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Ancient Greek and Roman Bathing

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Joined
Aug 16, 2014
Likes
3,111
Location
Europe, Berchtesgaden Alps
#1
Παρθένος ἀργυρόπεζος ἐλούετο, χρύσεα μαζῶν
χρωτὶ γαλακτοπαγεῖ μῆλα διαινομένη·
πυγαὶ δ’ ἀλλήλαις περιηγέες εἱλίσσοντο,
ὕδατος ὑγροτέρῳ χρωτὶ σαλευόμεναι·
τὸν δ’ ὑπεροιδαίνοντα κατέσκεπε πεπταμένη χεὶρ
οὐχ ὅλον Εὐρώταν, ἀλλ’ ὅσον ἠδύνατο.
(Rufinus, Anth. Gr. 5.60)

A silver-footed maiden was bathing, letting the water fall on the golden apples of her breasts, with flesh like curdled milk. Her rounded buttocks, their flesh more fluid than water, gyrated back and forth. Her outspread hand covered the swelling Eurotas – not all of it, but as much as it could. (tr. William Roger Paton, revised by Michael A. Tueller)

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A warm bath and a good massage! Is there anything better than that at the end of a hectic day? People often dream about wellness treatments when they need a remedy for their intense lives.
Although the ancient people were far less stressed out than we are, they seemed to indulge in different wellness procedures on al daily basis. On the top of that, they got the heavenly treatments at a much more affordable price than we do today!

The Greeks
The oldest archeological findings in Europe related to bathing habits date from the Bronze Age (2,400 – 800 BC). In the palaces of Knossos and Phaistos in Crete, the population of the Aegean Minoan civilization has left traces of special chambers devoted to bathing. Alabaster bathtubs excavated in Akrotiri (in Santorini Island), as well as wash basins and feet baths, showed how people from the Minoan civilization maintained their personal hygiene.

The Greeks on the mainland appreciated the healing properties of the water too. Homer and Hesiod often refered to the use of bath by their characters as a sign of hospitality. (The unfortunate Agamemnon was killed in his welcoming bath after his return from Troy. Odysseus took one last bath before his departure from the Island of Calypso).
The ancient Greeks early figured they could profit from the water. The first bathing types of equipment were constructed near natural hot springs. Later, around the 6th century BC, they started to build bathhouses in their cities. Bathing facilities were usually placed next to the palaestra and the gymnasium where people exercised different sports and games. They were positioned in an open space and represented elevated basins operating with cold water. Many vase paintings show that apart of various pools, the Greeks used other appliances, like a kind of showers and feet baths.
Bathing with warm and cold water were equally applied by Greeks. According to the Homeric Epos, Greek used cold water first and then hot; in contrast with the Romans who usually did the other way around - first hot and later cold water.
Ancient sources indicated that bathing was practiced from both sexes. After the water procedures, the Greeks (especially more elevated) anointed themselves with oil to soften their skins.
Plutarch mentioned public and private baths as existing in ancient Greece. A small amount was payable for the use of the public baths. One inscription of Andania fixes the fee to 2 chalkoi that equals to ¼ obol.

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Greek athletes in the public baths. The inscription ΔΗΜΟΣΙΑ (PUBLIC) is very obvious in the middle of the bathing vessel. Image from a lost vase, Tischbein, 1791, vol. 1, pl. 58

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Three bathing women and two servants holding oils and perfume. Image from a lost krater, Tischbein, 1791, vol. 4, pl. 30

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Women taking a shower, Vase image form Bilder antiken lebens, Hrsg. von Theodor Panofka, 18, 9

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Public bath sign, Sabratha Roman Museum, Libya
SALVOM LAVISSE in the mosaic says: "It is a healthful thing to have bathed."​

The Romans, well-known for their bathing habits being not just a mere bathing, have early understood that they could profit from massages in their public and private bathhouses. The ancient Greeks have already applied such procedures to the Greek athletes, but during the time of the Roman Empire, they were massively introduced to the Roman baths.
In the book I, letter 56, Seneca the Younger (1st century AD) gives us a vivid picture what was like to live close to bath facilities in ancient Rome. Among the sounds coming from the establishment, the annoying noises of a person giving a massage are described. All the cracks and slaps of various hand techniques were probably too much for the writer who was trying to study at that point, but their description leaves us a great testimonial of the massage procedures at the Roman baths. In fact, massage was provided not only at the bathhouses. The Greek physician Galen, who lived and practiced medicine in the first century AD in the Roman Empire, used massage therapy to treat different types of physical injuries and diseases.


Aromatherapy
Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite

ἐς Κύπρον δ᾿ ἐλθοῦσα θυώδεα νηὸν ἔδυνεν,
ἐς Πάφον· ἔνθα δέ οἱ τέμενος βωμός τε θυώδης·
ἔνθ᾿ ἥ γ᾿ εἰσελθοῦσα θύρας ἐπέθηκε φαεινάς,
ἔνθα δέ μιν Χάριτες λοῦσαν καὶ χρῖσαν ἐλαίωι
ἀμβρότωι, οἷα θεοὺς ἐπενήνοθεν αἰὲν ἐόντας,
ἀμβροσίωι ἑ<δ>ανῶι, τό ῥά οἱ τεθυωμένον ἦεν.
ἑσσαμένη δ᾿ εὖ πάντα περὶ χροῒ εἵματα καλά,
χρυσῶι κοσμηθεῖσα φιλομμειδὴς Ἀφροδίτη
σεύατ᾿ ἐπὶ Τροίης, προλιποῦσ᾿ εὐώδεα Κύπρον,
ὕψι μετὰ νέφεσιν ῥίμφα πρήσσουσα κέλευθον.

