Significance of the Herculaneum Suburban Baths Term Paper

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Suburban Baths

"Bathing for Romans was a social occasion. The baths were places everybody went almost every day. Some baths were communal some were private enterprises, some were expensive and some were cheap" - Quoted by Joseph Jay Diess.

Almost towards the end of the first century BC, the famous Suburban baths were built on an artificial terrace that faced the sea to give it the luxurious effect. These baths were built right outside the Marina Gate of Pompeii. Originally, these baths were discovered in the year 1958. Since then, they have been restored and excavated as well.

Kinds of baths

We can tell how important the baths are by their number. Just in the city of Pompeii, three baths were constructed. Moreover, these baths have been built at a place that is the busiest and most easily accessible areas of Pompeii.

There are three establishments that basically make it possible for us to follow the development and expansion of bath architecture in Rome. The first one is the stabian baths that are situated at the Holconius crossroads. The second one is the forum baths that can be found where the via del foro and the via di nola meet, and the third is the central baths that are situated where decumanus maximus and the cardo maximus cross each other.

While the central baths' construction was not complete, the construction of the forum baths was started. The central block of all the baths consisted of the hot bath that was called the caldarium, tepidarium that was the warm steam room and frigidarium that was the cold bath. These three blocks were arranged in a way that they situated along a single axis of east -- west. These baths found their way through the palaestra courtyard. This courtyard, on its three sides, had a portico running. The fourth block of the bath consisted of the service quarters and the ornamental pool.

"At Pompeii, there were three primary sets of public baths. These were the Stabia, Forum and Central Baths. Even in AD 79, Central baths were still not finished. Even though, the city was destroyed even before Rome saw the heyday, the Stabian baths situated on Pompeii are the most ancient public baths that have been preserved" (Cooley and Cooley, 2004).

The stabian baths in Pompeii had a separate bath for women and men. This implied that there had to be sundial for the regulation of the opening and closing times for women as well as the men. At the forum baths, the distinction of men and women baths was also seen. Two rooms in the baths were vaulted. The first one was frigidarium that was also circular and the second one was the apodyterium that was the undressing room and the entrance hall. Circular and octagonal panels studded with stucco were used to decorate the ceilings of these rooms.

Many people were hired to take of the customers. Some members of the staff were responsible for helping the disabled customers climb up the stairs of the bath or when they wanted to descend into the cold pool. Once the customers were done taking the bath, they were provided with moments of relaxation by other members of the staff. These were the ones who massaged the customers and sprayed perfume on them. These members of the staff were usually black people.

The aforementioned facilities were all part of the central baths. This led to more and more residence of Pompeii devoting them to bathing. As for the bath establishment that was called the M. Crassus frugi, the facility of salt-water baths was also available. However, this facility was only reserved for the privileged clients of Pompeii.

Activities in the baths

The baths were not only a place where people would come, take a bath and get cleaned. It offered much more than that. The people who visited these baths could take part in physical exercise that would benefit their health. They could also play sport here. The huge staff of the baths offered these people a range of therapies that included different kinds of massages.

Also, the visitors could take a walk in the gardens, read books in the library, relax by listening to music and indulge in business activities that included the receipt of invitations.

The graffiti that is there on the walls of the baths has led to a lot debate pertaining to the activities that used to take place in these baths. The graffiti is pornographic and thus indicates the presence of sexual activities in the back rooms of the baths.

There are many arguments going on that it cannot be said for sure as to what kind of activities used to take place here and whether or not these pictures on the walls are just pointless paintings.

As mentioned earlier, the people of Pompeii used to come to the baths to get some quality relaxation time. The staff members used to massage these people and used to rub with oils that were of very nice smell.

This was normally done before they entered the hot baths. Once they got massaged and rubbed with the oils, they would enter the hot bath for a leisurely cleaning.


There are hundreds and thousands of books and other scholarly material that has been written by some of the most famous writers about the Roman culture. The suburban baths constructed in Herculaneum and Pompeii hold great significance with respect to the history and culture of Rome. The various books that have discussed this topic in depth have explained the structure and architecture of these books and have also written how these baths were considered to be a sign of luxury. On the other hand, there are also many scholars who argue about the sexual activities that might have been taking place at these baths because of the kind of graffiti that is seen on the walls of the upper portion of the baths.

When the suburban baths were dug in the early 1990s, people found the pornographic pictures on the walls of the changing room of the baths. Yet again, nothing can be said about these pictures with certainty. Some authors are of the view that these pictures point out the prostitution services that were available for the customers on the first floor of the bathhouse. They are of the view that by making such pictures, the people who took care of the baths were trying to advertise that the customers could get involved in sexual activities here.

On the other hand, the other writers suggest that these pictures were only randomly painted just to decorate the walls of the baths with scenes that depicted joy, as this was kind of joy most preferred in the Roman culture.

The theory about these pictures that is accepted by most of the authors and scholars is the one that was presented by the archaeologist called Luciana Jacobelli. Her original theory suggested that these pictures were used by the customers as markers for the place where they used to leave their clothes before going to take a bath. The only place that was used commonly, both by men and women, was the Thermae. Nonetheless, the baths that were situated in any other area of Pompeii were almost always segregated for men and women.

Baths formed an important part of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum, and recently many authors have written about its significance. The most recent literary accounts depict Pompeii in way that it focuses on pleasure and loss. However, it should be noted that Pompeii is not a place that can is clear to study and it has been shown what more and less Pompeii carries than just being a city that is frozen in time (August 24th, 79) (Beard, 2010).

Baths are one of the ways through which the historians can illustrate the lavish living of the people of Rome. Not just the architecture, but also the graffiti, the decor and the whole concept of baths shows the leisurely living of the city. According to some writers, the Complete Pompeii can be considered to be the best inspirational guide as well as the best resource of the ancient town of Pompeii. It is also important to discuss the destruction of the city that took place back in 79 AD. The houses of Pompeii tell us about the lives as well as the deaths of the people who used to live here, before the destruction, and gives us an idea of their personal and political lives (Berry, 2007).

The fact that the baths were a centre for leisure, relaxation and luxury is emphasized by some authors. The novel called Pompeii is especially popular in this subject. In this novel, there are real as well as fictional characters. It has been depicted in this book that Pompeii and Herculaneum were the places around which the richest people of Rome had constructed their villas and that is where they used to go to relax. This book…

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