Thermal baths I - Types of Roman thermal baths

By Nisa Iduna Kirchengast - Editors: Daniel Kunc, Thomas Mauerhofer

The term thermae comes from the Greek adjective qermóς / thermós "warm". In Roman antiquity, this usually referred to public baths which, in addition to a large number of bathing rooms, also contained cloakrooms, palaces for physical exercise, libraries and other recreational areas such as restaurants.

In the simplest type of building, the row type, which can be found in the rebuilt thermal baths in the Roman city of Carnuntum, the necessary rooms were arranged in a row: the latrinae - i.e. the communal toilet facilities - were located in front of the entrance. In the apodyterium, the cloakroom, you then took off your street clothes, entered the frigidarium (cold bath) and via the tepidarium (warm bath) into a sudatorum (sauna or sweating bath) or a caldarium (hot bath). From here you could go to the outdoor area, the so-called palästra, and exercise with ball games, wrestling or other physical activities.


The principle of using the individual rooms one after the other with increasing temperatures could therefore be easily followed here. However, you had to pass through all the bathing rooms again on the way back from the spa. This was avoided in the more elaborate ring type. Here, too, the entrance area, apodyterium, frigidarium, tepidarium, sudatorium and caldarium as well as a palaestra were arranged in a ring. This type can be found, for example, at the large forum baths, popularly known as palace ruins, which can be visited right next to the Roman city quarter in Petronell-Carnuntum.

The third documented main type is the so-called imperial type, which was actually a main ring with two circumferential rings. This type of construction can be found, for example, in the famous Stabian Baths in Pompeii. The development of opus caementitium (poured concrete) and the so-called hypocaust, a sophisticated underfloor heating system, meant that thermal baths could be found in every major settlement in Rome and the Roman provinces, including Carnuntum. In addition to smaller private baths, several larger thermal baths have been documented for the Roman city by the latest research findings.

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