Baths_ofCaracalla

The Baths of Caracalla (Thermae Antoninianae Caracallae) was a monumental public bath complex
dedicated in 216 AD. They were originally commissioned by Septimius Severus (Caracalla’s father),
but he died in February 211 before they could be finished. Caracalla completed the project, creating
the most imposing complex of the Imperial Roman period. The ruins are enormous, although they
were stripped of all valuables. Many exquisite artworks were found (and removed) from these
ruins during the 16th century and later, including the Farnese Hercules and Farnese Bull.

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Caracalla portrait
Gymnasium
Tepidarium
Laconicum
West Palaestra
Palaestra Floor Mosaics

Atrium and Frigidarium
Natatorium Entrance and Nymphaeum
Apodyterium Vaults
Natatorium (swimming pool)
Octagonal Nymphaeum and Mithraeum

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Caracalla_HS9027

Caracalla HS9027
836 x 1350 (231 KB)

This 18th century copy of the 2nd century bust of Caracalla from the Farnese collection was shot at the Getty Museum. It is one of few signed works of Bartolommeo Cavaceppi, who was best known for restoring numerous ancient sculptures, and who showed his superb technique in the rendering of the hair and beard using the ancient drilling methods.

Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus) was Emperor from 209 until his assassination in 217. The name Caracalla came from the Gallic hooded cloak he wore. He ruled along with his brother Geta until December 211, when he murdered his brother in his mother’s arms. During his 8 years, he created a period of extreme cruelty, initiating massacres and authorizing persecutions throughout the Empire, but he was known to be an able administrator. He also devalued the Roman currency, raised taxes, murdered over 20,000 people in Alexandria when they mocked his claim to have killed his brother Geta in self-defense, and was called the “common enemy of mankind” by Gibbon (the historian).

It is thought by some scholars that Caracalla created the dedicated branch of the Aqua Marcia and completed the Baths to calm the Roman people after he murdered his brother Geta, but of course that will never be proven. By completing the project his father (Septimius Severus) had started, he created the most impressive work of monumental architecture of Imperial Rome, which continued to be of use to the Roman people until the 6th century, when the aqueducts were broken by the Ostrogoths during the Gothic War.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Gymnasium_6746


Baths of Caracalla Gymnasium 6746
1500 x 1092 (401 KB)

The remains of one of the two gymnasia on opposite sides of the outer walls of the complex.
Beyond the gymnasium (right wall) is a stairway and the remains of the northwest part of the portico.
The bath complex was designed based on the Baths of Trajan, with the large central building containing
the baths, surrounded by a huge garden, which is itself enclosed within the outer walls which had porticoes,
gymnasia, a library (out of picture to the left), and an area shaped like a stadium in the center of the outer wall.

Emperor Caracalla had the bath complex built parallel to and beside the Via Appia on the Via Nuova. Bricks
were first laid between February 211 and Feb. 212, determined because some of the brick stamps have not
had Geta’s name erased. Geta was Caracalla’s brother, they both ruled as co-Emperors with their father
Septimius Severus from 209. They ruled together after their father’s death in February 211, but argued
over every decision... until finally Caracalla had Geta killed (in his mother’s arms) in December 211.
It is likely that foundations and concrete began under Septimius Severus, as otherwise more than
2000 tons of material would have had to be installed every day for the six years of construction
(a considerable feat... unlikely as documentation exists on how many people were involved).

Baths_ofCaracalla_Tepidaria_16x9_6748


Baths of Caracalla Tepidaria (16 x 9) 6748
1600 x 990 (401 KB)

On the southwest wall, on either side of the Calidarium (the circular hot room) were several Tepidaria.
A tepidarium was a warm room, heated by air vents in the floor and walls to different degrees depending
on the use of the room. There were warm lounges between Turkish baths and the Calidarium on both sides.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Laconicum_6750


Baths of Caracalla Laconicum 6750
1500 x 1092 (617 KB)

One of the Laconicum (Turkish Baths). This was a dry, sweating room similar to a modern sauna.
It had no bath in it (unlike the Calidarium, which had a hot bath), and was derived from the Spartan
bath (it was the only type of warm bath allowed by the Spartans, who otherwise took cold baths).
The bathers warmed themselves up first in the tepidarium on one side or the other, then went
into the laconicum to break a serious sweat, and finally went either into the calidarium for
a hot bath, or into the frigidarium for a cold bath then into the natatorium for a swim.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Tepidaria_6751


