Thermal baths II - The social component of Roman thermal baths

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

© Land NÖ, Carnuntum Archaeological Park - Therme excavations 1965

In addition to cleansing the body, thermal baths also had great social significance, as this was also where people met to exchange news.

Baths were regarded as a visible sign of Roman civilisation and played an important role in the Romanisation of the provinces: Wall paintings, marble panelling and mosaics were part of the basic furnishings of thermal bath buildings, even in smaller settlements. Domes with glass mosaics or stucco decorations and rich sculptural decorations were also frequently found. It was often members of the city elite who donated thermal baths and other large public buildings for the common good.


The entrance fee to the thermal baths was deliberately kept low so that even ordinary, socially disadvantaged citizens could afford to visit the baths regularly. Men and women were not allowed to be in the baths at the same time, unless there were structural precautions to prevent the two sexes from meeting. On some days, thermal baths were also open to slaves. Their owners took this measure to ensure that the slaves remained healthy and were therefore able to carry out their work for as long as possible. For the same reason, slaves were also entitled to wine rations.

After taking off their street clothes, for which there were separate attendants in some thermal baths, as clothing was extremely expensive, they went into the bathing rooms with a linen cloth and wooden clogs. The sequence was dictated by the temperature, but was not compulsory. The pools seem small by today's standards, more comparable to a whirlpool than a bathing pool. The so-called strigilis, a metal tool that was brought into the thermal baths, was used to scrape off oil, sand and dead skin. After bathing, people rubbed themselves with oil and dressed. Soap in the form we are familiar with was not used in ancient Rome.

© NÖ Landessammlungen

© Landessammlungen NÖ, Carnuntum Archaeological Park (Photo: N. Gail)

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