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p183 Balneae

The Roman section only
of an article by Anthony Rich, Jun. B.A.,
on pp183‑196 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

BALNEAE, Balineae, Balneum, Balineum, Thermae (ἀσάμινθος, βαλανεῖον, λοετρόν, λουτρόν). These words are all commonly translated by our general term bath or baths; but in the writings of the earlier and better authors they are used with discrimination. Balneum or balineum, which derived from the Greek βαλανεῖον (Varro, De Ling. Lat. IX.68, ed. Müller), signifies, in its primary sense, a bath or bathing-vessel, such as most persons of any consequence among the Romans possessed in their own houses (Cic. ad Att. II.3), and hence the chamber which contained the bath (Cic. ad Fam. XIV.20), which is also the proper translation of the word balnearium. The diminutive balneolum is adopted by Seneca (Ep. 86) to designate the bath-room of Scipio, in the villa at Liternum, and is expressly used to characterise the modesty of republican manners as compared with the luxury of his own times. But when the baths of private individuals became more sumptuous, and comprised many rooms, instead of the one small chamber described by Seneca, the plural balnea or balinea was adopted, which still, in correct language, had reference only to the baths of private persons. Thus Cicero terms the baths at the villa of his brother Quintus (Ad Q. Frat. III.1 §1) balnearia. Balneae and balineae, which according to Varro (De Ling. Lat. VIII.25, IX.41, ed. Müller) have no singular number,1 were the public baths. Thus Cicero (Pro Cael. 25) speaks of balneas Senias, balneas publicas, and in vestibulo p184balnearum (Ib. 26), and Aulus Gellius (III.1, X.3) of balneas Sitias. But this accuracy of diction is neglected by many of the subsequent writers, and particularly by the poets, amongst whom balnea is not uncommonly used in the plural number to signify the public baths, since the word balneae could not be introduced in an hexameter verse. Pliny also, in the same sentence, makes use of the neuter plural balnea for public, and of balneum for a private bath (Ep. II.17). Thermae (θέρμαι, hot springs) meant properly warm springs, or baths of warm water; but came to be applied to those magnificent edifices which grew up under the empire, in place of the simple balneae of the republic, and which comprised within their range of buildings all the appurtenances belonging to the Greek gymnasia, as well as a regular establishment appropriated to bathing (Juv. Sat. VII.233). Writers, however, use these terms without distinction. Thus the baths erected by Claudius Etruscus, the freedman of the Emperor Claudius, are styled by Statius (Sylv. I.5.13) balnea, and by Martial (VI.42) Etrusci thermulae. In an epigram by Martial (IX.76) subice balneum thermis — the terms are not applied to the whole building, but to two different chambers in the same edifice.

Greek Baths.

[. . .] p185

Roman Baths.

The Romans, in the earlier periods of their history, used the bath but seldom, and only for health and cleanliness, not as a luxury. Thus we learn from Seneca (Ep. 86) that the ancient Romans washed their legs and arms daily, and bathed their whole body once a week (cf. Cat. de Lib. Educ. ap. Non. III s.v. Ephippium; Colum. R. R. I.6 §20).a

It is not recorded at what precise period the use of the warm bath was first introduced amongst the Romans; but we learn from Seneca (l.c.) that Scipio had a warm bath in his villa at Liternum; which, however, was of the simplest kind, consisting of a single chamber, just sufficient for the necessary purposes, and without any pretensions to luxury. It was "small and dark," he says "after the manner of the ancients." Seneca also p186describes the public baths as obscura et gregali tectorio inducta, and as so simple in their arrangements that the aedile judged of the proper temperature by his hands. These were baths of warm water; but the practice of heating an apartment with warm air by flues placed immediately under it, so as to produce a vapour bath, is stated by Valerius Maximus (IX.1 §1) and by Pliny (Plin. H. N. IX.54 s79) to have been invented by Sergius Orata, who lived in the age of L. Crassus, the orator, before the Marsic war. The expression used by Valerius Maximus is balnea pensilia, and by Pliny balineas pensiles, which is differently explained by different commentators; but a single glance at the plans inserted below will be sufficient in order to comprehend the manner in which the flooring of the chambers was suspended over the hollow cells of the hypocaust, called by Vitruvius suspensura caldariorum (V.11), so as to leave no doubt as to the precise meaning of the invention, which is more fully exemplified in the following passage of Ausonius (Mosell. 337):—

"Quid (memorem) quae sulphurea substructa crepidine fumant

Balnea, ferventi cum Mulciber haustus operto,

Vovit anhelatas tectoria per cava flammas,

Inclusum glomerans aestu exspirante vaporem?"

By the time of Cicero, the use of baths, both public and private, of warm water and hot air, had become general (Epist. ad Q. Frat. III.1); and we learn from one of his orations that there were already baths (balneas Senias) at Rome, which were open to the public upon payment of a small sum (Pro Cael. 25, 26).

In the earlier ages of Roman history a much greater delicacy was observed with respect to bathing, even amongst the men, 07was usual among the Greeks; for according to Valerius Maximus (II.1 §7) it was deemed indecent for a father to bathe in company with his own son after he had attained the age of puberty, or a son-in‑law with his father-in‑law (cf. Cic. De Off. I.35, De Orat. II.55). But virtue passed away as wealth increased; and when the thermae came into use, not only did the men bathe together in numbers, but even men and women stripped and bathed promiscuously in the same bath. It is true, however, that the public establishments often contained separate baths for both sexes adjoining to each other (Vitruv. V.10; Varro, De Ling. Lat. IX.68), as will be seen to have been the case at the baths of Pompeii. Aulus Gellius (X.3) relates a story of consul's wife who took a whim to bathe at Teanum (Teano), a small provincial town of Campania in the men's baths (balneis virilibus); probably, because in a small town, the female department, like that at Pompeii, was more confined and less convenient than that assigned to the men; and an order was consequently given to the Quaestor, M. Marius, to turn the men out. But whether the men and women were allowed to use each other's chambers indiscriminately, or that some of the public establishments had only one common set of baths for both, the custom prevailed under the Empire of men and women bathing indiscriminately together (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.12 s54). This custom was forbidden by Hadrian (Spart. Hadr. c18),º and by M. Aurelius Antoninus (Capitolin. Anton. c23); and Alexander Severus prohibited any baths, common to both sexes (balnea mixta), from being opened in Rome (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. c24).

