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Bill Thayer

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For an easier description of the Baths of Caracalla,
with a detailed plan,
see the excellent article Balneae in Smith's Dictionary.

 p520  Thermae Antoninianae

Article on pp520‑524 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.

Thermae Antoninianae (Caracallae)* (Capsararius de Antoninianas (sic) in (CIL VI.9232) a fifth (?) century inscription): the thermae built by Caracalla on the Via Nova (q.v.), which he constructed parallel to and on the right of the via Appia, a little beyond the porta Capena. Hier. ad Euseb. a. Abr. 2231: Antoninus Romae thermas sui nominis aedificavit, fixes the date of their dedication as 216 A.D. Breval, Remarks on Several Parts of Europe, Ser. I (1726), ii.259, saw the letters . . . .ONINI on the exterior, perhaps a fragment of the dedicatory inscription; cf. Aur. Victor. Caesar. 21: ad lavandum absoluto opere pulcri cultus; quibus confectis cum Syriam circumgrederetur, anno potentiae sexto (217 A.D.) moritur (from which Hist. Aug. Carac. 9 is probably derived); cf. also Eutrop. 8.20; Chron. 147.

The commencement of the building may be fixed by the fact that the brickstamps with Geta's name not yet erased (CIL XV.769.3, 4), which have been found in use in its construction, can only belong to the period between February 211 and February 212. A quarry mark with the consular date 206 A.D. upon a mass of Greek statuary marble (Ann. d. Inst. 1870, p193, No. 279) has nothing to do with the date of the commencement of the thermae. A lead pipe found here (CIL XV.7381) bears the names of Q. Aiacius Modestus and Q. Aiacius Censorinus, of whom the former is probably identical with one of the quindecemviri sacris faciundis of the ludi saeculares of 204 A.D. (CIL VI.32327‑32329, 32332; cf. p3261), who was legatus of upper Germany between 209 and 211 A.D.1

Elagabalus (Hist. Aug. Heliog. 17.8) is said to have added porticoes  p521 which were finished by Alexander Severus (cf. id. Alex. 25.6); but the truth of the statement is doubtful (SHA 1916. 7.A, 7‑8), though it has generally been taken to refer to the peribolus.2 For a catalogue of the works of art which the baths contained about the middle of the third century,3 cf. Nicole, Un Catalogue d'oeuvres d'art conservées à Rome à l'époque impériale (Geneva, 1906). Some porticoes connected with the baths (whatever is meant) were destroyed or damaged by fire, and repaired under Aurelian (Chron. 148: porticus Thermarum Antoninarum arserunt et fabricatum est).

A brick-stamp of the time of Constans or Constantius (not found in situ) gives some evidence of activity about the middle of the fourth century (CIL XV.1542.3),4 while we have dedicatory inscriptions upon the bases of statues set up by the praefectus urbi to Victoria and to the victorious emperors Valentinian and Valens towards the end of it (CIL VI.794, 1170‑1173).

In the fifth century the baths are named among the marvels of Rome (Pol. Silv. 545; Olympiod. ap. Phot. p63a Bekk.: αἰ δὲ Ἀντωνιαναὶ . . . εἰς χρείαν τῶν λουομένων καθέδρας εἶχον παρακειμένας χιλίας ἑξακοσίας ἐξ μαρμάρου κατεσκευασμένας ξεστοῦ. Cf. Thermae Diocletiani), and there is evidence of restoration under Theodoric in the sixth century (CIL XV.1665.3, 4; 1669.7), but their use must have been rendered impossible when the aqueducts were cut by the Goths in 537 A.D.

