Hsc ancient History Health, baths, water supply and sanitation

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Floor Plan of the Bath houses. Forum Bath in Herculaneum

It was accustomed for a citizen, especially those of hierarchal status who lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum around 79 AD to regularly attend the bathing activities. These baths are extremely diverse from the known aspect of bathing today. Bathing still maintained its core purpose to clean and sustain a hygienic aspect, however the baths were crucial as a social and leisure concept. Baths were opened at midday, once the furnaces were lit in the morning and many people made their regular journey to the baths. Public baths were located throughout both cities and they contained separate female and male facilities by which the females and males attended at differing hours. However the private baths such as Julia Felix’s one, were quite rare in numbers as it contradicts the main reasoning of the bathing experience being a social means of gathering. Being at a bath, people’s social status became slightly irrelevant as one could communicate with anyone who attended that bath. At Herculaneum there were two core bath houses which were the Forum Bath and Suburban Bath. The Suburban Bath’s were slightly more upper class baths and are situated outside of the town closer to the sea and highly enforce the knowledge that the baths were mainly for a sociable leisure activity. The Stabian baths date back as the oldest baths and considerably the largest baths at Pompeii. The Stabian baths were one of the four main public bathing houses at Pompeii, the others consisted of the Forum Baths, Central Baths and the Amphitheatre Baths. The Forum Baths have shown detailed stucco work on the walls and ceilings, mosaics covered the floor and an aquatic, sea theme dominated as Pompeii is a coastal location. The Herculaneum Baths provided a large triton producing serpents spiralling amongst the triton. The floor plan providing specific evidence to what may have occurred at the bath houses and how the process of bathing actually happened.

It has been recognised through this floor plan of the baths that there was a common process when one was participating in this leisure activity. The first stage was known as the apodyterium which was the changing and waiting room and an individual was able to store their clothes and items on shelves located around the room. Caldarium or hot room which could potentially reach up to 40 degrees Celsius was a vaulted steamer and this was the next step when one was bathing. It held up to ten people and consisted of a rectangular heated bath or alverus and at the other end, another large circular tub or labrum for cold water bathing was situated so someone was able to alternate between ranging temperatures for comfort. A bather would then subsequently move onto the Iaconicum room or sweating room which also may have been incorporated with the tepidarium. The Tepidarium was a room where an individual’s body could adjust to temperatures similarly like a transition room. Finally the bather would travel into the Frigidarium area which consisted with a cold circular bath that would close the pores of the skin.

Baths were heated by a specific heating process that was stimulated by a charcoal burning furnace and the hot air would rise from under the marble floor. Bathers were able to wear wooden sandals in order to walk across the hot floor. The floor was raised approximately 70-90 centimetres on brick pillars or suspensure. The furnace was situated at the back of the Caldarium between both male and female baths. The location of the furnace from the floor plans indicates that the rooms proximate to it are clearly the rooms that became the hottest. They had even thought of a way to prevent the condensation of water bothering the bathers by creating small groves in the ceiling which collected all the water and turned it towards the walls where it was able to run down away then from dripping directly onto people. Not only could bathers have the luxury of a pleasurable baths but they were seen as a therapeutic resource, physical exercise regime, receiving vital invitations and participate in important business matters. The Baths however were not always a tranquil place. It can be constructed through other cities across the Italian Peninsula that sexual behaviour was accustomed as a reoccurring aspect. The Baths provided an ideal place for prostitution as pornographic graffiti implies these sexual misconducts. Through the floor plan of the Forum Baths at Pompeii one can identifying what may have happened at these day to day activities. It helps conjure an image of what the baths may have looked like and how people could be socially accepted as they were basically stripped down from their normal clothes that identified their hierarchal positions.

