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Chapter 7
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

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Chapter 9

p189 Chapter VIII


The high estimation in which bathing was held wherever Roman civilization penetrated,a is well known, but the popular notion that every house had its bathrooms, and that in every hypocaust is seen their remains, is not borne out by facts. Undoubtedly the hypocaust originated as a method of heating baths, and in southern lands this continued to be its almost only use; but in colder climates it was a common means of heating one or more of the living rooms. Most country mansions, it is true, had their baths, attached or detached, but this was not so at Silchester. That town had public, and at least one proprietary, baths; and we have it from ancient writers that the Romans preferred public to private bathing. "It is not easy for one living under present conditions to understand how important a place the baths occupied in the life of antiquity, particularly of the Romans under the Empire; they offered, within a single enclosure, opportunities for physical care and culture and leisurely intercourse with others, not unlike those afforded in the cities of modern Europe by the club, the café, and the promenade."1

Some of the public baths of Rome were on a colossal scale. Those of Caracalla, with their palaestrae and courts for gymnastic exercises, and their internal porticoes, exedrae, and groves, covered a site about 1100 ft. square, exclusive of the great water cisterns or 'castella,' and were capable of accommodating 1600 bathers at a time; while the baths of Diocletian were even larger and are said to have had double the accommodation. It need hardly be said that the largest Roman public baths that have been opened in this country are but distant echoes of these palatial edifices; but large or small, public or private, the fundamental principle of all is the same.

p190 Vitruvius, Pliny, Lucian and other ancient writers have left descriptions of the baths of their times, which, although unintelligible here and there, give a general idea of their arrangement and process. It is unnecessary to quoted these writers here, as the gist of their statements is to be found in easily accessible works.

The Oriental baths of the present not only represent the Roman, but are directly derived from them. The process is not quite identical in different eastern countries, but a short account of it will furnish a better insight into that of the ancients than the statements of their contemporary writers, and for this reason a digression will be pardoned. The following particulars of a typical Turkish bath are abbreviated from the late Mr. Urquhart, to whom we are indebted for its introduction in our midst:—

The essential rooms are three in number. The first to be entered is a spacious hall, the 'mustaby,' with domed roof open in the centre to the sky. In the centre is a fountain; hard by a stall for the supply of coffee and pipes; and around the sides, a low platform partitioned off into divans, each with one or more couches. In one of these compartments the bather undresses and dons his bathing costume, which consists of three towels, one wound round his loins, another round his head turban-wise, and the third thrown over his shoulders. Then, with wooden pattens on his feet to protect them from the heat of the inner apartments, he enters the first of these, a small dark room moderately heated. Here, reclining on a mattress, he sips coffee and smokes. As soon as a gentle perspiration is induced, he is conducted into the third and hottest room, the steamy atmosphere of which accelerates the process. About the middle of this room are marble slabs, and around the sides marble basins, each supplied with hot- and cold-water taps. Divested of his head and shoulder towels (the one being spread upon one of these slabs and the other rolled into a pillow), the bather is laid upon a slab, and then commences the shampooing process, which consists of an intricate kneading of his muscles and exercising and stretching of his joints. This accomplished, he is led to one of the basins, where he is submitted to the friction of a camel-hair glove, which removes the dead matter of the skin with the aid of hot water. Immediately after, he is lathered with soap p191applied with a wisp of lufa — the woody fibre of the palm — and finally the whole body is rinsed with a bowl of warm water. Reinvested with clean, dry towels, the bather now returns to his couch in the mustaby, where coffee, fruit, and other refreshments are offered him. As he enters this apartment still perspiring, the cooling process is a protracted one, requiring at least one change of linen and the aid of fanning. When completed, he dresses, and the 'bath' is finished, the whole operation taking from two to four hours.

There is an important difference between this and the practice among us. In the one, the cooling is effected by resting in a cool atmosphere; in the other, it is hastened by a cold douche or plunge. There is also another difference. In Turkey the air of the hottest room is purposely charged with moisture; in England, there is a preference for a drier heat. This has an important bearing of the temperature employed, as the drier the atmosphere, the higher is the requisite heat. Water scalds at 110° and steam at 120°; but the dry air of a kiln many degrees above the boiling-point of water can be borne without discomfort. In both these respects — in the cold douche or plunge and the relatively dry atmosphere of the hottest room — the English practice approximates to the Roman.

In this country, the Turkish baths vary greatly in arrangement and complexity. One for domestic purposes may consist of only two rooms — the first, a 'cooling-room,' and the second, a combined washing- and hot-room. Ventilation is specially important in the cooling-room, as it is essential that the bather should have his whole body laved with an abundance of pure air; and the door between the two apartments must effectually shut off the passage of heated air. This is the Turkish bath reduced to its barest essentials. A decided step in the direction of efficiency and comfort is the intervention of a middle and moderately warmed room, to which can be relegated the shampooing and washing operations, leaving the third as a purely sudatory chamber, raised to a higher temperature than would otherwise be convenient. The method of heating is peculiarly open to elaboration, and with fruitful results. The heat may be radiated from a system of pipes or flues, or be effected by hot air, or by a combination of the two, the furnace being in a separate chamber. The cooling-room serves very well as a dressing-room; but a p192separate apartment may be provided for this. In large public establishments it is usual to have separate shampooing- and washing-rooms, and two or more sudatory rooms at different temperatures; and besides the necessary plunge-bath, which may be in a special room, there may be a swimming-bath. The equipment must, of course, include a laundry department, and various offices for the management and the attendants. But, broadly speaking, the rooms used by the bathers are resolvable into three sets — cool, moderately heated, and very hot.