When the public baths (balneae) were first instituted,b they were only for the lower orders, who alone bathed in public; the people of wealth, as well as those who formed the equestrian and senatorial orders, used private baths in their own houses. But as early as the time of Julius Caesar we find no less a personage than the mother of Augustus making use of the public establishments (Suet. Aug. 94); and in process of time even the emperors themselves bathed in public with the meanest of the people (Spart. Hadr. c17; Trebell. Pollio, De Gallien. duob. c17).

The baths were opened at sunrise, and closed at sunset; but in the time of Alexander Severus, it would appear that they were kept open nearly all night (Lamp. Alex. Sev. l.c.). The allusion in Juvenal (balnea nocte subit, Sat. VI.419) probably refers to private baths.

The price of a bath was a quadrans, the smallest piece of coined money, from the age of Cicero downwards (Cic. Pro Cael. 26; Hor. Sat. I.3.137; Juv. Sat. VI.447), which was paid to the keeper of the bath (balneator); and hence it is termed by Cicero, in the oration just cited, quadrantaria permutatio, and by Seneca (Ep. 86) res quadrantaria. Children below a certain age were admitted free (Juv. Sat. II.152).

Strangers, also, and foreigners were admitted to some of the baths, if not to all, without payment, as we learn from an inscription found at Rome, and quoted by Pitiscus (Lex Antiq.)

L. OCTAVIO. L. F. CAM.
RUFO. TRIB. MIL. . . . . . . .
QUI LAVATIONEM GRATUITAM MUNICIPIBUS,
INCOLIS
HOSPITIBUS ET ADVENTORIBUS.

The baths were closed when any misfortune happened to the republic (Fabr. Descr. Urb. Rom. c18); and Suetonius says that the Emperor Caligula made it a capital offence to indulge in the luxury of bathing upon any religious holiday (Ib.) They were originally placed under the superintendence of the aediles, whose business it was to keep them in repair, and to see that they were kept clean and of a proper temperature (Ib.; Sen. Ep. 86) In the provinces the same duty seems to have devolved upon the quaestor, as may be inferred from the passage already quoted from Aulus Gellius (X.3).

The time usually assigned by the Romans for taking the bath was the eighth hour, or shortly afterwards (Mart. Ep. X.48, XI.52). Before that time none but invalids were allowed to bathe in public (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 24).c Vitruvius reckons the hours best adapted for bathing to be from mid-day to about sunset (V.10). Pliny took his bath at the ninth hour in summer, and at the eighth in winter (Ep. III.1, 8); and Martial speaks of taking a bath when fatigued and weary, at the tenth hour, and even later (Epig. III.36, X.70).

When the water was ready, and the baths prepared, notice was given by the sound of a bell — aes thermarium (Mart. Ep. XIV.163). One of these bells, with the inscription FIRMI BALNEATORIS, was found in the thermae Diocletianae, in the year 1548, and came into the possession of the learned Fulvius Ursinus (Append. ad Ciaccon. de Triclin.)

Whilst the bath was used for health merely or cleanliness, a single one was considered sufficient p187at a time, and that only when requisite. But the luxuries of the empire knew no such bounds, and the daily bath was sometimes repeated as many as seven and eight times in succession — the number which the Emperor Commodus indulged himself with (Lamprid. Com. c11). Gordian bathed seven times a day in summer, and twice in winter. The Emperor Gallienus six or seven times in summer, and twice or thrice in winter (Capitolin. Gall. c17). Commodus also took his meals in the bath (Lamprid. l.c.); a custom which was not confined to a dissolute Emperor alone (cf. Martial, Epig. XII.19).

It was the usual and constant habit of the Romans to take the bath after exercise, and previously to their principal meal (coena); but the debauchees of the empire bathed after eating as well as before, in order to promote digestion, so as to acquire a new appetite for fresh delicacies. Nero is related to have indulged in this practice (Suet. Nero, 27; cf. Juv. Sat. I.142).

Upon quitting the bath it was usual for the Romans as well as the Greeks to be anointed with oil; but a particular habit of body, or tendency to certain complaints, sometimes required this order to be reversed; for which reason Augustus, who suffered from nervous disorders, was accustomed to anoint himself before bathing (Suet. Aug. 82); and a similar practice was adopted by Alexander Severus (Lamprid. Alex. Sev. l.c.). The most usual practice, however, seems to have been to take some gentle exercise (exercitatio), in the first instance, and then, after bathing, to be anointed either in the sun, or in the tepid or thermal chamber, and finally to take their food.

The Romans did not content themselves with a single bath of hot or cold water; but they went through a course of baths in succession, in which the agency of air as well as water was applied. It is difficult to ascertain the precise order in which the course was usually taken, if indeed there was any general practice beyond the whim of the individual. Under medical treatment, the succession would, of course, be regulated by the nature of the disease for which a cure was sought, and would vary also according to the different practice of different physicians. It is certain, however, that it was a general practice to close the pores, and brace the body after the excessive perspiration of the vapour bath, either by pouring cold water over the head, or by plunging at once into the piscina, or into a river (Auson. Mosell. 341). Musa, the physician of Augustus, is said to have introduced this practice (Plin. H. N. XXV.7 s38), which became quite the fashion, in consequence of the benefit which the emperor derived from it, though Dion (LIII. p517) accuses Musa of having artfully caused the death of Marcellus by an improper application of the same treatment. In other cases it was considered conducive to health to pour warm water over the head before the vapour bath, and cold water immediately after it (Plin. H. N. XXVIII.4 s14; Cels. De Med. I.3); and at other times, a succession of warm, tepid, and cold water was resorted to.

The two physicians Galen and Celsus differ in some respects as to the order in which the baths should be taken; the former recommending first the hot air of the Laconicum (ἀέρι θερμῷ), next the bath of warm water (ὑδωρ θερμὸν and λοῦτρον2), afterwards the cold, and finally to be well rubbed (Galen, De Methodo Medendi, X.10 p708, 709, ed. Kühn); whilst the latter recommends his patients first to sweat for a short time in the tepid chamber (tepidarium), without undressing; then to proceed into the thermal chamber (calidarium), and after having gone through a regular course of perspiration there, not to descend into the warm bath (solium), but to pour a quantity of warm water over the head, then tepid, and finally cold; afterwards to be scraped with the strigil (perfricari), and finally rubbed dry and anointed (Cels. De Med. I.4). Such, in all probability, was the usual habit of the Romans when the bath was resorted p188to as a daily source of pleasure, and not for any particular medical treatment; the more so, as it resembles in many respects the system of bathing still in practice amongst the Orientals, who, as Sir W. Gell remarks, "succeeded by conquest to the luxuries of the enervated Greeks and Romans" (Gell's Pompeii, vol. I p86, ed. 1832).

