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Gymnasia And Baths






Gymnastics--Vitruvius--Opinions of Ancient Physicians on
Gymnastics--The Athletes--The Baths--Description of Baths at
Pompeii--Thermae--Baths of Caracalla.


GYMNASTICS.

Gymnastics were held in such high repute in ancient Greece that physical
training occupied as much time in the education of boys as all their
other studies, and was continued through life with modifications to suit
the altering requirements of age and occupation. The Greeks fully
recognized that mental culture could not reach its highest perfection if
the development of the body were neglected. Lucian attributes not only
the bodily grace of the Ancient Greeks, but also their mental
pre-eminence, to the gymnastic exercises which they practised. They were
also an important factor in the excellence of Greek sculpture, and
probably the most important part of their medical treatment.

Unfortunately the baths of the Romans and the gymnasia of the Greeks
became in time the haunts of the lazy and voluptuous. The gymnastic
exercises of the Greeks date from very early times, and at first were
of a warlike nature, and not reduced to a system. Each town possessed a
gymnasium, and three very important ones were situated at Athens.

Vitruvius describes the general plan of an ancient gymnasium. It
comprised a great stadium capable of accommodating a vast concourse of
spectators, many porticoes where athletes exercised and philosophers and
sages held discussions and lectured, walks and shady groves, and baths
and anointing rooms. The buildings, in true Grecian fashion, were made
very beautiful, being adorned with statues and works of art, and
situated in pleasant surroundings.

Up to the age of 16 boys were instructed in gymnastics, in music and in
grammar, and from 16 to 18 in gymnastics alone. The laws of Solon
regulated the use of the gymnasia, and for very many years these laws
were strictly enforced. It appears that married women did not attend the
gymnasia, and unmarried women only in some parts of Greece, such as
Sparta, but this custom was relaxed in later years.

The office of Gymnasiarch (Superintendent of Gymnasia) was one of great
honour, but involved also a great deal of expense to the holder of the
office. He wore a purple cloak and white shoes. Officers were appointed
to supervise the morals and conduct of the boys and youths, and the
Gymnasiarch had power to expel people whose teaching or example might
be injurious to the young.

Galen relates that the chief teachers of the gymnasia were capable of
prescribing suitable exercises, and thus had powers of medical
supervision.

Before exercises were commenced, the body was anointed, and fine sand or
dust applied. Regulation of the diet was considered of very great
importance.

The games of the gymnasia were many and various, including games of
ball, tug-of-war, top-spinning, and a game in which five stones were
placed on the back of the hand, thrown upwards, and caught in the palm.
One kind of game or exercise consisted in throwing a rope over a high
post, when two boys took the ends of the rope, one boy on each side, the
one trying to pull the other up. The most important exercises, however,
were running, walking, throwing the discus, jumping, wrestling, boxing,
and dancing.

The first public gymnasium in Rome was built by the Emperor Nero. In the
time of the Republic Greek exercises were held in contempt by the
Romans, and the first gymnasia in Rome were small, and connected only
with private houses or villas.

The gymnasia were dedicated to Apollo, the god of healing, and exercises
were considered of greater importance for restoring health than
medicinal treatment. The directors of the gymnasia were in reality
physicians, and acted as such. Plato states that one of these, Iccus by
name, was the inventor of medical gymnastics. As in our own day, many
creditable gymnasts, originally weak of body, had perfected their
strength by systematic exercise and careful dieting.

Hippocrates had occasion to protest against prolonged and laborious
exercises, and excessive massage, and recommended his own system, that
of moderation. He applied massage to reduce swellings in suitable cases,
and also recognized that the same treatment was capable of increasing
nutrition, and of producing increased growth and development.
Hippocrates described exercises of the kind now known as Swedish,
consisting of free movements without resistance.

Galen generally followed the teaching of Hippocrates on gymnastics, and
wrote a whole book on the merits of using the strigil. Oribasius, and
Antyllus, too, in their writings, recommend special exercises which
appealed to their judgment.

The ancient physicians had great faith in the efficacy of exercises in
cases of dropsy, and Asclepiades employed this method of treatment very
extensively, using also pleasant medicaments, so that Pliny said "this
physician made himself the delight of mankind." Patients suffering from
consumption were commonly sent to Alexandria to benefit from the
climate, but Celsus considered the sea voyage most beneficial because
the patient was exercised bodily by the motion of the ship. Germanicus
was cured by riding exercise, and Cicero was strengthened by travelling
and massage.

