For the western world the earliest proponent of the spa for therapeutic purposes was Hippocrates (460-370 BC). Before that time bathing was used mainly for cleansing and hygienic reasons. However Hippocrates put forth the idea that the cause of all diseases centered around an imbalance of bodily fluids. Considered the “Father of Medicine,” suggested perspiration, walking, massage and bathing important to maintain balance in ones physical body. Consequently, baths were often combined with sports and education. If he were alive today the doctors of the world would be hogging all his time but in fact he more likely would be at home as a fitness guru selling health club memberships.
The Greek influence on the Romans caused them to build thermal baths at mineral springs and hot springs. Used for both the recuperation of the injured and recreation centers. Although the Greeks stressed exercise combined with the bath, the Romans felt that the baths themselves were more important than gymnasiums. Whereas the Greeks liked to partake of the spa after a vigorous workout, the Romans focused on the relaxation, socializing and medical treatments. I like to think that the reason the Romans lasted as long as they did was because of they placed such importance on the spa.
More than just coming clean, the Romans made the spa experience a part of their society for medical treatment, worship and social gathering. Asclepiades, a Greek physician who worked in Rome, prescribed hydrotherapy for both therapeutic and preventative purposes. Pliny The Elder (23-79AD) and Galen (131-201AD) also attributed balanced health to “Taking the Waters.”. Galen wanted to use cold water in his therapy treatments so although they may have been effective, here in America they would be considered. Fun Impaired.”
From Rome we have three separate types of bath. Baths at home (balnea), Private Baths (balnea privata), and state funded public baths (balnea publica). The aqueducts provided enough water so that every person in Rome could use 1400 liters per day. In its heyday, the Roman bath culture had spa facilities with the capacity to serve thousands of patrons.
This focus of the bath was such an important part of the Roman society that everywhere the legions went they built their own in every land they conquered. Europe has many examples left as a testimony to the value they placed on water treatment.
Eventually the Romans became more focused on the bath for relaxation and pleasure. Not that enjoying yourself is a bad thing. However history has shown that if you don’t get out of the spa once in a while to take care of business, you will most likely loose your empire.