Having thus detailed from classical authorities the general habits of the Romans in connection with their system of bathing, it now remains to examine and explain the internal arrangements of the structures which contained their baths; which will serve as a practical commentary upon all that has been said. Indeed there are more ample and better materials for acquiring a thorough insight into Roman manners in this one particular, than for any other of the usages connected with their domestic habits. The principal ancient authorities are Vitruvius (V.10), Lucian (Ἱππίας ἢ βαλάνειον, a detailed description of a set of baths erected by an architect named Hippias), Pliny the Younger, in the two letters describing his villas (II.17, V.6), Statius (Balneum Etrusci, Silv. 1.5), Martial (VI.42, and other epigrams), Sidonius Apollinaris (Epist. II.2), and Seneca (Epist. 51, 56, 86).

But it would be almost hopeless to attempt to arrange the information obtained from these writers, were it not for the help afforded us by the extensive ruins of ancient baths, such as the Thermae of Titus, Caracalla, and Diocletian, but above all the public baths (balneae) at Pompeii, which were excavated in 1824‑25, and were found to be a complete set, constructed in all their important parts upon rules very similar to those laid down by Vitruvius, and in such good preservation that many of the chambers were complete, even to the ceilings.


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In order to render the subjoined remarks more easily intelligible, the woodcut on the preceding page is inserted, which is taken from a fresco painting upon the walls of the thermae of Titus at Rome.

The annexed woodcut represents the ground plan of the baths of Pompeii, which are nearly surrounded on three sides by houses and shops, thus forming what the Romans termed an insula.


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For the same diagram as an aerial schematic, see Michael Cole's site.

The whole building, which comprises a double set of baths, has six different entrances from the street, one of which A, gives admission to the smaller set only, which are supposed to have been appropriated to the women, and five others to the male department; of which two, B and C, communicate directly with the furnaces, and the other three D, E, F, with the bathing apartments, of which F, the nearest to the forum, was the principal one; the other two, D and E, being on different sides of the building, served for the convenience of those who lived on the north and east sides of the city. To have a variety of entrances (ἐξόδοις πολλαῖς τεθυρωμένον) is one of the qualities enumerated by Lucian as necessary to a well-constructed set of baths (Hippias, 8). Passing through the principal entrance F, which is removed from the street by a narrow footway surrounding the insula (the outer curb of which is marked upon the plan by the thin line drawn round it), and after descending three steps, the bather finds upon his left hand a small chamber (1), which contained a convenience (latrina3), and proceeds into a covered portico (2), which ran round three sides of an open court — atrium (3), and these together formed the vestibule of the baths — vestibulum balnearum (Cic. Pro Cael. 26), in which the servants belonging to the establishment, as well as the attendants of the bathers, waited. There are seats for their accommodation p189placed underneath the portico (a, a). This compartment answers exactly to the first, which is described by Lucian (l.c. 5). Within this court the keeper of the baths (balneator) who exacted the quadrans paid by each visitor, was also stationed; and the box for holding the money was found in it. The room (4), which runs back from the portico, might have been appropriated to him; or, if not, it might have been an oecus or exedra, for the convenience of the better classes whilst awaiting the return of their acquaintances from the interior, in which case it will correspond with the chambers mentioned by Lucian (l.c. 5), adjoining to the servants' waiting-place (ἐν ἀριστερᾷ δὲ τῶν ἐς τρυφὴν παρεσκευασμένων οἰκημάτων). In this court likewise, as being the most public place, advertisements for the theatre, or other announcements of general interest, were posted up, one of which, announcing a gladiatorial show, still remains. (5) is the corridor which conducts from the entrance E, into the same vestibule. (6) A small cell of similar use as the corresponding one in the opposite corridor (1). (7) A passage of communication which leads into the chamber (8), the frigidarium, which also served as an apodyterium, or spoliatorium, a room for undressing; and which is also accessible from the street by the door D, through the corridor (9), in which a small niche is observable, which probably served for the station of another balneator, who collected the money from those entering from the north street. In this room all the visitors must have met before entering into the interior of the baths; and its locality, as well as other characteristic features in its fittings up, leave no room to doubt that it served as an undressing room. It does not appear that any general rule of construction was followed by the architects of antiquity, with regard to the locality and temperature best adapted for an apodyterium. The word is not mentioned by Vitruvius, nor expressly by Lucian; but he says enough for us to infer that it belonged to the frigidarium in the baths of Hippias (l.c. 5). "After quitting the last apartment there are a sufficient number of chambers for the bathers to undress, in the centre of which is an oecus containing three baths of cold water." Pliny the younger says that the apodyterium at one of his own villas adjoined the frigidarium (Ep. V.6), and it is plain from a passage already quoted, that the apodyterium was a warm apartment in the baths belonging to the villa of Cicero's brother, Quintus (assa in alterum apodyterii angulum promovi), to which temperature Celsus also assigns it. In the thermae at Rome the hot and cold departments had probably each a separate apodyterium attached to it; or if not, the ground plan was so arranged that one apodyterium would be contiguous to, and serve for both, or either; but where space and means were circumscribed, as in the little city of Pompeii, it is more reasonable to conclude that the frigidarium served as an apodyterium for those who confined themselves to cold bathing, and the tepidarium for those who commenced their ablutions in the warm apartments. The bathers were expected to take off their garments in the apodyterium, it not being permitted to enter into the interior unless naked (Cic. Pro Cael. 26). They were then delivered to a class of slaves, called capsarii (from capsa, the small case in which children carried their books to school), whose duty it was to take charge of them. These men were notorious for dishonesty, and leagued with all the thieves of the city, so that they connived at the robberies they were placed there to prevent. Hence the expression of Catullus — O furum optume balneariorum! (Carm. xxxiii.1) and Trachilo in the Rudens of Plautus (II.33.51), complains bitterly of their roguery, which, in the capital, was carried to such an excess that very severe laws were enacted against them, the crime of stealing in the baths being made a capital offence.

