Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Glenn R. Storey
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
The public baths, functioning as a hygienic and social center, were among the most important public spaces in the Roman world. While ancient texts give scholars some indication of the social backdrop of the public baths, these records, written by upper class males, are largely silent on the activities of women, children, and the lower classes (cf. Allison 2007a:343, 346). As a result, scholars have only a partial understanding of the bath's social role in the lives of the ancient Romans.
Archaeological assemblages of objects which the Romans lost or left behind in the baths are an under-utilized resource for information on this social environment. To examine the social environment of the Roman baths, my dissertation collects published and unpublished artifact data from 27 public and military baths in Italy and the western Roman Provinces, including Britannia, Lusitania, Raetia, and Germania Superior. 13 baths, whose assemblages are definitively linked with use of the baths ("primary assemblages"), will serve as the basis for this study, while artifacts from the other 14 baths, whose contexts are less clear ("secondary assemblages"), will serve as a comparative sample. These small finds provide data on the social environment of the Roman baths, specifically the genders, ages, classes, and activities of bathers.
To interpret these finds, I turned to Roman small finds scholarship (e.g. Eckardt and Crummy 2008; Allason-Jones 2011), which together with site publications and finds catalogues, provides a starting place for determining the primary function of various objects. Studies which link artifacts with genders, ages, and classes (Nevett 1999; Allison 2004a, 2006a; Allison et al. 2005) serve as a model for my methodology for associating objects with social groups, which incorporates data from ancient texts, burials, and art. Using three different data sets to attribute a gender, age, and class to these objects helps to ameliorate the shortcomings of each, and I interpret associations between social groups and artifacts across multiple datasets as an accurate reflection of the connections that the Romans themselves saw between different objects and people.
Having associated artifacts with activities, genders, ages, and classes, I examined the primary assemblages from the main 13 baths to determine which activities took place and where, as well as the genders, ages and classes of the individuals using each bath. These artifacts, supported by the secondary assemblages, confirmed many current scholarly views on Roman baths, such as the prominence of social display and eating and drinking, and provided new information about activities, including cloth-working and medical procedures, and how these spaces were used, including room multifunctionality and the presence of women and children in military baths.
Since my sample includes a number of urban public and military baths from a variety of provinces and time periods, I also analyzed their artifact assemblages for information on temporal and geographic variations in Roman urban public and military baths. Across bath types, dates, and locations, a number of activities appear as regular parts of the bathing environment, and even less commonly represented activities are not isolated to a region, time period, or bath type. The lack of strong regional, temporal, or typological variation in artifact assemblages may indicate that the social environments of urban public and military baths differed little throughout the Roman period and across the empire.
Public Baths, Roman, Small Finds, Social Identity, Use of Space
xiii, 724 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 693-724).
Copyright 2013 Alissa Marie Whitmore
Whitmore, Alissa Marie. "Small finds and the social environment of the Roman baths." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2013.