The Establishment of Roman Public Baths
Public baths are first heard of after the Second Punic War. They increased in number rapidly; 170 at least were operated in Rome in the year 33 B.C., and later there were more than eight hundred. With equal rapidity they spread through Italy and the provinces;12 all the towns and even many villages had at least one. They were public only in the sense of being open to all citizens who could pay the modest fee demanded for their use. Free baths did not exist, except when some magistrate or public-spirited citizen or candidate for office arranged to relieve the people of the fees for a definite time by meeting the charges himself. So Agrippa in the year 33 B.C. kept open free of charge 170 establishments at Rome. The rich sometimes in their wills provided free baths for the people, but always for a limited time.
History of Roman Public Baths
The first public baths were opened by individuals for speculative purposes. Others were built by wealthy men as gifts to their native towns. The administration of public baths was lodged with the town authorities, who kept the buildings in good repair and the public baths were kept open by means of the entrance fees collected. Other public baths were built by the towns out of public funds, and others were credited to the later emperors.
The Management of Roman Public Baths
However they were started, the management of Roman Public Baths was practically the same for all. They were leased for a definite time and for a fixed sum to a manager (conductor), who paid his expenses and made his profits out of the fees which he collected.
Roman Public Baths - The Entrance Fees
The entrance fee (balneaticum) was hardly more than nominal. The bather furnished his own towels, oil, etc. Women paid more, perhaps twice as much, while children up to a certain age, unknown to us, paid nothing. Prices varied, of course, in different places. It is likely that higher prices were charged in some baths than in others in the same city, either because they were more luxuriously equipped or to make them more exclusive and fashionable than the rest, but we have no positive knowledge that this was done.
Roman Public Baths for Women
Public Baths for women for Women. Women of respectability bathed in the public baths, as they bathe in public places now, but with women only, enjoying the opportunity to meet their friends as much as did the men. In the large cities there were separate public baths devoted to their exclusive use. In the larger towns separate rooms were set apart for them in the public baths intended generally for men. It will was noted that the rooms intended for use of the women are smaller than those for the men. In the very small places the public baths bath was opened to men and women at different hours. Late in the Roman Empire we read of men and women bathing together, but this was true only of women who had no claim to respectability at all.
Roman Public Baths - Bathing Hours
Bathing Hours. The bath was regularly taken between the meridiatio and the cena; the hour varied, therefore, within narrow limits in different seasons and for different classes. In general it is said to have been taken about the eighth hour, and at this hour all the conductores were bound by their contracts to have the baths open and all things in readiness. Many Romans preferred to bathe before the prandium and some, at least, of the public baths in the larger places must have been open then. All were regularly kept open until sunset, but in the smaller towns, where public baths were fewer, it is probable that they were kept open later and lamps found in large numbers in the Roman public baths at Pompeii seem to point to evening hours. Basically, the managers would keep the doors to the Roman Public Baths open as long as was profitable!