A strigil is a tool which is designed to scrape the skin after bathing, exercising, or taking a sauna. Strigils were used in both Ancient Greece and Rome, as well as in some parts of the Middle East. Many museums have examples of strigils discovered at archaeological sites on display, and it is also possible to see depictions of strigils in friezes, wall paintings, and other works of art from the ancient world. Some people continue to use similar tools as part of a self care regimen.
In Ancient Greece and Rome, bathing was a complex process, with a multitude of steps, especially for the wealthy. People soaked in pools of various temperatures, received massages from slaves, and anointed themselves with various oils and unguents as part of the process. Bathers typically finished in warm steam rooms, where they would be scraped down with strigils to remove accumulated oil, sweat, and other substances on their skin.
The Greeks and Romans did not use soap, so the strigil was an important tool for cleaning the skin. The curved design of this metal, horn, or bone instrument was designed to smoothly but firmly skim the skin, removing dead skin, bath oils, and other materials. In addition to cleaning the skin, strigils probably also improved circulation by stimulating the upper layers of skin. After the application of a strigil, a bather might apply a thin layer of perfumed oil before returning to the outside world.
Athletes used strigils to clean themselves after competition or vigorous exercise. In Ancient Greece, athletes applied olive oil to their bodies before competition to condition their skin and provide some protection from minor impacts; after exercising, the oil could essentially be squeegeed off with the strigil, taking dirt and sweat off as well. Many depictions of athletes on vases include the use of a strigil, implying that this practice was quite common.
Strigils were only one among a lineup of instruments used in a traditional Roman bath. Seeing an array of Roman bathing tools can be rather intimidating, as the Romans also used tools like whips designed to slough off dead skin and stimulate circulation after a bath. Not all Romans used the full lineup of bathing tools, as many of them required assistance from others such as servants, but a strigil would have been a relatively common item.