Roman Baths (August 2018)

Roman Baths

Inside this issue: a mock visit to the baths, reading workshop, the Roman writer Seneca, English words related to Roman baths, and more!

Email us to suggest a topic for a future issue! 


Main Feature: Two New Lesson Plans

Each issue will feature two lesson or activity ideas: one related to the Latin language, and one related to Classical Studies (Greek or Roman culture, mythology, or history).

1. LATIN LESSON:  A Mock Visit to the Baths

Introduction: In this lesson, students will walk through a simulation of the Roman bathing process.

Objectives: Students will be able to list the rooms of the Roman baths and explain them using some Latin phrases.


  • Baths Layout Slide (for projecting and tracing onto the shower curtain)
  • Baths Slideshow
  • Baths Labeling Worksheet
  • LCD projector or SmartBoard
  • Shower curtain liner
  • Sharpie marker
  • masking tape or duct tape
  • small playground ball
  • blowdryer
  • bucket
  • warm water
  • olive oil
  • butter knife or plastic knife
  • spray bottle filled with cool water
  • small figurines, such as Fisher Price Little People (any characters) – 1 character per pair of students

Special ConcernsTeachers of classes with more Latin experience can make the Latin script more detailed and descriptive so that the class receives more comprehensible input in the language.

PreparationThe night before this lesson, you will need to create a large map of the baths by projecting the Baths Layout Slide onto the board, hanging a shower curtain liner on the board with tape, and tracing the image on the slide onto the shower curtain using a sharpie, then labeling the different rooms with their Latin terms. Use the Baths Slideshow as a reference for the locations and names of the rooms.


  1. Show students various pictures in the Baths Slideshow on the LCD projector, including the most important rooms in the bathing process. Then, have students complete the Baths Labeling Worksheet.
  2. Have a few students volunteer to simulate the bathing process. Lay out the large shower-curtain map of the baths on the ground. Then, have students:
    • play catch with the ball for the palaestra
    • remove their shoes for the apodȳtērium
    • feel the heat of a blowdryer to imitate the steam of the tepidārium
    • dip their feet in a bucket of warm water then rub a bit of olive oil onto their arm and scrape it off with a butter knife for the caldārium
    • get spritzed with water from a spray bottle for the frīgidārium.
  3. After conducting this simulation once in English, do it again but in Latin this time, following this script as one student goes through the simulation:
    • Intrā palaestram. Iace pilam.
      (Enter the exercise grounds. Throw the ball.)
    • Intrā apodȳtērium. Removē soleās.
      (Enter the changing room. Remove your shoes.)
    • Intrā tepidārium. Sentī vapōrem.
      (Enter the warm room. Feel the steam.)
    • Intrā caldārium. Pōne pedēs in aquam. Rāde cutem.
      (Enter the hot room. Put your feet into the water. Scrape your skin.)
    • Intrā frīgidārium. Natā!
      (Enter the cold room. Swim!)
  4. Next, students practice saying these same Latin directions in pairs, by walking a figurine through the same mock baths visit using the Baths Labeling Worksheet. Leave the Latin script on the board for students to glance at as needed. One student should use the character figurine to act out the directions that the other student gives. Then, they switch roles and practice it a second time.
  5. Finally, have students complete an exit slip to demonstrate their knowledge of the bathing rooms and the Latin script which they followed. Ask them to write in Latin as much as they can about the bathing process. Students may write the entire script or as much of it as they remember, or they may write the names of the bathing rooms. Classes with more prior Latin experience may write even more and can elaborate on each room.

2. CULTURE LESSON: Roman Baths Reading Workshop

Introduction: In this lesson, students will learn more about Roman bathing by reading a variety of high-interest articles and texts and then holding a class discussion.

Objectives: Students will be able to describe details about Roman bathing after reading and comprehending a variety of reading materials.