Vitruvius and other Roman writers, in describing the baths of their times, refer to certain apartments by name. Three of these — the frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium — are frequently mentioned; and as the names indicate their temperatures, they provide a means of bringing the Roman into line with the modern 'Turkish' baths. Galen mentions them respectively as the apartments passed through in rotation. He gives instructions how his patients are to be undressed in the frigidarium, to be anointed in the tepidarium, and, after a stay in the caldarium, to be bathed in the plunge-bath of the first apartment upon their return. Other apartments are mentioned by these writers as the apodyterium or spoliatorium, the dressing-room; the elaeothesium or unctuarium, where the bathers were anointed, or the unguents were kept; the lavatorium or washing-room; the sudatorium or sweating-room; and the laconicum, which perhaps is simply an alternative name for the sudatorium. It is clear, however, that some of these apartments were not always present, even in large establishments; also, that the names were not always used in the same sense. Vitruvius, for instance, has no mention of the apodyterium; and when Pliny, in describing the baths of his Tuscan house, tells how "the apodyterium receives in its cold cell him relaxed and joyous from the bath," and that "in this is a plunging-bath wide and deep," it is evident that this apartment was the frigidarium of other writers. In many of the baths, even large ones, there was no separate room answering to the sudatorium. In some, an alcove or recess curtained off in the caldarium may have served the purpose; but apart from this, there is reason to think that sudatorium was sometimes used as an alternative name for the latter. Again, the ancient writers differ considerably in the order in which the baths were taken. Perhaps the fashion of bathing changed from time to time; or, more likely, p193the order was a matter of personal caprice; and the complex plans of many of the public baths seem to have been designed to meet this contingency. What is certain is this — the Roman baths, like the modern 'Turkish,' always present a series of apartments from cool to hot; but in assigning to these apartments their classical names, the ambiguities of the ancient writers should be kept in mind.

Several points in the procedure of the Roman bath should here be noticed. So far as we know, soap was not used. After perspiration, the body was scraped with the strigil,2 a curved instrument of bronze, iron, bone or silver, to forcibly remove the dirt and dead portions of the cuticle. This was followed by the sponge, and delicate people often dispensed with the strigil altogether and used the sponge alone. The place where this scraping process took place would, of course, be one of the hot rooms. At a later stage, when the body was sufficiently cooled, perfumed oil or ointment was rubbed into the skin. This anointing was accomplished in the elaeothesium, in the tepidarium, or occasionally in the apodyterium. Sometimes the bather was also anointed before entering the hot rooms. Physical exercise was a concomitant of the bath. Even domestic baths sometimes had their tennis-court (sphaeristerium), as had Pliny's. In most of the public baths there was a spacious court (palaestra) with porticoes, exedrae, swimming-bath, etc., and other conveniences for out-door recreation, ball-playing being a favourite pastime. Both Greeks and Romans considered that bodily exercise was a preliminary, conducive to the beneficial effect of bathing; and, indeed, this alone was often depended upon by the robust to produce the requisite perspiration, a turn in the swimming-bath completing the process.

The caldarium, according to Vitruvius, was placed next the furnace, erected over a hypocaust, and provided with a bath (alveus) and usually another receptacle for water, the basin-like labrum. In the plan, Fig. 57, of the baths of a house on the site of the ancient Stabiae, near Pompeii, the room D exactly answers to the description. In the rectangular recess at the end next the furnace is an oblong alveus, and at the opposite end an ample semicircular alcove. The corresponding rooms in the two older public baths of Pompeii — the Stabian and those p194near the Forum — are precisely similar, only larger, and they retain, in addition, the labrum, which is placed in the apse. This, in the latter establishment, is still nearly perfect, and has an internal diameter of about 8 ft., and a depth of about 8 ins., with provision for a central tube, fountain-fashion, to supply cool water for the heads of the bathers before quitting this heated room, and to quench the thirst induced by the excessive perspiration. The alveus is about 15 by 4 ft., and is lined with white marble. A suitable depth is obtained by a broad raised sill reached by two steps, and with an inner submerged step, upon which the bathers sat, half-immersed in the hot water; while the opposite side or back is sloping — the cushion, or pulvinus, of Vitruvius — to support the backs of those who sat on the floor of the bath and were thus more completely immersed. Other caldaria in Italy are of similar form and arrangement to those just described, and they probably represent an early prevailing type.

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Fig. 57. — Domestic Baths at Stabiae, Italy.

Each of these Pompeian caldaria, like most of the larger bathrooms there, had a semicircular ceiling springing from a cornice, and the alcove was surmounted with a half-dome at a lower level, both being ornamented with stucco mouldings and fresco. The hypocaust opened into a continuous hollow or flue in the walls, so that the whole apartment may be likened to an oven, floor and walls radiating heat upon the bathers. The furnace-room was along one side of the caldarium, and in addition to the furnace it contained three cylindrical tanks for water, the third of which was immediately over the fire; the second sufficiently near to receive a less degree of heat; while the first was more distant, and was only slightly warmed, if at all. Vitruvius refers to these brazen vessels as a necessary equipment of public baths, and he designates them as the frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium — names which sufficiently indicate the p195different temperatures. They were undoubtedly connected together by pipes, in such a way that any water drawn from the third would be replenished from that of the second, which being already warmed would not materially lower its temperature, and in its turn would be replenished with the first which received the cold water of the service pipe.

