Roman Bath Glossary

LATIN Terminology

(Compilation) Ancie
nt/Classical History; N.S. Gill is a Latinist and a lifelong student of ancient history
. McGill; Classics / Art History 2C03 Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies; Penn State
  • Aliptes - masseur
  • Alveus - The hot bathing pool in the caldarium
  • Apodyterium - changing room
  • Aquarium - watermen
  • Balnea gratuita - free bath
  • Balneator - bathmen, sometimes managers of the bathing establishments
  • Balneum (balnea) - bathhouse not heated and was smaller and less luxurious than the heated therma (thermae), both public and private, and segregated and mixed
  • Baptisterium - A rare term for a cold pool, located either in the interior environment of the frigidarium
  • Caldarium - hottest room; hot and moist
  • Calida piscina - heated pool
  • Capsarius - bathhouse slave who watched clothing for bather
  • Collyrium - oculist's unguent box
  • Conductor - When applied to baths, it generally denotes the manager of an establishment, possibly more remote than a balneator.
  • Curator aquarum - water commissioner
  • Destrictarium - room for scraping off with strigils
  • Destrictatia - area where strigiling took place
  • Exedrae - relaxation rooms
  • Fornacatores - furnace attendants
  • Frigidarium - coldest room with pool of cold water, probably with vaulted ceilings
  • Hypocaust - these or braziers were used for heating
  • Iatraliptae - medical masseurs
  • Instrumenta balnei - bath tools like strigils and towels
  • Labrum - a basin that stood at hip- or waist-height somewhere in the caldarium. Its purpose was to provide sweating bathers with an opportunity to splash themselves with cold water.
  • Laconium - room for sweating; hot and dry
  • Natatio - open-air pool
  • Palaestra - exercise court in an open area surrounded by porticoes
  • Pensilia balnea - hanging baths (therapeutic heated tanks)
  • Perfusores - water pourers
  • Piscina - pools, whether heated or not
  • Praefurnium - furnace room
  • Schola labri - Hemicircular apse in which the larbum stood; usually located in the caldarium
  • Sculponea - Wooden sandals to protect bathers' feet from the hot floors
    Solium - heated community pool
  • Sphaeristerium - Ball-playing court, either open court or roofed room
  • Strigiles - Curved instruments, usually made of metal, wood, bone, or terracotta, used to scrape the product of ercise and anointing off the bather. This procedure took place either in the palaestra or the tepidarium.
  • Sudatorium - the sweating room of a Roman bath
  • Tepidarium - room where anointing probably took place
  • Testudo alvei - ("The tortoise of the pool") - A remarkable device for ensuring that the heated water in hot pools was evenly distributed. It was a hollow metal receptacle, that sat directly over the fire in the furnace. It opened into the pool, and by the prccess of convection water circulated into it from the pool and, once heated, back out into the pool
  • Therma (thermae) - bathhouses usually larger and more luxurious than the balnea; generally made of stone compared with the balnea's wooden structure
Bibliography (Compilation) Ancient/Classical History; N.S. Gill is a Latinist and a lifelong student of ancient history. McGill; Classics / Art History 2C03 Department of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies; Penn State

Roman Bath's Celtic Acquisition

BBC Immigration and Emigration

A Celtic goddess

The hot springs over which the city of Bath is built have probably existed for thousands of years. Before the Roman's arrived in Britain, the oak-tree lined grove with its bubbling orange-tinged waters was a spot held sacred by the Celts. They believed the hot spring, with its rich, mineral properties, was the work of the deity Sul, the Celtic goddess associated with medicine, fertility and healing. Celtic coins found at the spring's site prove that people used the spring as a means of communicating with Sul, leaving offerings in the hope of the obtaining the goddess's good fortune.

The date of the hot spring's discovery and its development into a sacred site has been lost in time and could have happened as many as 10,000 years ago. However, one legend which has persisted attributes the spring's discovery to the Celtic King Bladud. The eldest son of King Lud, Bladud was banished from his father's court when he contracted leprosy. One day, the exiled son, who had become a swineherd to survive, watched as his pigs wallowed in a particular muddy spot. The mud has the miraculous effect of improving the condition of their skin. Ever hopeful, he wallowed in the mud and was amazed to find his leprosy cured. Healed, Bladud returned to court and succeeded his father as King and in gratitude he formed a temple at the hot spring in honour of the goddess Sul. Legend also has it that the most famous of Bladud's sons, King Lear, is believed to have committed suicide by throwing himself off the temple.

Roman Bath's Celtic acquisition

Roman colonisation

When Claudius I's Roman army successfully invaded Britain in 43AD, they faced a mammoth task. If Britain was to become the furthest flung outpost of the Roman Empire, they needed to Romanise the country, civilise it (in the original meaning of create cities) and convince the native Britons to identify with the Roman Empire. The Boudiccan rebellion of 60AD is evidence that the subjugation of Britain's native tribes was not without its problems. However, the Roman's proved to be successful colonialists and by the year 410AD, Britain identified so strongly with Rome, she sent appeals for help to Emperor Honorius against attacks from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. One technique employed by the Romans, which was to prove extremely successful, was the adaptation of native Celtic traditions. By appropriating pre-existing gods and their associated locations, the conquerors were able to Romanise them and encourage native Britons to accept the Roman way of doing things.

The Roman's polytheistic faith was not averse to merging Celtic gods with their own Roman deities. On discovering the sacred spring at Bath, they renamed it
Aquae Sulis - the waters of Sulis - and amalgamated the Celtic goddess Sul with one of their own gods, Minerva. The cross-bred deity Sulis Minerva was born! The sacred quality of Aquae Sulis's waters set it apart from other Roman baths, such as Wroxeter and Beau Nash. Whilst bathing at Aquae Sulis, Romans could not only indulge in the usual activities of gossip, grooming and socialising, they could also worship Sulis Minerva in the adjoining temple. The famed healing qualities of the mineral rich waters further enhanced the sacred qualities of the site.

The development of
Aquae Sulis The combination of the Romans' engineering skill and the sacred waters of Sulis Minerva meant that by 100AD, Aquae Sulis had become a busy leisure, religious and social centre and developed into what historians describe as the "most sophisticated town in Roman Britain". The baths became so popular that pilgrims were regular visitors to the town, to pay their respects to Sulis Minerva, and a plethora of boarding houses developed in the periphery of the bath house to accommodate the never-ending stream of eager bathers. The bathing complex underwent major expansion and improvement and by the late Roman period it was a sophisticated sequence of pools. The network of pools with water of different temperature, the large heated swimming pool and the gymnasium had come a long way since the ferny grotto of the Celts. The popularity of Roman baths is well documented. However, what set Aquae Sulis apart and made it so overwhelmingly popular was its healing and sacred associations. Over 6,000 coins were thrown into the waters as offerings to Sulis Minerva. Lead and bronze tablets recovered from the site carry requests to the deity, including requests for curses to be placed on people who had done them wrong! One victim of crime wrote: "To Minerva the goddess of Sulis I have given the thief who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether slave or free, whether man or woman. He is not to buy back this gift unless with his own blood"

Aquae Sulis is an intriguing example of the methods used by the Romans to colonise Britain. Their appropriation of the sacred waters and the native Celtic deity reveals a shrewd pragmatism that helped them conquer and Romanise Britain. We only know about this process of adaptation thanks to the survival of a few pieces of evidence: folklore and excavated Celtic coins. Without this evidence we may have wrongly identified the site as a purely Roman one. Who knows how many other stories of Roman adaptation have been lost?

Bibliography BBC Immigration and Emigration