Keeping fit – Roman style

Maybe you think the keeping fit craze is something of recent origin, but you’d be mistaken.

Bathonians were exercising in their local gym nearly two thousand years ago – but this wasn’t just any old exercise facility.

It happened to be attached to the world-famous Roman Baths – founded in 44 AD – and an attraction to visiting citizens of Rome from across the Empire.

The site was opened to the general public in 1897 and has been excavated, extended, and conserved throughout the 20th century.

The whereabouts of the Roman gym was known but the site was not accessible to visitors touring the baths until it was included in a multi-million-pound, Heritage Lottery Fund supported scheme called the Archway Project which also includes providing a World Heritage Centre – celebrating the city’s status as a double-nominated World Heritage site – and the Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre for school children and community groups.

The gym area opens to the general public tomorrow – Friday, October 22nd – but Bath Newseum had a sneak preview today and a chance to ask Stephen Clews – the Manager of the Roman Baths – to tell us more about the new attraction.

In the Roman Gym visitors will be able to:

  • Explore the ancient exercise yard where Romans would have worked out and learn about their fitness routines.
  • Visit the remains of the laconicum (a Roman sauna or hot room), a circular room which would have been warmed by underfloor heating. Ten minutes in here would have been enough!
  • Walk through the remains of one of the most complete Roman doorways in Britain.
  • See projections of Romans and the exercises they would have done in the gym, including Trigon (a Roman ball game), Halteres (a type of dumb-bell used in the Roman’s version of the long-jump), wrestling and weightlifting.
  • Learn about Roman medicine. Roman doctors practiced in Aquae Sulis, the Roman town of Bath. Roman medicine was centred around the belief that there were four humours in the body and to be healthy you needed a proper balance between them. If there was an imbalance, then solutions included herbal remedies or letting of bad blood. For some conditions, surgery was needed and some of the implements found in a Roman surgeon’s bag were very similar to instruments still in use today.

The Roman Gym is part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported Archway Project, which will soon see the opening of a new World Heritage Centre celebrating the city’s status as a double-nominated World Heritage Site, and a Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre creating exciting new learning opportunities for schools and community groups at the Roman Baths.

The World Heritage Centre will be getting what they call a ‘soft opening’ with the main publicity and launch being saved for the new year. But – all being well – it will be open to the public from some point in November.