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Games, Exercise and Baths

Sports of the Campus Martius

Campus Martius, or Campus, was located on the flat ground between the Tiber, Capitoline Hill, and the Quirinal Hill. The northwest part, bounded by river on two sides, was previously an old military drilling ground, and for centuries, the playground of Rome. Young men preferred athletic games at the Campus during the cooler hours of the day and plunges in the river than using the baths. Old men, on the other hand, preferred to exercise there after a siesta and before going to the baths and dining. All classes went to the Campus, including Caesar, Maecenas, and Augustus went there to exercise. Exercises were for health, not for recreation.

Ball Games

Balls were usually filled with hair, feathers, and air. Besides the games shown in the diagrams, other ball games were mentioned in literature.

Games of Chance

Games of chance were popular; however, such games were illegal because it resembled gambling too closely. Despite laws, large sums were frequently lost at gambling resorts and private houses. Gambling was legal in December. Old men could gamble anytime. High stakes were popular at men's dinners. Refer to diagram.


Knucklebones were also known as tali. They were made from the knucklebones of sheep and goats or in replicas in ivory, bronze, and goats. They were used by men for gambling. Children also used them for games like jackstones, where someone threw five in the air and tried to catch all of them on the back of hand. In gambling, four tali were used at once. They were thrown from hand or dicebox. No marking was required since all sides were different, but sometimes a talus was numbered 1,3,4, and 6. Thirty-five different throws were counted. The lowest throw, four aces, was Vulture. The highest throw, four different tali, was Venus. It was the Venus throw which designated the master of the revels. Refer to diagram.


Dice, or tesserae, were made from ivory, stone, and close-grained wood. It was marked from one to six. One game needed three dice to be thrown simultaneously from the dicebox. The side facing up was counted. Three aces was lowest and three sixes was the highest. The aim was to throw a higher count that the opponent. There were also dice games played with counters on games, where skill and chance were needed.


The early Romans washed for health and cleanliness. They bathed in a prototype washroom close to the kitchen, where hot water was easily accessible. There was one full bath weekly and washings of the arms and legs daily due to exposure. By the end of the Republic, it was routine to bathe before dinner. Private bathhouses still existed, but most Romans preferred public bathhouses. Public baths were usually built close to hot-mineral springs. Public baths could be found everywhere, even in smaller Italian towns and provinces.

Public Baths

The earlier bathhouses were called balneum/balnea. Very large bathhouses were called thermae. Public baths became established after Second Punic War. In 33B.C., there was already 170 bathhouses in Rome. Later, it increased to be 800 bathhouses. There was a small user fee to use the baths. Occasionally a magistrate, campaigning official, "public-spirited citizen, or a rich man in his will, paid charges for a limited time. Agrippa paid in 33 B.C.the annual fees for 170 baths. Baths might have been built for speculative purposes or as gifts to towns; by public funds or emperors. Town authorities maintained the bath. The baths would be leased for a certain amount of time to a manager. The user fees were usually a quarter of a cent for men, maybe twice as much for women, and nothing for children. User fees were relative to the quality and reputation of baths.

Essentials of a Bath

  1. warm anteroom
  2. hot bath
  3. cold bath
  4. rubbing and anointing with oil

Theses would be provided in usually three to six rooms.


  1. apodyterium - unheated, equipped with benches and clothing compartments
  2. tepidarium - warm anteroom for a mild sauna
  3. caldarium - hot room for a hot bath
  4. frigidarium - cold room for a cold bath
  5. unctorium - room for rubbing/anointing oil

**sometimes there would be a laconicum, an additional hot room for a hot bath**

Bathers could go through all in order or omit the hot room for a sweat bath in the laconicum. Perspiration was removed with a scraper, or strigilis, followed by a cold bath, rubbing with linen towels, and annointment with oil. Public bathhouses usually had an attached exercise ground with a pool at one side for cold plunges, where sweat and dirt of exercising was scraped off. Bathing habits depended on personal tastes. Physicians, too , laid strict orders for patients.

Heating the Bathhouse

The arrangement of the rooms was always dependent on the heating method. Early bathhouses were heated by charcoal stoves. Later bathhouses used a furnace (hypocaust). Hot air from the furnace circulated under the floors and between the walls. The temperature of the room was relative to the proximity of the furnace. The laconicum was the closest to the furnace, followed by the hot room, warm room, cold room and the dressing room. If there were two hot rooms for men and women, then they would be located on opposite sides of the furnace. The two entrances were as far away from the other as possible. There were two floors to a bath; the first even with the firebox, the second with the furnace, separated by two feet of space. Above the level of the upper floor were two tanks for heating water. The water would flow from the warm tank to the hot tank right over the fire. A tank of cold water was kept nearby. Pipes led the water to different rooms


The hot room was rectangular at one end and rounded at the other. At the rectangular end, there was a shallow pool of hot water. Only several people would bathe simultaneously.

Characteristics of a hot bath:

  • two steps up from floor
  • its length = width of room
  • narrower at the bottom,
  • sloped at the back so the bathers could recline
  • broad step in the front for convenience

The water piped in from the hot water tank was circulated in a metal semi-cylindrical metal heater. This heater was placed right over a large hot-air chamber that opened into the bath. Since the bottom of the heater is lower than the bottom of the bath, the water circulating from the bath to the heater was warmed and returned. There was an overflow pipe and an escape pipe attached to the top and bottom of the bath respectively. The escape pipe could be opened to provide water for floor-scrubbing. At the rounded end, there was a big metal basin filled with cool water. In a private bathhouse, the room was rectangular and the basin was placed in a corner. There were benches along the wall for people who used the room for a sweat bath. However, since the humidity of the caldarium is higher than laconicium, the effects would be different.


The cold room contained a cold plunge bath, but could double up as a dressing room with niches in the walls for clothes and benches for the slaves to watch the clothes. If the bath was too cold, the customer had the option of going to the swimming pool outside, which is heated by the sun.


The process of scraping, rubbing ,and oiling was exceedingly important. It must be done after the cold bath and maybe before the warm bath. Each bather brings his/her own strigils and oil flasks. One could scrape and oil oneself, or have trained slaves for such tasks. Trained slaves also gave messages. Either the warm room or the dressing room could replace the unctorium.

Bathing Hours

Bathing was routine before a dinner. Baths opened according to the seasons and classes. Generally, baths are bound by contract to open by three o'clock. Since many people bathed before lunch, some baths were opened at that time. All baths were usually open till sunset, or as long as the manager found it profitable.

Accommodations for Women

Women who were respectable would only go to baths with other women. They took this opportunity to meet their friends. Some baths was built only for women. In large cities, women's rooms and men's rooms would be set apart. The women's rooms in these baths were smaller than men's. In smaller villages, the same baths would be used by men and women at different hours. Women and men who bathe together had no respectability.

A Private Bathhouse

Private bathhouses were found infrequently in Italy and other provinces, The floor plan was probably the same, but on a smaller scale.