To return into the chamber itself — it is vaulted and spacious, with stone seats along two sides of the wall (b, b) and a step for the feet below, slightly raised from the floor (pulvinus et gradus, Vitruv. V.10). Holes can still be seen in the walls, which might have served for pegs on which the garments were hung when taken off. It was lighted by a window closed with glass, and ornamented with stucco mouldings and painted yellow. A sectional drawing of this interior is given in Sir W. Gell's Pompeii. There are no less than six doors to this chamber; one led to the entrance E, another to the entrance D, a third to the small room (11), a fourth to the furnaces, a fifth to the tepid apartment, and the sixth opened upon the cold bath (10), named indifferently by the ancient authors, natatio, natatorium, piscina, baptisterium4, puteus, λοῦτρον. The bath, which is coated with white marble, is 12 feet 10 inches in diameter, and about 3 feet deep, and has two marble steps to facilitate the descent into it, and a seat surrounding it at the depth of 10 inches from the bottom, for the purpose of enabling the bathers to sit down and wash themselves. The ample size of this basin explains to us what Cicero meant when he wrote — Latiorem piscinam voluissem, ubi jactata brachia non offenderentur. It is probable that many persons contented themselves with the cold bath only, instead of going through the severe course of perspiration in the warm apartments; and as the frigidarium alone could have had no effect in baths like these, where it merely served as an apodyterium, the natatio must be referred to when it is said that at one period cold baths were in such request that scarcely any others were used (Gell's Pompeiil.c.) There is a platform, or ambulatory (schola, Vitruv. V.10) round the bath, also of marble, and four niches of the same material disposed at regular intervals round the walls, with pedestals, for statues probably, placed in them.5 The ceiling is vaulted, and the chamber lighted by a window in the centre. The annexed woodcut represents a frigidarium with its cold bath (puteus, Plin. Ep. V.6) at one extremity, supposed to have formed a part of the Formian villa of Cicero, to whose age the style of p190construction, and the use of the simple Doric order, undoubtedly belong. The bath itself, into which the water still continues to flow from a neighbouring spring, is placed under the alcove, and the two doors on each side opened into small chambers, which probably served as apodyteria. It is still to be seen in the gardens of the Villa Caposeli, at Mola di Gaeta, the site of the ancient Formiae.

In the cold bath of Pompeii the water ran into the basin through a spout of bronze, and was carried off again through a conduit on the opposite side. It was also furnished with a waste-pipe under the margin to prevent it from running over. No. 11 is a small chamber on the opposite side of the frigidarium, which might have served for shaving (tonstrina), or for keeping unguents or strigiles; and from the side of the frigidarium, the bather, who intended to go through the process of warm bathing and sudation, entered into (12) the tepidarium.


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This chamber did not contain water either at Pompeii or at the baths of Hippias, but was merely heated with warm air of an agreeable temperature in order to prepare the body for the great heat of the vapour and warm baths, and, upon returning, to obviate the danger of a too sudden transition to the open air. In the baths at Pompeii this chamber served likewise as an apodyterium for those who took the warm bath; for which purpose the fittings up are evidently adapted, the walls being divided into a number of separate compartments or recesses for receiving the garments when taken off, by a series of figures of the kind called Atlantes or Telamones, which project from the walls, and support a rich cornice above them. One of these divisions, with the Telamones, is represented in the article Atlantes. Two bronze benches were also found in the room, which was heated as well by its contiguity to the hypocaust of the adjoining chamber, as by a brazier of bronze (foculus), in which the charcoal ashes were still remaining when the excavation was made. A representation of it is given in the annexed woodcut. Its whole length was seven feet, and its breadth two feet six inches.


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In addition to this service there can be little doubt that this apartment was used as a depository for unguents and a room for anointing (ἀλειπτήριον, unctuarium, elaeothesium), the proper place for which is represented by Lucian (l.c.) as adjoining to the tepidarium, and by Pliny (Ep. II.17) as adjoining to the hypocaust; and for which purpose some of the niches between the Telamones seem to be peculiarly adapted. In the larger establishments a separate chamber was allotted to these purposes, as may be seen by referring to the drawing taken from the Thermae of Titus; but as there is no other spot within the circuit of the Pompeian baths which could be applied in the same manner, we may safely conclude that the inhabitants of this city were anointed in the tepidarium; which service was performed by slaves called unctores and aliptae. [Aliptae]. For this purpose the common people used oil, sometimes scented; but the more wealthy classes indulged in the greatest extravagance with regard to their perfumes and unguents. These they either procured from the elaeothesium of the baths, or brought with them in small glass bottles ampullae oleariae; hundreds of which have been discovered in different excavations made in various parts of Italy. [Ampulla.] The fifth book of Athenaeus contains an ample treatise upon the numerous kinds of ointments used by the Romans; which subject is also fully treated by Pliny (H. N. XIII).

Caligula is mentioned by Suetonius (Suet. Cal. 37) as having invented a new luxury in the use of the bath, by perfuming the water, whether hot or cold, by an infusion of precious odours, or as Pliny states (l.c.), by anointing the walls with valuable unguents; a practice, he adds, which was adopted by one of the slaves of Nero, that the luxury might not be confined to royalty (ne principale videatur hoc bonum).

From this apartment, a door, which closed by its own weight, to prevent the admission of the cooler air, opened into No.13, the thermal chamber or concamerata sudatio of Vitruvius (V.11); and which, in exact conformity with his directions, contains the warm bath — balneum, or calda lavatio (Vitruv. l.c.), at one of its extremities; and the semicircular vapour-bath, or Laconicum at the other; whilst the centre space between the two ends, termed sudatio by Vitruvius (l.c.), and sudatorium by Seneca, is exactly twice the length of its width, according to the directions of Vitruvius. The object in leaving so much space between the warm bath and the Laconicum was to give room for the gymnastic exercises of the persons within the chamber, who were accustomed to promote a full flow of perspiration by rapid movements of the arms and legs, or by lifting weights (Juv. Sat. VI.420). In larger establishments the conveniences contained in this apartment occupied two separate cells, one of which was appropriated to the warm bath, which apartment was then termed caldarium, cella caldaria, or balneum, and the other comprised the Laconicum and sudatory — Laconicum sudationesque (Vitruv l.c.), which part alone was then designated under the name of concamerata sudatio.d p191This distribution is represented in the painting on the walls of the Thermae of Titus; in which there is also another peculiarity to be observed, viz., the passage of communication (intercapedo) between the two chambers, the flooring of which is suspended over the hypocaust. Lucian informs us of the use for which this compartment was intended, where he mentions as one of the characteristic conveniences in the baths of Hippias, that the bathers need not retrace their steps through the whole suite of apartments by which they had entered, but might return from the thermal chamber by a shorter circuit through a room of gentle temperature (δι᾽ ἠρέμα θερμοῦ οἰκήματοςl.c. 7), which communicated immediately with the frigidarium.

