After working up a sweat in the palaestra, bathers would make their way through the cold bath house and then into the tepidarium. The warm room was the place where bathers used curved metal tools – strigils – to scrape oil, sweat and dirt from their bodies instead of using soap.
This might have been done by your own slave, if you had one, or by one who worked at the baths. This could take the best part of an afternoon and could be combined with social gossip with friends and acquaintances and perhaps a little business. Archaeological finds tell us that board games and gaming were popular pastimes in Roman baths, so there was clearly no rush.
You could receive a massage here. That was definitely less painful than a depilation, which consisted of having your body hairs plucked out, as hairless bodies were fashionable during much of the Roman Empire. One man who lived next to a baths complained of the “hair-plucker with his penetrating shrill voice—for purposes of advertisement—continually giving it vent and never holding his tongue except when he is plucking the armpits and making his victim yell.”
The often-gloomy Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius could have been describing a tepidarium when he said: “What is bathing when you think about it—oil, sweat, filth, greasy water, everything loathsome.”