1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Baths

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BATHS. In the ordinary acceptation of the word a bath is the immersion of the body in a medium different from the ordinary one of atmospheric air, which medium is usually common water in some form. In another sense it includes the different media that may be used, and the various arrangements by which they are applied.

Ancient Baths.—Bathing, as serving both for cleanliness and for pleasure, has been almost instinctively practised by nearly every people. The most ancient records mention bathing in the rivers Nile and Ganges. From an early period the Jews bathed in running water, used both hot and cold baths, and employed oils and ointments. So also did the Greeks; their earliest and commonest form of bathing was swimming in rivers, and bathing in them was practised by both sexes. Warm baths were, according to Homer, used after fatigue or exercise. The Athenians appear for a long time to have had only private baths, but afterwards they had public ones: the latter seem to have originated among the Lacedaemonians, who invented the hot-air bath, at least the form of it called after them the laconicum. Although the baths of the Greeks were not so luxurious as those of some other nations, yet effeminate people were accused among them of using warm baths in excess; and the bath servants appear to have been rogues and thieves, as in later and larger establishments. The Persians must have had handsomely equipped baths, for Alexander the Great admired the luxury of the bath of Darius.

But the baths of the Greeks, and probably of all Eastern nations, were on a small scale as compared with those which eventually sprang up among the Romans. In early times the Romans used after exercise to throw themselves into the Tiber. Next, when ample supplies of water were brought into the city, large piscinae, or cold swimming baths, were constructed, the earliest of which appear to have been the piscina publica (312 B.C.), near the Circus Maximus, supplied by the Appian aqueduct, the lavacrum of Agrippina, and a bath at the end of the Clivus Capitolinus. Next, small public as well as private baths were built; and with the empire more luxurious forms of bathing were introduced, and warm became far more popular than cold baths.

Public baths (balneae) were first built in Rome after Clodius brought in the supply of water from Praeneste, After that date baths began to be common both in Rome and in other Italian cities; and private baths, which gradually came into use, were attached to the villas of the wealthy citizens. Maecenas was one of the first who built public baths at his own expense. After his time each emperor, as he wished to ingratiate himself with the people, lavished the revenues of the state in the construction of enormous buildings, which not only contained suites of bathing apartments, but included gymnasia, and sometimes even theatres and libraries. Such enormous establishments went by the name of thermae. The principal thermae were those of Agrippa 21 B.C., of Nero 65 A.D., of Titus 81, of Domitian 95, of Commodus 185, of Caracalla 217, and still later those of Diocletian 302, and of Constantine. The technical skill displayed by the Romans in rendering their walls and the sides of reservoirs impervious to moisture, in conveying and heating water, and in constructing flues for the conveyance of hot air through the walls, was of the highest order.

The Roman baths contained swimming baths, warm baths, baths of hot air, and vapour baths. The chief rooms (which in the largest baths appear to have been mostly distinct, whereas in smaller baths one chamber was made to do duty for more than a single purpose) were the following:—(1) The apodyterium or spoliatorium, where the bathers undressed; (2) the alipterium or unctuarium, where oils and ointments were kept (although the bathers often brought their own pomades), and where the aliptae anointed the bathers; (3) the frigidarium, or cool room, cella frigida, in which usually was the cold bath, the piscina or baptisterium; (4) the tepidarium, a room moderately heated, in which the bathers rested for a time, but which was not meant for bathing; (5) the calidarium or heating room, over the hypocaustum or furnace; this in its commonest arrangement had at one end a warm bath, the alveus or calida lavatio; at the other end in a sort of alcove was (6) the sudatorium or laconicum, which usually had a labrum or large vessel containing water, with which bathers sprinkled themselves to help in rubbing off the perspiration. In the largest baths the laconicum was probably a separate chamber, a circular domical room with recesses in the sides, and a large opening in the top; but there is no well-preserved specimen, unless that at Pisa may be so regarded. In the drawing of baths from the thermae of Titus (fig. 1), the laconicum is represented as a small cupola rising in a corner of the calidarium. It is known that the temperature of the laconicum was regulated by drawing up or down a metallic plate or clypeus. Some think that this clypeus was directly over the flames of the hypocaustum, and that when it was withdrawn, the flames must have sprung into the laconicum. Others, and apparently they have Vitruvius on their side, think that the clypeus was drawn up or down only from the aperture in the roof, and that it regulated the temperature simply by giving more or less free exit to the hot air. If the laconicum was only one end of the calidarium, it is difficult to see how that end of the room was kept so much hotter than the rest of it; on the other hand, to have had flames actually issuing from the laconicum must have caused smoke and soot, and have been very unpleasant. The most usual order in which the rooms were employed seems to have been the following, but there does not appear to have been any absolute uniformity of practice then, any more than in modern Egyptian and Turkish baths. Celsus recommends the bather first to sweat a little in the tepidarium with his clothes on, to be anointed there, and then to pass into the calidarium; after he has sweated freely there he is not to descend into the solium or cold bath, but to have plenty of water poured over him from his head,—first warm, then tepid, and then cold water—the water being poured longer over his head than on the rest of the body; next to be scraped with the strigil, and lastly to be rubbed and anointed.

