The Greek bath was a revivifying
experience not limited to the bath tub. A hot bath was prepared
at home with boiling water from a copper cauldron steaming on
an open fire and cool well water, usually followed by anointing
with olive oil, a clean tunic and a relaxing meal. Oil was applied
to counteract the effects of the searing sun, and prevent stiffness
after drying off. Bathing in the ocean was a popular activity
thought to calm the nerves. Over time, bathing took on an almost
ritual significance, so much so that Greek literature quite often
warns against it becoming a public custom, even though it was
a widely practiced private one.
The style of bathing practiced
by the Spartans (around 750 B.C.) was done in cold water only.
This approach represented a frugal philosophy toward the body.
On the other side were the Greek upper class, who followed the
immoderate tradition of past aristocrats. Greek philosopher Plato
(427347 BC) provides the necessary perspective. During his
time, he wrote, hot bathing was a privilege reserved for the kings
and their aristocratic court. During the ensuing three
or four centuries, the growing number of high-class citizens in
Greek society emulated their royal habits. It was from these social
habits of the Greeks that the Romans inherited their love of the
It was in the loutron of the
Greek gymnasium that washing and bathing took place. This was
an open-air space, and exclusively used for this purpose. Roman
vase paintings depict scenes from the loutron involving men and
women (although not together) showering, washing, rubbing, scraping
their skin with strigils, and anointing each other. The
loutron was nearly always a cold-water bathing room.
Later, during the Roman era, hot
bathing became available. The concamerata sudatio, laconicum
and calda lavatio were specialized rooms added to the gymnasium
as hot baths rose in popularity. These were, respectively, a wet-steam
room, dry-steam room and warm bathing room.
The first Greek gymnasiums did not
have bathing facilities, as they were civic facilities devoted
primarily to academic and institutional purposes. Many of the
original Greek gymnasiums were later renovated to include hot-water
facilities such as those mentioned above. Bathing facilities during
the early Greek period were, when they were built, made separate
from the gymnasium and were usually public baths. Greek literature
provides evidence of sharp criticism aimed at Greek youth who
spent their time chit-chatting at the public baths instead of
exercising at the gymnasium. Slowly, though, the heated baths
at public facilities and the gymnasium replaced the home bath
and its ritual was lost.
The aleipterion, well-known
within the first Roman bath facilities, were dry, heated rooms
also used in the early days of the Greek gymnasium. It was here
that warm-oil massage was given after exercise in the gymnasium.
Architectural historians studying Greek and Roman baths believe
the Greek aleipterion served as the prototype for the technologically
advanced facilities made later for heated rooms and hot-water
bathing by the Romans.
Massage at the baths
At one time there were actually
three sites where baths were found, that is, after bathing in
one's home had been virtually replaced by the other facilities.
Along with the baths associated with the gymnasiums and the public
baths, which became more and more popular as thermal technology
advanced, were baths in the religious sanctuaries of ancient Greece.
Hot-bath facilities are said to have existed in these locations
as early as 600 B.C. These were not, however, extravagant bathing
facilities. They were small, windowless rooms with charcoal heaters
and poor ventilation. The earliest baths are known to have used
red-hot rocks for heating and steam making. Thermal-heating systems
developed during the ensuing five or six centuries became efficient
and technically advanced. No evidence has been found which might
point to massage being offered at the sanctuary baths, although
anointing with oil was a common ritual practice, even with priests
and pilgrims who visited these places.
Some evidence from architectural
remains points to a table made of marble, slate or other stone,
being used for massage. It seems evident that Greek baths, even
the later ones which were quite large and palatial, provided massage
within the steam rooms, hot-bath rooms, or the lounge areas where
skin scraping and anointing with oil and powder were offered.
Some earlier baths contained tubs that were only a few feet deep,
with steps leading out of the water or ledges along their sides.
Perhaps the aliptae, as the slave massager was called,
worked on patrons while they were standing in the water or sitting
or lying on the ledges or steps as well.
Towels were commonly used and taken
to the bath. One school boy’s notebook tells about how he
grabs his towel, follows his slave and meets up with his friends
on the way to the bath. Towels were also used to apply friction
by rubbing the body with them; the course texture of the towel
reddened the body, after which oil was applied for remedial purposes.
It was the Greeks who first
took the idea of exercise to its highest form. Greek physicians
were well-schooled in all the magico-religious cures, but found
them inconsistent with the emerging new philosophies of rational
thought. Hippocrates was the first to separate the physician from
the historical roots of cosmological speculator and philosopher
of nature. Hippocrates narrowed the focus of the physician away
from magic, ritual and speculation to strictly medicine marked
by keen observation, logical thought, principles of diagnosis
and treatment and a humble relationship with the patient.
Hippocrates used the word anatripsis
to designate the process of rubbing. Douglas Graham, M.D.,
cites the following quote from writings attributed to Hippocrates:
"The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly
also in rubbing (his word, anatripsis)." The complete text
containing this quote is said by Graham to be "the earliest
definite information about massage."
Hippocrates described anatripsis
as stroking the extremities upward (toward the heart) and returning
with a light stroke back up again to push the venous and lymph
upward toward the heart. These strokes could be hard, soft or
moderate, depending on the condition of the tissues and the effect
Graham comments, “The observations
of Hippocrates must have been very accurate to discern that rubbing
upward in the case of the limbs had a more favorable effect than
rubbing downward, and doubtless in this manner he had experience
in promoting the resorption of effusions; for it is now well known
that upward friction on the limbs favors the return of the circulation,
relieves blood stasis, and makes more room in the veins and lymphatics
for the carrying away of morbid products. This affords an illustration
of ‘science following art with limping pace,’ which
so frequently happens in the practice of medicine.”
This simple description of anatripsis
by Hippocrates appears to be nothing more than effleurage, except
when we keep in mind the variety of hand directions given by Claudius
Galenus (Galen). He writes, "The rubbings should be of many
sorts, with strokes and circuits of the hands, carrying them not
only from above down and from below up, but also subvertically,
obliquely, transversely and subtransversely ... But I direct that
the strokes and circuits of the hands should be made of many sorts,
in order that so far as possible all the muscle fibers should
be rubbed in every direction."
Massage, or rubbings, were also performed
in Greek culture during the time of Hippocrates as part of the
ritual preparation for incubation or temple sleep, whereby the
ailing person would sleep in the temple and dream that the mythical
god Aesculpius and his daughters Hygiea and Panacea would appear
to cure him.