Even if the word is of Greek origin (thermos, means warm), the thermal baths were purely a Roman institution. The first public thermal baths were built in Rome by Agrippa in 25 a.C., then followed more and more increasing in size bigger and luxury.
The thermal baths were open to women in the morning and to men in the afternoon.
They weren’t used only for washing, but had different environments in which friends could meet, business would be done, politics discussed and news exchanged. It was also possible to have a massage, or specific skincare treatments or have a hair cut. In Roman times soap didn't exist: the skin was covered with a layer of perfumed oil that was removed with a strigil, a kind of spatula made of metal, bone or wood. Hair removal was also carried out in this way.
The various environments in the thermal baths, allowed the bather to complete the different phases of the bath:
- Apodyterium: the locker room, where the Roman frequenter of the thermal baths hung up his clothes.
- Tepidarium: a moderately heated room that served to prepare the body for the elevated temperatures of the calidarium.
- Calidarium: high temperature room, that contained a tub for cold water ablutions, called the labrum and a alveus, for warm water ablutions.
- Laconicum and Sudatio: connected to the tepidarium and calidarium, were strongly heated (the first one with warm air and the second with vapour) and destined more specifically for sweating.
- Frigidarum: room without heating plus an ample tub of cold water, often connected to the natatio or swimming pool.
Attached to this thermal-therapeutic nucleus was the palestra; the place destined for gymnastic activity. It was also made up of various environments; the ephebeum where the young people started to practise the gymnastics, the coryceum, the conisterum and the elacothesium where the ointments and the powders for the fighters were kept. For combat practise it was necessary to undress completely, to anoint the body with a mixture of oil and wax and then sprinkle with powder, in order to easily slip away from the hands of the adversary.