The warmest of the heated rooms, i.e. the calidarium and laconicum, were heated directly from the hypocaustum, over which they were built or suspended (suspensura); while from the hypocaustum tubes of brass, or lead, or pottery carried the hot air or vapour to the walls of the other rooms. The walls were usually hollow, so that the hot air could readily circulate.

The water was heated ingeniously. Close to the furnace, about 4 in. off, was placed the calidarium, the copper (ahenum) for boiling water, near which, with the same interval between them, was the copper for warm water, the tepidarium, and at the distance of 2 ft. from this was the receptacle for cold water, or the frigidarium, often a plastered reservoir. A constant communication was kept up between these vessels, so that as fast as hot water was drawn off from the calidarium a supply was obtained from the tepidarium, which, being already heated, but slightly reduced the temperature of the hotter boiler. The tepidarium, again, was supplied from the frigidarium, and that from an aqueduct. In this way the heat which was not taken up by the first boiler passed on to the second, and instead of being wasted, helped to heat the second—a principle which has only lately been introduced into modern furnaces. In the case of the large thermae the water of an aqueduct was brought to the castellum or top of the building and was allowed to descend into chambers over the hypocaustum, where it was heated and transmitted in pipes to the central buildings. Remains of this arrangement are to be seen in the baths of Caracalla. The general plan of such buildings may be more clearly understood by the accompanying illustrations. In the well-known drawing (fig. 1) found in the baths of Titus, the name of each part of the building is inscribed on it. The small dome inscribed laconicum directly over the furnace, and having the clypeus over it, will be observed in the corner of the chamber named concamerata sudatio. The vessels for water are inscribed, according to their temperature, with the same names as some of the chambers, frigidarium, tepidarium and calidarium.


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Fig. 1.—Roman baths.


The baths of Pompeii (as shown in fig. 2) were a double set, and were surrounded with tabernae or shops, which are marked by a lighter shade. There were streets on four sides; and the reservoir supplying water was across the street in the building on the left hand of the cut. There were three public entrances—21a, 21b, 21c—to the men’s baths and one to the women’s. The furnaces (9) heated water, which was conveyed on one side to the larger baths of the men, on the other to the women’s. Entering from the street at 21c there was a latrina on the left hand (22). From this entrance it was usual to proceed to a court (20) surrounded by pillars, where servants were in attendance. There is some doubt as to the purpose to which the room (19) was devoted. Leaving the hall a passage conducted to the apodyterium or dressing-room (17), at one end of it is the frigidarium, baptisterium or cold plunge bath (18). Entering out of the apodyterium is the tepidarium or warming-room (15), which most probably was also used as the alipterium or anointing-room. From it bathers passed into the hot room or calidarium (12), which had at one end the alveus or calida lavatio (13), at the other end the labrum (14). This end of the calidarium served as the laconicum. The arrangements of the women’s baths were similar, but on a smaller scale. The calidarium (5) had the labrum (7) at one end, and the alveus (6) was in one side of the room. The general arrangements of a calidarium are well illustrated by the accompanying section (fig. 3) of a bath discovered at Tusculum. The disposition of the parts is the same as at Pompeii. We here have the calidarium supported on the pillars of the fornax, the suspensura. The alveus (3) is at one end, and the labrum (4) at the other. (1) and (2) are the vessels for water over the fornax; and the passages in the roof and walls for the escape of heated air will be observed.


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Fig. 2.—Ground plan of the baths of Pompeii.


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Fig. 3.—Section of bath discovered at
Tusculum, showing the calidarium (hot
room).

A clear idea of the relative position of the different rooms, and some slight indication of their ornamentation, will be obtained from fig. 4. The flues under the calidarium and the labrum (1) may be observed, as also the opening in the roof above. (2), (3) and (4) mark the vessels for water which are placed between the men’s baths on the left and the women’s on the right.

