The Caracalla Baths, The Early Empire, The Temple of Caracalla’s victory in Dougga
The Caracalla Baths
The public baths were bathing establishments to which the Romans added the palaestra for practising physical exercise. Going to the baths was an important part of daily life in Rome as in the other cities of the Empire. They were introduced in Africa during the lst century AD. To date, three establishments of this type have been discovered in Dougga, including those of Caracalla lying to the south-east of the forum.
A passage way paved with a mosaic of large white tesserae leads into the establishment, separating the baths from the temples of Concordia, Frugiferi, Liberi Patris and Neptune.
The Baths were built under the reign of Emperor Caracalla between 212 and 217 AD.
An inscription attesting to a partial restoration of the baths in the IVth century has enabled the construction to be dated:
atrium thermarum Antoninianorum ab antiquis c[oe]pt um exceptoriis in eodem loco su(b]s tan tibu[s], quod inperfecto opera corru[p]tum adque ruderib us foedat um [—] dius Honorati(a)n us, fl(amen) p(erpetuus), cur(ator) reip(ublicae) II, [cu]m statua
[s]ignoq(ue) felicissim [—A]uggg(ustorum), ratu opera fecit itemq[ue dedica]uit.
The atrium of Antonine baths, usually built above the underlying reservoirs, in this instance was deteriorated because of the hasty and careless way it was built and was falling into ruin.
[—]dius Honoratianus, perpetual flamen twice curator of the republic, built it in a reliable manner and adorned it with the statue and emblem of our three blessed Augustus’ [—], and he made the dedication.
«The Baths, a part of which were restored during the brief building revival of the third quarter of the IVth century by the curator[—]dius Honoratianus, perpetual flamen, were built under Caracalla and thus bore his name, supporting the assimilation of the city to a “little Rome”. Work carried out in the years 375 to 383 sought to repair an earlier construction or poor piece of restoration work. The atrium or vestibulum was the reception hall of a bathing establishment, and it is understandable that a partial reconstruction of the establishment during the following century would have attracted a donor wanting to promote himself by lavishing particular attention on the ornamentation of this reception room. » Khanoussi (M.) and Maurin (L.) (dir.), Dougga, Fragments d’histoire,insc. n°42, p.124.
The plan is symmetrical, with an almost identical layout on either side of an axis. These baths rank amongst the largest in size in Africa.
The establishment is built on three levels :
- The access level
- The use level
- A service level :underground corridors
The access level :
This consists of a front-door leading to the atrium, a rectangular shaped room (room a on the above plan). A large staircase of twenty-four steps leads from there to the second level.
2.-The use level:
It is composed of various rooms « constituting the baths proper » Poinssot (C.), Les ruines de Dougga, p.48 .
-Entrance hall , vestibule (V1) and changing rooms:
The stairs led into a first room which was :
-a large square entrance hall (11m.50 square) surrounded by a portico of twelve columns paved with a largely conserved polychrome mosaic figuring a geometric pattern. “The walls bear traces of a green marble cladding at the base of which ran white marble skirting ». Poinssot (C.), Les ruines de Dougga, p.50 . It communicates through a double bay with:
-a vestibule (V1) serving as a transition space between the bathing rooms and the outside and opening to the west onto the
-the apodyterium, changing room
The bathing rooms:
– the frigidarium: cold baths room. This was a large covered room occupying the centre of the baths and consisting of three pools lying along the long sides. The walls were richly decorated with marble and stucco cladding, some bearing niches that must have contained statues.
-Threecaldaria: hot baths’ room, consisting of a large caldarium and two other smaller caldaria lying on either side. These were the hottest rooms of the baths.
-A tepidarium: a transition room containing two small basins. Not very large in size, it lay between the caldaria and the frigidarium.
The ancillary rooms :
-Two sudatoria: humid steam rooms to induce sweating. These steam bath rooms were oval in shape and functioned very much like today’s hammams or saunas.
– Two laconica: dry heat rooms, their burning air provoked abundant perspiration. They were quadrangular in shape.
– An elaothesium, a room were oil was stored and distributed and that no doubt served to give massages and oil frictions.
– A passage vestibule (V2) .
-A palaestra : in the form of a large open-air courtyard surrounded by a portico. It was situated south-west of the frigidarium and north of the elaothesium.
The palaestra was used for practicing physical exercise both by amateur as well as by professional sportsmen.
The service level : the underground corridors
The last level, in the basement were services were placed, was entered through two doors opening on either side of the large caldarium and that were closed to users. Only the attendants used these passageways. The space consisted of a large corridor that divided out into two branches, forming an upturned Y. The two side areas probably supported bronze boilers.