Baths of Caracalla Tepidaria 6751
1500 x 1165 (488 KB)

Another view of the tepidaria. The laconicum is the structure on the far left of the image.
The two tall pillars on the right are the two remaining of the eight which supported the dome
of the calidarium, which was a 34 meter domed circular room with a hot bath in the center.
Between the laconicum and the calidarium was a semicircular tepidarium on this side,
and on the other side a semicircular tepidarium, a rectangular meeting room, and an
entrance to the east Palaestra (a gymnasium) and Apodyterium (changing room).
The (modern) door in the laconicum niche (left) leads to the west Apodyterium.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Laconicum_detail_6752


Baths of Caracalla Laconicum detail 6752
834 x 1290 (480 KB)

Detail of the inner wall of the Laconicum showing the entrance to the Tepidarium (right) and to the Apodyterium (left). The wooden door blocking the Apodyterium is modern.

Palaestra_Mosaic_6818


Palaestra Mosaic 6818
960 x 1290 (754 KB)

A fragmentary piece of mosaic displayed against the inner wall of the western palaestra, depicting fish with tails ending in scrolls, attached together to form an abstract fleur-de-lis.

The Palaestra was a gymnasium where Greek Wrestling and boxing were practiced. There were two Palaestra, one each on the east and on the west in the center row of the complex.

Baths_ofCaracalla_WestPalaestra_6755


Baths of Caracalla West Palaestra 6755
1500 x 1045 (793 KB)

A view of the western palaestra. The mosaic is resting against the shared wall dividing the palaestra from the laconicum. Note the file sizes of these highly detailed images (bold text).

Baths_ofCaracalla_WestPalaestra_6756


Baths of Caracalla West Palaestra 6756
1500 x 1092 (797 KB)

This is the western (outer) wall of the palaestra (on the other side of this wall is the western part of the perimeter garden).

WestPalaestra_FloorMosaic_6757


West Palaestra Floor Mosaic 6757
960 x 1290 (786 KB)

WestPalaestra_Perimeter_FloorMosaic_6759


West Palaestra Perimeter Floor Mosaic 6759
1500 x 1092 (610 KB)

At left, remains of the inner palaestra floor mosaic.

In the image above you can see part of the perimeter
floor mosaic and two doorways leading to a large (left)
vestibule and the western Apodyterium (dressing room).

Note the intricate brick facing remaining on the entry
to the Apodyterium on the right of the image above.
High quality workmanship was used in the baths.
There were 17.5 million bricks used for facing
the baths (and 520,000 construction bricks).

Baths_ofCaracalla_Atrium_andFrigidarium_6767


Baths of Caracalla Atrium and Frigidarium 6767
1500 x 1110 (481 KB)

The primary room in any Roman Bath was the atrium, where the decorations were the most
luxurious (on the left is where the Farnese Hercules was found, for example). The atrium was
a community room where people relaxed, conversed, held meetings, etc. The atrium at the
Baths of Caracalla was also the Frigidarium (with several cold pools) as well as the Great
Hall which allowed movement between the Natatorium (swimming pool), the Calidarium
and Tepidaria (hot and warm rooms, right), the Nymphaeum (right), and the Palaestra
both in front and behind. The Atrium and Frigidarium is 183 feet by 79 feet and was
covered by intersecting groin vaults. Eight granite columns were placed in front of
the pillars supporting the vaults. One was still standing in the 1560s, when it was
moved to Florence to stand in the Piazza della Trinita as the Column of Justice.
22 other columns were taken to Santa Maria in Trastavere in the 12th century.
When the eight enormous granite columns were removed, the vaults fell and
the sound was so loud that nearby Romans thought it was an earthquake.

