalla pillaged Alexandria he probably carried off many of the books from the famous library there to enrich his baths. The ruins of the library in the Baths of Caracalla reveal circular tiers of galleries for the display of manuscripts and papyri. There were 500 rooms round these baths. The great hall had a ceiling made in one span, and the roof was an early example of reinforced concrete, for it was made of concrete in which bronze bars were laid. The lead for the water-pipes was probably brought from Cornwall.

The Thermæ of Diocletian could accommodate 3,200 bathers. Its tepidarium was 300 ft. long by nearly 100 ft. wide, "vaulted in three bays with simple quadripartite groining, which springs from eight monolithic columns of Egyptian granite about 50 ft. high and 5 ft. in diameter" (Middleton).

From the medical point of view, these great bathing institutions were capable of being used for the treatment of various diseases, and for physical culture. No doubt, they were extensively employed for these purposes and with good results, but their legitimate use became increasingly limited, and abuse of them was a prime factor in promoting national decay. To show to what an extent luxurious bathing was carried in some instances, it is interesting to read that baths were taken sometimes in warm perfumes, in saffron oil, and that the voluptuous Poppæa soothed her skin in baths of milk drawn from a herd of 500 she-asses.


Footnotes:

[41] Od. viii, 249.




Table of Contents


  OUTLINES OF
  GREEK AND ROMAN
  PREFACE.
  EARLY ROMAN MEDICINE.
  EARLY GREEK MEDICINE.
  MACHAON (SON OF ASKLEPIOS),
  HIPPOCRATES.
  "THE LAW.
  "THE OATH.
  PLATO, ARISTOTLE, THE SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA AND EMPIRICISM.
  THE ALEXANDRIAN SCHOOL.
  ROMAN MEDICINE AT THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE BEGINNING OF THE
  IN THE REIGN OF THE
  PHYSICIANS FROM THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS TO THE DEATH OF NERO.
  THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN ERA.
  GALEN.
  I.--WORKS ON ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY.
  II.--WORKS ON DIETETICS AND HYGIENE.
  III.--ON PATHOLOGY.
  IV.--ON DIAGNOSIS.
  V.--ON PHARMACY, MATERIA MEDICA, AND THERAPEUTICS.
  VI.--SURGERY.
  THE LATER ROMAN AND BYZANTINE PERIOD.
  INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON ALTRUISM AND THE HEALING ART.
  ROMAN HOSPITALS.
  GYMNASIA AND BATHS.
  GYMNASTICS.
  GREEK AND BATHS
  SANITATION.
  THE WATER-SUPPLY.
  DRAINAGE.
  DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
  APPENDIX.
  FEES IN ANCIENT TIMES.
  INDEX.


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