  • projector or board
  • articles related to Roman bathing:
  • high-interest books with sections about the Roman baths, such as:
    • Biesty, S., & Solway, A. (2003). Rome: In spectacular cross section. Oxford, UK: Scholastic Nonfiction.
    • Bingham, J. (2003). The Usborne Internet-linked encyclopedia of the ancient world. Tulsa, OK: EDC Pub.
    • Daynes, K., & Hancock, D. (2006). See inside ancient Rome. Usborne Pub. Ltd.
    • James, S. (1990). Eyewitness: Ancient Rome. New York: Knopf.
    • Macdonald, F., & Tames, R. (2003). 100 things you should know about ancient Rome. Bromall, PA: Mason Crest Publishers.
    • Marks, A., & Tingay, G. (1990). The Romans. Tulsa, OK: EDC Pub.
  • Post-It Notes (for marking the books’ sections about bathing)

Before the Lesson: Gather the reading materials. Libraries should have many of the books listed above or other similar illustrated, high interest books about Rome. Locate the pages on Roman bathing, and mark them with Post-It notes. Print and copy several copies of each of the articles above, as many total articles as there are students in the class. (Students can put an article back after reading it and pick up another.)
***Hint: Switch your browser to Reader View before printing for a cleaner, less distracting page.


  1. Conduct a brief (5-10 minutes) “mini-lesson” on the topic of Roman bathing. Ask students what facts they have learned about Roman bathing from Lesson 1 above (or from their textbook, other lessons, etc.). As students volunteer information, keep a list on the board or projector. Then ask students what opinions they have formed about Roman bathing.
  2. Explain to students that they will read for large portion of class time today (approximately thirty minutes for an hour-long class), and that they will choose from various articles and book selections relating to Roman bathing. Here are a few guidelines:
    • Tell them to keep in mind the following question as they read: What do you, as a modern person, think about the Roman baths? How would you feel about visiting them if you could be transported in time back to ancient Rome? 
    • Students will also need to write some combination of new facts learned or questions they have after reading, for a total of three items.
    • Give a very brief introduction to each article or book, and ask students to commit to one with which they will begin (by a show of hands).
  3. Students should pick up their articles or begin exploring the selected pages from opened books. As students read, circulate around the room to answer any questions or assist students who need help. This should be a silent time, and every student should read for the entire time. A student who finishes one article or book selection should begin another. Some students may read several articles and explore a few different book selections before the reading time is over.
    N.B. – It is unlikely that all students will read all of the reading materials in the time allotted. That’s okay! The idea is to let students choose the selections they find most interesting and to share their findings and questions during the discussion.
  4. After the reading time is over, spend the remaining class time in a whole-class discussion. Ask for a volunteer to begin by sharing something interesting from the reading or by asking a question the reading prompted. Try to let students respond to one another’s comments and questions as much as possible. The teacher may be tempted to interrupt, but one student’s question may very likely be answered by another student who read a different article.
  5. After the discussion, have students turn in their written notes with the three comments/questions they had during reading.


Online Resource:
Each issue will feature a new or popular online resource that could prove useful for Latin and Classical Studies instruction. We aim to stay current so that you can wow your students with how “with-it” you are when it comes to technology!

Nova Roman Baths

This companion website for the NOVA Roman Baths television program is an excellent resource for students exploring this topic for the first time. With “A Day at the Baths,” students can click on each room on a map of the Baths of Caracalla and read a short descriptive explanation of it. The “NOVA Builds a Bath”  slideshow tells the story of a real Roman bath which a crew of NOVA experts built in Turkey. And for even more fun, there is a section with Roman recipes and a “Construct an Aqueduct” game! 


English Words from the baths!
Each issue will feature a challenging English word that we encourage you and your students to explore together. The English word will always come from one or more Latin words. 

Ironically, the Latin term for the public baths, thermae, is not Latin at all, but a Greek word! Students may notice that some of the other terms relating to the baths do not look Latin either.  You might want to point this out to students and ask them why they think some of the bath terminology is Greek. They might be able to guess correctly that the Romans borrowed Greek terms (transliterating them in the Latin alphabet) because they borrowed the custom of the baths from the Greeks.  You can also tell them that the letter “y” for instance (as seen in hypocaustum or apodyterium) is almost always a clue that you are looking at a Greek word.

