Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Crooked Baths

My entry to the Great Khan's Roman themed contest was The Crooked Baths, and it came in third, which I'm pretty proud of. I present it here, with some notes.


The upstairs (ground level).

The downstairs (basement).

Ground Level

The crooked baths are located deep in the heart of a city, where space is tight. They are built around the ruins of an old city wall and fed by an underground stream.

1. Palaestra

Decimus Domitius Ahenobarbus, retired soldier and balneator, can usually be found here wrestling or taking money. Even when he is not, there is usually wrestling throughout the day, and a bit of gambling among the spectators is not uncommon.

2. Latrina

There could be something down there, but honestly, nobody wants to know.

3. Oecus

If a character is meeting someone at the baths, they will be waiting here.

4. Oil Shop

Domitius’ wife, Servia Flavia Poplicola, sells oils and unctions from here through a hole in the wall facing area 1.

5. Apodyterium

Domitius’ two daughters, Felia and Mus, work in this room as capsaria. Individually, neither is trustworthy, but will tattle on the other given the opportunity. This keeps them honest as a pair.

6. Frigidarium

The water here comes directly from an underground river through a hole slightly above the water level (the room is significantly below grade). A metal grate separates the water in this room from the water under area 7.

7. Machine Room

A sluice gate in here, controlled by a winch, regulates the water levels in areas 6. and 9.

8. Tepidarium

Two comely young foreign siblings, Lupus and Vulpa, work in this room as aliptae. They have been known to eavesdrop on conversations and probably know more than they should about many things. They have a creepy sibling-lover dynamic.
The brazier in the middle of the room usually burns a mildly addictive soporific substance that grows locally as a weed.

9. Caldarium

The hot baths are fed by an aqueduct running through the hypocaust. The labrum is emptied and refilled at the start of every day.

10. Praefurnium

This hallway runs along the old city wall, and is mostly only used by the servants.

11. Domus

Domitius and his family and slaves live in this set of rooms.


The foundations of the wall extend well below the surface (to prevent tunneling), and so are completely filled on this level.

1. Supply Tunnels

Wood is brought in from outside the city through these tunnels. The water draining along the edge of the wall eventually joins with the cloaca.

2. Furnace Room

Two furnacatores, twin dwarves Phillotus and Spinther, tend the fire in this room. Because the baths are so small, the caldarium is heated directly by the fire. Phillotus and Spinther run a smuggling operation through the extensive supply and sewer tunnel networks beneath the city, and have a cache in area 3.

3. Hypocaust

When the furnace is burning full-blast, it can be very difficult to breathe in the hypocaust, and at all times one can only move at one-quarter speed and only by crawling. However, from a good position in the hypocaust, conversations in areas 5., 6., 8., and 9. above, as well as area 2. in the basement can all be listened in on. Phillotus and Spinther cache smuggled goods and their personal savings in this room.
The channel running along the edge transports water from the machine room to the caldarium.

4. Frigidarium

The pool of cold water here is divided by a grate separating the machine room and the frigidarium proper. It is impossible to surface on the machine room side.

5. Underground Caves

The river feeding the baths comes from a larger underground cave system that continues a while back, eventually emerging somewhere in the mountains.


Aliptae – Slaves who anoint patrons with oils.
Alveus – A gutter around the edge of the schola labri.
Apodyterium – An (un)dressing room, where a capsarius may be hired to watch your things if you have no personal slave.
Aqueduct – An elevated channel for conveying water over long distances.
Atrium – An open court in the entrance, part of the vestibule. Serves as exercise grounds for young men.
Balneae – A bathing vessel, usually a household appliance. Also refers to the room containing such a vessel.
Balneator – Keeper of the baths, responsible for extracting admittance (usually one quadrans).
Caldarium – The hot baths, heated from below by thehypocaust. May contain a labrum.
Capsarius – A servant hired to watch possessions in the apodyterium. Notoriously untrustworthy.
Clerestory Windows – High windows used throughout the baths.
Fornacatores – Servants who tend the fire and the milliarium.
Frigidarium – The cold baths. Sometimes large enough to be a natatio.
Hypocaust – Heated space beneath the caldarium and tepidarium. Filled with pilae.
Labrum – A round vessel containting cold water in the caldarium.
Laconicum – A hot chamber with no bath, used as a sweating room.
Latrina – A toilet, sometimes found in the vestibule.
Miliarium – a three-tiered water boiler above the furnace, so called for its resemblance to a milestone.
Natatio – The pool in a larger frigidarium, used for swimming.
Oecus – A salon where patrons can wait for others to enter and exit the baths.
Pilae – Short stacks of brick in the hypocaust, holding the caldarium floor up.
Praefurnium – A chamber leading into the furnace room. Sometimes underground.
Propigneum – See praefurnium.
Quadrans – A bronze quarter. Standard admission to the baths.
Schola Labri – The space in the caldarium about the labrum.
Strigil – A cuved metal tool for scraping dirt and sweat from the body.
Sudatorium – See laconicum.
Tepidarium – An ornamented, waterless room heated by both the hypocaust and a large brazier. In baths without an unctuarium, one is anointed here. Much time is spent sweating in preparation to enter the caldarium.
Thermae – The bathouse as a whole.
Unctores – See aliptae.
Unctuarium – A room in which one is anointed, not common to all baths.
Vestibule – An area containing the atrium, balneator, latrina, and oecus. A place where servants can await their masters, patrons can await their friends, and announcements can be posted


This is not an academic work, but here's some references:


  • I regret not more strictly enforcing a scale on myself for the maps.
  • I spent far too much time concerned with the grade of the water and how it flows. In the end I just added the "Machine Room" and left it nebulous enough to fudge.
  • The Glossary and References are available in a pdf.

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