This week I was able to go to the city of Bath which I talked about in my blog post Exploring the Cities of Burford and Bath. The town had the name Aquae Sulis which in Latin meant “the waters of Sulis”. The actual baths were called Aqua Sulis Minerva which meant “the water of Sul and Minerva”. Sul was the goddess of heat and Minerva was the goddess of healing. These two deities were brought together in the Baths which one had temples for the two outside of the Bathhouse.
These are the oldest Roman Baths in the entire world which are warmed from natural geothermal springs under the earth’s surface. They have hot water coming up from over 10,000 feet in the earth. The Baths are in a valley which is right on a geothermal spring-cleavage plain. The plates slide against eachother and the spring water naturally soaks through the stone which then heats up.
Our professor Dr. Allan Chapman told us of a legend about how the baths became to be.
There was a man named Bladud who first founded the Bath. He was either a pigfarmer, a prince, or both. Anyway, his pigs weren’t doing well. They were quite ill but he found a nearby pond where hot water bubbled up from the surface. The pigs went into it and wallowed about. They came out cured and Bladud decided to test its healing properties on men as well as pigs. Thus, the healing properties of a nice hot bath were disvovered.
This legend is most likely not true but who knows! Luckily, there is a lot of facts which are known about the Baths and Romans. The ancient Romans were actually pretty smart cookies! At 50 AD they were actually the world’s first exporters of civilization. They had slaves who were people who came out on the wrong side of battle with them. The Romans also knew a thing or two about civic life and architecture. Their roads are all very straight and were the first inventors of the “grid iron city”.They also knew that stagnany water was bad to drink so they always brought in clean water from outside of the city with aquaducts. This is incredible since people even much later in history didn’t know this and often died from dysentery. The Romans also took a lot of pride in keeping clean which is probably the real reason Baths came to be.
One of their leisurely activities was going to these Baths they had created. These baths were often paid for by wealthy people which made them free to the public! This made bathing an activity for not only the wealthy. It was a place where people could interact, have a drink, and get clean all at the same time.
The first step was to go into a stone room where a slave would rub them down with olive oil since soap hadn’t been invented yet. While this was happening they’d be served cakes, and drinks. If they were really lucky there would be a sauce made from rotten fish available- it was a delicacy although I can’t imagine why. Sounds awful… but it was a different time… Next they would go to a vey hot room called the Calderum that is very similar to modern day saunas. The floor was elevated and underneath the stone floor was a great fire. If it was a water sauna cold water would be thrown on the rocks to make steam. Sandals had to worn as it was so hot in this room. The men and women would literally stand there naked besides their sandles and just sweat. After they became quite drenched a slave would scrape them off with a tool called a “Strigal”. This tool would get rid of all dead skin, oil, dirt, sweat, etc. After being scraped off they would walk to the Frigidarium which a bath of absolutely cold water. They would walk down the steps into this pool where they would be cleansed of any remaining filth.
These baths were discovered only in the last 300 years so naturally many parts have eroded away. There were some large pools still perfectly intact and the Calderum is in good shape. It was so neat to go inside and take a walk back through history to thousands of years ago. I thought it was really interesting that the men and women often bathed naked together with no issues. I think the view of “body image” was much more appropriate back then. They were very comfortable with their bodies and didn’t necessarily think of them as sexualized objects. I have hope for the future that humanity can go back to this way of thinking.