Bathing in Public in the Roman World

Garrett G. Fagan
An uninhibited glance into the extensive baths of Rome


For Romans, bathing was a social event. Public baths, in fact, were one of the few places where large numbers of Romans gathered daily in an informal context. They went to meet friends, drink wine, pick up sexual partners, and generally while away the idle afternoon hours. Despite the disapproval of the morally superior, the popularity of the baths endured for over a millennium and spread to every corner of the Roman world.

This book is the first to study the Roman public bathing experience primarily as a historical, social, and cultural phenomenon rather than a technological or architectural one. As a result, many issues are developed here that have to date been addressed only superficially. Fagan reconstructs what a trip to a Roman bath was like. He asks when and why the baths became popular at Rome, who built and maintained the abundant bathing establishments, and what sociological function the baths played in the Roman empire's rigidly hierarchical social order.

To throw light on these everyday topics the author deploys a wide variety of evidence, including literary allusions; the remains of the baths themselves, graffiti scribbled on bathroom walls; and, above all, formal inscriptions that throw light on the ubiquitous bathing culture.

In the course of this study Fagan challenges some widely held beliefs about baths, ranging from such broad notions of baths as palaces of public hygiene or places where the social identity of the bathers broke down, to more mundane matters such as the habitual donning of bathing costumes.

This volume will be of great interest for those studying luxury and public ostentation, municipal life, and the meaning of Roman leisure. Comparative evidence from other bathing cultures will also interest social anthropologists and historical sociologists.

Garret Fagan is Assistant Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Pennsylvania State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Faggen's book is likely to be a standard work for many years to come."
    Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "This book is really two resources in one. The first part is a stimulating, readable and scholarly account of Roman public bathing as a historical, social, and cultural phenomenon rather than as an architectural or technological one. . . . The second part of the book is a wide-ranging collection of inscriptions that throw light of [sic] the bathing culture in Latin and Greek with some translations and with abundant commentary. . . . Fagan's book is likely to be a standard work for many years to come."
    —Rudolph Masciantonio, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, March 16, 2000
  • "Fagan's book offers a fresh perspective on an important but well-worked topic. . . . Although classics students will better understand the chapters relying on epigraphical data, other undergraduates will thoroughly enjoy those based on the literary and archaeological sources."
    —R. T. Ingoglia, Felician College, CHOICE, Volume 37, No. 4, December 1999
  • ". . . there is no doubt that Fagan's work advances scholarship in his chosen field. . . ."
    —Christer Bruun, University of Toronto, Journal of Roman Archaeology

Product Details

  • 6.135 x 9.25.
  • 480pp.
  • 14 line drawings, 27 photographs, 3 tables, 8 maps.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08865-2

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  • $44.95 U.S.