Bathing in Public in the Roman World

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More About This Textbook


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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472088652
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 5/7/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2008

    A reviewer

    As a student of the Pennsylvania State University at University Park, I have recently had the pleasure of having Dr. Fagan as one of my professors. He is by far one of the most brilliant and outgoing professors I have ever had, as he takes standpoints and views on topics that most people would not even think of. This is what makes this book remarkable. For most, bathing in the Roman world is known as a vital element in a Roman's life, but it is never really explained as thoroughly as it is in Fagan's book, which demonstrates how the baths came to be, as an essential aspect of society, as well as their prominence under the reigns of Caracalla and Diocletian. However, one might find this book a little overwhelming as far as the footnotes and scholarly references go. I used this book as a reference for a paper comparing the games of the Circus Maximus to the baths as far as the social setting goes, and my paper turned out to be absolutely riddled with citations and references. So, if you are afraid of having footnotes that last as long, if not longer than the text they are supporting, just be forewarned. In accordance with that, it is important to remember that this is a scholarly account of the importance of the baths in Roman culture, so the seemingly never-ending footnotes should be expected. Overall, the book was a great help in my paper, and it was an extremely interesting read. Dr. Fagan is an incredibly interesting individual in and of himself, and is by far one of the most knowledgeable authors on this subject, as this book as been cited in various other scholarly works, such as Coulston and Dodge's overview of the Roman republic and empire. This is absolutely a book for anyone interested in the evolution of baths, ancient Rome, or even those who have just a general curiosity of history. This guy gets 5 stars.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2010


    This book is outstanding, it helped me so much when writing a research paper for high school. This book is enthralling, it made me actually want to write my paper! Yes, it was a little overwhelming at first however,but was easy to understand and follow. Overall, great information, very helpful, interesting, you should definitely check this book out!

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