The warm-water bath, which is termed calda lavatio by Vitruvius (l.c.), balineum by Cicero (ad Att. II.3), piscina or calida piscina by Pliny (Ep. II.17) and Suetonius (Nero, 27), as well as labrum (Cic. ad Fam. XIV.20),º and solium by Cicero (in Pison. 27), appears to have been a capacious marble vase, sometimes standing upon the floor, like that in the picture from the Thermae of Titus; and sometimes either partially elevated above the floor, as it was at Pompeii, or entirely sunk into it, as directed by Vitruvius (V.10). His words are these:— "The bath (labrum) should be placed underneath the window, in such a position that the persons who stand around may not cast their shadows upon it. The platform which surrounds the bath (scholae labrorum) must be sufficiently spacious to admit of the surrounding observers, who are waiting for their turn, to stand there without crowding each other. The width of the passage or channel (alveus), which lies between the parapet (pluteus), and the wall, should not be less than six feet, so that the space occupied by the seat and its step below (pulvinus et gradus inferior) may take off just two feet from the whole width." The subjoined plans given by Marini, will explain his meaning.


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The warm bath at Pompeii is a square basin of marble, and is ascended from the outside by two steps raised from the floor, which answered to the parapet or pluteus of Vitruvius. Around ran a narrow platform (schola); but which, in consequence of the limited extent of the building, would not admit of a seat (pulvinus) all around it. On the interior another step allowed the bathers to sit down and wash themselves. The annexed section will render this easily intelligible.


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We now turn to the opposite extremity of the chamber which contains the Laconicum or vapour bath, so called because it was the custom of the Lacedaemonians to strip and anoint themselves without using warm water after the perspiration produced by their athletic exercise (Dion Cass. LIII. p516; cf. Martial, Epig. VI.42.16). It is termed assa by Cicero (Ad Quint. Frat. III.1 §1), from ἄζω, to dry; because it produced perspiration by means of a dry, hot atmosphere; which Celsus (III. cap. ult.) consequently terms sudatione assas, "dry sweating," which he afterwards adds (II.17)º was produced by dry warmth (calore sicco). It was called by the Greeks πυριαιτήριον (Voss. Lex. Etym. s.v.) from the fire of the hypocaust, which was extended under it; and hence by Alexander Aphrodis. ξηρὸν θολόν, "a dry vaulted chamber."

Vitruvius says that its width should be equal to its height, reckoning from the flooring (suspensura) to the bottom of the thole (imam curvaturam p192hemisphaerii), over the centre of which an orifice is left from which a bronze shield (clipeus) was suspended. This regulated the temperature of the apartment, being raised or lowered by means of chains to which it was attached. The form of the cell was required to be circular, in order that the warm air from the hypocaust might encircle it with greater facility (Vitruv. V.10). 
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	In accordance with these rules is the Laconicum at Pompeii, a section of which is given in the previous page, the clipeus only being added in order to make the meaning more clear.

A, The suspended pavement, suspensura; B. the junction of the hemisphaerium with the side walls, ima curvatura hemisphaerii; C, the shield, clipeus; E and F, the chains by which it is raised and lowered; D, a labrum, or flat marble vase, into which a supply of water was introduced by a single pipe running through the stem. Its use is not exactly ascertained in this place, nor whether the water it contained was hot or cold.

It would not be proper to dismiss this account of the Laconicum without alluding to an opinion adopted by some writers, amongst whom are Galiano and Cameron, that the Laconicum was merely a small cupola, with a metal shield over it, rising above the flooring (suspensura) of the chamber, in the manner represented by the drawing from the Thermae of Titus, which drawing has, doubtless, given rise to the opinion. But it will be observed that the design in question is little more than a section, and that the artist may have resorted to the expedient in order to show the apparatus belonging to one end of the chamber, as is frequently done in similar plans, where any part which required to be represented upon a larger scale is inserted in full development within the general section; for in none of the numerous baths which have been discovered in Italy or elsewhere, even where the pavements were in a perfect state, has any such contrivance been observed. Besides which it is manifest that the clipeus could not be raised or lowered in the design alluded to, seeing that the chains for that purpose could not be reached in the situation represented, or, if attained, could not be handled, as they must be red-hot from the heat of the hypocaust into which they were inserted. In addition to which, the remains discovered tally exactly with the directions of Vitruvius, which this does not.


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For an idea of how the strigil was used, see this photo of the Apoxyomenos, a famous statue in the Vatican, of an athlete using it after his bath. Somewhat more archaeological information, including a woodcut of an Etruscan strigil, can be found here; and this page has another example found in Britain; see also this interesting medical note in the Loeb edition of Celsus.

After having gone through the regular course of perspiration, the Romans made use of instruments called strigiles (or strigles, Juv. Sat. III.263), to scrape off the perspiration, much in the same way as we are accustomed to scrape the sweat off a horse with a piece of iron hoop, after he has run a heat, or comes in from violent exercise. These instruments, some specimens of which are represented in previous woodcut, and many of which have been discovered amongst the ruins of the various baths of antiquity, were made of bone, bronze, iron, and silver; all corresponding in form with the epithet of Martial, "curvo distringere ferro: (Epig. XIV.51). The poorer classes were obliged to scrape themselves, but the more wealthy took their slaves to the baths for the purpose; a fact which is elucidated by a curious story related by Spartianus (Hadrian. c17).