The arrangements of the thermae were mainly those of the balneae on a larger scale. Some idea of their size may be gathered from such facts as these, that in the baths of Diocletian one room has been transmuted into a church of most imposing proportions, and that the outside walls of the baths of Caracalla extend about a quarter of a mile on each of the four sides. A visit to the remains of the baths of Titus, of Diocletian, or of Caracalla impresses the mind strongly with a sense of the vast scale on which they were erected, and Ammianus’s designation of them as provinces appears scarcely exaggerated. It is said that the baths of Caracalla contained 1600, and those of Diocletian 3200 marble seats for the use of the bathers. In the largest of the thermae there was a stadium for the games of the young men, with raised seats for the spectators. There were open colonnades and seats for philosophers and literary men to sit and discourse or read their productions aloud or for others to discuss the latest news. Near the porticoes, in the interior open space, rows of trees were planted. There was a sphaeristerium or place for playing ball, which was often over the apodyterium; but it must be confessed that the purposes of many portions of these large edifices have not been made out in as satisfactory a way as those of smaller baths. A more definite idea of the thermae can be best got by an examination of the accompanying plan of the baths of Caracalla (fig. 5). A good deal of the plan is conjectural, the restorations being marked by lighter shading.


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FRIGIDARIUM  TEPIDARIUM  CALIDARIUM
Fig. 4.—Section of baths of Pompeii.


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Fig. 5.—Ground plan of the baths of Caracalla.
At the bottom of the plan is shown a long colonnade, which faces the street, behind which was a series of chambers, supposed to have been separate bathing-rooms. Entering by the opening in its centre, the visitor passes what was probably an inner colonnade round the main building. Passing in by either of the gates (2, 2), he reaches the large chamber (3), which has been variously called the natatio or large swimming-bath, or the tepidarium. The great central room (4) in all probability was the calidarium, with two labra (6, 6) on opposite sides, and with four alvei, one in each corner, represented by small circular dots. (9) has been regarded by some as the laconicuim, although it appears very large for that purpose. The rooms (15, 15) have been variously described as baptisteria and as laconica. Most authors are agreed in thinking that the large rooms (13) and (16) were the sphaeristeria or places for playing ball.
Returning to the outside, (1) and (18) and the corresponding places on the other side are supposed to have been the exedrae for philosophers, and places corresponding to the Greek xysti. (20) and (19) have been considered to be servants’ rooms. (22) was the stadium, with raised seats for the spectators. The space between this and the large central hall (9) was planted with trees, and at (21) the aqueduct brought water into the castellum or reservoir, which was on an upper storey. There were upper storeys in most portions of the building, and in these probably were the libraries and small theatres.

The piscinae were often of immense size—that of Diocletian being 200 ft. long—and were adorned with beautiful marbles. The halls were crowded with magnificent columns and were ornamented with the finest pieces of statuary. The walls, it has been said, were covered with exquisite mosaics that imitated the art of the painter in their elegance of design and variety of colour. The Egyptian syenite was encrusted with the precious green marbles of Numidia. The rooms contained the works of Phidias and Praxiteles. A perpetual stream of water was poured into capacious basins through the wide mouths of lions of bright and polished silver, water issued from silver, and was received on silver. “To such a pitch of luxury have we reached,” says Seneca, “that we are dissatisfied if we do not tread on gems in our baths.”

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Fig. 6.[1] Ring on which
are suspended some of
the articles in use in the
Alipterium.

The richer Romans used every variety of oils and pomades (smegmata); they scarcely had true soaps. The poorer class had to be content with the flour of lentils, an article used at this day for the same purpose by Orientals. The most important bath utensil was the strigillus, a curved instrument made of metal, with which the skin was scraped and all sordes removed.

The bath servants assisted in anointing, in using the strigillus and in various other menial offices. The poorer classes had to use their strigils themselves. The various processes of the aliptae seem to have been carried on very systematically.

The hot baths appear to have been open from 1 P.M. till dark. It was only one of the later emperors that had them lighted up at night. When the hot baths were ready (for, doubtless, the plunge baths were available at an earlier hour), a bell or aes was rung for the information of the people. Among the Greeks and Romans the eighth hour, or 1 o’clock, before their dinner, was the commonest hour for bathing. The bath was supposed to promote appetite, and some voluptuaries had one or more baths after dinner, to enable them to begin eating again; but such excesses, as Juvenal tells us, occasionally proved fatal. Some of the most effeminate of the emperors are said to have bathed seven or eight times in the course of the day. In early times there was delicacy of feeling about the sexes bathing together—even a father could not bathe with his sons; but latterly, under most of the emperors, men and women often used the same baths. There frequently were separate baths for the women, as we see at Pompeii or at Badenweiler; but although respectable matrons would not go to public baths, promiscuous bathing was common during the Empire.

The public baths and thermae were under the more immediate superintendence of the aediles. The charge made at a public bath was only a quadrans or quarter of an as, about half a farthing. Yet cheap though this was, the emperors used to ingratiate themselves with the populace, by making the baths at times gratuitous.