A simpler system was adopted in domestic baths. In a Roman farmhouse at Boscoreale, near Pompeii, every detail was found in singular preservation.3 The furnace was heated the hypocaust and the single tank was in a small room entered from the kitchen. This tank was of lead, cylindrical, and its lower portion was sheathed in masonry. It was fed from a cistern of cold water in the kitchen by a lead pipe. The alveus and the labrum were each supplied by a pipe which, T‑fashion, branched from a cross-pipe connecting tank and cistern, the latter pipe having a stop-cock on either side of the junction. By turning on one cock or the other, hot or cold water could be obtained, and by regulating the flow of both, the water would be of any intermediate temperature as desired, thus the alveus could be used as a cold-water plunge when required. In the few Pompeian houses which had baths, these were usually placed next the kitchen, and there is little doubt that the hot-water apparatus was similar to that of Boscoreale, and supplied the kitchen as well.

The other chief apartments of the Roman baths will not detain us long. The tepidaria of the two older public baths of Pompeii also had arched roofs, but they lacked the apse. That of the Stabian baths had, in its final state, a hypocaust and hollow walls, but its distance from the furnace ensured a mitigated temperature. That of the other baths had neither, being warmed by a brazier, which still remains in situ; it also retains three bronze benches. In the little baths at Stabiae, the tepidarium would be the middle room (C) of the suite.

In each of these Pompeian baths two other rooms completed the series of apartments used by the bather. The one — the first entered — was an oblong vaulted chamber; and the other was smaller and of peculiar form, which, in the one establishment, was reached from the entrance vestibule, and, in the other, directly from the room just referred to. In both establishments, p196the former room was provided with stone benches, and in the Stabian there was in addition a row of recesses or niches below the cornice, evidently to receive the clothing of the bathers; these, in the other baths, appear to have taken the form of wooden lockers, or simply a shelf, the mortice-holes for which may be seen in the walls. The other room was circular, with a conical roof open in the centre to the sky, and had four small alcoves, into which the marble floor extended, the central area being occupied by a circular cold-water bath or baptisterium. The water which supplied this receptacle gushed through a small niche in the upper part of the wall. The walls were decorated to represent a garden, and the dome was blue, studded with stars — "the bather could scarcely feel the narrowness of the room, the decoration of which was so suggestive of expanse and open air" (Mau). The oblong room was the apodyterium, or perhaps it would be more correct to regard it as the combined dressing- and cooling-room. The little circular chamber is known as the frigidarium, but baptisterium would perhaps be a more correct designation.

Each of these Pompeian establishments had a courtyard or palaestra. That of the Stabian baths had a portico on three sides, with an open-air swimming-bath and other tanks and a dressing-room on the fourth side. In the smaller baths this courtyard was smaller, and while it had a portico on three sides, it lacked the swimming-bath; the central space, moreover, appears to have been treated as a garden, so that the portico alone was available for exercise.

These preliminary digressions have been necessary, as the remains of the baths of Roman age in this country are too slight to be interpreted without recourse to information from other sources. This, of course, presupposes that our baths were on the principle and followed the models, of those of Roman writers and of Italy, and were not the outcome of some native system of bathing. The whole trend of evidence, however, goes to show I am they were on precisely the same lines, the only difference being that they were as a rule smaller and less sumptuous than those of the Continent.

Our first example was excavated near the south-east corner of Caerwent in 1855, by Mr. Octavius Morgan, F.R.S.4 It is remarkably compact, occupying a space only 34 by 31 ft., and p198appears to have formed a semi-detached block at the west end of a house, which has not yet been explored, but of which a rich mosaic pavement was laid bare in 1777. The two plans here given are on different levels, in order to show the rooms used by the bathers and the heating arrangements below.


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Fig. 58. — Plans of Baths, Caerwent — the first on the floor-level, and the second showing the hypocausts below. (After O. Morgan.)
(10 ft. to 1 in.)

It contained the following sequence of rooms, each opening into the next by a narrow door: The first, A, was a narrow ante-room, apparently entered from an open court. On its left or south side was a cold-water bath in a recess, B, 10 ft. 6 ins. by 5 ft. 6 ins., with a flagged floor bedded in concrete, 3 ft. below that of the room, and its sides were of fine brick concrete, painted red. Between it and the room was a sill or dwarf wall, 9 ins. high, with a step or seat in the bath, the drain being in the middle of the south side. The second room, C, was larger, and had a shallow alcove between projecting piers at the farther end. The third, D, was the largest of the series, a simple square room. The fourth, E, was narrow like the ante-room, and was provided with a hot-water bath at its west end, smaller and shallower than the cold bath. The contiguous walls, which formed three sides of this alveus, as also the opposite wall of the chamber, were lined with flue-tiles, communicating with the hypocaust below. The bottom was formed of a single flag, which rested upon the hypocaust pillars, and its sides were of red stucco, with a drain at the south end. The fifth and last room, F, was immediately above the furnace.

