A gymnasium is a place where people strip for exercise, an important facility in athletics-mad Gehennum. In the earliest times, and in small rural communities, it is simply an open field set aside for the purpose, usually outside the defences of a city, and often in the grounds of a sanctuary or temple, too sacred to be cultivated. Later, and near cities, the gymnasium accumulates buildings and improvements: baths, a stadium, a theatre, shrines, a fountain, classrooms, clubhouses, stoas and pavilions for shelter from the rain. Eventually, in the Decadent Period, the gymnasium is completely surrounded by a cloister.

In the Archaic Period the gymnasium will be a public place outside the fortifications, open, with few facilities, and identified by custom. The militia will drill and muster there, and the /ephebes// will be taught their gymnastics. There will often be a temple, of which the gymnasium is officially the grounds, and the temple will often have a theatre in which dance may be practised. The first facilities the gymnasium will gain will be a fountain providing water for drinking and sluicing, and shrines to oneiroi and heroes of athletic and martial bent, such as Jolian, Persiflex, and Timeon.

In the Classical Period the old gymnasium will have suffered from the encroachments of suburbia, and new gymnasiums will have been set aside by providential city governments and by philanthropic citizens. Some [[fratery | frateries]]] will have established private gymnasiums more or less for their own use. If there is a theatre it will have been improved, and the running-track, if not abandoned in favour of a better location, will have begun to develop as a stadium. A bath will likely have been added, and either a hall or a stoa forming a portico for a number of rooms of inspecific purpose. Shrines may have proliferated, and there may be a treasury holding the trophies won by the patrons of the gymnasium in various games.

In the Decadent Period many gymnasiums have been completely surrounded by shops, luxurious baths, shrines, classrooms, clubhouses, treasuries, fountain-houses, and so forth. This encirclement may have proceeded piecemeal, or by the planned construction of stoas on all the edges of the gymnasium, each with various rooms opening off it. In this period gymnasia are more likely to be private, charge admission fees, or to exclude all except such groups as ephebes of the city, members of certain militia units, citizens, or women. The commercial gymnasiums tend to be smaller, and to lack the theatre and multiplicity of shrines, but they often have more uniform and better-planned architecture than the public gymnasiums and those of the frateries, which grew by accretion.

See gymnastics and nudity.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.