- The Bathers’ circuit:
Bathers naturally started out from the access level. A large staircase of twenty four steps led to the second level with its various rooms. On their way, bathers might encounter idle bathers passing the time on the landing playing a sort of dice game. The first room on the way down was the large entrance hall giving onto a vestibule (V1) from whence bathers reached the apodyterium where they undressed and crossed entirely naked without stopping in the frigidarium. They passed through a second vestibule (V2) laid out symmetrically to the first, to stop in the elaothesium, where they smeared their bodies with oil and then with fine sand. This practice was a sort of preliminary massage to limber up before training in the palaestra that lay to the north. These two substances served to soften the blows during training and avoid dislocations, sprains and fractures in the event of a fall. Fine sand was used for purposes of hygiene, to stop perspiration and for technical reasons to facilitate certain exercises such as wrestling. Oil was provided free of charge by the city’s rich donors.
In the palaestra, bathers participated in various games: wrestling, pankration, and boxing. The time spent at sports depended on the category of bathers and what they sought to achieve. Amateurs spent less time there, seeking to simply engage in some physical exercise before bathing, to remain fit and live longer. In this case sport was part of a healthy life style. Professional sportsmen spent more time in the palaestra. They devoted themselves exclusively to sport to prepare for competing in games and public sporting events.
Once training was over, bathers passed through the vestibule to go to the sudatorium and onto the laconicum. In these two rooms they activated perspiration and also cleaned themselves, first by sprinkling themselves with warm water and then by using a strigil, a curved scraper shaped like a sickle, with which they scraped their bodies to remove the oil and sand: the Romans borrowed the use of the strigil from the Greeks. Then, they washed in the caldaria. In order not to burn their feet or to risk slipping, the bather wore wooden clogs. After that, they passed into the tepidarium before bathing in one of the frigidarium’s cold pools. In fact, the principle of the baths was based on the alternation of hot and cold designed to produce a sense of well-being. Finally bathers returned to the elaothesium to receive a last massage with oil and perfume to relax the body and muscles after their exertion. Here they were restored to a state of calm and relaxation before either going back to the apodyterium to dress and leave the baths or stay and engage in conversation.
2) The circuit in short :
Atrium→ stairs → entrance hall → vestibule (1) → apodyterium → frigidarium→ vestibule (2) → elaothesium → vestibule (2) → palaestra → vestibule (2) → sudatorium → laconicum → caldarium → tepidarium → frigidarium → vestibule (1) → apodyterium.
During the Roman period the baths were a place for bathing, sport, and body care open to both genders at different times and to all social categories. Because unction with oil and sand required a large quantity of water for ablutions the Romans, and subsequently the Roman-Africans, attached the palaestra to the baths. Indeed, they completed their cleaning with the strigil on the one hand, and on the other, the rational use of baths (hot, warm and cold) combined with physical exercises, the different types of perspiration and massages with oil, had real therapeutic effects on the health of Thuggenses.
No doubt the establishment required numerous staff for maintenance, massages and physical training. It was a building devoted to hygiene, physical exercise, body-care, leisure and pastimes.
- Badelon (E.), Cagnat (R.) and Reinach (S.), Atlas archéologique de la Tunisie, au 1/50.000, feuille n°XXX III (Téboursouk), n°183, Paris 1892-1926.
- Ben Zina Ben Abdallah (Z.), Catalogue des inscriptions latinespaïennes du Musée du Bardo, EFR, 1986, inscription, n°225, p.89.
- Khanoussi (M.) and Maurin (L.) (dir.), Dougga, Fragments d’histoire, Choix d’inscriptions latines éditées,traduites et commentées ( Ier-IVe siècles). Bordeaux-Tunis, 2000, inscp. n°42, p.122-124.
- Bouet (A.), Les thermes privés et publics en Gaule Narbonnaise, Vol. I, Synthèse, EFR, Rome 2003.
- Broise (H.) et Thébert (Y.), Les thermesmemmiens, étude architecturale et histoire urbaine, dans Recherches archéologiques franco-tunisiennes à Bulla Regia, II, Les architectures, EFR, 1993.
- Carton (L.), Thugga, Ruines de Dougga, Tunis, p.78.
- Decker (W.) and Thuillier (J.-P.), Le sport dans l’Antiquité, Égypte, Grèce, Rome, Éditions A. et J. Picard, Paris 2004, «Les thermes: Le gymnase du Romain», p.165-177.
- Khanoussi (M.) et Maurin (L.) (dir.), Dougga, (Thugga), Études épigraphiques. Paris, 1997, p.121.