Water Supply and Sanitation

Image 1) Water Tower at Pompeii. Image 2) Pompeian Street – archaeological infrastructure uncovered from the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD

Water is essential for human survival and therefore needed to be a constant resource for the citizens of Pompeii and Herculaneum. They had devised a system which received water from the Acquaro springs about 26 kilometres away. During the reign of Augustus was when this sufficient supply of water was in place and can be seen through the remaining structures of Aqueducts which dispensed water into reservoirs that stored the water once it travelled down the mountains. One reservoir or water tower known as the castellum aquae, collected stored and distributed the water throughout the towns into three main pipes. Lead pipes laid below the streets dispersed the water to the fountains, baths, latrines and private homes of citizens. The Castellum Aquae was one of the core water tanks and stood next to the Vesuvian Gate which helped regulate the supply of water. Porta Vesuvio is the highest point of Pompeii which was where the reservoirs were located due to the vital reason of gravity. Gravity was the main contributors that assisted the distribution of water among the city of Pompeii and Herculaneum as the land sloped downwards towards the sea. It became easy to move the water, as a constant pressure could be sustained and also an increasing one created.

There are forty-two fountains that constantly released water in Pompeii and three in Herculaneum commonly located at street corners. These fountains had quite intricate detail on them displaying patrons. One significant fountain is made from limestone in contrast to other fountains being carved from a lower quality stone. This fountain is situated at the crossroads to the Forum and the Via Dell’Abbondanza showing the goddess Fortuna. Fountains may have symbolised neighbourhoods of the city and essentially what sort of people could live in different neighbourhoods. Such fountains could represent the different god or goddess and demonstrate the status according to the amount of detail or material used to create it.

About fourteen water towers have been uncovered and they are quite high in order to secure an accurate pressure for the distribution of water. As there are so many, it can be assumed that individual’s valued their access to water and saw the need for water to be equally accessible for all. The water supply also contributed to the sanitation processes. In Pompeii there was an opened drainage system which consequently made Pompeii quite an unhygienic and demisable place to live in. The running water would simply carry the excrement’s along ruts in streets out into cesspits. However Herculaneum had devised a more logical idea having an underground sewerage system, making the city more hygienic and liveable.

Public and private latrines are located throughout both cities. These latrines were known as foricae, commonly situated in the Forum and Palaestra for access to anyone. In Pompeii the latrines lead to a sewer in the street and basically flowed down the street with the rain water or the overflow from the water supply. It can be evident through archaeological discoveries that this was a common problem in Pompeii. There were large stepping stones to assist citizens in crossing the road with the slowly passing wastes obstructing their paths. The stepping stones were constructed so that ancient wagons could easily pass over them. In Herculaneum the latrines were connected to underground sewerage systems beneath the roads and therefore had fewer stepping stones to that of Pompeii. The underground drainage system carried the sewerage waste as well as rainwater out into the sea. This occurred due to the steeper gradient of the land at Herculaneum and gravity played its vital role in enabling the underground drainage to work effectively.

Privacy was not a dominating issue in Pompeii and Herculaneum as there were no individual cubicles where one may go to do their usual business. The latrines uncovered in excavations showed simple benches some being marble, with holes continually running down the bench. This meant that numerous amounts of people would simultaneously be sitting there above the flowing water depositing their wastes. Some private latrines that would only ever hold up to six people in the same time were found in the Villa Oplonti and could actually be flushed by hand or the constant supply from the aqueduct pipes to the house. Most latrines in private homes were positioned next to the kitchen or where food was prepared.

One of the evident pieces of information one can gather from these architectural features was that many homes were linked to the water system in order to receive fresh running water. The people of Pompeii and Herculaneum took great pride in their water system as the earthquakes leading up as warning signals to the massive eruption had destroyed parts of the system. They were being repaired the day of the eruption.

In conclusion one can evaluate through the aqua technology at that time, there was quite advanced concepts and it therefore maintained a basic level of hygiene among the cities. The sewerage systems and public latrines are well preserved due to the protective layers from volcanic material and give stark evidence of how the society operated. The Pompeian’s and Herculaneum’s health was of high standard do the equipped nature of sanitation and water supply, but more likely of the sufficient diets of nutrients as studied by Lazer and Bisel.


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Louise McKeon Year 12 Assessment task 1 – Mr Hayes

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