From the 12th century, the Baths were used as a quarry for materials used
to decorate churches and palaces. During the period between 1545-1547,
the excavations carried out by Pope Paul III (Farnese) for the construction of
his new palazzo unearthed a number of statues, bronzes, and colossal marble
groups that created new interest in the site. Two of these were the Farnese Bull
and the Farnese Hercules, which are now in Naples (along with many other pieces
of artwork from the Baths) due to their being part of the dowry of the last member of
the Farnese family (Elizabeth, who married the King of Naples in 1788). There were
about 120 statues of this nature and quality, located in museums throughout Europe.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Natatorium_MainEntrance_6770M


Baths of Caracalla Natatorium Main Entrance 6770 M
1500 x 1200 (548 KB)

The main entrance to the Natatorium (shown further below). This was an enormous open room with a 54 by 23 meter pool (1 meter deep) for swimming and relaxing. The open area had large bronze mirrors focused on the pool to reflect sunlight on the swimming area. There were smaller side entrances to the natatorium on either side of the large double-arched entrance, but I thought the one image would suffice. This arch is about 90 feet tall, and is one of two equal-sized central arches.

You can get an idea of the size of these arches by looking at the previous image of the Atrium and Frigidarium. The Natatorium entrance arches are on the left side. This arch is the first of the two large arches in the center left of that image. Compare the height with the couple in red and blue clothes.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Nymphaeum_6773


Baths of Caracalla Nymphaeum 6773
960 x 1290 (427 KB)

The Nymphaeum within the baths was a large room directly between the Calidarium and the Atrium/Frigidarium, where people could cool off a bit before entering the Atrium.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Rome Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images of the Baths of Caracalla

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).

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There are 18 Galleries in the Photoshelter Rome Collection

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PalaestraMosaics_6788


Palaestra Mosaics 6788
960 x 1290 (688 KB)

Some of the mosaics lining the walls of the eastern Palaestra (the Greek Wrestling and Boxing gymnasium on the east side of the main complex). The eastern palaestra is used to display several pieces of the upper floor mosaics from the baths.

PalaestraMosaics_6790


Palaestra Mosaics 6790
800 x 1290 (554 KB)

EastPalaestra_Mosaics_16x9_6796


East Palaestra Mosaics (16 x 9) 6796
1600 x 990 (747 KB)

Note the file size of these highly detailed images (in Bold text).

Remains of part of a column and several of the mosaics displayed in the East Palaestra.
These mosaics were part of the floor of the upper rooms (private baths and meeting rooms).

EastPalaestra_Mosaics_6799


East Palaestra Mosaics 6799
1500 x 1092 (787 KB)

A detail shot of the center of the scene shown in the previous image.
Close detail shots of several of the mosaics are shown below.

EastPalaestra_Perimeter_FloorMosaic_6802


East Palaestra Perimeter Floor Mosaic 6802
1500 x 1092 (779 KB)

Geometric perimeter floor mosaics. The gated area in the background is used to store the murals and mosaics found in a Hadrian-period villa excavated ten feet below the Baths.

Palaestra_Mosaic_6783


Palaestra Mosaic 6783
1500 x 1092 (827 KB)

A fragmentary mosaic of a horse and rider
overlapping what looks to be a person carrying
a tray with what may be fruit and a flask of wine.

Palaestra_Mosaic_6792


Palaestra Mosaic 6792
817 x 1290 (654 KB)

Palaestra_Mosaic_6815


Palaestra Mosaic 6815
795 x 1290 (613 KB)

Palaestra_Mosaic_6786


Palaestra Mosaic 6786
1500 x 1092 (976 KB)

What looks to be a mythical Roman cow-putti, being thrown from a sea monster.
Ride ‘em, cow-putti... Ride.        I love the worried look on his face (detail below).

Palaestra_Mosaic_6816


Palaestra Mosaic 6816
1500 x 1092 (877 KB)

A close detail shot of the winged putti with cape draped over one arm, riding a sea monster.

Palaestra_Mosaic_6814


Palaestra Mosaic 6814
1500 x 1092 (846 KB)

Another mythical creature from the mosaics... this one seems to be a large cat with a bird beak.

Baths_ofCaracalla_ApodyteriumVault_6805M

Baths of Caracalla Apodyterium Vault 6805 M
1500 x 1290 (786 KB)

One of the first places an ancient Roman would go when visiting the baths was the Apodyterium. This was the dressing room and the primary entry into the baths. Slaves could be left here or engaged at the baths to look after clothes and belongings. There were cubicles or shelves on which togas and other objects could be placed, but no lockers (thus the use of slaves to protect your items from thieves).

The Apodyterium at the Baths of Caracalla was a huge vaulted room with private baths and other rooms on the second level. There were marble-covered stone benches and marble floors and walls, all of which have been stripped as in the rest of the Baths to provide material for other construction.

