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Baths and Bathing in Late Antiquity

A PhD project funded by Cardiff University and the School of History, Archaeology and Religion and co-supervised by Dr. Shaun Tougher and Prof. Josef Lössl
Project student: Michal Zytka
Note: This project has been successfully completed in August 2013.

The aim of this project was to explore different roles played by Roman baths and bathing in Late Antiquity including cultural and therapeutic functions as described in a broad range of literary sources.

The project started with the question what baths actually were, their general functions and internal layout, their technical infrastructure, their sizes and locations within cities, towns or military camps (or indeed outside them) and similarities and differences in their functions and roles. The focus was on authors such as Vitruvius, Suetonius and Procopius and on baths at chosen locations (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Pompeii, Bath, and military outposts in general).

This was followed by an analysis of hygienic and therapeutical aspects of baths based on medical writings (types of baths; properties of water in general; different types of water, natural springs and their therapeutic benefits; and predominantly, cures involving bathing). The range of authors included Hippocrates, Galen, Oribasius, Aetius of Amida and Paul of Aegina (author of the most widely read compendium of medical knowledge, the Epitomae medicae libri VII, esp. books I-IV).

The project also considered cultural and religious aspects of baths and bathing, the bath as a centre for local and general culture; types of cultural activity encountered on the premises; links between baths and pagan cults; the place of baths in Christian society; the role of baths in the Church Fathers’ writings; and consideration of various other activities that took place in bathing establishments.

Finally, an attempt was also made to draw some comparison between ancient and modern functions and aspects of baths, and possibly a comparison between Roman baths and baths in other times and cultures (e. g. Slavic, Viking, Turkish baths). Here the focus was mostly on cultural and medical aspects.

The project was successfully completed in August 2013 with the award of a PhD to Michal Zytka. Publications will follow in due course.