- Khanoussi M., Dougga, Tunis ANEP, 1998 (2e édition revue et augmentée), p.37-39.
- Labbe (M.), Recherches sur les thermes Liciniens à Dougga (Tunisie), Master thesis suprivised by J. Alexandropoulos and M. Khanoussi, 2 volumes, V.1 Study of the monument, V.2 Plans and photographs. Toulouse, Université de Toulouse Le Mirail, UFR d’Histoire, Histoire de l’Art et Archéologie, 1994-1995, (unpublished).
- Naït-Yghil (F.), Pratiques sportives et spectacles de jeux athlétiques et de pugilat en Afrique à l’époque romaine, DEA thesis (Ancient History and Archaeology) supervised by Mustapha Khanoussi. Tunis 2003, University of Tunis, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, p.120-121, (Unpublished).
- Poinssot (L.) and Lantier (R.), «Séance de la commission de l’Afrique du Nord, du 13 janvier 1925». BAC, 1925, p.XXVIII- XL.
- Poinssot (C.), Les ruines de Dougga.Tunis 1983, p.48-52.
- Thébert (Y.), Architectures thermales de la valléemoyenne de la Madjerda, doctoral thesis supervised by G. Picard. Paris-Sorbonne, 1981-1982.
- Thébert (Y.), «Problèmes de circulation dans les thermes d’Afrique du Nord», in Les thermes romains, Actes de la table ronde organisée par l’École française de Rome (Rome, 11-12 novembre 1998). EFR, 1991, p.139-149.
The Early Empire
The history of Proconsular Africa’s urban development still remains to be written. One of the reasons explaining the lack of interest on behalf of scholars seems to lie in the complexity of the subject . G.-Ch. Picard, one of the best scholars of the history and archaeology of ancient Africa, has indeed just remarked in the recent new edition of his Civilisation of Roman Africa “that amongst all the Roman cities of Africa there are no two identical urban plans”. All those possessing a sound knowledge of North Africa’s ancient sites can only agree with the statement. For, despite the perceived resemblance that occasionally smacks of uniformity, gained from a visit to sites such as Thuburbo Majus, Sebeitla or Timgad, the attentive visitor will occasionally notice substantial differences and frequently those of detail. From the point of view of urban planning and urban development, Roman period African cities do not form a homogeneous group. They can, on the contrary be divided into four groups:
-The first group is formed of cities of pre-Roman origin that became peregrine after the Roman conquest, as for instance, Bulla Regia, in the Great Plains. These cities did not undergo sudden change in the composition of their population. They continued, for a more or less long time, depending on the case, to be administered as before. The slow and gradual transformation of their urban landscape did not seem to have occasioned major upheavals in the general scheme of urban organisation inherited from the preceding period.
-The second group is composed of colonial foundations, either on a cleared site following destruction, for example, like Carthage, or on a vacant site, as for example Sufetula. Here Roman surveyors were able to draw cities according to the orthogonal plan so dear to their hearts.
-The third group comprises the colonies established on the very site of an existing city such as Sicca Veneria or Simitthus. In the present state of research nothing almost is known of the consequences of the foundation of a colony on these cities’ urban organisation.
-Finally, the fourth and last group is made of peregrine cities in which groups of Roman citizens organised into pagi depending on a colony settled on their territory. A. Piganiol 2 dates this original organisation that was to last more than two centuries, to the time of Caesar. But a revised reading of the famous inscription stone of Marcus Caelius Phileros of Uchi Maius 3 to which M. Azedine Beschaouch has recently proceeded, now enables the system to be definitively assigned to Octavian Augustus and also provides a confirmation of Claude Poinssot 4 and later Jacques Gascou’s 5 thoughts on the matter.
Amongst the cities that can be assigned to this group, Thugga, present day Dougga, is the site that for the moment at least, provides the richest epigraphic as well as archaeological documentation. Built on a steeply inclined plateau dominating the rich wadi Khalled valley, Thugga is an old Numidian city that, according to Diodorus of Sicily 6 , was “of a fine size » at the time of Agathocles’ expedition. Promoted to the ranks of royal residences under Massinissa and his successors, it became one of the foremost cities of the Numidian kingdom. Not much is known of the urban development of those times. All we know is that the city was surrounded by walls, although we do not know where they ran except for the remaining section to the north of the site before which lies a dolmenic necropolis. The famous Libyco-Punic mausoleum can be mentioned here, restored by the late L. Poinssot, rising on the southern confines of the site. Finally, surveys carried out underneath the temple of Saturn, situated to the north east of the site, have revealed that the land was already occupied by a sanctuary devoted to Baal dating to the IInd century BC.