The strigil was by no means a blunt instrument, consequently its edge was softened by the application of oil, which was dropped upon it from a small vessel called guttus6, which had a narrow neck, so as to discharge its contents drop by drop, from whence the name is taken. A representation of a guttus is given in the preceding woodcut. Augustus is said to have suffered from an over-violent use of the strigil (Suet. Aug. 80).º Invalids and persons of a delicate habit made use of sponges, which Pliny says answered for towels as well as strigils. They were finally dried with towels (lintea), and anointed (Juv. Sat. III.262; Apuleius, Met. II; Plin. H. N. XXXI.11 s47).

The common people were supplied with these necessaries in the baths, but the more wealthy carried their own with them (Pers. Sat. V.126). Lucian (Lexiph. vol. II p320, ed. Reiz.) adds also soap and towels to the list.

After the operation of scraping and rubbing dry, they retired into, or remained in, the tepidarium until they thought it prudent to encounter the open air. But it does not appear to have been customary to bathe in the water, when there was any, which was not the case at Pompeii, nor in the baths of Hippias (Lucian, l.c.), either of the tepidarium or frigidarium; the temperature only of the atmosphere in these two chambers being of consequence to break the sudden change from the extreme of hot to cold.

Returning now back into the frigidarium (8), which, according to the directions of Vitruvius (V.11), has a passage (14) communicating with the mouth of the furnace (e), which is also seen in the next woodcut under the boilers, called praefurnium, propnigeum (Plin. Ep. II.17), προπνιγεῖον (from πρό, before, and πνιγεὺς, a furnace), and passing down that passage, we reach the chamber (15) into which the praefurnium projects, and which has also an entrance from the street at B. It was appropriated to the use of those who had charge of the fires (fornacatores). There are two staircases in it; one of which leads to the roof of the baths, and the other to the coppers which contained the water. Of these there were three: one of which contained the hot water — caldarium (sc. vas, or ahenum); the second the tepid — tepidarium; and the last the cold — frigidarium. The warm water was introduced into the warm bath by means of a conduit pipe, marked on the plan, and conducted through the wall. Underneath the caldarium was placed the furnace (furnus, Hor. Ep. I.11.12), which served to heat the water, and give out streams of warm air into the hollow cells of the hypocaustum (from ὑπὸ and καίω). It p193passed from the furnace under the first and last of the caldrons by two flues, which are marked upon the plan. These coppers were constructed in the same manner as is represented in the engraving from the Thermae of Titus; the one containing hot water being placed immediately over the furnace; and, as the water was drawn out from thence, it was supplied from the next, the tepidarium, which was already considerably heated from its contiguity to the furnace and the hypocaust below it, so that it supplied the deficiency of the former without materially diminishing its temperature; and the vacuum in this last was again filled up from the farthest removed, which contained the cold water received directly from the square reservoir seen behind them; a principle which has at length been introduced into the modern bathing establishments, where its efficacy, both in saving time and expense, is fully acknowledged. The boilers themselves no longer remain, but the impressions which they have left in the mortar in which they were embedded are clearly visible, and enable us to ascertain their respective positions and dimensions, the first of which, the caldarium, is represented in the annexed cut.


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Behind the coppers there is another corridor (16), leading into the court or atrium (17) appropriated to the servants of the bath, and which has also the convenience of an immediate communication with the street by the door at C.

We now proceed to the adjoining set of baths, which were assigned to the women. The entrance is by the door A, which conducts into a small vestibule (18), and thence into the apodyterium (19), which, like the one in the men's bath, has a seat (pulvinus et gradus) on either side built up against the wall. This opens upon a cold bath (20), answering to the natatio of the other set, but of much smaller dimensions, and probably similar to the one denominated by Pliny (l.c.) puteus. There are four steps on the inside to descend into it. Opposite to the door of entrance into the apodyterium is another doorway which leads to the tepidarium (21), which also communicates with the thermal chamber (22), on one side of which is a warm bath in a square recess, and at the further extremity the Laconicum with its labrum. The floor of this chamber is suspended, and its walls perforated for flues, like the corresponding one in the men's baths.

The comparative smallness and inferiority of the fittings-up in this suite of baths has induced some Italian antiquaries to throw a doubt upon the fact of their being assigned to the women; and amongst these the Abbate Iorio (Plan de Pompeii) ingeniously suggests that they were an old set of baths, to which the larger ones were subsequently added when they became too small for the increasing wealth and population of the city. But the story, already quoted, of the consul's wife who turned the men out of their baths at Teanum for her convenience, seems sufficiently to negative such a supposition; and to prove that the inhabitants of ancient Italy, if not more selfish, were certainly less gallant than their successors. In addition to this, Vitruvius expressly enjoins that the baths of the men and women, though separate, should be contiguous to each other, in order that they might be supplied from the same boilers and hypocaust (V.10); directions which are here fulfilled to the letter, as a glance at the plan will demonstrate.

It does not come within the scope of this article to investigate the source from whence, or the manner in which, the water was supplied to the baths of Pompeii. But it may be remarked that the suggestion of Mazois, who wrote just after the excavation was commenced, and which has been copied from him by the editor of the volumes on Pompeii published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, was not confirmed by the excavation; and those who are interested in the matter may consult the fourth appendix to the Plan de Pompeii, by the Abbate Iorio.

Notwithstanding the ample account which has been given of the plans and usages respecting baths in general, something yet remains to be said about that particular class denominated Thermae; of which establishments the baths in fact constituted the smallest part. The thermae, properly speaking, were a Roman adaptation of the Greek gymnasium [Gymnasium], or palaestra, as described by Vitruvius (V.11); both of which contained a system of baths in conjunction with conveniences for athletic games and youthful sports, exedrae in which the rhetoricians declaimed, poets recited, and philosophers lectured — as well as porticoes and vestibules for the idle, and libraries for the learned. They were decorated with the finest objects of art, both in painting and sculpture, covered with precious marbles, and adorned with fountains and shaded walks and plantations, like the groves of the Academy. It may be said that they began and ended with the Empire, for it was not until the time of Augustus that these magnificent structures were commenced. M. Agrippa is the first who afforded these luxuries to his countrymen, by bequeathing to them the thermae and gardens which he had erected in the campus Martius (Dion Cass. LIV. vol. I p759; Plin. H. N. XXXVI.25 s64). The Pantheon, now existing at Rome, served originally as a vestibule to these baths; and, as it was considered too magnificent for the purpose, it is supposed that Agrippa added the portico and consecrated it as a temple. It appears from a passage in Sidonius Apollinaris (Carm. xxiii.495), that the whole of these buildings, together with the adjacent Thermae Neronianae, remained entire in the year A.D. 466. Little is now left beyond a few fragments of ruins, and the Pantheon. The example set by Agrippa was followed by Nero, and afterwards by Titus; the ruins of whose thermae are still visible, covering a vast extent, partially under ground and partially above the Esquiline Hill. Thermae were also erected by Trajan, Caracalla, and Diocletian, of the two last of which p194ample remains still exist; and even as late as Constantine, besides several which were constructed by private individuals, P. Victor enumerates sixteen, and Panvinus (Urb. Rom. Descript. p106) has added four more.

