Many Romans visit the Thermae or the public baths, as we know them. They went to the baths for entertainment, healing in the case of some baths, or just to get clean. There were 170 baths in Rome during the reign of Augustus and by 300 A.D that number had increasd to over 900 baths.
The baths were huge buildings built at public expense or by rich emperors who wished to impress their subjects. Sometimes rich Romans who were trying to gain popularity paid entry for a whole day for anyone wishing to visit the baths.
Most of the Roman baths were free but those baths that had a nominal fee had the fee to keep out the slaves and the poor who could not afford it.There were many famous baths these included the Baths at Caracella, the Baths of Diocletian and the baths at Bath.
Aquaducts (warning, this page contains an image 84 kB in size) or springs supplied the public baths. Doors opened around 10.30 am and closed in the late afternoon, just before dinner time. Men and women bathed separately. Women either bathed early in the mornings, at their own baths or at home in their villas.
Some of the bathing habits of the richer part of the Roman civilisations had very lavish. Roman men would bathe in wine and the women sometimes in milk. The wife of Emperor Nero had 500 asses to supply the milk for her baths.
The baths were very luxurious. The average bath house would have mirrors covering the walls, ceilings were buried in glass and the pools were lined with rich marble and complicated mosaics covered the floors. A Roman wishing to enter the baths would do so through the front porch whose roof was supported by Roman pillars. He would enter into the main hall were he would pay his fee, from there he would go to the changing rooms called apodyterium. In here he would leave his clothes with his slave to guard. The bath house had many different rooms each with it's own special use these included:
The Roman visiting the baths would exercise in the yard called a palaestra or hall were he would work up a sweat lifting weights, playing ball games, boxing or wrestling. During the wrestling match at the end of every bout the fighters slaves would cover their bodies in sand and oil to lessen their opponents grip. For the less energetic there was bowls, gambling with dice, which was very popular or boardgames. Following this he would go to the unctuarium where he would have olive oil rubbed into his skin by one of the slaves owned by the baths.
The baths were like a club in a sports complex. When you had finished bathing there was a gym, library with a reading room for reading scrolls, a snack bar, restaurants, bars, shops, lounges, taverns even museums and theatres. The bathouse was used to meet friends for a chat, to exchange gossip, exercise or just a wash.The baths were noisy with men singing, the odd poet reciting poetry in the hope of getting an invitation home to dinners. Criers calling "HOT SAUSAGES" or "CAKES FOR SALE" could be heard. A rich strict roman called Senaca dissapproved of the baths saying "It was a sign of weakness, and you should only wash once a week like "the good old days."
Really big swimming pools were only found in baths with natural springs. Many well-off Romans who had their own villas had their own small personal swimming pool. There were also baths for soldiers at permanent forts.