Baths_ofCaracalla_ApodyteriumVault_6807


Baths of Caracalla Apodyterium Vault 6807
1500 x 1092 (665 KB)

Baths_ofCaracalla_Natatorium_6811M


Baths of Caracalla Natatorium 6811 M
1500 x 1290 (412 KB)

The Natatorium was an open-air 54 meter by 23 meter swimming pool, one meter deep.
Several large bronze mirrors were placed high on the wall to reflect sunlight onto the pool area,
as it would be heavily shaded in the afternoon (the light on the floor would not have been there
when the roof of the Atrium (Great Hall) and Frigidarium was intact). The pool was used for
relaxing, swimming, and for cooling off gradually as the water was warmer than that in
the Frigidarium pools. With water one meter deep, one could swim or stand in any
location, and people also used to converse with friends or acquaintances here.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Nymphaeum_Mithraeum_6821


Baths of Caracalla Nymphaeum Mithraeum 6821
1500 x 1110 (423 KB)

The area in the center of this image is a Nymphaeum, an artificial domed cave which was
fed with water to create a cool area for people to relax. It has great importance in the early
development of the dome, as it is the first existing example of spherical pendentives over
the windows in the dome and the half-domed recesses under the windows. Pendentives
are the triangular concave vaulted areas connecting a square base with a domed vault.

Below the octagonal Nymphaeum was the Mithraeum, the cult room of Mithras in the
underground passages below the baths. This was the largest Mithraeum in Rome,
and the second largest in the Roman Empire (23 by 9.7 meters). There was an
inscription to Hercules (significant because of the large number of statues of
Hercules at the baths) and a unique fossa sanguinis (blood pit) which was
used to catch the blood during the sacrifice of the bull. This was a bloody
version of the ritual called the taurobolio, where a man stood in the pit
and was covered with approximately fifty liters of blood drained from
the bull. In the dark, dank environment of the tunnel, lit by torches
and with little ventilation, this must have been quite gruesome.

Baths_ofCaracalla_Nymphaeum_Mithraeum_6823


Baths of Caracalla Nymphaeum Mithraeum 6823
1500 x 1150 (488 KB)

Mediterranean summers can get quite hot. Back in the very early days, when the weather
got hot, people used to take refuge in caves, many of which had springs, water dripping down
the walls... some source of water. As the Romans built their city infrastructure, they brought water in
via the aqueducts, and eventually someone got the bright idea to create an artificial cave with
a spring, fountain, or other water source. They were often dedicated to the nymph of the
spring from which the water derived, and these were called Nymphaea. The Romans
got the idea from the Hellenistic East (Antioch, Corinth and other Greek areas).
Nymphaea were important architecturally because they were where the idea
arose to move mosaics from floors to walls and then ceiling vaults. The
mosaics which adorn early church apses were an offshoot of similar
(but pagan) designs in the artificial vaults of nymphaea, which by
the end of the 1st century AD had mosaic figures on vaults.

Back to the Mithraeum... the cult of Mithras was originally
derived from a Persian god (Mithra), who had been brought
into Greece by visitors to the court of Cyrus the Great (Kurus),
the ruler of the huge Achaemenid Empire of the middle 500s BC.
Initiates to  the Mithraic Mysteries were for the most part soldiers, and
the cult was popular in the Roman armies. The primary image was of the
god slaying a bull, an image specific to Roman Mithraism. There is virtually no
evidence that the Persian god ever had anything to do with killing bulls. The Roman
Mithraic cult always met in caverns. The second important image is Mithras feasting
with the Sun god. Another important image is that of Mirthras being born from a rock
(most often fully grown, but sometimes as a child). Another image associated with
Mithraism is a naked four-winged male with a lions head (sometimes with a
serpents head atop the lion head). He carries two keys and a scepter
in his hands, and often a serpent is entwined around his body.
The identity of the lion-headed man is debated, but many
scholars think that he is Ahriman, a demon from the
Zoroastrian religion (Persian, 6th century BC).
Mithras flourished from the 1st c. to 4th c.
and then rapidly died out in the 5th c.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Rome Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.

Direct Link to the Gallery with images of the Baths of Caracalla

There are a number of images in this section that are not yet on the Photoshelter site.
If an image you want is not yet uploaded, contact Ron Reznick (info at bottom of page).

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There are 18 Galleries in the Photoshelter Rome Collection

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