The floors (of which only small portions remained) of this chamber had been supported upon sandstone pillars, 2 ft. high, except those of the fifth, which were 6 ins. higher. The intervals between the pillars had been spanned with flagstones, upon which rested the concrete of the floors and their plain sandstone mosaic, the total thickness being about 14 ins. The greater height of the pillars under the final room implies a higher floor, or one of thinner construction. All the floors, including those of the two baths, had the usual quarter-round skirtings of stucco, and as these passed round the openings, this, together with the absence of reveals and pivot sockets, renders it probable that they were closed with rugs or thick curtains.

The second plan elucidates the arrangements for heating the apartments. The furnace was in a sunk yard or shed on the south, G, which would be provided with suitable storage space for fuel. The aperture (praefurnium) was between two strong p199cheeks of masonry, 5 ft. high, which with little doubt supported a boiler as at Boscoreale, the space not allowing of more than one tank. The gaseous products of the fire passed into the hypocausts through an arched opening in the external wall of the building, and the wall-flues of the fourth room (E) would induce the necessary draught. But the hot gases were not allowed to circulate at random. A passage between parallel walls under F directed their main volume into the second hypocaust, that under E; lateral openings in this passage and others in the intervening wall of the two rooms allowing a portion of them to pass through the pillared portions of the first hypocaust, as indicated by arrows in the plan. The next wall was pierced with four openings, of which that facing the end of the passage was the largest. The hypocaust under C was entered by a single opening; while the pillared space under the ante-room was entirely shut off from the heated currents, and its purpose was evidently to keep the floor above dry.

As there was no trace of vertical flues or other means of exit from the hypocausts below the second and third rooms (C and D), the circulation of the hot gases in these hypocausts presents a difficulty. If, however, the missing pillars under E were arranged so as to leave a clear course beyond the passage or flue under F, the impetus of the current through the passage would probably be sufficient to carry a large portion of these gases through the opposite large opening into the hypocaust below D, which, circulating between its pillars, would find their exit through the smaller openings on either side, and thence escape by the vertical flues. This leaves the final hypocaust still 'in the cold,' but its single opening proves that only a slight degree of warmth was required in the room above. Again, gravitation would aid the circulation. The hot air in parting with its heat would contract and sink, and tend to flow back as a heavier stratum through the openings. In the Antiquary of 1894,5 the writer suggested as a means for effectually inducing a circulation in the third hypocaust, that the flue under F was continued under E, with lateral openings to allow a portion of its current to pass into the latter hypocaust, the residue being projected into the former through the wide opening at its end. The pillars in outline on our plan are purely conjectural, and as the central part of E had collapsed, p200it is just as reasonable that it was occupied by such a passage as by pillars — what would efface the one would efface the others.

Mr. Morgan regarded the rooms successively as the frigidarium apodyterium,º tepidarium, caldarium, and sudatorium; but perhaps it would be more correct to regard the first as simply an entrance lobby or ante-room, and the second as a combined cooling- and dressing-room, the alcove providing space for a lounge.

We now pass on to another example of domestic baths — those of the house at Chedworth, described on p160.6 They formed, as already stated, the northern portion of the west and chief range; but, as at Spoonley Wood (p159), there was no direct communication between them and the house, and this seems to have been customary in order to prevent the access of the warm air to the living-rooms. The entrance was from the main corridor. The rooms occupied a smaller space than the Caerwent example, but they were more sumptuous, for three or four had rich mosaic pavements. At the north end was the stokery, entered by a flight of steps, and by its side, the fuel-house or shed. Entering a narrow lobby, A, Fig. 59, with a plain floor, a door on the opposite side opened into a square room, C, the largest of the series; and on the right, the lobby opened by its full width into a long room, B, which had at its farther end, p201between two projecting piers, a cold-water bath of similar form and construction to that at Caerwent, except that it was provided with two steps — or perhaps more correctly a seat and step — behind its raised sill, and a seat at each end. The drain was at the east end. A narrow door from this apartment led into a small square room, D, the sides of which were jacketed with flues; and this in its turn opened into another room, E, of similar size, next the furnace. This room was in a very ruinous state, but its walls appear to have been similarly jacketed; and on its left side was a lunate hot-water bath, F, within an alcove, and entered over a raised sill with a seat or step behind it. The stokery, G, with its provision for the storage of fuel, H, was probably roofed and formed a low building at the end of the range. The furnace was of similar form and construction to that at Caerwent.

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Fig. 59. — Domestic Baths, Spoonley Wood and Chedworth.
(30 ft. to 1 in.)

The baths at Spoonley Wood resembled the above — but were somewhat larger. The entrance, A, was a flagged passage, which opened on its left side by a wide bay upon the cold-water bath, B, 16 ft. by 11 ft. 6 ins., with sides and bottom lined with the usual brick concrete. This tank occupied the whole area of a room which projected into the courtyard. At the end of the passage was a door into a spacious square room, C, with an elaborate mosaic floor; and a contiguous door in the side of the passage led into a smaller room, D, with a floor of similar character. The plan now becomes obscure. It shows a long apartment, E, which had a mosaic floor, and was probably entered from the last room; then a narrow transverse space, F, which Prof. Middleton regarded as the furnace, but which is more probably the site of the hot-water bath. The furnace has the usual massive cheeks of masonry projecting into the stoking-house G, which served as the supports of a boiler or cistern. The hypocaust seems to have been of a simple kind, consisting of long channel or flue passing under E and D, and throwing out branches under C to several vertical flues in the walls of that room; but it is difficult to understand how a simple flue could have sufficiently heated the first two of these rooms, which evidently were the caldarium and tepidarium. Their remains, however, were very ruinous, and probably the full heating arrangements were not made out.

