Thermae (from Greek thermos thermos, "hot") and balneae (from Greek balaneion balaneion) were bathing facilities in ancient Rome. Thermae are vast imperial bath complexes, whereas balneae are smaller-scale, public or private facilities that existed in large numbers around Rome. The word "bath" alone is also used for smaller versions of the larger thermal sites.
Thermae were important elements in Roman life. They provided a vital service to the community by giving people an opportunity to wash away the dirt of daily living and enjoy the benefits of bathing. These baths were often located near temples or other religious institutions so they would not only provide a place where people could clean themselves but also offer prayers for their wellbeing.
People went to thermae for various reasons. You can go there to wash off the dust from your travels, to get some peace and quiet, or even as a form of entertainment - like going to the cinema or watching a play. But perhaps the most popular reason for going to a thermae was because you needed to be cleaned up for a social event or appointment with the gods. Going to a thermae meant that you could relax and refresh yourself before meeting new people or attending cultural events.
There were three main types of thermae: imperial, temple, and private.
Balneum or balineum, derived from the Greek balaneion, refers to a bath or bathing-vessel, such as most Romans of any significance had in their own homes, and hence the chamber which held the bath, which is also the accurate translation of the word balnearium. The word comes from the root ballo, meaning "to wash."
The balneum was usually located in the atrium or central hall of a house. It could be either inside or outside the house, but it was always a private facility used by family members only. There were three kinds of baths: hot, warm, and cold.
The hot bath was taken daily in order to keep healthy and strong. The body's muscles would grow strong if given a chance to relax in a warm water bath. People who took hot baths every day were considered healthy and active individuals who worked out regularly or played sports often. They felt that having a clean body helped them to feel good about themselves.
The warm bath was taken when you wanted to feel relaxed after a long day's work. You could also have a warm bath before going out dancing or partying late into the night if you wanted to feel comfortable walking around naked. The warmth of the water would help loosen up your muscles and ease any pain that you may have been feeling all day long. Most people took a warm bath once a week at the least.
A public bath was designed with three main rooms in mind: the tepidarium (warm room), the caldarium (hot room), and the frigidarium (cold room). Some thermae also had steam baths, such as the sudatorium, which was a wet steam bath, and the laconicum, which was a dry hot room similar to a modern sauna.
Baths were important tools for relaxation and recreation for all classes of people. They were used for physical exercise, preparation for anointing with oil, or immersion in water for religious purposes. The word "bath" comes from the Latin bata, meaning "to wash."
People went to baths to be clean physically and spiritually. The body was washed before entering a sacred space or going up to pray; after a long day's work, people wanted to feel fresh and ready for another challenging day. The spirit was cleansed through prayer and meditation.
In addition to being a place where you could get clean, baths provided other amenities for their users. People would go to bathe in the morning before starting their day, after a hard night's work, when feeling tired or stressed, or even during sickness. There were baths available for every need and interest.
Some cities had large public baths where many people could go at the same time. In other cases, individuals would use private baths, which were usually located in houses.
The hypocaust was a furnace that heated the baths effectively from beneath the floor. When the ritual of taking daily showers in hot baths became popular, Romans began to build bathrooms (balnea) in their homes. The first bathhouses were established in the second century B.C. By the end of the Republic in 30 B.C., there were many such establishments in Rome itself.
During the Empire, many public baths were built across the empire. Some of these remain today; others have been excavated by archaeologists. For example, the Baths of Caracalla in Rome were built during the late 200s A.D. and remained open until 537 A.D. When they closed their doors for the last time, they had over 500 rooms!
In the United States, where water is often scarce, people took showers instead. But beginning in the 1850s, people started building houses with plumbing systems that included a bathroom. In those days, the bathroom was usually located downstairs because of gravity's role in determining how people lived their lives. Since most homes had only one toilet, this meant that everyone had to go downstairs to use it.
But the need for clean clothes led to the development of an upstairs bathroom. So starting in the 1870s, people began building houses with separate toilets for men and women.