Saturday 23 January 2010

Saturday Wash Day

This is today's image: The "niches" at Chesters Bath House. If you do ever get a chance to visit the Wall and you haven't got much time...then I would recommend a visit to Chesters. (Naturally my favourite site is Vindolanda but for different reasons.) It is a stupendous setting with splendiferous views.

This is the most complete bath house to be found along Hadrian's Wall and you can wander through each of the rooms imagining what it must have been like to have a bathe all those years ago. (There are two equally interesting ones at Vindolanda.) It has been fully recreated over at the "Segendum" fort over at Wallsend. (Don't miss that either - if possible!)

I'll be talking more about these bath houses and others in due course.

In the meantime I would like you to ponder what these niches (in the photo) in the changing room were for? It is still being debated. Do you think they were places for the bathers to place/hang their clothes or do you think they were niches for altars to the deities? Do you think they had another use?

Bath houses in Roman times were a meeting place (as well as a place to get clean). Sports, gambling, bathing, gossiping, eating, drinking (sometimes stealing) and much more! Here goes...:

"Every Roman town worthy of the name had its own public baths and every military establishment had its set of bath houses placed just outside the fort, for the use of the soldiers and eventually for the inhabitants of the vicus ("village"). (Inside the fort the commandant had his own private bath suite.) Wherever the Romans went, they brought their baths. It was almost a fetish with them, yet a very practical fetish. The British in setting up their Empire in the far corners of the world took much stranger fetishes with them, such as cricket. (Cricket - a fetish!! My exclamation marks - Hadriana.)

Hadrian, that great promoter of urban life, encouraged them to be set up. In towns they were erected at the expense of the town council and were open to all. All Romans took a bath daily and the leading Britons soon followed, as they did with other Roman customs. It's strange to think that baths became commonplace for the three hundred years or so that the Romans were here, yet once they'd gone, not just the habit but the knowledge of public bathing went as well. Throughout medieval England, until as late as the Victorian age, even the noblest in the land must have smelled a long way off. It's only relatively recently that bathing has become a regular habit once again.

Going to the baths was a social occasion for the Romans. Seneca in one of his essays describes what it was like if you were unlucky enough to live too near to the public baths. 'The sound of voices is enough to make one sick.' He had to put up with the groans of the weight lifters, the slapping of the masseurs as they pummelled away (with hands open or cupped), the splashings of the swimmers, the shouts of the arguers, the cries of the sausage sellers and puff pastrymen, singers singing, umpires calling out the score in a ball game and the howls caused by the removers of surplus hair. 'It would disgust me to give details,' he finally adds, making one wonder what else could possibly be going on."

From Hunter Davies' Walk Along the Wall (A Journey along Hadrian's Wall) p.69/70


Harry said...

Always have a special spot for Chesters. On my first trip to the Wall in '03, it was the first fort I visited. I'd swung by Brunton turret en route and admired the stonework. But to walk amongst barracks & guardhouses & headquarters & then the bath... I just knew I was in my part of the world, jetlag and all.

- Harry

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

I do enjoy reading about all of this Hadriana and if we do ever get to that part of the country again would love to see it for myself. I wonder if grumpy Seneca ever actually went into the bath house!

Hadriana's Treasures said... IS a very special place. The Romans certainly knew a nice spot when they saw it. Many archaeologists still want to dig up the rest of the fort (as you probably know) and I can't say I blame them!

SJA: I should have said but I think that Seneca lived beside a noisy bath house in Rome and was writing about that. I compare it to being in Spain. I absolutely adore Spain and once spent part of a balmy Summer in Madrid. It was my first taste of the sheer noise level which exists there. Apparently Spain and Japan vie with each other to be the noisiest places on the earth. (Mind you I am sure there are several other incredibly noisy places in other parts of the world. Living under the Heathrow flight path was one of them!)

Spain embraces noise (at least in town centres) and I can understand what Seneca is saying. He probably just wanted a midday siesta and it was out of the question!

Thank you, SJA, for reminding me of Spain again. Very happy days they were too........Hx