Silchester supplies the most complete plan of a Roman p202public bathing establishment in this country.7 It was situated near the south-east side of the city in a hollow whence a small brook arose. The structure underwent many alterations and extensions before it attained its final form. It is not our province to enter into its complicated history, but to describe the building as originally planned, and only indicate some of the chief transformations. Briefly, those modifications were to provide increased accommodation. Every room was enlarged, and new ones were added, until the plan bore little resemblance to the original one, beyond that the general sequence remained the same.

The original plan is shown in Fig. 60. The front presented a symmetrical portico, A, 68 ft. long and 8 ft. deep, which must have been one of the chief architectural features of the town. Its colonnade rose from a substantial plinth, and it carried a timber architrave which supported the roof. The eight Doric columns were disposed in two series, leaving the central intercolumniation wider than the rest, which was probably flanked by piers to carry an arch and pediment or some other architectural feature that accentuated it as the public entrance. Behind this portal was the entrance into a peristyled yard or palaestra, B, the roofed ambulatory of which was 10 ft. wide, and separated from the central space by short columns on a dwarf wall.

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Fig. 60. — Plan of Public Baths at Silchester. (After Hope.)
(30 ft. to 1 in.)

On the opposite side of the court was the entrance to the series of bath-rooms. The first of these was an oblong hall, C, 41 by 24 ft., with an opus signinum pavement. A narrow door on the farther side opened into a longer but narrower double apartment, D, which had at the left end a rectangular alcove containing a cold bath, with the usual raised lip, and a step or seat along three sides, terminating at one end in a quadrant-shaped platform, perhaps for steps. The floors of this bath and of the room were of bricks set herringbone-fashion on edge in red cement, and the walls were of opus signinum. From the middle of the division first entered, ran an underground drain which appears to have drained a circular sunk basin of Purbeck marble about 5 ft. in diameter, fragments of which were found. A wide door gave access to a series of three rooms, a central double room, E, which had on the right a narrow apartment, F, with a rectangular alcove, and on the left a small oblong room, G. The p203second, with its alcove, rested upon a pillared hypocaust, which was heated by a furnace in its west wall; and this hypocaust probably extended under the middle room, but this is uncertain. The little room on the left, G, was probably a store-room or unctorium. The final room of the suite, H, had at one end a semicircular p204alcove, and at the other, a rectangular one for a hot bath. Under the whole of it was a hypocaust heated by a furnace, which projected from the latter end, and with little doubt supported tank or tanks for hot water. In this room were found some fragments of two Purbeck marble basins, which, unlike the one mentioned above, stood upon the floor.

The uses of these several apartments offer little difficulty. The first, C, was certainly the apodyterium, and was spacious enough to contain dressing-boxes or other suitable arrangements in wood. The second, D, was the frigidarium. Its basin appears to have been an unusual feature; but a stone one of similar size was found in the corresponding apartment of the military baths at Chesters, in Northumberland, which was supplied from a cistern in the wall between the frigidarium and the tepidarium, and drained by an underground channel, as in the present case. This basin "can only have been intended," Messrs. Hope and Fox suggest, "as a kind of shower-bath for bathers who preferred that to the plunge-bath, and has its parallel in the Turkish bath of to‑day." The large division of this room on the right was probably furnished with seats or lounges to accommodate the bathers until the cooling process was finished. The third room, E, was clearly the tepidarium. The adjoining room, F, being nearer the furnace, would be the sudatorium. The last apartment of the series, H, exactly reproduces the older Pompeian caldaria; and it is probable that the basin fragments represent two consecutive labra, each of which occupied the apse, the usual position. The whole plan, it will be seen, was conveniently and admirably arranged. Like the later public baths at Pompeii,8 it consists of a single suite of rooms.

The small building, I, 19 ft. by 15 ft., at the end of the portico, was the latrine. It was entered from the corner of the peristyle by a little porch or lobby. Around its four sides ran a channel, 18 ins. wide, by 3 ft. deep, and built of brick, over which the seats were arranged. This channel was flushed from a water-course under the portico floor, and it drained into a pit or cesspool, about 4 ft. square and lined with wood, on the opposite side, the overflow from which was probably conveyed to the p205brook, which had its source in the hollow in which the baths were built.

