8

Or to quip: could slaves be patrons of baths?

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    Speculative: slaves usually had their own separate entrance, distinct from male and female entrances, so possibly not. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 19 '17 at 18:08
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    Not an answer, but I was reading a paper a while ago that suggested they probably could - maybe some baths, some times. Not every house had its own bath, still less two, and do you really want your cook/maid etc to reek? I'll try to track down the paper later. – TheHonRose Jul 19 '17 at 18:34
  • @DenisdeBernardy - the existence of slave entrances might possibly be for slave patrons, as presumably those attending on their owners would enter with him/her to undress them and guard their clothes - theft was rampant in the baths. Just a possibility. – TheHonRose Jul 22 '17 at 17:14
  • @TheHonRose: I dunno, my instinct upon reading that was that a slave owner would go in alone (I can't fathom anyone not being able to not take off or put on a robe or tunic alone) and other slaves would use the backdoor for maintenance, cleanup, etc. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 22 '17 at 18:03
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    @DenisdeBernardy - yes, of course the patrons could undress themselves, I'm not sure they would if they had slaves to do it for them. A Victorian English gentleman could dress himself, but would still expect his valet to do it for him! It's not that you can't, but that you don't have to - conspicuous idleness! – TheHonRose Jul 22 '17 at 22:35
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Yes, they were.

The epigraphic testimony for slaves at baths as customers is quite direct, though sparse...

Thus, it is

difficult to determine how common and widespread the practice was.

Source: G. Fagan, 'Interpreting the Evidence: Did Slaves Bathe at the Baths?,' in D. E. Johnston and J. DeLaine (eds.), 'Roman Baths and Bathing' (1992)


The concensus among academics is that slaves could use, as customers rather than just attendants, public baths. For example, this from a blog from the University of Kent:

The rich, who had no time constraints, could choose to bathe at the optimum time and therefore temperature, but labourers or slaves — who were not in control of their time — had to settle for a tepid bathing experience once their work was done.

Also, Sandra R. Joshel, in Slavery in the Roman World states:

We know that slaves could visit the baths, if they had the fee...

For primary sources, Garrett Fagan cites an inscription:

An inscription from Puteoli prohibits the slaves who removed corpses in the town from using the baths before the first hour of night...

Source: Garrett G. Fagan, 'Bathing in Public in the Roman World' (2002)

In the same book, Fagan also cites the lex Metalli Vipascensis which

...stipulates that slaves and freedmen who were in the employ of the procurator in cgarge of the mine or who enjoyed other privileges could use the baths free of charge....the wording can be read to imply that slaves not in the employ of the imperial service would be charged, which in turn implies that slaves of any kind...had access to the baths as customers.

and an inscription in Coela, Thrace

...records the building of baths for "the people and the familia of our Caesar," that is, for the local inhabitants and the emperor's slaves who served his estates in the region...

Less reliable but still worth mentioning, there is also literary evidence from works of fiction. For example, the anonymous Latin comedy Querolus:

Even if we are tempted to go by day, it is at night that we go to the baths. We bathe with the slave-girls and boys...

Cited in Kyle Harper, 'Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275–425' (2011)

Another literary work, the Roman novel The Golden Ass or The Metamorphoses of Apuleius also has characters who use the baths: two cooks who bathe every evening.

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    Thanks, this seems to settle the issue. I might dig deeper later, using your pointers, but for now I am satisfied. – Felix Goldberg Nov 8 '17 at 18:04
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We know slaves were allowed within the baths, but the question is could they use the baths as customers. First of all, there doesn't seem to be any writings concerning regulations forbidding the use of the baths by slaves. We do know however that, even among Roman Citizens, access to the baths was regulated. The baths charged an entry fee.

They were public only in the sense of being open to all citizens who could pay the modest fee demanded for their use. Free baths there were none, except when some magistrate or public-spirited citizen or candidate for office arranged to relieve the people of the fees for a definite time by meeting the charges himself.

The Private Life of Romans, By Harold Whetstone Johnston

This would indicate that a slave would have to be of such a status that they may have had (or been given) the required fee to make use of the 'public' baths.


A good source which looks at the possibility of slaves as bath customers is the book

Evidence presented seems scant, but does list a few occurrences of slaves using the baths. Again these instances that we have record of, were slaves of 'higher status'. There are also some good notations concerning special circumstances such as slaves in a mining region having certain hours set for their use of the local baths, indicating this use was allowed. From pg 204:

It is noteworthy that in all of these instances, the slaves in question either stand high in the slave hierarchy or enjoy close proximity to their owners; there is no evidence that menials would have had the same opportunities as these fortunates.

So it seems that if a slave had the status to have the entry fee, there was nothing forbidding his use of the baths on a customer level. But the scarcity of records supporting this would seem to indicated that it was not 'the norm'.

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    Or perhaps it was so normal that no one bothered to record it? – jamesqf Jul 21 '17 at 5:27
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    @ jamesqf I considered that, and had debated about writing that as a 'conversely' at the end. But I can't support an answer on what wasn't written, and I think the financial situation of the great majority of slaves would have been the deciding factor. – justCal Jul 21 '17 at 12:13
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    I don't know enough about Rome to say, but I would think that for household & business slaves at least, the owners would count bathing of some sort as part of normal upkeep, like food. Also, at least some slaves & former slaves in Rome could own property and even become wealthy in their own right, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallas_(freedman) – jamesqf Jul 22 '17 at 4:38
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    @user2448131 Thanks - I think the book by Fagan incorporates his original paper "Presenting the evidence: did slaves bathe at the baths" presented in Roman baths and bathing: proceedings of the First International Conference on Roman Baths held at Bath, England, 30 March-4 April 1992 Author(s) DeLaine, Janet, Johnston, David E., International Conference on Roman Baths1999 Journal of Roman Archaeology, which is the paper I was trying to recall. Seems there was no blanket veto on slave patrons, it depended on individual slaves' circumstances. – TheHonRose Jul 22 '17 at 14:17
  • @user2448131 IIRC, the regulations regarding mining slaves permitted them free bathing, which might suggest that otherwise slaves would have to pay like other customers. – TheHonRose Nov 7 '17 at 18:16

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