Roman Baths and the Hot Tub Tradition
The history of hot tub soaks goes back a long way, predating the historical record, even. Early man bathed in natural hot springs for cleanliness, healing, and even worship. However, the ancient Roman Empire took it to a whole new level.
The Center of Roman Socialization
Roman public baths became a way of life around 200 BC. Communal baths were called thermae and these large facilities accommodated any citizen who could pay the fee (which was affordable for just about every Roman citizen.) In ancient Roman culture, frequenting the bathhouse was as popular and routine as the morning coffee run. However, regular visits to the bath were also times of leisure, relaxation, and socialization. Business deals would be solidified in the bathhouse, men would talk politics, and gossip about relationships would run wild.
As the Roman Empire spread, it carried the public bath tradition with it, establishing beautiful thermae wherever they found natural hot springs. That’s where we get modern-day Bath in England. Although many of these springs have moved or been lost with the fall of the Empire, they still stand as beautiful examples of ancient Roman architecture at the height of the empire. Thanks to the invention of aqueducts, Romans had more than enough water, and they were able to send it wherever it was needed. This made the establishment of bathhouses easy.
As the bathhouse tradition grew, the structures became more and more complex, until the word “campus” would be more accurate. Bathhouses had outer buildings and courtyards including anything from exercise yards to swimming pools, reading rooms, and restaurants. There were stores selling perfumes, and even amphitheaters where entertainment would happen. Originally, these bathhouses were segregated between men and women, but by the 1st century AD, they were often mixed (to the fervent opposition of many Roman moralists who believed it a sign of the degradation of Rome.)
Bathhouses also usually had beautiful decorations,; stuccoed wall paintings, beautifully elaborate murals, and lovely statuary. Bathing was elevated to a high art, and had a ritualistic pattern to it. There were locker rooms where people would undress and store clothing (apodyterium). Next, patrons would walk into a cold room with a cold tank of water (the frigidarium), then spend some time in the warm water bath, or tepidarium. At the center of the bathhouse was the caldarium, where the hot baths were located. Although some baths were placed on natural hot springs, others were artificially heated by a brazier under the hollow floor. After soaking for a while, the patron would go back to the tepidarium, where he would enjoy a massage and exfoliating “scraping.”
Modern Hot Tubs and Your Hub of Socialization
Although modern-day hot tubs are significantly different from ancient Roman thermae, there are certain elements that we still enjoy. Hot tubs are still excellent vehicles for parties and socialization, and a relaxing setting where we can let the stresses of the day float away. Hot tubs are still enjoyed for their therapeutic qualities and the way they can loosen strained muscles.
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