As intimated above, we do not intend to trace out the intricate succession of changes to which this building was subjected. It will suffice to mention that the portico was replaced by a wall with a gateway; the latrine was trebled in size and overlapped nearly half the front of the courtyard; and the latter was considerably extended at both ends. In the sequel, the apodyterium was of the same length as the extended courtyard, from which it was entered by two doors. The frigidarium was nearly as long, and its bath was now at the right end. The tepidarium consisted of two rooms, the larger of which was a new extension to the left, while its large furnace chamber overlapped the right end of the old tepidarium and part of the old sudatorium; and beyond this to the right was a square room, probably "a drying-room for the attendants." The caldarium was extended to the left and received a semicircular alcove to balance that at the opposite end. But previous to this alteration, a second caldarium, with a rectangular alcove at each end, had been erected along the farther side of the old one, and for some reason had been demolished. The alcove at the right end appears to have contained a seat, while the bath occupied the left and larger alcove, behind the wall of which was the furnace-room, from which the hypocaust, extending under the whole apartment, was heated. Even this caldarium underwent at least one great alteration. The reader can well imagine what a tangled and confusing medley of fragmentary walls and superposed patches of flooring, these baths presented upon excavation! Little could be gleaned as to the superstructure. A fallen mass of brickwork from the western alcove of the caldarium retains a portion of the jamb and square head of a window. The length of this jamb, 3 ft. 5¾ ins., shows that the window was at least of that height; and above the lintel are some inclined tiles which appear to be a portion of a flat relieving-arch, indicating perhaps that the opening was of considerable width. The jamb was slightly splayed internally; but as its outer portion is broken away, it is impossible to say how the glazing was fixed. Nothing was found to warrant a belief that any of the rooms were vaulted, and in the opinion of the explorers the walls were not strong enough to have carried arched superstructures. It is probable, therefore, p206that the rooms were ceiled with lath and plaster, or, as Vitruvius recommended, with tiles covered with plaster attached to the under side of the roof-timbers. The walls were plastered externally.

An extremely interesting feature must be noticed. Under the earlier furnace passage of the second caldarium was a flue-like passage, 7 ins. wide and covered with flat tiles. This, upon entering the apartment, became a triple passage of three lines of curved roofing-tile, all embedded in the concrete of the hypocaust floor, and gently rising in its progress. Upon approaching the opposite alcove, they again coalesced into a single passage formed of flat roofing-tiles, which sent out two parallel branches of similar construction to the south side of the alcove. Nothing remained to show how these passages ended; but the explorers suggested that they opened into vertical passages which were continued into the room above, and that the whole arrangement was for the supply of fresh air, warmed by its passage under the furnace and hypocaust floor. Thus the Romans anticipated one of our methods of heating and ventilating buildings!

The public baths of Uriconium were on a larger scale. Their remains were partially explored in 1859, and Mr. Thomas Wright's long and detailed description of them in Uriconium9 is not as lucid as it might have been. Several years ago, Mr. George E. Fox further investigated the remains,10 and some of his conclusions differ from those of Mr. Wright.

The buildings formed part of an important group in the heart of the town, a plan of which is here given (Fig. 61). They lay to the south of the Basilica, and thus were sheltered from the north winds by its lofty range. To the west were two shops, P, P, and a small courtyard enclosed on three sides with rows of small chambers or cells, which, from its forum-like arrangement, has been designated 'the little market-place,' Q. The whole group constituted the western portion of an oblong insula, with streets on its north, south, west, and probably east sides. The eastern portion was not explored, and its extent in that direction can only be conjectured.

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Fig. 61. — Plan of Basilica and Public Baths at Wroxeter. (After Wright and Fox.)
(70 ft. to 1 in.)

The plan of the baths presents many difficulties which can only be solved by further use of the spade. It will be observed that the buildings, so far as they have been excavated, consist p207of a large oblong block, A, B, C, D, which abut against the Basilica, and a west wing. The three rooms of this wing nearest this block, F, G, I, have their counterparts in F′, G′, I′ on its opposite side, rendering it probable that these also formed a part of a similar eastern wing, a conjecture which has some support in the fact that buried walls are known to exist to the east of these rooms. The plan, if completed on these lines, would thus present a symmetrical range of buildings consisting of a central block with two wings, the whole being within a large p208enclosure, surrounded, except where interrupted on the north by the block, by a portico. Mr. Wright considered that the west wing was the men's baths, and the east, the women's.

The west wing contained a suite of bath-rooms with an ample stokery, L, at the end, and another on the south, M. The rooms, K, H, G, were warmed by tiled hypocausts. No trace of wall-flues remained in K and H; but the north wall of G bears the impressions of a jacketing of them. The corresponding wall of G′ was also similarly lined with flues. The large room K is of typical caldarium form; but no trace of an alveus remains. Probably it occupied a recess next the furnace, and there may have been a labrum in the semicircular alcove. Fox regarded H and G as also caldaria, and Wright, the latter room as a sudatorium. This, however, it can hardly have been, as much of the heat from the furnaces must have been dissipated before reaching its hypocaust; besides, it does not occupy the usual position of a sweating-room. It answers better to a tepidarium; and the little room, I, paved with small bricks, herringbone-wise, which originally opened into it, is suggestive of an elaeothesium. Its counterpart, I′, on the east is precisely similar. The space J contains a flight of steps down to an opening, giving access to the hypocausts for cleaning purposes. The room F and its counterpart F′, contained each a mosaic-lined cold-water bath at the south end.

The oblong space, A, B, C, which had a vaulted ceiling, appears on Fox's plan as a single hall entered by a large central opening from the Basilica; but Wright construed the pilaster-like projection on each side of this opening as the starting of a cross-wall, and so divided it into three apartments, as indicated by dotted lines on our plan. He, moreover, regarded the opening in the Basilica wall as accidental. According to the former writer, this hall was the apodyterium, and the equally large room to the south, D, entered from it by two doorways, as the tepidarium. The floor of this room certainly rested upon pilae, but nothing was discovered to indicate how the underspace was heated, or whether it was heated at all. If the heat was derived from the hypocausts of the adjacent rooms, G and G′, the warmth must have been only slight. Similar pillars were found on the south side of this room D, but how far they extended was not ascertained. They did not extend as far as E, for thereabouts p209was brought to light a sunk paved area, apparently marking the site of a swimming-bath, in the middle of a large enclosed space, with two doors on the south and a large rectangular alcove on the west, the east side probably corresponding. It is probable that this space was open to the sky, and that the alcove-like wings were dressing-rooms for the bathers, or spacious exedrae.

