chapter  12
22 Pages

Bathing the Infirm: Water Basins in Roman Iconography and Household Contexts

Ablutions were, in Roman Antiquity, important gestures of domestic caring for infirm household members. Performed on occasions of birth, illness and death, they were not only simple hygienic practices and medical remedies, but also deeply symbolic gestures of caring and curing. Ablutions, in images and rituals, symbolize the family unit taking care of its members also in their infirm states, as newborn infants, as sick and as dying. In order to perform ablutions, quite simple instruments were needed, the most important of them being the basin. As a domestic utensil the basin can thus be considered a carrier of multiple meanings connected with the cycles of familial infirmity. This chapter aims at setting this artefact type, the basin, in its social context of caring for the infirm in the Roman households of the first centuries of our era, and at examining ablutions as practical and symbolic gestures, moving between archaeological typologies, iconography and cultural history.