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This may appear frivolous but yesterday at the Wiener Ball in Skopje we had a discussion about Roman Baths, Turkish Baths as sort of a direct descendant and then someone brought up the subject of towels. With all that bathing going on there had to be a way to dry off.

I believe the best modern towels are made from cotton, but cotton was more of a luxury fabric that leaves us wool and linen. Linen probably had the most absorbency..... Any ideas on this? With the scarcity of textile finds in the archaeology record, I guess we are only left with the literary sources.... Does anyone know of a source that references towels.

Would the more well to do folks bring their own towel to the bath, while the majority used ones supplied by the bath?
Hadn't ever really thought about this before , but now that the subject is out there, it seems to generate even more questions.

Spring has arrived in the Balkan's. Still fresh snow in the mountains but the valleys are turning green!

Regards from Scupi, Arminius Primus aka Al Fuerst

I do not know of any literary references off hand but this might help. A statue of a man wearing a 'Gallic coat'. is illustrated in, Wild. J.P., 'The Clothing of Britannia, Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior', ANRW II, 1985. Pl1. fig4.

The statue from Wintersdorf is also known as 'The Bather', because it looks like he is holding a towel draped over his left shoulder and is heading off to the baths.

I suppose with the common soldier there may not have been such a luxury, it makes one wonder if way out in the frontier regions did they not simply have to use their wollen cloak after the bath house visit then just hang it out to dry afterwards.
It's another one of the conundrums facing us when attempting to reconstruct the Roman world! In recognition of this lack of knowledge, I use the term 'drying cloth' in my novels, as I feel the word 'towel' has far too modern a feel. "I'll just nip down to the local branch of IKEA-us and get some more towels before we go to the baths."
So many tiny examples of this creep into our awareness and thus writing. I've had to think long and hard about it when I'm writing, or they get used without thinking, e.g. 'seconds', for which I use 'heartbeats', 'inch' for which I use 'finger-breadth' etc. (and I know of the Latin word uncia, but am not comfortable with characters going on about 'inches', 'feet', 'yards' and so on.)

Thanks all, for the responses,while few, very pertinent. I think that last one was on target. There are a lot of common things from the Roman World that have survived in to our time with little change, others have disappeared. Others like the common everyday "towel" have a different nomen. OBTW, the german word for towel is Tuch, but that word can also be used to describe as any piece of cloth , for cleaning, polishing etc. So maybe more like an ancient usage.

Will have to file this one away , next time there is a question to use this response " as of course the Romans used drying cloths after bathing" Sort of puts everything into context.

Regards from Scupi,

Arminius Primus aka Al
But don't forget their bathing process was quite different from ours. Getting wet with water was not the cleansing step, that came from oiling and strigil-ling. So it might not be as important to dry the water off of skin, though maybe hair. Wool makes a poor towel, but linen would work all right, if it were woven thickly enough. Don't know whether they would have used other fibers for cloth towels, though they did have other fibers at their disposal.
In a modern pinch, not having a dry towel, and oh so many years ago, I scrapped the water off my body with a wood tongue depressor (sometimes called spatula) . Worked really really well!

I thought linen has been the standard material for towels for centuries, rich and poor alike? They also washed with water, while strigil and oil was for the proper bath, IIRC (can't remember source, but consider how soap became a popular item - ergo, normal washing must have been going on already).