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Oldest Roman baths in Asia Minor discovered in Sagalassos

09 September 2010 KU Leuven

Professor Marc Waelkens’ archaeological team has discovered the oldest Roman baths in Asia Minor known to date in Sagalassos, Turkey. Sagalassos was inhabited as a city until the 7th century AD, when it was destroyed by earthquakes. Waelkens has directed excavations at the sight every summer for the past 21 years.

Hitherto, the Capito Baths in Miletus, built during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), were the oldest known Roman bathing complex in Asia Minor. This summer, however, in addition to the previously unearthed Imperial Baths (ca. 120-165 AD – with a surface area of more than 5,000 square metres), a second bathing complex was discovered in Sagalassos, below the remains of the Imperial Baths. It is much older and smaller than the Imperial Baths and is dated to 10-30 AD, though it was probably built somewhat earlier, during the reign of Augustus or Tiberius. The complex measures 32.5 by 40 metres and is far better preserved than was originally thought. The walls must have been at least 12 metres high, of which 8.5 metres remain erect today. These Old Baths were replaced by the larger Imperial Baths, when Hadrian selected Sagalassos as the centre of the Imperial cult for all of Pisidia, to which the city belonged. This included the organisation of festivals and games (agones), which attracted thousands, so that a new urban infrastructure became necessary in order to accommodate the Pisidian visitors to these events.

The Roman and Italian bathing habits consisted of a succession of a warm water pool, a hot water pool and a cold water pool. Each pool was housed in a separate space; a ‘tepidarium’, a ‘caldarium’ and a ‘frigidarium’, respectively. The latter usually contained a pool (a ‘piscina’ or ‘natatio’).

Excavations this past summer also revealed the façade of an important public building dating from the reign of Emperor Augustus (25 BC - 14 AD). It may have been the town hall of Sagalassos. Furthermore, it was concluded that the triumphal arch, hitherto thought to pay tribute to Caligula, was actually erected in honour of his uncle and successor Claudius (41-54 AD) and Claudius’ brother Germanicus, Caligula’s father.

At the end of the season’s excavations, an Antonine Nymphaeum (monumental fountain) was inaugurated at the site.

Attached files

  • The approx. 3 metre high south wall of the heating room of the bathing complex. Warm air was blown under the floor of the middle apsidal space or ‘caldarium’ (hot water pool).

  • The arched walls of the three parallel apsidal rooms (ns. 1-3) of the bathing complex that was built no later than 10-30 AD are visible under the straight walls of the southern façade of the ‘Imperial Baths’ in Sagalassos (3 to 6 upper layers of stone). The older bathing complex was modelled on Campanian examples (the baths at Pompeii, for example).

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