Previously to the erection of these establishments for the use of the population, it was customary for those who sought the favour of the people to give them a day's bathing free of expense. Thus, according to Dion Cassius (XXXVII. p143), Faustus, the son of Sulla, furnished warm baths and oil gratis to the people for one day; and Augustus on one occasion furnished warm baths and barbers to the people for the same period free of expense (Id. LIV. p755), and at another time for a whole year to the women as well as the men (Id. XLIX. p600). Hence it is fair to infer that the quadrans paid for admission into the balneae was not exacted at the thermae, which, as being the works of the emperors, would naturally be opened with imperial generosity to all, and without any charge, otherwise the whole city would have thronged to the establishment bequeathed to them by Agrippa; and in confirmation of this opinion it may be remarked that the old establishments, which were probably erected by private enterprise (cf. Plin. H. N. IX.54 s79), were termed meritoriae (Plin. Ep. II.17). Most, if not all, of the other regulations previously detailed as relating to the economy of the baths, apply equally to the thermae; but it is to these establishments especially that the dissolute conduct of the emperors, and other luxurious indulgences of the people in general, detailed in the compositions of the satirists and later writers, must be considered to refer.

Although considerable remains of the Roman thermae are still visible, from the very ruinous state in which they are found, we are far from being able to arrive at the same accurate knowledge of their component parts, and the usages to which they were applied, as has been done with respect to the balneae; or indeed to discover a satisfactory mode of reconciling their constructive details with the description which Vitruvius has left of the baths appertaining to a Greek palaestra, or to the description given by Lucian of the baths of Hippias. All, indeed, is doubt and guess-work; the learned men who have pretended to give an account of their contents differing in almost all the essential particulars from one another. And yet the great similarity in the ground-plan of the three which still remain cannot fail to convince even a superficial observer that they were all constructed upon a similar plan. Not, however, to dismiss the subject without enabling our readers to form something like a general idea of these enormous edifices, which, for their extent and magnificence, have been likened to provinces — (in modum provinciarum exstructae, Amm. Marc. XVI.6) — a ground-plan is annexed of the Thermae of Caracalla, which p195are the best preserved amongst those remaining, and which were perhaps more splendid than all the rest. Those apartments, of which the use is ascertained with the appearance of probability, are alone marked and explained. The dark parts represent the remains still visible, the open lines are restorations.


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A, Portico fronting the street made by Caracalla when he constructed his thermae. — B, Separate bathing-rooms, either for the use of the common people, or perhaps for any persons who did not wish to bathe in public. — C, Apodyteria attached to them. — D, D, and E, E, the porticoes (Vitruv. V.11). — F, F, Exedrae, in which there were seats for the philosophers to hold their conversations (Vitruv. l.c.; Cic. De Orat. II.5). — G, Hypaethrae, passages open to the air — Hypaethrae ambulationes quas Graeci περιδρόμιδας, nostri xystos appellant (Vitruv. l.c.). — H, H, Stadia in the palaestraquadrata sive oblonga (Vitruv. l.c.). — I, I, Possibly schools or academies where public lectures were delivered. — J, J, and K, K, Rooms appropriated to the servants of the baths (balneatores). In the latter are staircases for ascending to the principal reservoir. — L, Space occupied by walks and shrubberies — ambulationes inter platanones (Vitruv. l.c.). — M, The arena or stadium in which the youth performed their exercises, with seats for the spectators (Vitruv. l.c.), called the theatridium. — N, N, Reservoirs, with upper stories, sectional elevations of which are given in the two subsequent woodcuts. — O, Aqueduct which supplied the baths. — P, the cistern or piscina. This external range of buildings occupies one mile in circuit.

We now come to the arrangement of the interior, for which it is very difficult to assign satisfactory destinations. — Q, represents the principal entrances, of which there were eight. — R, the natatio, piscina, or cold-water bath, to which the direct entrance for the portico is by a vestibule on either side marked S, and which is surrounded by a set of chambers which served most probably as rooms for undressing (apodyteria), anointing (unctuaria), and stations for the capsarii. Those nearest to the peristyle were perhaps the conisteria, where the powder was kept which the wrestlers used in order to obtain a firmer grasp upon their adversaries:—

"Ille cavis hausto spargit me pulvere palmis,

Inque vicem fulvae tactu flavescit arenae."

(Ovid, Met. IX.35)

(See also Salmas. Ad Tertull. Pall. p217, and Mercurialis, De Art. Gymn. I.8). The inferior quality of the ornaments which these apartments have had, and the staircases in two of them, afford evidence that they were occupied by menials. T, is considered to be the tepidarium, with four warm baths (U, U, U, U) taken out of its four angles, and two labra on its two flanks. There are steps for descending into the baths, in one of which traces of the conduit are still manifest. Thus it would appear that the centre part of this apartment served as a tepidarium, having a balneum or calda lavatio in four of its corners. The centre part, like that also of the preceding apartment, is supported by eight immense columns.

The apartments beyond this, which are too much dilapidated to be restored with any degree of certainty, contained of course the laconicum and sudatories, for which the round chamber W, and its appurtenances seem to be adapted, and which are also contiguous to the reservoirs, Z, Z (Vitruv. V.11).

V, Vº probably contained the ephebia, or places where the youth were taught their exercises, with appurtenances belonging to them, such as the sphaeristerium and corycaeum. The first of these takes its name from the game at ball, so much in favour with the Romans, at which Martial's friend was playing when the bell sounded to announce that the water was ready (Mart. XIV.163). The latter is derived from κώρυκος, a sack (Hesych. s.v.), which was filled with bran and olive husks for the young, and sand for the more robust, and then suspended at a certain height, and swung backwards and forwards by the players (Aulis, De Gymn. Const. p9; Antill. ap. Oribas. Coll. Med. 6).