From the writings of Greek and Roman physicians there is no other
conclusion to be drawn but that exercises and gymnastics were in great
vogue for medical purposes, and were of the utmost benefit. It seems
likely that the exercises of the Greeks, and the baths of the Romans,
both freed from the abuses which took away in time from their merits,
could be adopted at the present day and encouraged by physicians with
great advantage to their patients. There is a strong tendency at present
in that direction.

Belonging to a different class were the contests of the athletes, who,
except in very early times in Greece, were people of the baser sort
whose bodies were developed to the neglect of their minds. Those who
underwent the severest training ate enormous quantities of meat, and
tried to cultivate bulk and weight rather than strength. They did not
compete, as a rule, after the age of thirty-five years. Euripides
considered these athletes an encumbrance on the State. Plato said they
were very subject to disease, without grace of manner, violent, and
brutal. Aristotle declared that the athletes had not the active vigour
that good citizens ought to possess.

The athletes and gladiators of Rome were mostly Greeks. Both Plutarch
and Galen deride them. The former condemned the whole business, and
Galen wrote six chapters to warn young men against becoming athletes. He
said that man is linked to the divine and also to the lower animals,
that the link with animals was developed by athletics, and that athletes
were immoderate in eating, sleeping, and exertion, and were therefore
unhealthy, and more liable than other people to disease and sudden
death. Their brutal strength was of use only on rare occasions and
unsuited for war, or for useful work.

In the time of St. Paul, the athletes were evidently abstemious, for he
wrote "every man who striveth in the games is temperate in all things,"
but in Rome, at most periods of their history this class of men was
notorious for grossness and brutality.


BATHS (Balneae).

Greek Baths.--In Greece from very early times inability to read and to
swim were considered the marks of the ignorant. In Homer's time
over-indulgence in warm baths was considered effeminate.[41] The system
of bathing was never so complete in Greece as in Rome, but in the former
country there were both public and private baths, and ancient Greek
vases display pictures of swimming-baths and shower-baths, and also of
large basins for men and for women round which they stood to bathe. The
Greek baths were near the gymnasia. After the bath, the bathers were
anointed with oil and took refreshments. Sometimes a material consisting
of a lye made of lime or wood-ashes, of nitrum and of fuller's earth was
applied to the body. Towels and strigils were employed for rubbing and
scraping after the anointing; the strigil was, as a rule, made of iron.

Natural warm springs used for curative purposes are mentioned by ancient
Greek writers.

Roman Baths.--Bathing, which was not much in vogue in Rome in the most
ancient times, was more common during the Republic, and became a factor
in the decay of the nation in the time of the Empire. Seneca informs us
that the ancient Romans washed their arms and legs every day and their
whole bodies once a week. The bath-room was near the kitchen in the
Roman house, to be convenient for the supply of hot water. Scipio's bath
was "small and dark after the manner of the ancients." In the time of
Cicero, the use of baths, both public and private, was general, and
hot-water and hot-air baths are both mentioned. It has been computed
that there were 856 baths in Rome in the time of Constantine.

The public baths were at first used only by the poor, but the mother of
Augustus went to the public bath, and in time even the emperors
patronized them. The baths were opened at sunrise and closed at sunset
except in the time of Alexander Severus, when they were open also at
night. The charges for admission were very low. The ringing of a bell
announced that the bath was ready. Baths were taken seven or eight times
in succession when the people were given to luxury, and some of them
wasted almost the whole day there. The voluptuaries of the Empire bathed
not only before the principal meal of the day, but also afterwards to
promote digestion as they thought. The perspiration induced by the bath
took the place of honest sweat induced by work or exercise, and
excessive hot-bathing and perspiring in some cases had a fatal ending.

Galen and Celsus differ in their directions to bathers. Galen
recommended first the hot-air bath, next the hot-water bath, then the
cold bath and finally rubbing; Celsus recommended sweating first in the
tepid chamber, then in the hot chamber, and next the pouring of hot,
then tepid, and lastly, cold water over the head, followed by the use of
the strigil, and anointing and rubbing.

