Sunday, December 24, 2017

As Romans?

Mi primer sarcófago 😱😱😱
Slightly off topic, I would like to share with you my thoughts on Fikret Yegül's Bathing in the Roman World.
So, what's antiquities bathing got to do with current soaking in Europe?

A lot.
On this blog we have already seen postings on Bath (Great Brittian), Bande (Spain, see photo above) and of course Viterbo (Italy), all of which at some place of time were highly visited and / or used during Roman rule. 
And as past civilizations come, the Romans were top soakers. Roman use of naturally heated waters has left it's traces all over Europe and the Mediterranean countries.

The a
uthor starts by drawing comparisons between cultures with significant experience with bathing such as  the Turkish (hammam), the Japanese (onsen), the Finnish (sauna) and even modern day US (?) hottubbing as having much, if not many characteristics similar to that of the Romans: bathing as a social / cultural experience rather than one solely focused on hygiene. 
Of course this could be expanded by say Bhutanese hot rock baths, or Mexican sweat lodges; more of the same, but with the common denotation that simple bathing can entail more, even with religious characteristics such as in Jewish baths.

And though the western US hottubbing culture might capture these characteristics, after reading I believe that the Roman bathing culture was as much a sign of wealth and superiority of their culture (and rule).

In Roman times, bathing become so popular that it was considered a cornerstone of daily life: work was for the morn, bathing (and relaxing) for in the afternoon. We're still some way off this ...

Illusion
The author describes many aspects concerned with bathing during the Roman era. Excessively concerning architecture (his expertise), though also on many of the other aspects of the bathing process of Roman times. 

Interesting is the chapter on ethical and moral concerns. 
Surprisingly quite a bit of this critique could be regarded as just as common towards current day bathing. 
The opulent bathing buildings conflicted with the urge of simplicity (making society weak?), the social focal point encouraged gossip and a visit could coincide with an elicit rendez-vous, to name a few.

However bathing was considered a ritual which broke down social classes:
'The Roman bath was, indeed, an ideal institution with which to create an illusion of a classless society - one where wise and foolish, rich and poor, privileged and underdog could be together and enjoy the benefits by the Roman system'.
This could just as well be said concerning using our nudist beaches or visiting remote hot springs: in the end we all look alike and there's little way to distinguish ourselves despite all our material wealth.

Tracing

It's interesting to trace the origins of Roman baths which could be ascribed to Greek culture (as close as Sicily) where less elaborate baths were common place and had a role in the Greek warrior tradition where gymnasia encouraged fighting and battle skills. 

However other trains of thought point to the already established rural Italian tradition of taking steam baths where a good sweat attributed certain health benefits.  As certain farms grew, so did the idea to have separate sweat rooms whereby the tradition of medicinal benefits progressed to that of being to sweat  for recreational purposes. 

Yet another view put forward notes the origins of the Roman bath coming from the area surrounding Naples where hot springs were / are proficient and gradually the natural waters there, were exploited for ever more larger bathing complexes. 

Eventually the author notes that it was maybe a combination of mentioned origins that saw the ascendancy of the thermal bath in the Roman empire. 

Size
Besides the being the cultural and social center point of Roman life, some of the complexes were larger than life. Even nowadays, tourists are enthralled at the immensity of say Caracalla in Rome (following).


At the same time, Romans managed to take their culture with them. I've seen Roman bath remains in Morocco, in Galicia and at Bath to a name a few of the empire's outposts. 

The enormity of heating huge amounts of water was a technique ahead of it's time, as were the long channels to bring in the water to the Roman capital. 
This huge demand on resources was also which lead to the demise of the bathing practices. As central Roman rule waned, so did the availability to the resources itself as well as the ability to finance the upkeep of the bath buildings as well as the water channels. 

Following
Finally the author describes what followed on from the Europe ruled Pax Romana (in essence Christianity) which distanced itself from it's predecessor by denouncing public bathing as a source of promiscuity.
And though there was a brief revival of public bathing towards the 13th century, medieval culture firmly put bathing in the negative. Though it no doubt fit with Christianity becoming ever more moralistic, it could well be that the existence of the plague did little to help. 
It's only when both are on the wane that public bathing and the (economic / social) lore of developing both thermal and/or mineral baths became more popular that we see the establishment of the 19th century bathing complexes.

Are
these and their modern day copies (think Therme Erding) then the logical continuation of Roman bathing? 
Yes, in architectural sense. 
However in their ability to replicate the culture, I believe that a soak at one of the few remaining rustic hot springs has more in common with our ancient soaking friends.

gloria_travels at the Roman thermal baths of Benetutti, Sardinia:
What could you do on the east coast of Sardinia, a rainy and cold day? Sources d'eau chaude de Benetutti, un vrai bonheur, et encore gratuit !!! Not easy to find as you have to walk through the fields, cows and goats before to find the ruins where the hot springs are hidden.sooooo hot!!!
Note:
Fikret Yegül (2010) Bathing in the Roman World. Cambridge University Press, New York, U.S.A.

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