The ruins were less affected than those of many other buildings by the devastations of the Middle Ages, though evidence has been found here too of the harm wrought by the earthquake of 847 (a column in the xystus resting on a mass of debris; see Basilica Aemilia). The name occurs in Eins. (11.2; 13.25) and under various forms (palatium Antonianum, l'Antoniana, etc.) right through the Middle Ages. Discovery and destruction went hand in hand under Paul III (LS passim; DAP 2.xv.369). The colossal group of the Farnese Bull, and the large statues of Hercules and Flora which were found in his pontificate, are now all in the Museum at Naples. After the important studies of sixteenth century architects, no great progress was made until the publication of Blouet's Restauration des thermes d'Antonin Caracalla (Paris 1828), which gives the results of Velo's excavations. Iwanoff studied the ruins in 1847‑49, but his results were only published in 1898, with text by Hülsen (Aus den Caracallathermen, Berlin 1898). Important  p522 excavations have been made since in the main building (for a summary up to 1897, see LR 535‑543), and, in 1901 and 1911, in its subterranean service and drainage passages, in the underground corridors which connected it with the peribolus, and in parts of the latter (NS 1901, 248‑253; 1912, 305‑325; De Angelis, Relazione dell' Ufficio Tecnico (Rome 1903) 108‑114; YW 1912, 12; Builder, ciii.376; Zona Monumentale di Roma (Rome 1914) 55‑63; and for works of art found, PT 114, 156‑157, 192‑194, 206).

The plan of the thermae of Caracalla is derived, with modifications, from the thermae of Trajan; they consist of a large central building containing the baths proper, surrounded by a garden, which in turn is enclosed by a rectangular peribolus, containing porticoes, rooms for recreation, etc. The via Nova ran below the level of this garden, which was in large measure artificially raised, only the south and south-east porticoes having been cut out of the hillside. It was therefore approached by flights of steps; between them were small rooms in two stories which served as shops and offices. These ran along the front and the sides, almost as far as the back of the central building, where they were succeeded by two huge exedrae, in each of which were three main rooms5 — an octagonal nymphaeum (?) (which has great importance in the history of the development of the dome, providing the earliest extant examples of spherical pendentives of windows in the drum and of half-domed recesses under them), a rectangular room open towards the garden, and another room, previously thought to have been a piscina, but recently found to have been heated by hypocausts (seen on the left of Ill. 50). Behind these rooms was an arcade following the curve of the exedra; and in front of each exedra was a portico which gave on to the garden, and was continued along the south-west side as well (Mem. L. 5.xvii.527).

We have now reached the posterior angles of the peribolus; in each of them is a staircase (not a part of the original construction) followed by a large rectangular hall open towards the garden, which from its internal arrangements must be a library (Ill. 52). On three sides it is surrounded by low steps, leading up to niches, in which the manuscripts were kept. Two capitals, with figures of Serapis and Harpocrates, now in S. Maria in Trastevere, came from here (DAP 2.xi.174). The centre of the south-west side is occupied by rows of seats, with a curve at each end. Here was obviously a stadium; but the north-east side was left open, so that spectators in the garden could see what was going on. Behind the seats and at a higher level were the large reservoirs of the thermae, consisting of sixty-four vaulted chambers in two stories and in two rows. They were supplied by a branch of the Aqua Marcia,  p524 the Antoniniana Iovia (q.v.), which crossed the via Appia on the so‑called Arch of Drusus (q.v.).

The central block, to which we now turn, had four entrances: the two central ones led into the covered halls (from which the apodyteria or dressing-rooms were reached) at each end of the frigidarium. This, despite all that has been said to the contrary, was probably open to the air, like the frigidarium of the thermae of Diocletian. The famous passage (Hist. Aug. Carac. 9.4) as to the 'cella solearis,' which most writers have identified with the frigidarium (while others have referred it to the caldarium), is relegated by Domaszewski to the list of the writer's inventions (SHA 1916, 7.A, 7; 1918, 13.A, 49). Thus solearis is an intentional corruption of soliaris, and the sentence: nam et ex aere vel cypro cancelli superpositi esse dicuntur, quibus cameratio tota concredita est, is added by the author as an explanation of the word. As a matter of fact, a cella solaris (or cum soliis) is mentioned thrice in North Africa — at Thuburnica, Madauros, and Thuburbo Maius (CIL VIII.14700;6 Mél. 1909, 401; AA 1911, 277; CRA 1917, 72) — and appears to mean a hall in which were large basins for private hot baths. In some cases solium is used for the room itself (CIL VIII.897, p928, 948). The north-east (external) wall was elaborately decorated with small niches surmounted by pediments and enclosed by ranges of columns carrying architraves, one above the other — the first case of a form of embellishment, which is also found in the frigidarium of the thermae of Diocletian. On the south-west it opened on to the great central hall, which has so long been wrongly known as the tepidarium, though no arrangements for heating it are to be found; and it has so many openings that it would be impossible to keep up even a moderate temperature in it. This great hall (Ill. 51), which measures 183 by 79 feet, was covered with an intersecting barrel vault, and was adorned with eight granite columns,7 one of which was still standing there until 1561‑5, when it was removed to Florence by Cosimo I and now stands in the Piazza della Trinità (DuP 89).

