This paper discusses the development of bathing culture in Pompeii and its interrelation with the urban development of the city. It summarizes the current state of a research project that is being carried out within the framework of the Excellence Cluster Topoi (C 6-8) in order to investigate and reassess the history, development, and function, as well as the cultural and sociohistorical context of the Republican Baths and the Stabian Baths.
Both baths play key roles in any study of the history of Pompeii. In his influential work on the development of Pompeii and the Stabian Baths, Hans Eschebach (1970, 1979) argued that the palaestra of the latter provided evidence of an Archaic “Altstadtmauer” with ditch; from the 5th c BC onwards (Samnite Pompeii) he reconstructed a Greek-style palaestra with Greek bathing cells, arguing that from the 5th c BC to 79 AD it was transformed into a sophisticated Roman thermal complex in 6 developmental phases. As a result, the Stabian Baths are currently seen as a perfect example of the cultural and urban development of the city.
The Republican Baths also incorporate archaeological remains dating to the Archaic period, but they are particularly important for reconstructing Late Hellenistic Samnite (2nd century BC) Pompeii, especially so in terms of the design, history, function, and socio-cultural significance of the complex of buildings organized around the Foro Triangolare. Whereas the Stabian Baths were published in a monograph (Eschebach 1979) and have received much attention in scholarship, the Republican Baths have barely been studied since their initial excavation and brief publication in 1950. Their precise construction date and history, as well as practical details of central elements (e.g., water management, heating system, roofing system) remain largely unknown.
This paper presents the first results of three fieldwork seasons, carried out in 2015 and 2016. Framed by a general introduction and conclusion, each bath building is discussed separately. The divergent states of research requires different approaches to each building, resulting in varied research questions.
For the Republican Baths, the paper focuses on the different methods of documentation employed and outlines the development of the entire plot with a focus on three distinguishable developmental phases of the baths themselves. This largely rests on data from trenches excavated in September 2015. In addition, the paper discusses problems of water management and heating technology, as well as the wider urban context and significance of the Republican Baths.
It can now be shown that the Republican Baths were built in the 2nd c BC, covering several previous structures that were related to water; the round laconicum was only added in a second phase, probably still in the late 2nd c BC, and it provided with buttresses in the 1st c BC. The crucial question of when precisely the bath building was abandoned and replaced by a domestic peristyle garden cannot be answered with certainty as yet, but this cannot have occurred before the 2nd half of the 1st c BC.
For the Stabian Baths, the paper presents the results of excavations carried out in March 2016 in the palaestra and in the “Greek bathing cells” that are central for understanding the development of the entire lot. It provides an overview of the typology and relationship of all standing remains, leading to a reconstruction of the developmental history in several major phases of use. Finally, it also discusses the water management system and places the Stabian Baths within the wider urban context of Pompeii.
The excavations did not produce any evidence for an Altstadtmauer or defensive ditch in the palaestra. The “Greek bathing cells” were evidently only built in the 2nd c BC and never included any bathtubs (sitz-bathtubs or immersion bathtubs). As such, a critical reassessment of their possible function is required. Reexamination of the walls and reassessment of the building history also suggests that the entire lot was only systematically developed – with a private house and the bath building largely within today’s confines – in the 2nd c BC.