You are on page 1of 24

Harvard Divinity School

Women in Roman Baths

Author(s): Roy Bowen Ward
Source: The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 85, No. 2 (Apr., 1992), pp. 125-147
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Harvard Divinity School
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 06/08/2014 16:13

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Cambridge University Press and Harvard Divinity School are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve
and extend access to The Harvard Theological Review.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Roy Bowen Ward

Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

n 177 CE Christians in Lugdunum and Vienna in Gaul were persecuted,

and some were martyred. The survivors sent a letter by Irenaeus to the
churches in Asia and Phrygia describing what happened. Among other things,
they complained that they were excluded from the baths (paXaveia).1 Later
in his Adversus haereses (ca. 190 CE)Irenaeus referred to a story he claimed
stemmed from Polycarp of Smyrna, who died ca. 156 CE, about John the
disciple going to the public baths (pacavdiov) in Ephesus where he saw
Cerinthus.2 Tertullian of Carthage in his Apologeticum (197 CE) claimed
that the Christians were no different from other people: they went to the
forum, the food market, and the baths (balneia).3 These three passages,

*I wish to acknowledge the support in 1989 of Miami University which granted me a

Faculty Development Leave and of Harvard Divinity School which appointed me a Visiting
Scholar, thereby making it possible for me to pursue the basic research for this article.
lIn Eusebius Hist. eccl. 5.1.5; 5.4.2. On this letter and the persecutions in Lugdunum and
Vienna, see W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom & Persecution in the Early Church (Garden City,
NY: Doubleday, 1967) 1-21. The ruins of large, half-axial ring type baths are to be found in
Vienna, dated to the second century CE by Inge Nielsen, Thermae et Balnea: The Architec-
ture and History of Roman Public Baths (2 vols.; Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990) 1.
70 n. 44; 2. 15.
2Irenaeus Adversus haereses 3.3.4. The oldest extant baths in Ephesus, the Harbor baths,
are dated in the time of Domitian or Trajan; see Nielsen, Thermae, 2. 36, 37.
3Tertullian Apologeticum 42.2. Tertullian indicated that he bathed for hygienic purposes
(Apologeticum 42.4). He also mentioned baths in De spectaculis 8.9 and De paenitentia 11.3

HTR 85:2 (1992) 125-47

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

among the earliest references to Roman baths by Christians, suggest no

ethical reservations about going to the baths. An interesting question arises:
Were there women in these baths?
The available scholarship on Roman baths written by classicists, classi-
cal historians, classical archaeologists, or historians of ancient architecture
presents conflicting answers about women in Roman baths, with respect
both to whether women were segregated from the men and to what type of
women would be bathing with the men. Most will claim, however, that
after the emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE) whatever mixed bathing might
have previously existed was subject to imperial decrees.

E TheEarlyDevelopmentof RomanBaths
With reference to the origins and early development of Roman baths,
Janet DeLaine has recently written, "Few areas of bath studies have been
subject to such conflicting opinions over the last 20 years than this."4
Precursors may have been Greek baths with individual tubs or the Helle-
nistic gymnasium with its cold bath for exercisers or, more likely, some
combination of the two.5 In any case, Roman baths were distinguished from
their precursors by the emergence of a complex of bathing rooms, includ-
ing hot water rooms heated by the newly invented hypocaust6 and the
emergence of facilities for communal bathing. Inge Nielsen describes the
use of communal pools as "a break with everything previously considered
moral and practicable" for the Romans.7 According to archaeological and
literary sources, however, such Roman baths became enormously popular
throughout the empire. As J. E. Stambaugh notes, the baths

and the notorious bath thieves in Apologeticum 44.2 and De idololatria 5.2. There is one
extant, imperial type bath complex in Carthage built in the time of Antoninus Pius; see
Nielsen, Thermae, 2. 27.
4Janet DeLaine, "Recent Research on Roman Baths," Journal of Roman Archaeology 1
(1988) 14.
5On the development of the bath-gymnasium complex see Fikret Yegtil, "The Bath-Gym-
nasium Complex in Asia Minor During the Roman Imperial Age," (Ph.D. diss., Harvard
University, 1975). On the development of baths in Italy, see Nielsen, Thermae, 1. 6-36. On
Greek baths, see R. Ginouves, Balaneutike: Recherches sur le bain dans l'antiquite grecque
(Bibliotheque des Ecoles francaises d'Athenes et de Rome 200; Paris: Boccard, 1962). On the
history of the gymnasium, see Jean Delorme, Gymnasion: Etude sur les monuments consacres
d l'education en Grece (Bibliotheque des Ecoles franqaises d'Athenes et de Rome 196; Paris:
Boccard, 1960).
6The conflicting opinions to which DeLaine ("Recent Research," 14-17) refers center on
when and where the hypocaust was invented.
7Nielsen, Thermae, 1. 35.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

becamea way of life for the Romans.It was the settingin which they
washed themselves,took their exercise, spent their leisure time, were
exposed to art and culturalprograms,madebusinessand politicalcon-
tacts, and conductedtheir social activities.8
It is also clear that the emergence of the Roman baths in the second
century BCEwas part of a larger social revolution in Roman society. This
revolution included what Eva Cantarella has termed the "emancipation of
women";9it was decried, however, by conservative Romans who longed for
the good old days. That Roman baths represented a new social phenomenon
is attested by the Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, especially in
his letter to Lucilius (between 63 and 65 CE) concerning the villa of Scipio
Africanus (third to second century BCE). Seneca contrasted the "old-time
ways" of the Romans exemplified by Scipio and the current practices of his
own day.
In the early days, however,there were few baths, and they were not
fitted out with any display. For why should men elaboratelyfit out
that which costs a penny (quadrans),and was inventedfor use, not
merely for delight? The bathers of those days did not have water
pouredover them,nordid it alwaysrunfreshas if froma hot spring;...
Scipio did not batheevery day. It is statedby those who have reported
to us the old-time ways of Rome that the Romanswashed only their
arms and legs daily. . . and bathedall over only once a week. Here
someone will retort:"Yes; pretty dirty fellows they evidently were!
How they musthave smelled!"But they smelledof the camp,the farm
andheroism.Now thatspick-and-span bathingestablishmentshavebeen
devised, men are really fouler than of yore.10
The earliest Roman baths may have been for men only; Gaius Sempronius
Gracchus, who flourished ca. 125 BCE, suggests as much in a speech re-
ported by Aulus Gellius. The wife of the consul had come to Teanum
Sidicinum, just north of Campania, and she wanted to bathe in the men's
baths (in balneis virilibus). The quaestor of Sidicinum was instructed to