The chambers also on the other side, which are not marked, probably served for the exercises of the palaestra in bad weather (Vitruv. V.11).

These baths contained an upper story, of which nothing remains beyond what is just sufficient to indicate the fact. They have been mentioned and eulogized by several of the Latin authors (Spartian. Caracall. c9; Lamprid. Heliogab. c17, Alex. Sever. c25; Eutropius, VIII.11; Olymp. apud Phot. p114, ed. Aug. Vindel. 1601).

It will be observed that there is no part of the bathing department separated from the rest, which could be assigned for the use of the women exclusively. From this it must be inferred either that both sexes always bathed together promiscuously in the thermae, or that the women were excluded altogether from these establishments, and only admitted to the balneae.

It remains to explain the manner in which the immense body of water required for the supply of a set of baths in the thermae was heated, which has been performed very satisfactorily by Piranesi and Cameron, as may be seen by a reference to the two subjoined sections of the castellum aquaeductus and piscina belonging to the Thermae of Caracalla.


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A, Arches of the aquaeduct which conveyed the water into the piscina B, from whence it flowed into the upper range of cells through the aperture at C, and thence again descended into p196the lower ones by the aperture at D, which were placed immediately over the hypocaust E;


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the praefurnion of which is seen in the transverse section, at F in the lower cut. There were thirty-two of these cells arranged in two rows over the hypocaust, sixteen on each side, and all communicating with each other; and over these a similar number similarly arranged, which communicated with those below by the aperture at D. The parting walls between these cells were likewise perforated with flues, which served to disseminate the heat all around the whole body of water. When the water was sufficiently warm, it was turned on to the baths through pipes conducted likewise through flues in order to prevent the loss of temperature during the passage, and the vacuum was supplied by tepid water from the range above, which was replenished from the piscina; exactly upon the principle represented in the drawing from the Thermae of Titus, ingeniously applied upon a much larger scale. (The most important modern works on the Roman baths are the following: Winckelmann, numerous passages in his works; the descriptions of the Roman baths by Cameron, Lond. 1772, and Palladio and Scamozzi, Vicenza, 1785; Stieglitz, Archäologie der Baukunst, vol. II. p267, &c.; Hirt, Lehre der Gebäude, p233, &c.; Weinbrenner, Entwürfe und Ergänzungen antiker Gebäude, Carlsruhe, 1822, part 1; the editors of Vitruvius, especially Schneider, vol. II pp375‑391; for the baths of Pompeii, Bechi, Mus. Borbon. vol. II pp49‑52; Gell, Pompeiana; Pompeii in the Lib. Ent. Know.; and for the best summary of the whole subject, Becker, Gallus, vol. II p11, &c.).


The Author's Notes:

1 Balnea is, however, used in the singular to designate a private bath in an inscription quoted by Reinesius (Inscr. XI.115).

2 In this passage it is plain that the word λοῦτρον is used for a warm bath, in which sense it also occurs in the same author. Vitruvius (V.11), on the contrary, says that the Greeks used the same word to signify a cold bath (frigida lavatio, quam Graeci λοῦτρον vocitant). The contradiction between the two authors is here pointed out, for the purpose of showing the impossibility, as well as impropriety, of attempting to affix one precise meaning to each of the different terms made use of by the ancient writers in reference to their bathing establishments.

3 Latrina was also used previously to the time of Varro for the bathing-vessel, quasi lavatrina (Varro, De Ling. Lat. IX.68 ed. Müller; cf. Lucill. ap. Non. c3 n131).

4 The word baptisterium (Plin. Ep. V.6) is not a bath sufficiently large to immerse the whole body, but a vessel, or labrum, containing cold water for pouring over the head. Compare also Plin. Ep. XVII.2.º

5 According to Sir W. Gell (l.c.) with seats, which he interprets scholae, for the accommodation of persons waiting an opportunity to bathe — but a passage of Vitruvius (V.10), hereafter quoted, seems to contradict this use of the term — and seats were placed in the frigidarium adjoining, for the express purpose of accommodating those who were obliged to wait for their turn.

6 It was also called ampulla, λήκυθος, μυροθήκιον, ἐλαιοφόρον (Ruperti, Ad Juv. Sat. III.262). [Ampulla.]


Thayer's Notes:

a Columella's words are rusticis balneis . . . in quibus familia, sed tantum feriis, lavetur: "the baths of the farmstead . . . in which the familia should be made to wash, but only on feriae."

Well, first off familia means the extended family, often with special reference to the slaves and farmhands; certainly that is the context here.

Secondly, a feria is not the nundinae, the market day occurring every 8 days, which could be loosely translated "once a week". Feriae are holidays of various kinds, occurring frequently; depending on the period of Roman history and your social class, they in fact did or did not include the nundinae: for the complicated details, see Smith's article Feriae.

Finally, this passage of Columella is giving us advice rather than telling us what the state of things actually was. The only conclusion we can draw therefore is a vague one: this 1c author doesn't think the farmhands should bathe every day.

If we wish to be more precise — notice the passive lavetur, although this can be read both ways (see the passage already quoted above, Varro, LL 9.lxi.106‑107) — Columella's underlying thought might even be the reverse of what Rich suggests in our article: that you and I might bathe every day but to have all the farmhands do it is just a waste. In the dry Mediterranean climate where fresh water is often at a premium, this makes sense.

b From here on, the entire article deals with what we normally think of in connection with Roman bathing habits: buildings, small or large, usually the latter. There is, however, a tantalizing mention in Velleius Paterculus (II.CXIV.2, q.v.) of what appears to be a portable field bath used by high-level military commanders, and which even seems to be something not that uncommon, since it's included, without being singled out, along with a personal physician and a travelling kitchen. It's a very great pity that Velleius, an eyewitness to the device or system, was writing a summary history and that his projected full-length work on the same period, if he got around to writing it, has not survived.

c Neither that chapter, nor any other passage in the Historia Augusta's life of Alexander Severus, contains anything to that effect; the chapter in fact strongly suggests the contrary, as do several other passages of the work, including the famous passage in Elag. VIII.6.

d Sudatio is of course a "sweating" place; the concamerata part refers to a specific type of vaulting: see Smith's article Camara. 
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