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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Shropshire

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Roman baths at Wroxeter
© Paul Highnam

Fancy a dip?

Viroconium Cornoviorum, or as it was later known, Wroxeter, was established as a Roman Legionary Fortress around AD 58. It was built to support military campaigns into Northern and Central Wales where there were valuable mineral resources of silver, lead and iron. The fortress covered over 78 hectares, and 6000 men and several hundred horses were stationed there, attracting both outside traders and locals to sell food and other services. As a result the settlement grew to become the fourth-largest in Roman Britain.

Roman culture placed a great deal of emphasis on public bathing, both for hygienic reasons and as an important social focus, making it a priority to build public baths at such a major site. The remains of these baths give a significant insight into Roman life.

Plan of the Roman baths at Wroxeter
Today, if we get a chance to linger in a bath, we are usually happy soaking for half an hour or so. But when Roman legionaries were not too busy conquering, they would more often than not be found in the baths, wallowing for anything up to a day. The 6000 Roman troops who had established themselves in the city of Wroxeter were no different.

The baths opened only during daylight hours, allowing for emptying and refilling at least once a day, essential when so many people shared and dirtied the same water. Although wealthy Romans did have private baths at home, public baths would have been frequented by all. It was a truly communal experience shared by every stratum of Roman society. Mixed bathing was not generally acceptable, but with prohibition orders often being issued, it would seem that this was not always adhered to.

The baths were very noisy places. Bathers could be found gossiping, eating snacks, playing sports and, of course, getting clean. The shrieks from hair pluckers' customers, the slapping of masseurs and the occasional splashes echoed around the tiled floors and mosaic-clad walls. They were undoubtedly places of leisure and pleasure rather than wells of purity.

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