8JohnE. Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1988) 201. See also DeLaine, "Recent Research," 11.
9Eva Cantarella, Pandora's Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and
Roman Antiquity (trans. Maureen B. Fant; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987)
I?Seneca Epistulae morales ad Lucilium 86.9-12 (trans. Richard M. Gummere; LCL; 3
vols.; London: Heinemann and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917-1925) 2.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

send the bathers from the baths so that she could bathe.11Here, at least, is
an example of one woman who wanted to use the baths.12
Among the earliest archaeological evidence for Roman baths are the
Stabian baths and the Forum baths from Pompeii and the Forum baths from
Herculaneum. The Stabian baths (fig. 1) date from at least the second
century BCE.13 In all three of these bath complexes there are two sets of
baths. In two cases, the Forum baths of Pompeii and the Forum baths of
Herculaneum, the two sets of baths are completely segregated and have
separate entrances. Only the larger of the two sets of baths had access to
the palaestra. The same may have been the case with the Stabian baths,
although the archaeological evidence is contested.14That these two sets of
baths were segregated for men and women is suggested by literary sources.
Marcus Terentius Varro, writing ca. 43 BCE, stated:
The firstbalneum"bath-room" (thenameis Greek),whenit was brought
into the city of Rome, was a publicestablishmentset in a place where
two connected buildings might be used for the bathing, in one of

'1Aulus Gellius Noctes Atticae 10.3.3. Nielsen thinks that the baths in Teanum Sidicinum
had segregated baths for men and women and that the consul's wife "demanded to bathe in
the men's baths, presumably because they were better endowed" (Thermae, 1. 147). But this
interpretation does not fit the details of the speech well, including the fact that when the
people of Cales heard of what happened in nearby Teanum Sidicinum, they passed a decree
that no one should think of using the baths when a Roman magistrate was in town. The extant
baths in Cales, built 90-70 BCE, somewhat after the time of Gracchus's speech, do not have
segregated facilities, but are an angular row type (Nielsen, Thermae, 2. 7).
12Since the Stabian baths in Pompeii already had segregated facilities in the second cen-
tury BCE (see below), it is possible that there were already segregated baths for men and
women in Rome by this time. If so, perhaps the consul's wife was in the habit of going to the
double baths in Rome, but in the smaller city of Teanum double baths had not yet been
introduced. It would also suggest that mixed bathing was not yet established and there was
no practice of men and women bathing at different set times. I am indebted to John T.
Fitzgerald for this insight.
13HansEschebach, Die Stabianer Thermen in Pompeji (Denkmaler antiker Architektur 13;
Berlin: de Gruyter, 1979) 51-53; idem, "Feststellungen unter der Oberflache des Jahre 79 n.
Chr. im Bereich der Insula VII, 1-Stabianer Termen-in Pompeji," Neue Forschungen in
Pompeji (ed. Bernard Andreae and Helmut Kyrieleis; Recklinghaus: Bongers, 1975) 179-93;
Lawrence Richardson, Jr., Pompeii: An Archaeological History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1988) 103-4.
14Atthe final stage of the Stabian baths there was a door between a north-south corridor
in the women's section and the palaestra. Richardson (Pompeii, 102) surmises that this door
was for the "convenience of the attendants" and that "the women's section was otherwise
carefully segregated from the men's." But Eschebach ("Feststellungen," 38) reports that over
the portal of the entrance at VII.1.50 was written in large black letters MVLIER. If women
used that entrance, they would have to go across the palaestra and through the questionable
door into the women's section.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Figure 1
Stabian Baths

' i~ WOMEN'S


1H? \ BA THS H


Based on Figure 75 in Inge Nielsen, Thermaeet Balnea: The Architectureand
CulturalHistoryof Roman Public Baths, Aarhus UniversityPress, 1990.
Rteproduced by permission
by of the
permission of the publisher.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Figure 2

Capito Baths

Based on Figure 229 in Inge Nielsen,

Thermae et Balnea: The Architecture
and Cultural History of Roman Public
Baths, Aarhus University Press, 1990.
Reproduced by permission of the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

which the men should bathe and in the other the women (unum ubi
viri, alterum ubi mulieres lavarentur).'5

In De architectura, written early in the reign of Augustus, a few years after

Varro, Vitruvius Polio wrote, "We must also take care that the hot baths
for men and for women (caldaria muliebria et virilia) are adjacent" so that
the two may use the same furnace.16 It is generally assumed that the smaller
set of bath rooms in the early baths of Pompeii and Herculaneum was for
the women, and in at least two of the three baths the women's baths did
not have access to the palaestra. In these cases there were separate but not
equal facilities for women and men.17

: Changesin BathArchitecture
Sometime in the early empire, perhaps by the time of the emperor
Augustus but certainly by the time of the emperor Claudius, Roman bath
architecture changed. No longer were baths ordinarily built with two seg-
regated sets of baths but rather with only a single set of bath rooms.18
The first certain example of this change in bath architecture are the
Capito baths at Miletus in Asia Minor (fig. 2). The Capito baths can be
dated from inscriptional evidence to between 47 and 52 CE,19 and they are
the earliest extant Roman baths in Asia Minor.20 The Capito baths have
attracted attention in the history of the architecturaldevelopment of Roman
baths because, as Klaus Tuchelt notes, the complex is the earliest example
of axiality and symmetry planning in bath architecture in the east and

15MarcusTerentius Varro De lingua latina 9.68 (trans. Roland G. Kent; LCL; 2 vols.;
London: Heinemann and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938) 2. 491.
'6Vitruvius Polio De architectura 5.10.1 (trans. Frank Granger; LCL; 2 vols.; London:
Heinemann and New York: Putnam's, 1931-1934) 1. 303.
17Forexample, the floor area of the women's apodyteriumof the Forum baths in Herculaneum
is only 31 percent of the area of the men's apodyterium. See Amedeo Maiuri, Ercolano, I
Nuovi Scavi (1927-1958) (2 vols.; Rome: Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1958) 1. 95, 103.
18Nielsen (Thermae, 1. 147 n. 26) cites four exceptions of double baths for the imperial
period: at Ferentum in Etruria (Flavian); at Gisacum in Gaul (Flavian?); at Allonnes in Gaul
(no date given); at Thamusida in Mauretania (Flavian). The number may be increased to five
or six if one follows Maiuri's dating of the Forum baths in Herculaneum and if one includes
the baths at Forum Sempronii in Picenum, which Nielsen dates to the first half of the first
century CE and which she calls double baths (Thermae, 1. 44; 2. 7, 9).
19Arminvon Gerkan and Fritz Krischen, Thermen und Palaestren (Milet, Ergebnisse der
Ausgrabungen und Untersuchungen seit dem Jahre 1899 1.9; Berlin: Schoetz, 1928) 27, 158-
59 (inventory nos. 328, 329).
20TheWest baths, added to the upper gymnasium in Pergamon, are dated by Yegul ("Bath
Gymnasium," 82, 111) from the mid to late first century CE; the Hume-i-tepe baths at Miletus
are also first century CE but are subsequent to the Capito baths.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Figure 3
Suburban Baths