Going to Cyprus, to Paphos, she disappeared into her fragrant temple; it is there that she has her precinct and scented altar. There she went in, and closed the gleaming doors, and there the Graces bathed her and rubbed her with olive oil, divine oil, as blooms upon the eternal gods, ambrosial bridal oil that she had ready perfumed. Her body well clad in all her fine garments, adorned with gold, smile-loving Aphrodite left fragrant Cyprus and sped towards Troy, rapidly making her way high among the clouds.

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Zephyros

Magistrate
Joined
Aug 16, 2014
Likes
3,111
Location
Europe, Berchtesgaden Alps
#2
Roy Brown Ward’s “Women in Roman Baths” explores the relationship and acceptance of women in this setting in ancient Rome. Studies relating to the cultural patterns of the ancient world show an interesting segment of historical subjects’ lives.

From studying documents and archeological evidence of Roman bath culture, Ward ponders a question that this article addresses about women’s presence in the bathhouses. He shows that at one time most women, even Christians, bathed in the public baths nude and sometimes in the company of men. However, women’s status in the bathhouses emerged over time.

Regarding the question of whether men and women bathed together in the Ancient Roman Empire, the answer is it depends. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. It depended on the local customs, the inclination of the individual, and how and for whom the particular establishment was being run.

But there is one custom that men and women in Rome and it's sister cities did share communally - at the baths and elsewhere. That was the use of the latrina. This mixed gender - ah - activity - seems a bit odd by our standards - except perhaps for the California hot tub crowd. But that it occured seems to have been indisputably the case, and there have never been "Ladies" or "Gents" signs found at the various excavations of Roman public facilities.

During the first century, women definitely bathed alongside men as the literary record indicates. Some evidence, during the time of Augustus even indicates that women were romantically associated with men when they attended the bathing houses. Women who went to the baths were from all socio-economic backgrounds from prostitutes to wealthy married women. Women could even enjoy a message and exercise when they went to the bathhouse. It is clear from literary sources that into the second century, segregation among the sexes in the bathhouses took a turn because women attended and bathed in the same facilities with men.

Some evidence seems to indicate that Hadrian saw unsegregated bathing between the sexes as something a “bad emperor” would allow; therefore, he wanted to segregate the baths again. However, segregated bathing facilities for the sexes did not happen during his reign. There is no evidence to show that segregated bathhouses were built; however, men and women started using the baths at different times.

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Roman baths in Bath (Somerset, South West England)

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References

Ward, Roy Bowen. “Women in Roman Baths.” The Harvard Theological Review (April 1992): 125-147.

Bathing in Public in the Roman World, Garrett Fagan, University of Michigan Press (1999). The most modern study of Roman bathing. Professor Fagan points out that the contradictions in the epigrammatical, archeological, and literary evidence is best explained by realizing that there were no uniform rules for any given time or place. Still, descriptions by the poet Martial (Gaius Valerius Martialis) leave no doubt that the baths were places where the ladies and gentlemen could meet on terms of (wink, wink) equality. Of course Martial was living in racy, steamy Rome, but it's unlikely the provincial brethren and sisters were all that different from their cosmopolitan counterparts.
 
Joined
Jul 19, 2016
Likes
1,343
Location
United States
#7
Roy Brown Ward’s “Women in Roman Baths” explores the relationship and acceptance of women in this setting in ancient Rome. Studies relating to the cultural patterns of the ancient world show an interesting segment of historical subjects’ lives.

From studying documents and archeological evidence of Roman bath culture, Ward ponders a question that this article addresses about women’s presence in the bathhouses. He shows that at one time most women, even Christians, bathed in the public baths nude and sometimes in the company of men. However, women’s status in the bathhouses emerged over time.

Regarding the question of whether men and women bathed together in the Ancient Roman Empire, the answer is it depends. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. It depended on the local customs, the inclination of the individual, and how and for whom the particular establishment was being run.

But there is one custom that men and women in Rome and it's sister cities did share communally - at the baths and elsewhere. That was the use of the latrina. This mixed gender - ah - activity - seems a bit odd by our standards - except perhaps for the California hot tub crowd. But that it occured seems to have been indisputably the case, and there have never been "Ladies" or "Gents" signs found at the various excavations of Roman public facilities.

During the first century, women definitely bathed alongside men as the literary record indicates. Some evidence, during the time of Augustus even indicates that women were romantically associated with men when they attended the bathing houses. Women who went to the baths were from all socio-economic backgrounds from prostitutes to wealthy married women. Women could even enjoy a message and exercise when they went to the bathhouse. It is clear from literary sources that into the second century, segregation among the sexes in the bathhouses took a turn because women attended and bathed in the same facilities with men.

Some evidence seems to indicate that Hadrian saw unsegregated bathing between the sexes as something a “bad emperor” would allow; therefore, he wanted to segregate the baths again. However, segregated bathing facilities for the sexes did not happen during his reign. There is no evidence to show that segregated bathhouses were built; however, men and women started using the baths at different times.

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Roman baths in Bath (Somerset, South West England)

View attachment 562362
References

Ward, Roy Bowen. “Women in Roman Baths.” The Harvard Theological Review (April 1992): 125-147.

Bathing in Public in the Roman World, Garrett Fagan, University of Michigan Press (1999). The most modern study of Roman bathing. Professor Fagan points out that the contradictions in the epigrammatical, archeological, and literary evidence is best explained by realizing that there were no uniform rules for any given time or place. Still, descriptions by the poet Martial (Gaius Valerius Martialis) leave no doubt that the baths were places where the ladies and gentlemen could meet on terms of (wink, wink) equality. Of course Martial was living in racy, steamy Rome, but it's unlikely the provincial brethren and sisters were all that different from their cosmopolitan counterparts.
Probably one of the few places you could find a partner who didn't stink. Especially in the summer.