The Inception of Roman baths in Britain

The Romans first came to Britain in August of 55 BC, when Julius Caesar was Emperor. The absolute first written accounts of England’s history came with the Roman conquest in 43 AD, and England was under Roman rule till about 410 AD.

statue of julius caesar
Marble statue of Julius Caesar in Rome

During their rule, they brought considerable advancements to the British isles, like drainage, sewers, the roads, however, they did devise underfloor heating, concrete and the calendar that our current calendar is based upon.

So… When did the Roman baths come to England?

Well, the first temple was erected in the town of Bath, but back then the Roman’s had a particular name for it… ‘Aquae Sulis’ which stands for “The waters of Sulis”. The construction of this complex was amidst 60 & 70 AD, and the bathing area was progressively assembled over 300 years.

The reason for the name ‘Aquae Sulis’ is on account of the Roman temple in Bath being zealous to the main Roman demigods of the temple spa, Sulis Minerva. Sulis is the Celtic Goddess of divine waters and restorative, but when the Romans occupied England they associated Sulis with their Goddess of decisions and Wisdom, Minerva. Travellers from mainland Europe came to bathe in the curative waters, and references to the Goddess Sulis had reached as far as Germany.

roman bath in bath 2
Roman bath site in the city of Bath, UK

How the baths were put together, was a lot like the leisure centres we currently possess. All the rooms were enclosed and many of them had tall ceilings with vibrant walls, and some even had mosaic floors. They were vast buildings with hot and cold rooms, swimming pools, changing rooms and toilets. The roofing wasn’t there just as an architectural inclusion, it was there to keep the sunlight out to prevent algae from growing in the pools.

The baths had two types of hot rooms and one warm room. One of the hot rooms was known as “Caldarium.” These hot rooms were heated by an underfloor heating setup known as hypocaust, and for that reason, whoever visited the baths has to wear wooden shoes. The other hot room was known as “Laconicum”, which was a modest circular room where they sat and sweat even further.

Next up is the warm room, and was known as “Tepidarium”, This room was notable to many as a relic. It was made to purify the body and to deliver the guests an authentic sense of welfare. To diminish stress and with the warmth and parched air in this room, it also aided to strengthen the body’s immune system. When this room was in use, some even chose to apply olive oil to rub into their skin.

Just a little bit of information about the hypocaust structure… It was very cleverly constructed idea that was created about 2000 years ago with both a primary and secondary systems in place. Aqueducts were put in place, and these ducts had an array of tunnels connecting them to the pools and water tanks, and were made of brick and mortar. The airflow system was connected by even more ducts that were constructed by bricks or stone placed beneath the floor, into the vast free gap underneath the raised floor, and into the wall tube.  These tubes were also used as a point of supply of  lining in the room. With the heat soaring, it formed a boundary, which kept the warmth in the interior of the construction.

Hadrians villa in italy
Hadrian’s villa in Trivoli, Italy

Wealthy Romans also had central heating in their villas as well, and these heating systems were kept going by servants, as they kept the flames ablaze in a furnace to heat warm air. This warm air shifted throughout the villa beneath its floors and amid walls. However, these systems were built to keep them warm and snug in their own home, rather than for the Gods or the Goddesses healing powers.

The communal baths weren’t just used for cleaning, but also to play games, relax, hang out with friends, make offerings at the altar of the Gods and more. Covering all of that, one of the biggest reasons why people took long journeys to visit baths in Europe and also this particular bath in England is because of the belief of healing illnesses by bathing in these sacred waters.

Sulis minerva statue
Bronze head statue of Sulis Minerva at Bath’s Roman bath

If you would like to visit a fantastic Roman bath site, head over to Bath in England. You can get a public tour guide, jump into history itself with costumed characters, beautifully torch lit summer evenings, heated rooms and plunge pools. You also get the chance to try the natural spa water at the end of your visit!

For more information follow this link to the Roman Bath website:  http://www.romanbaths.co.uk

 

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