Based on Figure 76 in Inge Nielsen,

Thermae et Balnea: The Architecture
and CulturalHistory of Roman Public
Baths, Aarhus University Press, 1990.
Reproduced by permission of the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

perhaps in the west as well.21 As such, Fikret Yegul sees it as the prototype
for subsequent baths in Asia Minor22and perhaps elsewhere.23Axial plan-
ning, however, did not lend itself to separate facilities for men and women.24
Archaeological evidence shows that around the same time, Roman baths
were being built with only one set of baths, whether axial or not. The
Suburban baths at Herculaneum (fig. 3), the best preserved of any Roman
baths, are composed of only one set of bath rooms, following the angular
row type. The complex was built and used in the last phase of Herculaneum's
history before Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE.25 The Central baths at Pompeii
were not quite completed in 79 CE, but clearly also had only one set of
bath rooms, following the axial row type.26In Nielsen's catalogue of three
hundred eighty-seven Roman baths, there are seventy-one baths built in the
first century CE that have only one set of bath rooms,27 as compared with

21Klaus Tuchelt, "Bemerkungen zu den Capito-Thermen in Milet," Mansel'e Armagan (3

vols.; Ankara: Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1974) 1. 147-69, esp. 165-68.
22YegUl,"Bath-Gymnasium," 194-96; idem, The Bath-Gymnasium at Sardis (Archaeo-
logical Exploration of Sardis, Report 3; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986)
23Sometime between 110 and 112 CE the Younger Pliny, governor of Bithynia, wrote to
the emperor Trajan concerning several buildings, including a public bath complex that he
thought was improperly sited. He requested the emperor to send an architect to inspect these
buildings. Trajan responded that he would not send an architect, since there were many
skilled ones in the province. Then he added, "Pray do not imagine it is your quickest way to
get them from Rome, for it is usually from Greece that they come hither" (Pliny Epistulae
10.40 [trans. William Melmoth; rev. W. M. L. Hutchinson; LCL; 2 vols.; London: Heinemann
and New York: Macmillan, 1915] 2. 329). Could it be that the architect of the Capito baths
in Miletus later went to Rome? Nielsen (Thermae, 1. 46-47), with reference to the baths of
Nero in Rome (about ten years after the Capito baths in Miletus), notes that "axiality and
symmetry in the thermae were an innovation in Nero's time" and that "Nero was influenced
by Hellenistic culture, including the architecture of this period."
24The axial baths that follow in Asia Minor all have single facilities: Hume-i-tepe baths
in Miletus (second half of the first century); the Harbor baths of Ephesus (from Domitian to
Hadrian); the baths at Aphrodisias (Hadrianic); the Theater baths in Ephesus (mid second
century); the baths at Hierapolis (mid second century); the bath-gymnasium complex at Sardis
(second century); and the Vedius baths at Ephesus (ca. 161). See Yegll, "The Bath-Gymna-
sium," 79-117. Even where the plan is not axial, as in the Faustina baths at Miletus (second
century), it is clear that there is only one set of baths.
25Maiuri, Ercolano, 1. 147-73.
26Richardson, Pompeii, 286-89.
27The catalog appears in Nielsen, Thermae, 2. 2-47. I have followed the dates given by
Nielsen. She provides plans for two hundred and five of the three hundred and eighty-seven
baths. In many cases where she does not provide a plan, plans may be found in Hubertus
Manderscheid, Bibliographie zum romischen Badwesen (Munich: by the author, 1988). He
includes four hundred and thirty-one such plans.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

four to six double baths in the same period.28These baths with only one set
of bath rooms range geographically from Britannia,Hispania, and Mauretania
in the west to Asia, Cyprus, Aegyptus, and Mesopotamia in the east. Not
included in Nielsen's catalogue are the recently published baths in Philippi
which have one set of bath rooms, following the ring type, and which
Georgios Gounaris dates to the second half of the first century CE.29

E WomenBathingwithMen
Corresponding in time with the change of bath architecture, literary
evidence beginning in the first century CE indicates that women were bath-
ing with men. The earliest reference may come from the very beginning of
the century in the Ars amatoria of Publius Ovidius Naso. In the course of
giving advice to a young woman on how to elude her guardian (custos),
Ovid suggested, "while the guardian keeps the girl's clothes without, the
numerous baths hide furtive sport (celent furtivos balnea multa iocos)."30J.
N. Adams notes that iocus in Ovid is used in amatory contexts, sometimes
in a specifically physical sense, as in Ars amatoria 2.724 and probably
3.796.31 If this is the meaning, then women were amorously involved with
men in the baths in Rome in the time of the emperor Augustus.
A more certain piece of evidence comes from an epigram of Nicarchus,
who wrote in the time of Nero. He described Onesimus who went to the
baths (paoavdov) and left a child at home. When Onesimus finished bath-
ing, Nicarchus suggested that he would be found to be the father of two
other children.32Obviously Nicarchus assumed that there were women in
the baths.
Gaius Plinius Secundus, the Elder Pliny, testified to the growing number
of Roman baths in the city of Rome.33 Contrasting the old Roman ways
with the newer developments, he wrote, "If only Fabricus [in office ca.
285-275 BCE] could see these displays of luxury. . . and women bathing

28See n. 18 above.
OKTAFQNOr TQ2N IAIII2N (Library of the Archaeological Association in Athens, no. 112;
Athens: 1990) 31.
30OvidArs amatoria 3.639-40 (trans. J. H. Mozley; LCL; 2d ed.; London: Heinemann and
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979) 163.
31J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1982) 161.
32NicarchusAnthologia Graeca 11.243.
33Pliny Hist. Nat. 36.121. He claimed that during the aedileship of Agrippa in 33 BCE
there were already one hundred and seventy baths in the city of Rome alone, and a century
later, when Pliny wrote, the number had increased infinitely.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

with men (cum viris lavantium)."34In another passage, again comparing the
time of Cato (second to first century BCE) with present practices, Pliny
made it clear that men and women were bathing together nude. He referred
to "broiling baths" in which "even the pubes (pectines) of women [are]
exposed to public view."35
The rhetorician Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca. 30-ca. 100 CE) also
referred in passing to the practice of mixed bathing in discussing inferences
that could be made from women's behavior.
However,I fear that this line of reasoningwill carryus too far. For
if it is an indicationof adulterythat a womanbatheswith men (lavari
cumviris), the fact thatshe revels with youngmen or even an intimate
friendshipwill also be indicationsof the same offense.36
John Percy Balsdon supposed that Quintilian was talking about "women of
the lowest character"who frequented "the lower bathing establishments."37
It is clear, however, that Quintilian supposed that the woman in question is
one subject to the Augustan law of adultery, lex lulia de adulteriis, since
the offense that might be inferred from her behavior is adultery. This means
that she was a woman with conubium, married or marriageable, and not a
prostitute, concubine, foreigner, slave, actress, or one of the other catego-
ries of women to whom the adultery law did not apply.38Balsdon says that
Quintilian "so reasonably condemned" these baths,39but, in fact, Quintilian

