Barbers and Baths
by: Ti. Dionysius Draco
Hairstyle in the Roman Empire
Barbers were second in importance only to baths for a Roman's personal care. The wealthy were groomed daily by a personal barber, who was an important member of the household staff. Low-class citizens patronized open-air barber shops in public squares, which were a favorite place to socialize and exchange news and gossip. Romans of better means went to indoor barbershops (tonstrinae) with mirrored walls and benches for waiting customers. The person being groomed sat on a stool with a cape draped over him to protect his clothes.
Iron scissors were not especially sharp or precise, so haircuts were crude and curls were perennially popular. Romans wore the hairstyle favored by their emperors to show their loyalty to them. The "Augustus haircut" stayed for a very long time; some emperors added some minor adjustments, but mostly it stayed the same for many years. Romans never shaved until beards were put out of fashion in the first century BC (it was looked upon as Greek).
Razors were dull and Romans didn't use shaving creams or soaps, so even the poor left the task of shaving to a professional barber. Beards were assocated with barbarians: Civilized men were clean-shaven. Shaving was so ingrained in Roman culture that it became part of a man's coming-of-age, and a religious ceremony accompanied a boy's first shave.
By the second century AD, barbers added some cosmetic arts to their basic repertoire of cutting and shaving. Tonsors treated customers' hair with paint and perfume, hid their skin blemishes under sticking plasters, and rubbed their cheeks with various creams and lotions.
Bathhouses in the Roman Empire
Roman baths, or thermae, were about far more than keeping clean. They were centers of entertainment, healing and socializing, much like today's sports clubs. The largest bathhouses covered 30 acres and could accommodate 1,600 people at a time in great vaulted halls as well as intimate lounges. Roman baths were lavish afairs with mirrored walls, mosaic floors and marble-lined pools. Slaves moved on their errands through miles of tunnels under the floor, so as not to disturb the bathers, but were always nearby to satisfy any whim. Baths were segregated by gender. These baths were so important for the Romans that every fort had its own bath house.
After entering, a citizen paid a small fee in the main hall (this was to prevent slaves or the poor from coming to these bathhouses), then disrobed in the changing room and left his clothes with his slave. He might start by working up a sweat playing at sports in the exercise yard. When tired of this he went on to the cold water pool (frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium), hot room (caldarium), and steam room (sudatorium). After bathing he visited the unctuaria to have his skin scraped and oiled by a slave. Now thoroughly cleansed and relaxed, he could choose further diversion in on-site reading rooms, gaming parlors, food and wine shops, or even theaters, art galleries and museums.