Fikret Yegül's book covers all aspects of Roman bathing. Beginning his tour with rituals and activities, it is made clear just how central bathing was to Romans for all classes, accessible and affordable to all. Apart from the exercise and bathing aspects, baths were centres for many other activities - eating, contemplation of works of art, perusing libraries, education and lectures, and listening to readings of literature and poetry; it seems as though all of human life was there. Yegül follows on with a chapter on criticism of Roman bathing; as evidenced by writers such as Martial and Seneca, not everyone was appreciative of some aspects of the practice.
The origin and development of Roman baths is considered, which seem to owe less to Greek gymnasia than is commonly thought, and more to central Italian farmsteads having steam rooms for treatment of respiratory conditions, rheumatism and the like. The next chapter discusses the mechanisms of the heating and water supply for baths.
Many examples of baths are analysed in three chapters, firstly on the large scale imperial baths of the city of Rome itself which could each cover an area bigger than some towns, followed by provincial baths of north Africa (where small towns of around 3000 could have a dozen public baths), and finally baths in Asia Minor which unlike elsewhere did show evidence of more of a Greek heritage, giving more prominence to the palaestra/gymnasium.
A couple of chapters are devoted to the later developments. Christian opposition to bathing was not as clear cut as often supposed; there seemed to be a wide range of opinions, but generally it was considered acceptable so long as it was for purposes of hygiene rather than pleasure. The decline of baths owed more to financial considerations in a climate of economic decline and inability to maintain infrastructure, specifically the difficulties in the upkeep of water supplies. Early Umayyad baths in Syria built along Byzantine lines, albeit without frigidarium, show in their murals a perhaps surprising acceptance of not only figural representation but indeed mixed unclothed male and female figures.
A final chapter briefly narrates historical changes in bathing practice in post-classical Europe. A couple of pictures from the 15th century reproduced here fully indicate the acceptability, at least in private establishments, of mixed bathing and indeed hint quite obviously at the amorous possibilities afforded. Attitudes swung entirely the opposite way in the 16th and 17th centuries with erroneous medical beliefs about the causes of illness and disease which frowned upon any kind of wet washing. It wasn't until the 18th century that public baths began to gain acceptance once again, really taking off in the 19th due to the Western fascination with Orientalism and the imagined sensuality of Ottoman baths.