34Ibid., 33.153 (trans. H. Rackham; LCL; 10 vols.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press and London: Heinemann, 1938-1962) 9. 115.
35Ibid., 29.26 (trans. W. H. S. Jones; LCL) 8. 201. For the meaning of pecten as "pubic
hair, pubes," see Adams, Latin, 76.
36QuintilianInst. Orat. 5.9.14 (trans. H. E. Butler; LCL; 4 vols.; London: Heinemann and
New York: Putnam's, 1921-1922) 2. 201.
37J. P. V. D. Balsdon, Roman Women: Their History and Habits (New York: Barnes &
Noble, 1962; reprinted 1983) 269. See also idem, Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1969) 28. Erika Br6dner similarly considers the bathing of men and
women together a phenomenon of "the lower classes" (Die romischen Thermen und das antike
Badewesen: eine kulturhistorischeBetrachtung [Darmstadt:Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,
1983] 115). Margaret R. Miles, who cites Br6dner among her sources, claims that "mixed
bathing seems not to have been practiced by the upper classes or by women concerned for
their reputation" (Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Chris-
tian West [Boston: Beacon, 1989] 27-28). Nielsen (Thermae, 1. 147) states, "at that time
[that is, of the Elder Pliny] only women of easy virtue were not past bathing with men." See,
however, Cantarella, Pandora's Daughters, 142.
38Jane F. Gardner, Women in Roman Law & Society (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1986) 127-31, see also 31-38. See also R. B. Ward, "Musonius and Paul on Marriage,"
NTS 36 (1990) 281-89.
39Balsdon, Roman Women, 269.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

placed mixed bathing in the same category as reveling with young men and
having an intimate friendship and warned against inferring too much from
such behavior.
Marcus Valerius Martialis, who wrote his epigrams from 86 to 98 CE,
knew and used the great public baths of Rome, which in his time included
the baths of Agrippa, Nero, and Titus, as well as smaller, perhaps privately
operated baths.40He is a source of many details about the activities that took
place in the baths, including the fact that men and women bathed together.
In one epigram Martial speaks of Galla and pokes some fun at himself.
When I complimentyour face, when I admireyour legs and hands,
you are accustomedto say, Galla: "NakedI shall please you more,"
and yet you continuallyavoid taking a bath with me. Surely you are
not afraid,Galla, that I shall not please you?41
Martial noted, as did other authors, that slaves accompanied bathers, and
in several epigrams he associated homoerotic activity with the baths. These
themes, as well as mixed, nude bathing, come together in this epigram
about Caelia.
Your slave, obscuredby a bronze sheath, bathes with you, Caelia;
what for, may I ask, since he is not a [singer]?I suppose you don't
wantto see his prick.Then why do you bathewith the public?Are we
all eunuchsto you? Well then, so you won't seem begrudging,undo
your slave'sfibula, Caelia.42
Balsdon claims that "the women whose presence in the baths with men
provoked Martial's epigrams were evidently. . . prostitutes."43But this is
not at all "evident." For example, Galla, in another epigram (11.19) wants
to marry Martial, which meant that she had conubium and was not a pros-
titute. Caelia obviously paid no attention to the men in the baths and was
hardly a prostitute. The epigram about Caelia is somewhat parallel to an-
other about a woman who was addressed as a married woman (matrona)
and who paid no attention to the men with whom she bathed.
A slave, girt roundthe groin with a black coveringof dressedleather,
waits on you while you are being caressedall over by warm water.
But my slave, to say nothing of myself, has a Jewish load beneath
bare skin; but bare are the young men and old men who wash them-

40Martial Epigrammata 2.14; 2.48; 3.20; 3.36; 11.52; 12.83.

41Ibid., 3.51 (trans. Walter C. A. Ker; LCL; 2 vols.; London: Heinemann and New York:
Putnam's, 1919-1920) 1. 195. For a similar theme, see Martial Epigrammata 3.72.
42Martial Epigrammata 11.75 (trans. in N. M. Kay, Martial Book XI: A Commentary
[London: Duckworth, 1985] 229).
43Balsdon, Roman Women, 269.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

selves in your company. Is your slave's prick the only true one? Do
you, O matron, follow at all after feminine recesses, and do you, O
lower end, wash yourself secretly in water of your own?44

Nothing in these epigrams suggests that the women were prostitutes, and
much suggests that they were not. This is not to say that prostitutes, as
well as married and marriageable women, did not frequent the baths, as
other sources attest.45Whether they were "of the lowest character" is a
matter of moral evaluation on the part of Balsdon.46Martial's epigrams do
illustrate, however, that mixed bathing was common practice for all classes
of people, including women. This may be seen as another aspect of the
sexual freedom which Cantarella and others have recently claimed that
Roman women exercised.47Martial's epigrams also show that these women
could approach, refuse, or merely ignore their male bath companions.
Decius Iunius Iuvenalis, in his Saturae, written between 100 and 110 CE,
assumed that women enjoyed the baths, including the exercise and the
massage. He described a married woman who would leave her guests and
go to the baths at night. She was glad to sweat amid the great tumult. After
she had lifted weights, the anointer would skillfully pass his hand over her
clitoris (crista).48 Finally she would return to her guests with a flushed

44Martial Epigrammata 7.35, (trans. Ker 447-49).

