When in Rome…steam as the Romans do! As we explore the history of steam, we journey back to ancient Rome, where the Roman baths weren’t just a place to get clean— they were a way of life. As a gathering place for relaxation and socialization, the typical bath also served as a community center, a fitness center and even a performance venue. The Baths of Diocletian, the grandest of public baths, covered 32 acres and could accommodate 3000 bathers at a time.
Each bath was built around three principal rooms: the frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (warm bath) and caldarium (hot bath). The caldarium was designed to open the pores with hot, steamy air that could go well above 100 degrees F. The floor was directly above the hypocaust, a below ground furnace. The hypocaust would heat the floor and air, which would run through the hollow walls before escaping through the chimney. A round basin called a labrum held cold water for pouring upon the bather’s head before or she left the room.
Some Roman baths also included sudatoriums or “sweating rooms.” These vaulted rooms provided patrons with a moist steam bath. The sudatorium was made from square bricks and featured a suspensura, a raised floor slab that was heated underneath by the hypocaust. Hot air passed through through the walls lined with terracotta flues, allowing steam to circulate throughout the room.
While the Romans may have preferred a social steam bath, today’s modern steam showers offer a more private oasis. No matter what century you’re in, steam has always been an essential source of renewal and relaxation.