Wherever the Romans settled, they built public baths; and wherever they found hot springs or natural stufae, they made use of them, thus saving the expense of heating, as at the myrteta of Baiae or the Aquae Sulis of Bath. In the cities there appear to have been private baths for hire, as well as the public baths; and every rich citizen had a set of baths attached to his villa, the fullest account of which is given in the Letters of Pliny, or in Ausonius’s Account of a Villa on the Moselle, or in Statius’s De Balneo Etrusco. Although the Romans never wholly gave up cold bathing, and that practice was revived under Augustus by Antonius Musa, and again under Nero by Charmis (at which later time bathing in the open sea became common), yet they chiefly practised warm bathing (calida lavatio). This is the most luxurious kind of bathing, and when indulged in to excess is enervating. The women were particularly fond of these baths, and were accused, at all events in some provincial cities, of drunkenness in them.

The unbounded license of the public baths, and their connexion with modes of amusement that were condemned, led to their being to a considerable extent proscribed by the early Christians. The early Fathers wrote that bathing might be practised for the sake of cleanliness or of health, but not of pleasure; and Gregory the Great saw no objection to baths being used on Sunday. About the 5th century many of the large thermae in Rome fell into decay. The cutting off of the aqueducts by the Huns, and the gradual decrease of the population, contributed to this. Still it is doubtful whether bathing was ever disused to the extent that is usually represented. It was certainly kept up in the East in full vigour at Alexandria and at Brusa. Hot bathing, and especially hot air and vapour baths, were adopted by the Mahommedans; and the Arabs brought them with them into Spain. The Turks, at a later time, carried them high up the Danube, and the Mahommedans spread or, it may be more correct to say, revived their use in Persia and in Hindustan. The Crusaders also contributed to the spread of baths in Europe, and hot vapour baths were specially recommended for the leprosy so prevalent in those days. After the commencement of the 13th century there were few large cities in Europe without hot vapour baths. We have full accounts of their regulations—how the Jews were only allowed to visit them once a week, and how there were separate baths for lepers. In England they were called hothouses. Erasmus, at the date of the Reformation, spoke of them as common in France, Germany and Belgium; he gives a lively account of the mixture of all classes of people to be found in them, and would imply that they were a common adjunct to inns. They seem after a time to have become less common, though Montaigne mentions them as being still in Rome in his day. In England the next revival of baths was at the close of the 17th century, under the Eastern name of Hummums or the Italian name of Bagnios. These were avowedly on the principle of the Turkish baths described below. But there were several considerable epochs in the history of baths, one in the commencement of the 18th century, when Floyer and others recalled attention to cold bathing, of which the virtues had long been overlooked. In the middle of the century also, Russell and others revived sea-bathing in England, and were followed by others on the continent, until the value of sea-bathing became fully appreciated. Later in the same century the experiments of James Currie on the action of complete or of partial baths on the system in disease attracted attention; and though forgotten for a while, they bore abundant fruit in more recent times.

Modern Baths.—It is uncertain how far the Turkish and Egyptian and even the Russian baths are to be regarded merely as successors of the Roman baths, because the principle of vapour baths has been known to many nations in a very early period of civilization. Thus the Mexicans and Indians were found using small vapour baths. The ancient inhabitants of Ireland and of Scotland had some notion of their use, and the large vapour baths of Japan, now so extensively employed, are probably of independent origin.

The following accounts of Turkish and Russian baths illustrate the practices of the ancient Roman and also of modern Turkish baths. In Lane’s On the Modern Egyptians we read: “The building consists of several apartments, all of which are paved with marble, chiefly white. The inner apartments are covered with domes, which have a number of small glazed apertures for the admission of light. The bather, on entering, if he has a watch or purse, gives them in charge to the keeper of the bath. The servant of the bath takes off his shoes and supplies him with a pair of wooden clogs. The first apartment has generally three or four leewans (raised parts of the floor used as couches) cased with marble, and a fountain of cold water, which rises from an octagonal basement in the centre. One of the leewans, which is meant for the higher classes, is furnished with cushions or mats. In warm weather bathers usually undress in this room; in winter they undress in an inner room, called the beytowwal or first chamber, between which and the last apartment there is a passage often with two or three latrines off it. This is the first of the heated chambers. It generally has two raised seats. The bather receives a napkin in which to put his clothes and another to put round his waist—this reaches to the knees; a third, if he requires it, is brought him to wind round his head, leaving the top of it bare; a fourth to put over his chest; and a fifth to cover his back. When the bather has undressed, the attendant opens to him the door of the inner and principal apartment. This in general has four leewans, which gives it the form of a cross, and in the centre a fountain of hot water rises from a small shallow basin. The centre room, with the adjoining ones, forms almost a square. The beytowwal already mentioned is one of them. Two small chambers which adjoin each other, one containing a tank of hot water, the other containing a trough, over which are two taps, one of hot and one of cold water, occupy the two other angles; while the fourth angle of the square is occupied by the chamber which contains the fire, over which is the boiler. The bather having entered this apartment soon perspires profusely from the humid heat which is produced by the hot water of tanks and fountains, and by the steam of the boiler. The bather sits on one of the marble seats, or lies on the leewan or near one of the tanks, and the operator then commences his work. The operator first cracks aloud every joint in the body. He makes the vertebrae of the back and even of the neck crack. The limbs are twisted with apparent violence, but so skilfully, that no harm is ever done. The operator next kneads the patient’s flesh. After this he rubs the soles of the feet with a kind of rasp of baked clay. There are two kinds of rasps, one porous and rough, one of fine smooth clay. Those used by ladies are usually encased in thin embossed silver. The next operation is rubbing the bather’s flesh with a small coarse woollen bag, after which the bather dips himself in one of the tanks. He is next taken to one of the chambers in the corner, and the operator lathers the bather with fibres of the palm tree, soap and water. The soap is then washed off with water, when the bather having finished washing, and enveloped himself in dry towels, returns to the beytowwal and reclines. Here he generally remains an hour to an hour and a half, sipping coffee and smoking, while an attendant rubs the soles of the feet and kneads the body and limbs. The bather then dresses and goes out.”