45Forexample, an anonymous epigram concerning a bath says: "To such women to whom
there is desire (n6Oo;), to all women, come here, that brighter charms shall arise. She who
has a husband will gladden (rxpno) her husband. If she is still unmarried, she will rouse most
of the men to offer bridal beds. And she who produces her ways and means from her body
will have a swarm of lovers at her front door, if she bathes here" (Anthologia Graeca 9.621
[my translation]).
46K. J. Dover commented, "In an article published seventy years ago Erich Bethe ob-
served that the intrusion of moral evaluation, 'the deadly enemy of science,' had vitiated the
study of Greek homosexuality; and it has continued to do so" (Greek Homosexuality [Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978] vii). The same may be said about the study of
women bathing with men.
47Cantarella,Pandora's Daughters, 140-41. See also Judith P. Hallett, "Roman Attitudes
Toward Sex," in Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger, eds., Civilization of the Ancient Medi-
terranean: Greece and Rome (3 vols.; New York: Scribner's, 1988) 2. 1265-78. J. P. Sullivan
("Martial's Sexual Attitudes," Philologus 123 [1979] 296) goes so far as to conclude, "The
evidence indicates that between the closing years of the Republic and the years when Chris-
tianity gained social, and then official, influence in Roman Society, the female sex, at least
in the social strata most visible in our documents, enjoyed a personal, sexual and economic
liberation unparalleled in civilized states before the latter half of the twentieth century in
America and some parts of Europe."
48Adams, Latin, 98. On women's pleasure in clitoral stimulation see Ovid, Ars Amatoria
2.719-22. At Pompeii (at Region III, Insula 7.1) a certain Maritimus advertised his willing-
ness to perform cunnilingus for four asses: Maritimus cunnu[m] li[n]get a[ssibus] IIII, virgines
ammittit (CIL 4.8940); see also CIL 4.8939.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

face.49Juvenal's conservatism and misogyny may have led him to exaggera-

tions, but his satire would not be have been effective if it did not corre-
spond to what readers assumed to be customarypractice, namely, that women
went to baths where there were men.50
There is also archaeological evidence from Herculaneum, that is, prior to
79 CE, for women in Roman baths. At the Suburbanbaths in Herculaneum
graffiti in one room include one that reads: "Apelles the Mouse with brother
Dexter; lovingly we twice fucked (futuimus) a pair of women."51Another
speaks of two companions who, after throwing Epaphroditus out, most
delightfully spent one hundred five and a half sesterces on sexual inter-
course.52It is not clear whether this sum was spent on prostitutes, on food,
or both, since there is another graffito that speaks of Apelles and Dexter
dining,53 and another that lists foods and drinks with numbers, possibly
indicating how many of each item were consumed.54A graffito written by
Hermeros, a freedman of Phoebus, addressed Primigenia as domina and
invited her to come to a certain address in Puteoli and ask for him.55
Presumably, Hermeros expected Primigenia to be there to read it. Despite
this evidence, the archaeologist Amadeo Maiuri, noting the fact that the
Suburban baths had only one set of bath rooms, conjectured that the baths
were used alternatively by men and women.56There is no evidence in the
first century, however, for such alternating use.
At the Forum baths in Herculaneum, in the apodyterium of the "men's"
set of baths, five skeletons were found, one of which was female. Joseph
Jay Deiss speculates that they may have been custodians,57but this is pure

49Juvenal, Satirae 6.419-25. Close to the same time, Plutarch (Cato Major 20.5-6) said
that the Romans learned the practice of going naked from the Greeks so that men bathed
naked even when women were present.
50Sullivan's comments ("Martial's Sexual Attitudes," 292) on sexual practices in Martial
may be applied likewise to the satirical work of Juvenal: "if many of the epigrams refer to
specific social or sexual behaviour on the part of Martial himself, of his subjects, or of his
audience, it is reasonable to assume that such behavior was common, or at least not rare, even
though the particular events and personages were invented for the sake of the poem."
51CIL4.10678 (my translation).
56Maiuri, Ercolano, 1. 173.
57Joseph Jay Deiss, Herculaneum: Italy's Buried Treasure (rev. ed.; New York: Harper
& Row, 1985) 136. Archeological evidence for women in Roman baths comes also from the
legionary baths at Caerleon, where women's hair pins were found; see DeLaine, "Recent
Research," 28. These baths were Flavian in date (Nielsen, Thermae, 1. 77 n. 19).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

conjecture. It is equally possible that the Forum baths, built with segre-
gated facilities, were no longer used in a segregated way.
By the beginning of the second century, the evidence points to a change
in bathing practice from the segregation of the sexes to mixed bathing. In
particular, the voices of conservative authors such as the Elder Pliny and
Juvenal provide evidence that such a change had taken place. These and
other written sources suggest that the women who went to the baths in-
cluded those who were married or marriageable and those economically
situated to have slaves. The archaeological evidence, moreover, shows that
bath architecture had changed from the double baths to baths with only a
single set of bath rooms. In this period, the emancipation of women in
many aspects of public life speaks against any idea that these women who
once had access to the earlier, segregated baths would now be barred from
the new, public baths with single facilities.

E ImperialBans?
The reign of Hadrian (117-135 CE) is a crucial point in the history of
Roman baths. Two sources state that Hadrian commanded the sexes to
bathe separately. The history of Cassius Dio Cocceianus records that Hadrian
"also commanded them [men and women] to bathe separately (Icai kXo)Oa0
Xo)pt; daXXilov ai'toigr:poTeraev)."58 The Historia Augusta reports that
Hadrian "provided separate baths for the sexes (lavacra pro sexibus
separavit)."59Most scholars who use these passages with reference to women
in Roman baths fail to note that both of these references are problematic
as historical sources. The passage from Dio Cassius is in fact a paraphrase
made by Xiphilinus, a monk of Constantinople in the eleventh century.60
There are also serious questions about the authorship, date, and reliability
of the Historia Augusta. It was probably written in the last decade of the
fourth century, and Ronald Syme has called it "a genuine hoax."61Tony
Honore argues convincingly that the author of the Historia Augusta wrote
about political and cultural issues of the end of the fourth century and
projected these issues back onto earlier emperors.62Honore does not discuss

58Dio Cassius 69.8.2; Earnest Cary, trans., Dio's Roman History (LCL; 9 vols; London:
Heinemann and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914-1955) 8. 439.
59Scriptores Historiae Augustae Hadrian 18.10 (trans. David Magie; LCL; 3 vols.; Lon-
don: Heinemann and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1922-1932) 1. 57.
60Cary, Dio's Roman History, xxii, xxiii; A. H. MacDonald, "Dio Cassius," OxCD, 345.
61Ronald Syme, Historia Augusta Papers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 221 and passim.
62Tony Honore, "Scriptor Historiae Augustae," Journal of Roman Studies 77 (1987) 156-

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

baths, but Elke W. Merten had earlier subjected the Historia Augusta to an
extensive examination on all aspects of baths, including mixed baths.63She
concluded that the author projected moral codes of the fourth century back
onto emperors, with "good emperors" forbidding mixed bathing and "bad
emperors"allowing it.64Furthermore,archaeological evidence clearly shows
that segregated baths were not being built in or after the time of Hadrian.65
Not until the late fourth or fifth century is there evidence for architectural
changes, namely, a change from bath rooms for collective bathing to indi-
vidual tub systems.66
Perhaps the most influential scholar on the subject of women in Roman
baths has been Jerome Carcopino, who did, indeed, recognize that in
Hadrian'stime and thereafter the plan of the baths included only one set of
facilities. He argued, however, that the separation of the sexes, which could
not be achieved in space, was accomplished temporally by alternating the
use of the baths by women and men.67Carcopino's single piece of evidence
was an inscription from Hadrian's time that gave the regulations of the
procurators of the imperial mines at Vipasca in Lusitania (moder Portu-