From these slender data we can only surmise the uses of the different apartments and spaces of the central block. Assuming that A, B, C was a single apartment, the number of openings into it — from the Basilica and the ends of the north peristyle, and the two doors in the south wall — is suggestive that it was the entrance-hall to the baths generally. The heating difficulties militate against D being the tepidarium. Here one is inclined to locate the apodyterium, and to regard G and G′ as the tepidaria of the men's and women's baths respectively. The two doors, just referred to, rather confirm Wright's surmise that D was divided into two rooms by a cross-wall, in which case the west room would appropriately be the men's apodyterium, and the east, the women's, each opening into their respective tepidaria by doors. The cold-water baths of F and F′ are awkwardly placed for access, as the bathers would have to pass through the entrance-hall to reach them; but Wright's division of this hall into three rooms would remove this difficulty, as the narrow side-rooms, A and C, would serve both as passages and cooling-rooms, the wider central space B being the entrance-hall, with the men's entrance on one side, and the women's on the other. Whether there was any direct intercommunication between these various rooms and the presumed courtyard with its swimming-bath to the south is quite uncertain; but this had two doors into the general enclosure of the baths, which may reasonably be regarded as the palaestra. The south portico may have had an entrance from the adjoining street; the west portico was certainly entered from the street on that side of the insula, by the corridor N.

North of this corridor was the long narrow latrine O, entered by a door from the west portico. Its floor was of small tiles laid herringbone-fashion, and the seats were over a channel next the portico; while on the opposite side was a strongly built passage-like space, probably the cistern from which the channel was flushed. The culvert which received the drainage of the baths p210and the latrine passes under the Basilica, but its further course was not ascertained. It is unfortunate that much relating to these baths has to be left to conjecture; but it is to be hoped that the day is not distant when so promising and important a site will be thoroughly explored.

It has already been stated (p108) that outside the walls of many forts are the remains of substantial buildings, which were supposed to be the residences of the commanders, but which in several instances have been proved to be baths.

One example of these military baths — at Great Chesters — must suffice. This building is about 360 ft. south of the fort, and was excavated by Mr. J. P. Gibson and Dr. Hodgkin in 1897.11 A glance at the plan, Fig. 62, will enable the reader to follow a short description. A was a courtyard, 45 by 21 ft., entered by a door in the north end; and a corresponding, but narrower, one in the opposite end, opened into what seems to have been the latrine, B. On the east side is a fragment of a gutter, and against the west side are the startings of two late walls, perhaps the end walls of a shed or some such building. In the middle of that side is the door into the bathrooms. The first of these, C, had a flagged floor, and on the left was the cold-water bath, the sunk floor of which was of concrete with a quarter-round skirting. p211To the right, a door led into a square room, D, which was similarly paved, and had a masonry seat against its south wall. The next room, E, was a small one, with a concrete floor surfaced with opus signinum and resting upon a pillared hypocaust. The last room of the series, F, was the largest and had spacious semicircular alcove on either side near the end. Its floor was similar, with a similar hypocaust below. The farther end of the room was converted into a recess by two lateral piers, behind which extended seats of masonry, but these do not appear to have formed part of the original construction, as they rest upon the opus signinum of the floor, and against that of the walls. There is no evidence that this recess contained an alveus, as its floor was upon the common level. But the left or south apse did contain one, which had a sunk concrete floor and was separated from the rest of the apartment by the usual raised sill and step. The end of the right or north apse has the interesting feature, rare for this country, of a window opening. Its jambs and sill are widely splayed on the inner side, the latter starting about 1 ft. above the floor-level. The internal width of the opening is nearly 5 ft., and remaining height about 4 ft. As fragments of window-glass were found below it, we may conclude that it was glazed, but as the outer jambs are broken away, it is impossible to say how the glazed frame was held in position. The external width of the window could hardly have been less than 3 ft. Fallen flanged voussoirs showed that this room or some part of it had a vaulted roof of light construction, the voussoirs forming a series of ribs, with flanges to support intervening tiles or flagstones. Similar voussoirs have been found in the baths of Chesters (Cilurnum). The pillars of the hypocaust were mostly of single stones, about 2 ft. 6 ins. high.

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Fig. 62. — Baths at Great Chesters. (After Knowles.)
(30 ft. to 1 in.)

Great Chesters thus supplies not only a singularly complete plan of a Roman bathing establishment, but some valuable information as to its superstructure. The plan reminds us of the early baths of Silchester, and it resembles the military baths at Inchtuthill, Perthshire.12 First, we have an oblong yard with latrines at one end. Then came the rooms B and C, one of which may have been the frigidarium and the other the apodyterium, or the latter room may have served the two purposes, the former p212being simply an ante-room, as the splash from the cold bath would render it rather uncomfortable for either purpose. The genial warmth of E would be appropriate for a tepidarium; and the greater heat of F for a caldarium; while its end recess probably served as a sudatorium. The furnace-chamber would, of course, have provision for a tank or tanks for hot water, and in it, or hard by, would be storage for the fuel. In the unusual size and planning of the caldarium, these baths do not stand alone. The corresponding apartment in the baths at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, and at Inchtuthill, is of almost identical size and shape.