The following description of a Russian bath is from Kohl’s Russia (1842): “The passage from the door is divided into two behind the check-taker’s post, one for the male, one for the female guests. We first enter an open space, in which a set of men are sitting in a state of nudity on benches, those who have already bathed dressing, while those who are going to undergo the process take off their clothes. Round this space or apartment are the doors leading to the vapour-rooms. The bather is ushered into them, and finds himself in a room full of vapour, which is surrounded by a wooden platform rising in steps to near the roof of the room. The bather is made to lie down on one of the lower benches, and gradually to ascend to the higher and hotter ones. The first sensation on entering the room amounts almost to a feeling of suffocation. After you have been subjected for some time to a temperature which may rise to 145° the transpiration reaches its full activity, and the sensation is very pleasant. The bath attendants come and flog you with birchen twigs, cover you with the lather of soap, afterwards rub it off, and then hold you over a jet of ice-cold water. The shock is great, but is followed by a pleasant feeling of great comfort and of alleviation of any rheumatic pains you may have had. In regular establishments you go after this and lie down on a bed for a time before issuing forth. But the Russians often dress in the open air, and instead of using the jet of cold water, go and roll themselves at once in the snow.”

Turkish baths have, with various modifications, become popular in Europe. The Russian baths were introduced into German towns about 1825. They had a certain limited amount of popularity, but did not take firm root. Another class practically owes its origin to Dr Barter and David Urquhart. It professed to be founded on the Turkish bath, but in reality it was much more of a hot air bath, i.e. more devoid of vapour than either Roman or Turkish baths ever were, for it is doubtful whether in any case the air of the laconicum was free from vapour. These baths, with their various modifications, have become extremely popular in Great Britain, in Germany and in northern Europe, but have, curiously enough, never been used extensively in France, notwithstanding the familiarity of the French with Turkish baths in Algiers.

In England hot air baths are now employed very extensively. They are often associated with Turkish and electric baths.

Bathing among the ancients was practised in various forms. It was sometimes a simple bath in cold or in tepid water; but at least, in the case of the higher orders, it usually included a hot air or vapour bath, and was followed by affusion of cold or warm water, and generally by a plunge into the piscina. In like manner the order varies in which the different processes are gone through in Turkish baths in modern Europe. Thus in the baths in Vienna, the process begins by immersion in a large basin of warm water. Sudation is repeatedly interrupted by cold douches at the will of the bathers, and after the bath they are satisfied with a short stay in the cooling-room, where they have only a simple sheet rolled round them. In Copenhagen and in Stockholm the Oriental baths have been considerably modified by their association with hydropathic practices.

This leads us to notice the introduction of the curiously misnamed system known as hydropathy (q.v.). Although cold baths were in vogue for a time in Rome, warm baths were always more popular. Floyer, as we have seen, did something to revive their use in England; but it was nearly a century and a half afterwards that a Silesian peasant, Priessnitz, introduced, with wonderful success, a variety of operations with cold water, the most important of which was the packing the patient in a wet sheet, a process which after a time is followed by profuse sudation. Large establishments for carrying out this mode of bathing and its modifications were erected in many places on the continent and in Great Britain, and enjoyed at one time a large share of popularity. The name “hydropathic” is still retained for these establishments, though hydropathy so-called is no longer practised within them to any extent.

But the greatest and most important development of ordinary baths in modern times was in England, though it has extended gradually to some parts of the continent. The English had long used affusion and swimming-baths freely in India. Cold and hot baths and shower baths have been introduced into private houses to an extent never known before; and, since 1842, public swimming-baths, besides separate baths, have been supplied to the public at very moderate rates, in some cases associated with wash-houses for the poorer classes. Their number has increased rapidly in London and in the principal continental cities. Floating-baths in rivers, always known in some German towns, have become common wherever there are flowing streams. The better supply of most European cities with water has aided in this movement. Ample enclosed swimming-baths have been erected at many seaside places. When required, the water, if not heated in a boiler, is raised to a sufficient temperature by the aid of hot water pipes or of steam. Separate baths used to be of wood, painted; they are now most frequently of metal, painted or lined with porcelain enamel. The swimming-baths are lined with cement, tiles or marble and porcelain slabs; and a good deal of ornamentation and painting of the walls and ceiling of the apartments, in imitation of the ancients, has been attempted.