63Elke W. Merten, Bdder und Badegepflogenheiten in der Darstellung der Historia Au-
gusta (Antiquitas 4.16; Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 1983) 100, see 79-100 for "Balnea Mixta."
64Although Nielsen cites Merten as arguing that these sources are "false interpolations"
in a footnote, in her text she nevertheless refers to "the fact that Hadrian felt obliged to
prohibit the custom [of mixed bathing]" (Thermae, 1. 147 and n. 23).
650f the four to six double baths cited above in n. 18, one is not dated and the rest are all
earlier than Hadrian. Balsdon is certainly incorrect when he asserts (Roman Women, 269), "if
mixed bathing had replaced the separate bathing of the sexes, this profound change must have
been reflected in the lay-out of the baths themselves; and that is not the case." Herbert
Benario, commenting on Historia Augusta Hadrian 18.11, mistakenly asserts that "mixed
bathing was never anything but exceptional at Rome and in the empire. The public bathing
establishments normally had two sets of identical rooms. .. for the two sexes" (A Commen-
tary on the Vita Hadriani in the Historia Augusta [American Classical Studies 7; Chico, CA:
Scholars Press, 1980] 115).
66YegUl,"Bath-Gymnasium," 217, 311 nn. 340, 342.
67JeromeCarcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (trans. E. O. Lorimer; New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1940) 254. Carcopino's theory may have been derived from August Mau,
although Carcopino does not cite Mau. With reference to the Vipasca inscription, Mau wrote,
"In the smaller towns special rooms for women were not always available; this was resolved
by reserving special hours for them" ("Bader," PW 2 [1896] 2750). In his classic work on
Pompeii, referring to the Central baths that had only a single set of baths, Mau wrote, "It was
doubtless built for men, although the use of it at certain hours by women may possibly have
been contemplated, in case the women's baths at the two other establishments should be
overcrowded" (Pompeii: Its Life and Art [trans. Francis W. Kelsey; 1902; reprinted New
Rochelle, NY: Caratzas, 1982] 208).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

gal). In this inscription the conductor was to heat the furnaces and to attend
the women from dawn to the seventh hour, and the men, from the eighth
hour to the end of the second hour of the night.68 Carcopino noted that
Lusitania was located a great distance from Rome, but he concluded, "there
is in my opinion not the slightest doubt that Rome adopted the same prin-
ciple [namely, women in the morning, men in the afternoon], modifying the
detail to suit the conditions imposed by the size of her thermae."69Carcopino
recognized another problem posed by a reference in Historia Augusta
(Hadrian 22.7); Hadrian decreed, "None but invalids were allowed to bathe
in the public baths before the eighth hour." Carcopino's response was that
this decree applied only to men.70This response is not very plausible since,
by his own reconstruction, women would be bathing before the eighth hour
together with the invalid men.
Carcopino'sinfluence has been widespread. For example, Russell Meiggs,
in his excellent work on Roman Ostia, notes that no segregated baths have
been found at Ostia, but he says, "it is probable that special hours were
reserved for women," citing Carcopino.71The archaeologist Yegul, excava-
tor of the baths in Sardis and among the best informed on Roman baths,
accepts without question that there were "different times of bathing for
different sexes," again citing Carcopino.72
The Historia Augusta also claims that Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE) did
away with mixed baths, that Commodus (180-192 CE) bathed with three

68CIL 2.5181, "omnibus diebus calefacere et praestare debeto a prima luce in horam
septimam diei mulieribus et ab hora octava in horum secundum noctis viris."
69Carcopino, Daily Life, 254. Nielsen (Thermae, 1. 135) states that men and women
"normally bathed at different times of day," but arguing from Martial Epigrammata 10.48,
she also states that the baths of Nero "were not open for women in the morning." But later
she indicates that women might bathe in the morning (1. 137).
70Carcopino, Daily Life, 259, 315 n. 64.
71Russell Meiggs, Roman Ostia (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1973) 406. Carcopino's theory
has been transmitted to others by way of Meiggs. Thus Gounaris (BAAANEIO, 30) suggests
that in the first century the baths at Philippi were used on different days by each of the sexes,
with a citation from Meiggs.
72Yegul, "Bath-Gymnasium," 48; see also idem, Sardis, 8 where he cites Balsdon, Life,
and Meiggs, Roman Ostia, in addition to Carcopino. Others have suggested segregation of
women and men by time, but without citation, as in the case of Maiuri (see n. 40 above) and
Barry Cunliffe who asserts that the "opening at different times for males and females. .. was
frequently the practice at this time [of Hadrian]" (Roman Bath Discovered [rev. ed.; London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984] 129). Paul Veyne simply states, "The two sexes were sepa-
rated, at least as a general rule" ("The Roman Empire," in idem, A History of Private Life:
From Pagan Rome to Byzantium [trans. A. Goldhammer; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1987] 199).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

hundred women, both matrons and prostitutes, that Elagabalus (218-222

CE) always bathed with women, that Severus Alexander (222-234 CE) for-
bade mixed baths, and that Gallienus (253-268 CE) bathed with women.73
Those who use these passages uncritically do so to show that the custom
of mixed bathing continued to be popular,if not problematic.74If the Historia
Augusta was written in the last decade of the fourth century, however,
these passages are more likely to be a reflection of the moral debates at a
time when Christianity had achieved a dominant position in the empire and
Christian leaders themselves had conflicting views.