The other two entrances at each end of the central block led into two halls which gave directly on to the two palaestrae, one at each end of the longer axis of the building. These were open courts surrounded by a colonnade on three sides with a row of three rooms opening towards the fourth side. On the axis of the central hall and opening out of it are two apsidal recesses, each of which contained a large mosaic pavement representing athletes, and dating probably from the fourth century. They were discovered in 1824, and placed in the Lateran museum, where they have been somewhat arbitrarily re-arranged (HF II. p1, No. 1240; Nogara, Mosaici del Vat. e del Lat. pls. I.-iv.).

Two low openings on the minor axis of the central hall lead into a small rectangular room, probably the tepidarium, which serves as the vestibule to the great circular caldarium in the centre of the south-west side. Its lofty dome (in which almost for the first time amphorae were used to lighten the vault — the earliest instance within the city is in the haunches of some of the barrel vaults in the substructions of Septimius Severus on the Palatine, RA 164) was 35 metres in diameter, and was supported by eight huge pillars, two of which are still standing. These were united by two tiers of arches. Between the pillars on each side of the entrance hot baths have been inserted at a later date, and were supplied by cisterns added on each side of the tepidarium. Other private baths were accessible from the palaestrae or were situated in the upper story. The central block was completed by four rooms on the south-west side on each side of the caldarium, which served for meeting places, recitations, etc.

The planning of the subterranean portion of the baths is no less admirable than that of the superstructure. It was studied in the excavations of 1901 and 1912, but no comprehensive plan is as yet available. An elaborate system of tiewalls was introduced to strengthen the foundations. Under the whole of the main building run passages at two levels, the upper for service, communication being by means of shafts, the lower for drainage. The main discharge is on the north-west side from a drain running the whole length of the north-east front, and receiving the water from the frigidarium, which had two outlets in the centre. Another important passage ran beneath the main axis of the building. These passages are approached from open courtyards, which also served as light wells, on each side of the tepidarium (both those immediately adjacent to it and those marked MM on Ripostelli's and Lugli's plans are referred to).

Along the south-west side of the building run far larger and more extensive vaulted passages which communicated with the interesting and complicated substructures of the two exedrae of the peribolus. In one part of them a mill was established at a later date, when the baths lost part of their importance; in another was placed a Mithraeum, the largest known in Rome, which gives us interesting information as to the details of the cult (NS 1912, cit.; PT 125).

Besides the authorities already quoted, see D'Esp. Mon. II.160‑161; Fr. i.98; DuP 123‑125; Toeb. i.100‑107; ZA 280‑295; RA 166‑177; HJ 189‑196; ASA 100‑106.

The Authors' Notes:

1 CIL XIII.7417 (in the notes the date is wrongly given as 209‑214), 7441.

2 Hülsen, who had already pointed out that not a single brick-stamp is to be found in the peribolus (Hülsen-Iwanoff, op. cit. 57 — an observation which is confirmed by the excavations of 1912), is inclined to accept this statement: for, as is well known, the practice of stamping bricks went out of use after the reign of Caracalla until the time of Diocletian. See also p531, n1.

3 The restoration 'Herculem G[lycon]is' (the Hercules now at Naples, l.6) is almost certain (cf. p32). Cf. also the list in Iwanoff-Hülsen, op. cit. infra, 72‑80.

4 ib. 1580a was found (as well as ib. 1665) in some late tombs in the peribolus (NS 1912, 310), and is referred to as 'frequently occurring' in the thermae (a fact not mentioned in CIL).

5 CDE in the plan (fig. 1) in NS 1912, 305. C was paved with mosaic, and there was no depression in the centre; the octagonal outline in Baumeister, 1772, pl. LXX., is intended to represent the vaulting; and the suggestion that this was a laconicum (Mitt. 1920, 168, 169) may therefore be disregarded.

6 = ib. 10607; cf. also 10608.

7 For their remarkable capitals, see SScR 307‑309.

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Page updated: 28 Feb 14