We have thus traced in outline the history of baths through successive ages. The medium of the baths spoken of thus far has been water, vapour or dry hot air. But baths of more complex nature, and of the greatest variety, have been in use from the earliest ages. The best known media are the various mineral waters and sea-water. Of baths of mineral substances, those of sand are the oldest and best known; the practice of arenation or of burying the body in the sand of the sea-shore, or in heated sand near some hot spring, is very ancient, as also that of applying heated sand to various parts of the body. Baths of peat earth are of comparatively recent origin. The peat earth is carefully prepared and pulverized, and then worked up with water into a pasty consistence, of which the temperature can be regulated before the patient immerses himself in it.

There are various terms that may be termed chemical, in which chlorine or hydrochloric acid is added to the water of the bath, or where fumes of sulphur are made to rise and envelop the body.

Of vegetable baths the number is very large. Lees of wine, in a state of fermentation, have been employed. An immense variety of aromatic herbs have been used to impregnate water with. At one time fuci or sea-weed were added to baths, under the idea of conveying into the system the iodine which they contain; but by far the most popular of all vegetable baths are those made with an extract got by distilling certain varieties of pine leaves.

The strangeness of the baths of animal substances, that have been at various times in use, is such that their employment seems scarcely credible. That baths of milk or of whey might be not unpopular is not surprising, but baths of blood, in some cases even of human blood, have been used; and baths of horse dung were for many ages in high favour, and were even succeeded for a short time by baths of guano.

Electrical baths are now largely used, a current being passed through the water; and electrical massage, by the d’Arsonval or other system, is colloquially termed a “bath.”

Baths also of compressed air, in which the patient is subjected to the pressure of two or three atmospheres, were formerly employed in some places.

A sun bath (insolatio or heliosis), exposing the body to the sun, the head being covered, was a favourite practice among the Greeks and Romans.

Some special devices require a few words of explanation.

Douches were used by the ancients, and have always been an important mode of applying water to a circumscribed portion of the body. They are, in fact, spouts of water, varying in size and temperature, applied by a hose-pipe with more or less force for a longer or shorter time against particular parts. A douche exercises a certain amount of friction, and a continued impulse on the spot to which it is applied, which stimulate the skin and the parts beneath it, quickening the capillary circulation. The effects of the douche are so powerful that it cannot be applied for more than a few minutes continuously. The alternation of hot and cold douches, which for some unknown reason has got the name of Écossaise, is a very potent type of bath from the strong action and reaction which it produces. The shower bath may be regarded as a union of an immense number of fine douches projected on the head and shoulders. It produces a strong effect on the nervous system. An ingenious contrivance for giving circular spray baths, by which water is propelled laterally in fine streams against every portion of the surface of the body, is now common.

To all these modes of acting on the cutaneous surface and circulation must be added dry rubbing, as practised by the patient with the flesh glove, but much more thoroughly by the bath attendants, if properly instructed (see also Massage).

Action of Baths on the Human System.—The primary operation of baths is the action of heat and cold on the cutaneous surfaces through the medium of water.

The first purpose of baths is simply that of abstersion and cleanliness, to remove any foreign impurity from the surface, and to prevent the pores from being clogged by their own secretions or by desquamations of cuticle. It need scarcely be said that such objects are greatly promoted by the action of the alkali of soaps and by friction; that the use of warm water, owing to its immediate stimulation of the skin, promotes the separation of sordes, and that the vapour of water is still more efficient than water itself.

It has been supposed that water acts on the system by being absorbed through the skin, but, under ordinary circumstances, no water is absorbed, or, if any, so minute a quantity as not to be worth considering. No dissolved substances, under the ordinary circumstances of a bath, are actually absorbed into the system; although when a portion of skin has been entirely cleared of its sebaceous secretion, it is possible that a strong solution of salts may be partially absorbed. In the case of medicated baths we therefore only look (in addition to the action of heat and cold, or more properly to the abstraction or communication and retention of heat) to any stimulant action on the skin that the ingredients of the bath may possess.