Whether they have a Latin or Greek origin, the terms for the baths and the rooms in the baths give us a lot of great English derivatives.  Starting with thermae, we get thermal (relating to heat), thermometer (something that measures heat), and hypothermia (the condition of not having enough warmth).  Caldarium (the hot room) gives us the word calorie (a unit of heat energy) and cauldron (a big pot where hot liquids are brewed).  We get the words frigid (cold) and refrigerate (to make cold again) from frigidarium, the cold room.  The tepidarium (the warm room) gives us a wonderful English word tepid (lukewarm) which can be used to describe water in a bathtub, or an audience’s reaction to a boring speaker.  The word for the system which provided the heat to the baths, the hypocaustum, is formed from Greek roots meaning “under” and “burning.”  We get derivatives such as hypodermic (used for a needle which goes under the skin) and caustic (relating to a substance or remark that burns).  The exercise area in the baths, the palaestra, which derives from a Greek word meaning to wrestle, does not give us any current English words. However, if you travel to Italy today, you might see signs for a palestra on the street.  The Italians call a gym or health club palestra, continuing one of the key functions of the ancient Roman baths into modern times.

The rooms of the baths are also great examples of the Latin suffix -arium, which means “place for.” This suffix is related to the suffix -orium which also means “place for.”  In English words that derive from Latin, you will sometimes see those original Latin suffixes or the Anglicized versions -ary and -ory.

Examples of English derivatives (with literal definitions):

planetarium-place for planets
terrarium-place for earth (soil and plants)
aquarium-place for water

auditorium-place for hearing
scriptorium-place for writing
natatorium-place for swimming

dormitory-place for sleeping
lavatory-place for washing
laboratory-place for working

dictionary-place for words
ossuary-place for bones
granary-place for grain


Famous Roman: Seneca
Each issue will feature a famous individual or group from Greek or Roman history whom you may wish to explore with your students. 

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, also known as simply “Seneca” or “Seneca the Younger” was an ancient Roman writer, philosopher, and teacher who lived from about 4 B.C.E. to 65 C.E.  He was known for writing very gory tragedies and over a hundred letters about morality and ethics. He was a teacher and advisor to the Emperor Nero and met an untimely end when Nero suspected him of being involved in a conspiracy against him.  Seneca was an adherent of the Stoic philosophy, which emphasized virtue and living in harmony with divine reason and nature. Stoics tried to refrain from expressing emotions about matters over which they had no control, such as the death of a loved one.  One of Seneca’s most famous letters to his friend Lucilius involved the baths and all of their noise and activity. In the letter, Seneca describes a typical day at the baths in vibrant detail:

My dear Lucilius,

    If you want to study, quiet is not nearly as necessary as you might think. Here I am, surrounded by all kinds of noise (my lodgings overlook a bath-house). Conjure up in your imagination all the sounds that make one hate one’s ears. I hear the grunts of musclemen exercising and jerking those heavy weights around; they are working hard, or pretending to. I hear their sharp hissing when they release their pent breath. If there happens to be a lazy fellow content with a simple massage I hear the slap of hand on shoulder; you can tell whether it’s hitting a flat or a hollow. If a ball-player comes up and starts calling out his score, I’m done for. Add to this the racket of a … thief caught in the act, and a fellow who likes the sound of his own voice in the bath, plus those who plunge into the pool with a huge splash of water. Besides those who just have loud voices, imagine the skinny armpit-hair plucker whose cries are shrill so as to draw people’s attention and never stop except when he’s doing his job and making someone else shriek for him. Now add the mingled cries of the drink peddler and the sellers of sausages, pastries, and hot fare, each hawking his own wares with his own particular peal….

Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales 56: 1-2


Random Find: Wireless Doorbell
Many items being sold today do not directly connect to Latin and Classical Studies, but with a little effort, we can adapt them to serve our purposes. This section explores these types of objects. 

Wireless Doorbell

The SadoTech Model C Wireless Doorbell is the classroom management tool you never knew you needed!  It comes in a variety of colors and has more than fifty different tones. For $19.99, this wireless doorbell is a fun way to get your students’ attention.

How we found it
One of our Elementary School Consultants, Stuart Davis-Foxworth, has been using it in her classroom. Stuart says, “I use it as an attention getter instead of clapping. They have different tones you can set it to (including holiday ones). I also use it when changing groups, making announcements, to get the class quiet, etc.”


Two Additional Random Finds!

Here are two more Random Finds. Both would be great additions to a lesson on Roman bathing!








Replica of a Roman Oil Lamp
*This appears to be currently unavailable but is worth keeping an eye on!




Scraping Massage Tool – A modern-day strigilis!

Featured Image:
Take another look at the mosaic at the top of this page. It is a sign that was found at Roman baths in Libya. The Latin means, “It is healthy to have washed.” Can you find the three strigils and a pair of sandals in the mosaic?