baths and bathing
- Fikret Yegül
In Homer’s world, bathing in warm water was a reward reserved for heroes. Ordinary Greeks bathed at home or in public baths characterized by circular chambers with hip-baths and rudimentary heating systems. Public bathing as a daily habit, a hygienic, medicinal, recreational, and luxurious experience belonged to the Romans. The origins of Roman baths can be traced in the simpler Greek baths and the bathing facilities of the Greek gymnasium and palaestra, as well as the farm traditions of rural Italy. The earliest Roman baths (balneae), which show the mastery of floor and wall heating, and a planning system based on controlled and graded heating of spaces, emerged in Latium and Campania by the early 2nd century bce. There is little doubt that bathing as an ultimate luxurious experience was epitomized by the imperial thermae first developed in Rome and spread to the provinces. These grand bathing palaces combined exercise, bathing, recreation, and quasi-intellectual activities in vast, park-like precincts, as best exemplified by the Thermae of Caracalla in Rome. The tradition of public bathing and baths passed on to Early Christian, Byzantine, and Medieval Islamic societies across Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean.