What roles did Baths play in the lives of the Roman People
By 354 AD, there were 952 baths of varying size all over the Roman Empire. Going to baths were part of the Roman’s daily routines. They usually went to baths at about 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon and stayed for a few hours there before dinner. It was something that the Romans had to do everyday – it was obvious that the Baths played an important role in the lives of the Roman People.
Hygiene and cleanliness were important ideas to the Romans. They believed that bathing was a practice which had powerful effect of preventing and curing diseases. According to Natascha Zajac, ‘The Romans believed that the human body was made up of four humours. Disease was thought to be the result of imbalance. A certain way of bathing restores the balance of humours.’ Before going into the baths, the Romans usually did a lot of physical activities and sports, like ball games (e.g. Trigon), wrestling and weight-lifting in the Palestra, to maintain the fitness of their bodies. So therefore, going to Baths was a way for the Romans to be clean and healthy.
Also, going to Baths was more or less a social event. The Bath was a place where the Romans meet together after a day of work. They went there to relax with friends, to meet new people, to discuss business and politics; they could even go shopping and reading in the Baths (there were shops and library surrounding the main baths). In some mixed baths, the Romans had the chance to admire the beauty of the bodies of the opposite sex, and, if lucky enough, to find true loves. Some wealthy bathers took bathing as a chance to display their wealth: they competed with each other to see who had the best jewellery, physical attributes and slaves. Participating in such communal activities, the Romans felt a sense of being part of the society.
Roman Baths were sophisticated architectural masterpieces. The comprehensive heating network and the complicated procedures of bathing all displayed the advanced civilisation and technology the ancient Romans had. Going to the Baths made the Romans feel very proud of being Romans. It was the pride they had in themselves which made Baths so popular. Going to baths provided the opportunity for them to take in the beauty of their own buildings every day.
To what extent do we have a need for similar establishments today?
In the 21st Century, we now have very different attitudes and moral values as compared to the people in ancient Roman times. The United Kingdom is now a Christian country, with a majority population of Christians. It is almost impossible for people in this country to accept a place where everybody, both male and female, walks around without wearing anything. We are taught at an early age that we must protect our private parts from other people and we feel ashamed when naked in front of other people. Baths are something that goes against the moral values of most of the people in Britain.
Also, the quality of people has changed as time went by: there are evil people everywhere. It is hard for some sexually obsessed men to resist the temptations when young, beautiful naked women are walking around in front of them. The establishment of baths in Britain may cause serious problems in the society.
However, on the other hand, people may argue that baths are just similar to today’s nude/free beaches, and that people learn to respect the opposite sex through more contacts.
So therefore, it is debatable whether we should have baths today. I personally think that Britain is not suitable for such establishments. There are many events nowadays for people to socialise with each other, baths are not necessary. Moreover, instead of improving the hygiene, hundreds of people bathing together actually make it easy for diseases to spread.
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