The powerful influence of water on the capillaries of the skin, and the mode and extent of that operation, depend primarily on the temperature of the fluid. The human system bears changes of temperature of the air much better than changes of the temperature of water. While the temperature of the air at 75° may be too warm for the feelings of many people, a continued bath at that temperature is felt to be cold and depressing. Again, a bath of 98° to 102° acts far more excitingly than air of the same temperature, both because, being a better conductor, water brings more heat to the body and because it suppresses the perspiration which is greatly augmented by air of that temperature. Further, a temperature a few degrees below blood heat is that of indifferent baths, which can be borne longest without natural disturbance of the system.

Cold baths act by refrigeration, and their effects vary according to the degree of temperature. The effects of a cold bath, the temperature not being below 50°, are these:—there is a diminution of the temperature of the skin and of the subjacent tissues; there is a certain feeling of shock diffused over the whole surface, and if the cold is intense it induces a slight feeling of numbness in the skin. It becomes pale and its capillaries contract. The further action of a cold bath reaches the central nervous system, the heart and the lungs, as manifested by the tremor of the limbs it produces, along with a certain degree of oppression of the chest and a gasping for air, while the pulse becomes small and sinks. After a time reaction takes place, and brings redness to the skin and an increase of temperature.

The colder the water is, and the more powerful and depressing its effects, the quicker and more active is the reaction. Very cold baths, anything below 50°, cannot be borne long. Lowering of the temperature of the skin may be borne down to 9°, but a further reduction may prove fatal. The diminution of temperature is much more rapid when the water is in motion, or when the bather moves about; because, if the water is still, the layer of it in immediate contact with the body is warmed to a certain degree.

A great deal depends on the form of the cold bath; thus one may have—(1) Its depressing operation,—with a loss of heat, retardation of the circulation, and feeling of weariness, when the same water remains in contact with the skin, and there is continuous withdrawal of heat without fresh stimulation. This occurs with full or sitz baths, with partial or complete wrapping up the body in a wet sheet which remains unchanged, and with frictions practised without removing the wet sheets. (2) Its exciting operation,—with quickening of the action of the heart and lungs, and feeling of glow and of nervous excitement and of increased muscular power. These sensations are produced when the layer of water next the body and heated by it is removed, and fresh cold water causes fresh stimulus. These effects are produced by full baths with the water in motion used only for a short time, by frictions when the wet sheet is removed from the body, by douches, shower baths, bathing in rivers, &c. The depressing operation comes on much earlier in very cold water than in warmer; and in the same way the exciting operation comes on faster with the colder than with the warmer water. The short duration of the bath makes both its depressing and its exciting action less; its longer duration increases them; and if the baths be continued too long, the protracted abstraction of animal heat may prove very depressing.

Tepid baths, 85° to 95°.—The effects of a bath of this temperature are confined to the peripheral extremities of the nerves, and are so slight that they do not reach the central system. There is no reaction, and the body temperature remains unchanged. Baths of this kind can be borne for hours with impunity.

Warm baths from 96° to 104°.—In these the action of the heat on the peripheral surface is propagated to the central system, and causes reaction, which manifests itself in moderately increased flow of the blood to the surface, and in an increased frequency of pulse.

With a hot bath from 102° up to 110° the central nervous and circulating systems are more affected. The frequency of the pulse increases rapidly, the respiration becomes quickened, and is interrupted by deep inspirations. The skin is congested, and there is profuse perspiration.

Very hot baths.—Everything above 110° feels very hot; anything above 120° almost scalding. Baths of from 119° to 126° have caused a rise of 2° to 4½° in the temperature of the blood. Such a bath can be borne for only a few minutes. It causes great rapidity of the pulse, extreme lowering of the blood-pressure, excessive congestion of the skin, and violent perspiration.

In the use of hot baths a certain amount of vapour reaches the parts of the body not covered by the water, and is also inhaled.

Vapour baths produce profuse perspiration and act in cleansing the skin, as powerful hot water baths do. Vapour, owing to its smaller specific heat, does not act so fast as water on the body. A vapour bath can be borne for a much longer time when the vapour is not inhaled. Vapour baths can be borne hotter than water baths, but cannot be continued too long, as vapour, being a bad conductor, prevents radiation of heat from the body. A higher heat than 122° is not borne comfortably. The vapour bath though falling considerably short of the temperature of the hot air bath, raises the temperature much more.

Hot air baths differ from vapour baths in not impeding the respiration as the latter do, by depositing moisture in the bronchial tubes. The lungs, instead of having to heat the inspired air, are subjected to a temperature above their own. Hot air baths, say of 135°, produce more profuse perspiration than vapour baths. If very hot, they raise the temperature of the body by several degrees. Vapour baths, hot air baths, and hot water baths agree in producing violent perspiration. As perspiration eliminates water and effete matter from the system, it is obvious that its regulation must have an important effect on the economy.

In comparing the general effects of cold and hot baths, it may be said that while the former tend to check perspiration, the latter favour it.