E The Christian
Evidence from Christian sources is often overlooked in the literature on
women in Roman baths.75Clement of Alexandria in his Paedagogos (ca.
190-195 CE) was aware that women and men bathed together: "The com-
munal baths are opened to men and also at the same time to women"
(KOtlva & aveclKTat 6CvSpCicv OgLODKIcaIyuvai ra paXaaveia).76 But he
criticized this practice, arguing that "bathing for pleasure (qiovi) is inad-
missible."77Clement's teaching, the first extant Christian criticism of the
baths, is dominated by his concern with female sensuality which, he thought,
was characterized by &Kpao'ia.78He blamed the luxuriousness of the baths

73Scriptores Historiae Augustae Marcus Aurelius 23.8; Commodus 4.4; Elagabalus 31.7;
Severus Alexander 24.2; Gallienus 17.8, 9.
74Nielsen (Thermae, 1. 147), referring to Martial's frequent references to mixed bathing,
says that "in his time it was very common." She then states that because of the "magnitude
of the problem," Hadrian prohibited it. The prohibitions of Marcus Aurelius and Severus
Alexander indicate it was a "persistent problem."
75Notable exceptions are Merten, Bdder, and Nielsen, Thermae. DeLaine ("Recent Re-
search, 28) notes "there is an enormous amount of untapped evidence in non-traditional
sources, such as early Christian writing." There are also Jewish sources on mixed bathing;
see Louis M. Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism (New York: Ktav, 1948) 29-30.
76Clement Alex. Paed. 3.5 (my translation).
77Ibid., 3.9 (my translation).
78Clement knew and used the teachings of the Stoic Musonius Rufus, who taught: "But
above all it is necessary for the woman to be self-controlled (oc64pova). I mean that on the
one hand she should be pure of unlawful d(po6iota ("erotic activity") and on the other hand
she must be pure of the lack of self-control (dKppaoia) concerning the other pleasures (ijovi)
not to serve desires, not to be contentious, nor extravagant nor one who adorns herself." The
text is from Cora Lutz, "Musonius Rufus: the Roman Socrates," YCS 10 (1947) 40, lines 17-
20. On the ethics of Clement, see Salvatore R. C. Lilla, Clement of Alexandria: A Study in
Christian Platonism and Gnosticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971) 60-117. See
also Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early
Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) 122-39.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

on women and claimed that "they have plenty of &icpaoia as they dine and
get drunk while bathing." He noted that not only wealthy women but also
poor women enjoyed their baths. What he decried most was that the women,
including marriedwomen, strip before strangersfor alcpaoia. Clement added
an aphorism icKtoD yap eioop6v yiv?Tat dv0paomoio ;
tpv ("for from the
viewing people get to desiring") and mentioned some women who shut out
strangers, bathing only with their slaves. Even these, he claimed, stripped
naked before their slaves (masculine), were rubbed by them, and gave them
permission for lusty, fearless touching.79
Clement did not forbid his Christian readers from going to the baths; he
allowed men to use the baths for the sake of health (irytEia) and women,
for cleanliness (KaOapt6tlS;) and health (viyt?ia). He counseled that Chris-
tians should not bathe often.80It is clear from Clement that in Alexandria
at the end of the second century-contemporaneous with Irenaeus and
Tertullian-mixed bathing by all classes was not only customary but also
a popular activity in which Christian men and women engaged.
That women, more specifically Christian women, continued to engage in
mixed bathing is indicated by the Didascalia from Syria, written prior to
250 CE.81First, it exhorted the Christian woman "take heed that thou bathe
not in a bath with men." But then the Didascalia hedged.
But if there is no women'sbath, and thou art constrainedto bathe in
a bath of men and women-which indeed is unfitting-bathe with
modesty and shame, and with bashfulnessand moderation.82
Mixed bathing was allowed grudgingly, but subsequent instruction provided
further limits. The woman should not bathe every day, nor should she bathe
at midday, but rather, "let there be an appointed season for thee to bathe
at, (to wit) at the tenth hour." The intention here is clear from other sources.
The usual routine was to bathe and then go home to dine. Martial had
complained that the tenth hour was a bit late to be at the baths.83The
Didascalia's advice was probably based on the assumption that fewer men
would be present at the tenth hour. This advice also shows that Carcopino's
theory that women bathed in the morning and men in the afternoon is
without merit.

79Clement Alex. Paed. 3.5.

80Ibid., 3.9.
81EverettFerguson, "Didascalia," Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (1990) 263; R. Hugh
Connolly, trans. and ed., Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford: Clarendon, 1929) lxxxvii, lxxxix.
82Didascalia 3.1.9 (trans. Connolly, 26).
83MartialEpigrammata 3.36.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

From Syria in the east we move to Carthage in North Africa where

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, who addressed Christian virgins in his De
habitu virginum (249 CE), queried, "What in fact about those [virgins] who
go to common baths (promiscuae balnea) and who prostitute to eyes that
are curious for pleasure (ad libidinem) bodies that are dedicated to modesty
(pudor) and chastity (pudicitia)?" Cyprian wrote that they "disgracefully
behold naked men, and are seen naked by men." To the argument that the
virgins could have a modest disposition and come only for refreshment and
washing, Cyprian replied, "You behold no one immodestly, but you your-
self are gazed upon immodestly." He complained, "Virginity is exposed, to
be pointed at and to be handled."84Later he advised, "Let your baths be
performed with women among whom your bathing is modest (pudica)."85
Clearly Cyprian knew of mixed bathing in Carthage, and his argument
suggests that this was so customary and popular that he had to offer to
virginal women a vigorous polemic against the practice.86
That mixed bathing continued to be a problem for some Christian men
can be seen from Canon 30 of the Synod of Laodicia in Phrygia in the
middle of the fourth century. This regulation declared that "no priests or
clerics or ascetics are permitted to bathe in the baths with women, nor any
Christian or laic, for this is the greatest reproach among the gentiles."87
Presumably this canon meant that mixed bathing was still characteristic of
non-Christian Roman life and perhaps still a temptation to Christians.
The Apostolic Constitutions from Syria or Constantinople (ca. 380 CE)88
incorporated much of the earlier Didascalia, but with some differences,
including a significant change in the instructions to women. The Didascalia
had envisioned the situation where there were no women's baths and the
women would be constrained to bathe in mixed baths, although they should
do so modestly and after the tenth hour. The Apostolic Constitutions pro-
vides no such exception. Women are not to bathe under any circumstances
in the same place with men. Then it states:
But if the bath be appropriateto women, let her bathe orderly,mod-
estly, and moderately. But let her not bathe without occasion, nor

84CyprianDe habitu virginum, 19 (my translation).