The plan of the baths at Pompeii, which was largely a pleasure resort,
is typical of the public baths that were in general use. These baths had
several entrances, and the principal one led to a covered portico from
which a lavatory opened. The portico ran round three sides of a
courtyard (atrium) in which the attendants waited, and it was also the
exercise-yard for the young men. Advertisements of the theatres and
gladiatorial shows were exhibited on the walls of the atrium. The
undressing room was also the reception room and meeting-place. The
bathers' garments were handed over for custody to slaves, who were, as a
general rule, a very dishonest class. The frigidarium contained a cold
bath 13 ft. 8 in. in diameter, and a little less than 4 ft. deep. It had

two marble steps, and a seat under water 10 in. from the bottom. Water
ran into the bath through a bronze spout, and there was a conduit for
the outflow, and an overflow pipe. The frigidarium opened into the
tepidarium which was heated with hot air from furnaces, and furnished
with a charcoal brazier and benches. The brazier at Pompeii was 7 ft.
long and 2-1/2 ft. broad. The tepidarium was commonly a beautifully
ornamented apartment, while the anointing-room was conveniently situated
off it. Pliny has described the various unguents used by wealthy and
luxurious Romans. From the tepidarium the bather might enter the
caldarium or sweating room, an apartment constructed with double walls
and floor, between which hot air was made to pass. This room contained a
labrum, or circular marble basin, containing cold water for pouring
over the head before the bather left the caldarium. The method of
heating rooms by passing hot air between the "hanging" and the lower
floor was in use in the better class of houses, and the device can at
present be seen in some of the buildings on the Palatine Hill in Rome,
and in the ruins of the great Baths of Caracalla. After a course of
sweating the bather had the sweat removed from his body by the strigil,
in much the same way as a horse is scraped with a bent piece of
hoop-iron by a groom. The guttus was a small vessel with a narrow neck
adapted for dropping oil on the strigil to lubricate its working edge.
Pliny states that invalids used sponges instead of strigils. Rubbing
with towels followed the use of the strigil, and the bather finally
lounged in the tepidarium for a varying period before entering the outer
air.

The boilers in use at Pompeii were three in number. The lowest one,
immediately over the furnace, contained the hottest water. The next
above and a short distance to the side held tepid water, and the
farthest removed contained cold water. This system was economical
because as the very hot water was drawn off from the lowest boiler a
supply of tepid water flowed down from the boiler next above, and from
the highest to the middle boiler.

A smaller suite of bathing apartments adjoining the men's establishment
was for the use of women.

The most important baths formed only a part of the great establishments
called thermae. Adjoining the baths of the thermae were a gymnasium for
sports and exercises, a library for the studious, lounging places for
the idle, halls for poets and philosophers, in which they declaimed and
lectured, museums of art, and sometimes shady groves. These complete
establishments were first erected by Marcus Agrippa in the time of
Augustus. Succeeding emperors vied with each other in providing
magnificent thermae, and the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla remain in a
wonderful state of preservation to this day. The building of these baths
began in A.D. 216. The structure, 1,050 ft. long and 1,390 ft. broad,
was on a scale of almost incredible magnificence. Priceless statues and
rare objects of art have been unearthed from the ruins. In recent years
excavations have revealed a complicated system of subterranean corridors
and galleries which existed for the purpose of carrying leaden
water-pipes to the baths, and providing a passage-way for the host of
slaves who acted as bath-attendants. The great buildings were well lit
by windows in the walls of the courtyards, and these openings also
allowed for ventilation. A great stadium and beautiful gardens adjoined
the Baths of Caracalla. In the north-west section of these baths Alessio
Valle has very recently discovered the remains of a great public
library. When Caracalla pillaged Alexandria he probably carried off many
of the books from the famous library there to enrich his baths. The
ruins of the library in the Baths of Caracalla reveal circular tiers of
galleries for the display of manuscripts and papyri. There were 500
rooms round these baths. The great hall had a ceiling made in one span,
and the roof was an early example of reinforced concrete, for it was
made of concrete in which bronze bars were laid. The lead for the
water-pipes was probably brought from Cornwall.

The Thermae of Diocletian could accommodate 3,200 bathers. Its tepidarium
was 300 ft. long by nearly 100 ft. wide, "vaulted in three bays with
simple quadripartite groining, which springs from eight monolithic
columns of Egyptian granite about 50 ft. high and 5 ft. in diameter"
(Middleton).

From the medical point of view, these great bathing institutions were
capable of being used for the treatment of various diseases, and for
physical culture. No doubt, they were extensively employed for these
purposes and with good results, but their legitimate use became
increasingly limited, and abuse of them was a prime factor in promoting
national decay. To show to what an extent luxurious bathing was carried
in some instances, it is interesting to read that baths were taken
sometimes in warm perfumes, in saffron oil, and that the voluptuous
Poppaea soothed her skin in baths of milk drawn from a herd of 500
she-asses.






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