This article challenges two recurring notions in the socio-political, architectural, and urban histories of Roman antiquity and Late Antiquity. The first is that Roman thermae, the grandest of imperial baths with some four dozen known examples around the Empire, were "egalitarian" or "democratic" spaces for urban assembly. The second concerns current explanations for the disappearance of thermae as a genre of Roman urban architecture during Late Antiquity. Religious explanations involving prudery, or anxiety about public nudity, remain common but arguably carry little weight. Extant financial and environmental explanations, however, are well founded but should be considered alongside a fourth explanation offered here: namely, that the same widespread social conflicts and tensions emergent on Roman streets also appeared in thermae after the later third century. Alongside rearrangements of the Roman Empire and its social structures, public baths were conveniently appropriated as praetoria or venues for public business and as spaces where evolving societal tensions could take root and thrive. Under such pressures—social, environmental, and financial—thermae could be readily repurposed or abandoned by the state and communities.