85Ibid., 21 (my translation).
86Robin Lane Fox comments about virginity with reference to Cyprian: "How could a
woman remain virtuous when the whole organization of her social existence conspired against
her? She had only to go to the public baths, where men and women bathed naked together"
(Pagans and Christians [New York: Knopf, 1987] 373).
87Actaet SymbolaConciliorumquae saeculo quarto habita sunt (Textus Minores 19;
Leiden: Brill, 1954) canon 30 (my translation).
88Berthold Altaner, Patrology (New York: Herder & Herder, 1960) 59.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

much, nor often, nor in the middle of the day, nor, if possible, every
day; and let the tenthhourof the day be the set time for such season-
able bathing.89
The advice given in the Didascalia concerning mixed bathing has been
transferred to women bathing with women.
Not all Christians agreed. Sometime before 393, Jovinianus, a Christian
monk, published in Rome his views which "set the mark of approval on
baths in which men and women bathe (balnea, quae viros et feminas
lavant)."90Jovinianus's ideas met with considerable success, and he gained
many disciples, which prompted Pammachius, a Roman Christian of ascetic
tendencies, to appeal to Siricius, a bishop in Rome, and to send a copy of
Jovinianus's text to Jerome in Bethlehem.91Although Jovinianus was con-
demned by Jerome, a Roman synod in ca. 393, and Ambrose in Milan, his
views were still current and popular a decade later.92Except for Jerome,
Jovinianus's detractorsmentioned nothing about his view of the baths; rather
they focused on his views that sexual abstinence is not a higher calling and
that Mary was not a virgin in partu. The continued popularity of the baths
at this time, even among Christians, is attested by Socrates Scholasticus's
account of the Novatian bishop Sisinnius who bathed twice a day in the
public baths (wv otxpoSi 8rlioooliotS;Xu)6?vo;) in Constantinople, ca. 400.
Someone asked him why he, a bishop, bathed twice a day, and he replied
that it was inconvenient to bathe three times a day.93
The situation at the end of the fourth century, the time when the Historia
Augusta was written,94can be detected by comparing Jovinianus and his
most extreme critic, Jerome. In a letter to Asella in 385, Jerome contrasted
the ascetic lifestyle of Paula and Melanium with that of other women in

89Apostolic Constitutions 1.9.

90Jerome Adversus Jovinianum libri II 2.36 (my translation). In the time of Jovinianus
there were in the city of Rome ten thermae and eight hundred and fifty-six balnea, according
to the Curiosum Urbis Regionum 4 (357-403 CE?); see Fikret YegUl, "The Small City Bath
in Classical Antiquity and a Reconstruction Study of Lucian's 'Baths of Hippias,"' Archaeologia
Classica 31 (1979) 109 n. 2.
91J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (New York: Harper &
Row, 1975) 180-81. David G. Hunter, "Resistance to the Virginal Ideal in Late-Fourth-
Century Rome: The Case of Jovinian," TS 48 (1987) 45-64.
92Hunter, "Resistance," 48.
93Socrates Historia ecclesiastica 6.22. Socrates, an orthodox Christian, had high praise
for Sisinnius; see Glenn F. Chestnut, The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates,
Sozomon, Theodoret, and Evagrius (2d ed.; Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986) 184
n. 48.
94See above, 139-42.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Had they frequentedthe baths, or chosen to use perfumes,or taken

advantageof their wealth and position as widows to enjoy life and to
be independent,they would have been salutedas ladies of high rank
and saintliness.95
Although this passage does not directly indicate that the bathing in question
was mixed, Jerome's criticism of mixed bathing in his attack on Jovinianus
is clear enough. The passage does indicate, however, that respectable Ro-
man women still frequented the baths.96Jerome's own position was even
more extreme, since he opposed virginal women bathing with women. In a
letter to Laeta in 403, he opposed Christian virgins bathing with eunuchs
(because they are still men) or with married women (because pregnant
women are revolting) but also of any virgin bathing naked at all (because
she should blush at the idea of seeing herself undressed).97
At about the same time that Jerome was debating Jovinianus and that the
author of the Historia Augusta was contrasting "good emperors" who for-
bade mixed bathing with "bad emperors" who allowed it, there began to be
changes in bath architecture. Alterations in this period indicate a change
from facilities for collective bathing to individual tub systems98 or to sepa-
rate or segregated baths.99

E Conclusion
I return to the three passages with which we began: the letter from
Christian survivors of the persecution of 177 in Lugdunum and Vienna who
were excluded from the baths; the story Irenaeus told alleging that the
disciple John encountered Cerinthus in the baths in Ephesus; and Tertullian's
claim that Christians, like other people, went to the baths. I commented
that these passages suggest no ethical reservations about going to the baths,
and I asked whether there were women in these baths.
The study of available sources suggests that mixed bathing began some-
time in the first century CE, became widespread and popular in Roman

95JeromeEpistulae 45.4.
96Ramsay MacMullen estimates that about half of the population was Christian by 400
(Christianizing the Roman Empire [A.D. 100-400] [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984]
83, 86).
97JeromeEpistulae 107.11.
98Yegll, "Bath-Gymnasium," 311 n. 340.
99Nielsen, Thermae, 1. 57, 116, 148. For later baths and bathing see Albrecht Berger, Das
Bad in der byzantinischen Zeit (Miscellanea Byzantina Monacensia 27; Munich: Institut fur
Byzantinistik und neugriechische Philologie, 1982); Bryan Ward-Perkins, From Classical to
the Middle Ages: Urban Public Building in Northern and Central Italy, AD 300-850 (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1984).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

society by the end of the century, that is, before the time of the three
passages in question, and it continued to be popular until at least the end
of the fourth century. Archaeological evidence shows that the earlier double
baths for men and women gave way to baths with a single set of facilities,
an architectural feature that continued until at least the end of the fourth
century. Clearly, women and men could not be separated by space. The
theory that women and men were separated temporally rests on only one
piece of evidence, an inscription from Lusitania. On the other hand, the
criticisms of Christians, beginning with those of Clement of Alexandria,
show that the mixed bathing they decried was practiced in various geo-
graphical areas and was popular among all classes.
On this basis it would seem more likely that the original readers of these
three Christian passages would assume women to be present-just as today,
if one heard that some Christians went to a public swimming pool or to a
public beach, one would assume women to be present, because it is the
general, social custom. To be sure, throughout this period there were pri-
vate baths, and some of these may have been exclusively for one sex. In
the three passages under consideration, however, the baths were clearly
These three, early, nonjudgmental, Christian references to Roman baths
are intriguing; the silence about Roman baths in other Christian authors in
the period before Clement of Alexandria, despite the evidence for the ubiq-
uity and popularity of this prominent social institution, is interesting as
well. Most scholars of early Christianity begin with Christian texts and
then go to Greek and Latin texts and sometimes to archaeological evidence
to provide the "background"for the Christian text.100If one starts instead
with the question of what Roman urban society was like in the early im-
perial period,l01 one will surely be driven to raise questions about key
social institutions and practices that early Christian authors pass over in
silence. Peter Brown comments on the "indifference to nudity in Roman
public life," citing the public baths as one locus for nudity.102It appears
that the earliest Christian authors may have been equally indifferent.

10?Anexample of this method is the excellent study of Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban
Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).
'10An example of this approach can be found in John E. Staumbaugh and David L. Balch,
The New Testament in Its Social Environment (Library of Early Christianity 2; Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1986) especially in chap. 5, but the reference to baths is rather brief.
102PeterBrown, "Late Antiquity," in Veyne, A History of Private Life, 245.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 6 Aug 2014 16:13:54 PM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions