When the Romans talked about civilising the world they weren’t only talking of conquest and military might. In fact, they saw the tactic of exporting their lifestyle as a key weapon in their subjugation of others – and nothing represented this better than Roman baths.
Often free to use and available to the whole populace, these ancient Roman baths were a crucial aspect of daily life in the Empire. Usually consisting of the caldarium (hot bath), the tepidarium (warm bath) and the frigidarium (cold bath), bathing was seen as a central part of the normal routine for people in Roman times. After the fall of Rome it would be hundreds of years before people took bathing so seriously again!
Not only seen as a way to keep people happy, Roman baths were also a grand symbol of the superior nature of Roman civilisation. Often vast structures, Roman baths also relied on the comprehensive system of Roman aqueducts and water storage and sewerage systems which stood unmatched right up to modern times.
Nowadays, a number of these amazing Roman baths have survived, some in places which may surprise you. Indeed, a number of these bath complexes are so well preserved that a visit to them will leave you simply astounded. Read on to discover the best surviving Roman baths of the world…
Only recently starting to creep out of Pompeii’s shadow, the fascinating ruins of Herculaneum contain two of the best preserved Roman baths in the world – the Forum baths and the Suburban baths. These are probably the best Roman baths found anywhere.
The Lucinian Baths at Dougga, also called the Baths of Caracalla, are a genuinely impressive example of surviving Roman baths. Quite a site to see, the towering walls and other structures have survived pretty much intact.
Among the most impressive Roman baths found anywhere in the world, the huge Baths of Caracalla in Rome are simply astounding – check out the streetview option in our entry for this site and take a virtual walkthrough!
Ranked among the most famous Roman baths, this complex led to the naming of the very city in which it is now found. Boasting a combination of well-preserved remains mixed with some 19th century additions, it’s one of the best examples of Roman baths to have survived.
The Antonine Baths ranked among the biggest Roman baths to have ever been constructed and were the largest such complex in North Africa. Much remains to be explored, though only the lower levels have survived.
The largest Roman baths ever built, the Baths of Diocletian in Rome could hold up to 3,000 people and boasted vast frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium chambers as well as a host of other facilities. Various elements survive - some standing as grand ruins while others have been incorporated into other buildings.
One of the more unexpected entries in our Roman baths list is the Imperial Baths of Trier. Believed to be the biggest Roman bath complex outside Rome, many of the original walls still stand and there’s even the option to explore the ancient underground tunnels.
Little remains of the baths at Aizanoi, though two separate bath complexes have been identified here. However, visitors can see some interesting mosaics within these ruins.
Though boasting quite a large a set of thermal baths, little remains of the original structure of this ancient bath complex. However, the remains of the hypocaust heating system can still be seen and are quite impressive.
The picturesque Roman site of Baelo Claudia contains a partially preserved bath house of which a reasonable amount of the structure survives. However, visiting this site is worth it for the view alone!
Little remains of this rare example of Roman ruins in Scotland – this ancient bath house was a second century complex which would have served one of the forts of The Antonine Wall. Today, the remains are located innocuously in the middle of a modern housing estate.
The Budapest Bath Museum also known as Thermae Maiores contains the remains of the Roman baths complex which served Roman troops in ancient Aquincum.
Within the ruins of this ancient Roman city lie the remains of the public baths, which themselves also include a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica. While not fully intact, these Roman baths are reasonably well-preserved.
Caerleon Roman Fortress is home to the remains of an impressive 1st century fortress baths. Visitors can view the ruins and reconstructions of the baths as well as a detailed model of their original design. The museum also has a great collection of artifacts recovered from the bath drains.
The ruins of Chesters Roman Fort contain the remains of a Roman bathhouse which would have served the garrison on Hadrian’s Wall – a reconstruction can be seen at Segedunum Museum.
One of Portugal’s best Roman sites, the remains at the public baths include their hypocaust heating systems, decorative mosaics and the frigidarium (cold room), caldarium (hot room), the tepidarium (warm room) as well as the remains of the praefurnium (heating or furnace room). The site contains three bath areas, Great Southern Baths, Baths of the Wall, Baths of the Aqueduct.
Believed to have been one of three sets of baths serving Roman Arles, the Constantine Baths would have formed part of the imperial palace known as Palais Constantine. Pretty well preserved, much of the outer structure survives and this is definitely worth a visit.
With a history dating back to the Iron Age, Cumae contains a series of ancient ruins and artefacts among which are the remains of a second century AD public baths complex.
The ruins of the ancient town of Cyrene include the second century AD Trajan Baths, which though quite large, have not survived particularly well. Keep an eye out for the interesting inscription stones.
The Grand Baths at Djemila are in a reasonable state, though they are certainly not the most impressive site at this former ancient city and don’t rank alongside the more famous Roman baths of the world.
Not ranking among the best Roman baths of the world, a little imagination is necessary to really understand the baths at Glanum, as little survives of the original structure. One highlight though is the stone mask fountain through which water would have flowed.
A small roman baths complex in Marbella, Spain, the second or third century AD Guadalmina Roman Baths are nonetheless interesting to explore.
Certainly a more obscure entry on our Roman baths list, the underground bath complex at Haidra in Tunisia contains a number of chambers and corridors which you can still wander around freely. A little hidden gem.
Among the Roman remains at Histria lie the ruins of the public baths, which have only partly survived but are still an interesting example to view.
The baths at Kourion are some of the best remains found at the site and contain a number of interesting mosaics as well as the remains of the hypocaust heating system.
A lesser known entry on our Roman baths list, the Lugo Roman Baths are located within a hotel in the Spanish town of Lugo. Visitors can still see the changing rooms - the apodyterium - and there are several other remains, including arches and a bathing room.
Built in the second or third centuries AD, this relatively obscure Roman baths complex is quite hard to find and contains the partially-restored remains of the baths which served Roman Lugdunum.
The Roman baths at Mirobriga are fairly well preserved and form quite a large bath complex. In many places the hypocaust system has been exposed and is interesting to view.
What is now a museum was once an ancient baths complex and represents some of the best remains of Roman Paris. Much of the outer structure of these Roman baths survive, known as Thermes de Cluny, and the museum itself provides a guide to the layout of the baths.
The baths at Nora probably date to the second or third centuries AD but are in a relatively poor state of preservation.
While impressive in their own right – with remains including the caldarium, tepidarium and the frigidarium – the most striking elements of the Baths of Neptune at Ostia are the impressive black-and-white mosaics, particularly the mosaic of Neptune himself.
Little survives of the once great Baths of Diocletian of Palmyra – a few standing columns hint at what once was. However, it’s still worth a look for those visiting this ancient city and there’s so much more to see there that it could never be a waste of time.
Containing one of the more impressive Roman bath complexes to have survived, the baths at Perge still retain much of the outer structure, the underground heating system and the remains of the tepidarium (warm room) and frigidarium (cold bath chamber).
Once the largest building in the city, the Roman Baths at Sagalassos were a mighty affair. One interesting attribute is the remains of the praefurnium (heating room) of the second tepidarium. There’s quite a bit to see at these baths and it’s certainly worth exploring.
Though not containing the ruins of a bath complex itself, Segedunum fort and museum includes a reconstructed Roman bath house based on the remains found at nearby Chesters Roman Fort, part of Hadrian’s Wall.
A lesser-known entry on our list of Roman baths, this former Roman city in modern Macedonia contains the remains of a small bath complex, known as the Thermae Minores, or ‘Little Baths’.
Though not as well preserved as the nearby Imperial Baths, Trier’s Barbara Baths are nonetheless worth exploring with the best part of this site being the chance to wander the subterranean service tunnels.
This sprawling Roman site contains the remains of no less than fourteen bath complexes. While these sites aren’t wonderfully preserved, many contain interesting remains such as the underground heating systems which were used within them.
The Roman Baths at Varna in Bulgaria contain some great ancient remains, including partially intact outer walls and covered corridors and tunnels. There are also the various bath house chambers, from the cold water frigidarium to the hot water caldarium and tepidarium as well as the sports hall. They are thought to be one of the largest Roman bath complexes in Europe.
Velia Archaeological Site contains the ruins of the city’s second century AD Roman baths along with the mosaics which decorated this complex.
This famous Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall contains the remains of the military bath house which would have been used by Roman soldiers and must have provided some relief to those troops more used to warmer climes. Only the lower half of the structure has survived.
Little-known outside the local area, the Welwyn Roman Baths are actually found beneath a highway in a specially constructed chamber put in place to protect the remains. The ruins are those of a small baths complex which were originally part of a larger private villa.
The second century AD public baths are among the most remarkable remains of this former Roman settlement.