The Stabian Baths

There are 3 main baths in Pompeii, the Forum, Stabian and Central baths. The Stabian baths, at the junction of Pompeii’s 2 main streets was the largest of all 3. It was badly damaged at the time of the earthquake of AD 62. Only the women’s quarters were in use at the time of the eruption.

Exercise and Swimming

The men went in by the main entrance. This was on the southside under the gabled roof. There was a second entrance for men on the westside. These led to an open exercise area (palestra). To the left of the entrance at the far end of the colonnade was a changing room.
After undressing, the men could either exercise or take a swim. They took this exercise in the Palaestra, and games were played here. The most popular was a form of bowling that was played along a paved “alley”. At the far end was a room where the games were kept. Next to this was the office of the baths’ manager. In the north block were the public toilets. Above these was a huge water tank. In earlier days it was filled by means of a treadmill operating a two part-garland water wheels that drew water from a well. Later an aqueduct supplied it.
When they had worked up a good sweat from their exercise, the men returned to the change room where they were scraped down with stigils and massaged. If they then wished to take a swim, they walked through a shallow bath to clean their feet before plunging into the swimming pool. After this they might visit the heated Baths.

The Heated Bathrooms

The Heated bathrooms were in the east wing. The men’s baths were at the south end of the wing and the women’s at the north end.
Both the men’s and women’s quarters had three rooms. A hot room (caldarium) next to the boiler room. A warm room (tepidarium) and a changing room (apodyterium). The men’s quarters also included a small circular room with a cold plunge bath (frgidarium). The women’s quarters had no frigidarium but there was a cold bath in the change room.
After removing their clothes in the changing room, the bathers could either have a quick cold dip or go straight into the warm room. This room was heated to a constant temperature. It served as an acclimatizing room allowing the body to get used to the change of temperature between the changing room and the hot bathroom. This was particularly important when leaving the hot room in winter.

The Heating System (Hypocaust)

In the boiler room were three large tanks for cold, warm and hot water. There was a furnace between the hot tank that also heated the warm tank next to it. The cold tank was on a solid masonry base. The hot air from the furnace passed through holes at the bottom of the walls into the two hot bathrooms. Here it circulated under the floor that was raised up on small rectangular pillars. It also flowed up inside the walls and across the ceiling. After circulating round the hot rooms it passed through holes at the bottom of the walls to heat the warm rooms in the same way. It then passed out through small holes in the end walls of the warm room: there are 2 of these exhaust holes in the west wall of the women’s tepidarium and four in the east wall of the men’s. Behind the bath in the men’s tepidarium is a small fireplace. This was a draught fire that was used to draw through the hot air.

The Women’s Bathrooms

The women’s quarters were reached by two corridors, one from the west and one from the east side. These two corridors led only to the changing room. It was impossible to get from these corridors to any other part of the building.
Originally, the women’s quarters were entirely isolated from the rest of the complex. Later a doorway was put in only after the earthquake when the men’s baths were out of action. Alternatively it might have been a service entrance, which was kept locked during working hours.
In contrast to the ruined state of the men’s baths, the women’s baths are in excellent condition. The changing room still had its roof intact when it was excavated. Although the roof of the hot room had collapsed, most of the room is in a good state. The nipple tiles are still on the walls and most of the decoration, including apart of the ceiling has survived.

The Hot Bath

At the east end of the women’s hot room is a bath (alveus) made of masonry faced with marble. Not only is the bath itself intact, but so is the system for keeping the water ho. At the right end of the bath there is a semi-circular opening. Inside this is a half cylinder made of bronze. This container sits immediately above the Hypocaust channel leading from the furnace. It is set slightly lower than the bath. As the water in the bath coos, it sinks and so ends up in half the cylinder where it reheats and rises, thus keeping a permanent circulation of hot water in the bath. A similar system operated in the men’s hot room, but today it is completely in ruins.
The baths held about 8 people. These who wish to bathe on their own could use individual bronze tubs. The remains of one of these was found in this room. At the other end of the room was a labrum, a shallow wash basin made of white marble.

Taking a Bath

Normally bathers would be rubbed with ointments in the warm room before entering the hot room. Here they would sweat in the intense heat. The room was so hot they had to wear special clogs to protect their feet from the hot floor. After sweating they would take a hot bath followed by a cold plunge and then return to the hot room for a second sweat. Before leaving the heated rooms they would be rubbed down again with ointments as a protection against the cold.

The Public Toilet in the Stabian Baths

Public toilets are found wherever people gathered, such as the Forum, theatre and the baths. The example in the Stabian bath is a typical Roman latrine. Along three sides of the room is a deep trough. This sloped downwards so that water entering at the higher end flowed out at the lower. Above this were seats supported by blocks of stone set into the wall. No remains of the wooden seats were found. However, store seats have been found at several sites. These have small holes in the top, which are extended to form a U shaped hole along the front. About 30cm in the front of the seats is as shallow channel, also with the flowing water. The people cleansed themselves with a sponge on the end of a stick, which they used through the U shaped hole and then rinsed it in the shallow channel.

contributed by Belinda

Pompeii: Daily life, Bodies of Evidence, The Stabian Baths Glossary