The plan of the baths at Chesters13 differs considerably from that of the above. Its notable feature is the large yard (Fig. 63), in the west wall of which are seven round-headed niches, 8 ins. above the pavement, each 3 ft. high, 2 ft. wide, and 1 ft. 6 ins. deep. These may have served as lockers for the clothes of the bather, and a pentice roof above would afford them shelter while undressing and dressing. The caldarium has a single lateral apse, at the end of which is the lower portion of a window opening of similar character and size to that at Great Chesters. In the middle of the frigidarium of these baths was found the base of a basin, about 4 ft. 8 ins. in diameter, which has already been referred to.

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The baths at Gellygaer were excavated by the Cardiff Naturalists' Society in 1909,14 and, as at Silchester, there was evidence of considerable alterations and extensions. In their last stage, the bathrooms formed an irregular block about 93 ft. long, with a large furnace house at one end, and obscure out-structures at the other, probably the remains of latrines. The first room entered was about 15 by 35 ft., and paved with flagstones from an older floor on the site. On the right was a spacious cold bath, 14 by 26 ft., within a projecting building,15 and on the opposite side a passage-like room over a shallow hypocaust. From this a door led into two hot rooms of like size, together forming a block 29 by 39 ft. The second room — the caldarium — had a hot bath in a recess next the furnace. In the end of the passage-like room, just referred to, was a door into a circular hot room heated from its own furnace. The floors of the p213hot rooms were of brick concrete with the usual quarter-round skirtings; the walls had been slightly decorated in colours; the broken glass indicated glazed windows; the roofs had been covered with red tiles. From near the centre of the paved room a drain started, and paving-stones, shaped to form a ring, indicated that the original floor had either a perforated sink-stone, 1 ft. 10 ins. in diameter, or a labrum, as at Silchester and Chesters. As stated above, these baths had been considerably altered and enlarged, and the furnace-house, the circular room, and the cold bath were the most notable additions to the original fabric.

Circular bathrooms are rare in this country. One, a trifle larger, with a hypocaust and the remains of a jacketing of flue-tiles, was found outside the Roman fort at Binchester (Vinovum) in 1887, and evidently formed part of a large bathing establishment. Another, smaller and with external buttresses, was attached to the side of the large baths at Castlecary, which, contrary to the rule, was within the fort.16

The baths of Bath, the remains of which are unrivalled from an architectural point of view in this country, belonged to a small but highly important class of bathing establishments, which differed from the ordinary in several particulars. The latter were essentially hot-air baths, water, cold or artificially heated, playing a subordinate part, whereas the former were erected over natural hot springs, and the many and varied tanks that received the healing waters, mostly deep enough for immersion, were a chief distinguishing feature. These thermae — it is convenient to restrict the term to them — were large and complex, with rooms of different temperatures, some with means of superheating the water, in order to meet the needs of the patients, different diseases requiring different treatments. The Romans held these mineral springs in high estimation, and the more important developed into fashionable spas. Bath (Aquae Sulis) was such a spa, small, it is true, but its central group of buildings — the thermae, temples and other structures — were on a scale of grandeur that warrants the belief that it was as much the resort of wealth and fashion under the Romans as under our Georges.

The remains of these baths, so far as they have been opened out, roughly 330 by 120 ft., but they certainly extended p214farther to the east and west and probably to the north. The central feature was a spacious hall divided into a nave and aisles by two rows of piers, and on either side were three alcoves or exedrae, the whole having a vaulted roof. The hall enclosed a bath 83 by 40 ft., the sides of which consisted of six steps. At each end were various smaller halls and rooms, some with baths and hypocausts; and at the north-west of the range of buildings was a large reservoir of an irregular oval shape, about 50 ft. long, constructed over the springs to receive their water, the old use of which has been restored.

These various remains are open to view, and the numerous fragments of columns, cornices, and other carved details are preserved on the site. The most complete plan is that which accompanies Dr. Haverfield's résumé of all that is known of these baths, in the first volume of the Somerset section of the Victoria History of the counties of England.

The Author's Notes:

1 Mau, Pompeii, p180.

2 Roman Era in Britain, Chap. xii.

3 Mau, Pompeii, p356.

4 Archaeologia, XXXVI, p433.

5 Antiquary, xxix, p168.

6 Jour. Brit. Arch. Assoc. xxiv, p130, and Arch. Jour. xliv, p328. In the former is a large view of these baths, but incorrect in some details.

7 Archaeologia, LIX, p337.

8 The earlier baths at Pompeii contained two suites each, a larger for men and a smaller for women.

9 P114.

10 Arch. Jour. liv, p126; Vict. Hist. Shropshire, I.

11 Knowles, Proc. Soc. of Antiquaries, Lond. (N.S.), XVII, p29; Archaeologia Aeliana, XXIV.

12 Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. xxxvi, p224.

13 Arch. Aeliana, XII, p124.

14 Transactions, xlii, p25.

15 As at Spoonley Wood.

16 Brit. Arch. Assoc. xliii, p304; Roy, Military Antiquities, etc., p161; Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. xxxvii, p316.

Thayer's Note:

a For many, the article Balneae in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, with its diagrams, source references and links, will be useful background material to this chapter.

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Page updated: 16 Jul 06