Baths of Caracalla

Thermae Antonius



The Thermae Antoninus were the idea of his father Septimius Severus but finished in 217 during his reign. He became known by the nickname of Caracalla from his habit of wearing a tunic he acquired during the Gallic campaign. When Severus died in York in 211, during his campaigning against the Scots, Caracalla and his brother Geta were proclaimed joint emperors, but Caracalla soon had his brother assassinated and took full control of the Empire.


The name thermae, like most things Roman, comes from the Greek word “thermos” which means a hot spring or geyser. Rome was an overcrowded unsanitary place and baths played an important role both in the health and cleanliness of citizens and their social lifestyle.


Most Roman cities, towns, forts and even villas across the Empire had a bathing complex, Rome of course had over fifty. Bathing was very much ritualised by the Romans, with all citizens partaking, though the wealthy made it a social event being accompanied by their slave who pampered their bodies with massage, oils and body shaving. Baths also incorporated temples and the Baths of Caracalla was dedicated to the god Mithra, an Iranian deity associated with water and also revered as a sun god.


When it was built the Baths of Caracalla were the largest bathing complex in the world, covering 27 acres and catering for 1600 clients. Now the enormous red brick built structures are bare of their decoration, having been robbed of most of it marble and statuary, and devoid of its decorated plaster walls and mosaic floors. Several notable statues taken from the baths were during the 16th century used by Cardinal Farnese to decorate the Palazzo Farnese, these included the famous “Hercules,” and the “Farnese Bull, both of which have found their way to a Naples museum,” and a fourteen foot statue of the Greek god Asclepius which had also been removed.


As well as the bathing facilities the baths were the main place for leisure and socialising. Two large public libraries, containing books both in Latin and Greek text, and an art gallery were included. There were shops, a gymnasium for boxing and wrestling, restaurants and brothels, and an outdoor area for exercise and ball games.


A constant supply of water was brought into the complex via the Aqua Marcia, an aqueduct especially built by Caracalla for this purpose. Below the main rooms the water was heated by a fire fed by slaves, providing hot water and steam for heating the hypocaust system.


Although the baths were free to the citizens of Rome, areas were “acquired” by the balneator who looked after the complex for which he charged the wealthy for the use of the “VIP” seating available.


The bathing facilities consisted of three pools, a hot calidarium, a warm tepidarium, and a cold frigidarium, along with a wet steam bath and a dry steam sauna, as well as a swimming pool. These were used in sequence as part of a health regime.


The baths of Caracalla a were in use right up to 537 CE, when the aqueduct was destroyed by the Ostrogoths cutting off the water supply, when they invaded Rome during the Gothic Wars. The baths were the venue for the gymnastics during the 1960 Olympic Games and several concerts, and is used by the Rome Opera Company for open air shows.



Italian Tour



Steam Room


The Main Hall




Mithraic Temple


Mosaic Flooring




Quality Decoration