The warm bath causes swelling and congestion of the capillaries of the surface in the first instance; when the stimulus of heat is withdrawn their contraction ensues. A cold bath, again, first causes a contraction of the capillaries of the surface, which is followed by their expansion when reaction sets in. A warm bath elevates the temperature of the body, both by bringing a supply of heat to it and by preventing the radiation of heat from it. It can be borne longer than a cold bath. It draws blood to the surface, while a cold bath favours internal congestions.

But baths often produce injurious effects when used injudiciously. Long continued warm baths are soporific, and have, owing to this action, often caused death by drowning. The effects of very hot baths are swimming in the head, vomiting, fainting, congestion of the brain, and, in some instances, apoplexy.

The symptoms seem to point to paralysis of the action of the heart. It is therefore very evident how cautious those should be, in the use of hot baths, who have weak hearts or any obstruction to the circulation. Fat men, and those in whom the heart or blood-vessels are unsound, should avoid them. Protracted indulgence in warm baths is relaxing, and has been esteemed a sign of effeminacy in all ages. Sleepiness, though it will not follow the first immersion in a cold bath, is one of the effects of protracted cold baths; depression of the temperature of the surface becomes dangerous. The risk in cold baths is congestion of the internal organs, as often indicated by the lips getting blue. Extremely cold baths are always dangerous.

For the medical use of baths see Balneotherapeutics.

Public Baths.—It was not till 1846 that it was deemed advisable in England, for the “health, comfort, and welfare” of the inhabitants of towns and populous districts, to encourage the establishment therein of baths by the local authority acting through commissioners. A series of statutes, known collectively as “The Baths and Wash-houses Acts 1846 to 1896,” followed. By the Public Health Act 1875, the urban authority was declared to be the authority having power to adopt and proceed under the previous acts, and in 1878 provision was for the first time expressly made for the establishment of swimming baths, which might be used during the winter as gymnasia, and by an amending act of 1899, for music or dancing, provided a licence is obtained. By the Local Government Act 1894, it was provided that the parish meeting should be the authority having exclusive power of adopting the Baths and Wash-houses Acts in rural districts, which should, if adopted, be carried into effect by the parish council. Up to 1865 it seems as if only twenty-five boroughs had cared to provide bathing accommodation for their inhabitants. There is no complete information as to the number of authorities who have adopted the acts since 1865, but a return of reproductive undertakings presented to the House of Commons in 1899 shows that no local authorities outside the metropolis applied for power to raise loans to provide baths, of whom 48 applied before 1875 and 62 after 1875. In the year 1907 the loans sanctioned for the purpose amounted to £53,026. The revenues of parish councils are so limited that it has not been possible for them to take much advantage of the acts. In the metropolis, by the Local Government Act of 1894, the power of working the act was given to vestries, and by the act of 1899 this power was transferred to the borough councils. There are 35 parishes in London in which the acts have been adopted, all of which except 11 have taken action since 1875. These establishments, according to the return made in 1908, provided 3502 private baths and 104 swimming baths. The maximum charge for a second-class cold bath is 1d., for a hot bath 2d. In 1904-1905 the number of bathers was 6,342,158, of whom 3,064,998 were bathers in private baths and 3,277,160 bathers in swimming baths. In 1896-1897 the gross total had been only 2,000,000. In cases where the proportion between the sexes has been worked out, it is found that only 18% of the users of private baths, and 10% of the users of swimming baths, are females. In 1898 the School Board was authorized to pay the fees for children using the baths if instruction in swimming were provided, and in 1907-1908 the privilege was used by 1,556,542 children. The cost of this public provision in London—water being supplied by measure—is over £80,000 a year. No account can be given of the numbers using the ponds and lakes in the parks and open spaces, but it is computed that on a hot Sunday 25,000 people bathe in Victoria Park, London, some of the bathers starting as early as four o’clock in the morning. These returns show how great is the increase of the habit of bathing, but they also show how even now the habit is limited to a comparatively small part of the population. People require to be tempted to the use of water, at any rate at the beginning. There are still authorities in London responsible for 800,000 persons who have provided no baths, and those who have made provision have not always done so in a sufficiently liberal and tempting way. The comparison between English great towns and those of the continent is not in favour of the former.

For the literature of baths in earlier periods we may refer to the Architecture of Vitruvius, and to Lucian’s Hippias; see art. “Bäder” in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie (1896), by A. Mau; “Balneum” in Daremberg and Saglio, Dict. des antiquités J. Marquardt Das Privatleben der Römer (1886), pp. 269-297; Becker’s Gallus, and the article “Balneae” by Rich, in Dr Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (rev. ed. 1890); also the bibliography to Hydropathy.


  1. The figure represents four strigils, in which the hollow for collecting the oil or perspiration from the body may be observed. There is also a small ampulla or vessel containing oil, meant to keep the strigils smooth, and a small flat patera or drinking vessel out of which it was customary to drink after the bathing was finished.