These are the few vestiges of Numidian Thugga known so far. As can easily be surmised, it is not much on which to base even an approximate idea of the city’s urban organisation.
However, regarding the Roman period, documentation is clearly more abundant. It testifies to a relentless building boom lasting from the reign of Tiberius to the end of the Severans’ reign and even beyond.
The first known urban operation was carried out at the expense of Lucius Postumius Chius. The inscription ILAfr 558, datable to the last year of the reign of Tiberius, tells us that this member of the pagus forum et aream ante templum Caesaris strauit, aram Aug(usti), aedem Saturn(i), arcum d(e) s(ua) p(ecunia) f(aciendum) c(urauit). Shortly afterwards, another member of the pagus donated an arch to Emperor Caligula whose tenure was replaced in the year 42 by that of Emperor Claudius. Still under Caligula, Caius Pomponius Restitutus had a temple built to Jupiter Optimus Maximus 8 .
Claudius’ reign was also marked by the construction of many monuments such as the market 9 donated by M. Licinius Rufus, a cella to Ceres 10 and a temple of Fortune, Venus and Concordia 11 built at the expense of a couple of freedmen of this powerful figure : M. Licinius Tyrannusand Licinia Prisca. The above mentioned also provided for the restoration of the temple of Tiberius to which Viria Rustica, grandmother of his patron 12 also participated.
Under the Flavians, the construction of public monuments came to an almost total standstill. The only monument that could be assigned to this period is the tiny sanctuary devoted to Augustan Piety and built in execution of the will of Caius Pompeius Nahanus 13 .
Not until the reign of Hadrian did the building frenzy resume. No less than three sanctuaries, one of which is a proper religious complex, were built under this emperor. A Roman citizen descended from the civitas peregrini, Quintus Maedius Severus, had a temple built devoted to Augustan Fortune, Venus, Concordia and Mercury 14 . This monuments whose vestiges still exist under the mosque, is oriented north-easterly, turning its back, so to speak, on the forum, thus denoting a total lack of concern for integration into the monumental ensemble created around the square.
A short distance away, two other Roman citizens descending from peregrini, Aulus Gabinius Datus and his son M. Gabinius Bassus, both tributles of the Quirina, built a vast religious complex on land they owned composed of four temples devoted, one to Concordia, the other to Neptune, the third to Pluto Frugiferi, poliad god of Thugga, and the fourth to Liberi Patris 15 . A small theatre was adjoined to the latter temple that must have served for initiations and for the celebration of mysteries 16 .
Finally, the third sanctuary built under the reign of Hadrian was built in execution of the will of M. Vinnicius Genialis priest of the Cereresfor the year 127 (between 83 and 89 AD) and patron of the civitas. Dedicated to Minerva, it lies downhill from the house known as that of Dionysos and Ulysses at some distance from the forum 17 .
The cult of this goddess seems to have been very popular with the inhabitants of Thugga since another temple was also devoted to her, a few years later, in the north-eastern part of the site, under the reign of Antoninus Pious (138-161) 18 . Under the same reign, another member of the gens Gabinia, Q. Gabinius Felix Faustianus, embellished the forum by endowing it with a portico on three sides 19 . And it was under the following joint reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, that Thugga was endowed with the two monuments that have made it famous today, i.e. the Capitol temple and the theatre. Built at the expense of Lucius Marcius Simplex and dedicated in the year 166 or 167 20 , the Dougga capitol occupies an unusual position with regards to the forum. Indeed, instead of its façade looking onto the public square, it is its side that faces it, a particular layout that has never been attested anywhere else. Two years after the Capitol was built another member of the Marcii, Publius Marcius Quadratus, family built the theatre 21 . Its back to the hillside situated to the north-east of the forum, this monument had an estimated capacity of about 3500 spectators which must have been well above the real needs of the population, even taking account of those who lived in the countryside. The Thuggenses probably never felt cramped in the seats of their theatre. They must have been all the more grateful to their generous benefactor.
The reign of the last of the Antonines saw the construction and the development of the still vacant land to the east of the Capitol and in front of the market. A couple of perpetual flamens, Quintus Pacuvius Saturus and his wife Nahania Victoria, saw to the construction of the temple of Mercury, added a portico to the market and had a square built in the space between the two monuments that was called area macelli, today known as the square of the Wind rose 22 .
Under the reign of Commodius, and more precisely between the year 184 and the first semester of the year 185, the civitas proceeded to construct the Aïn Hammam aqueduct and the cisterns of the same name, located at a short distance west of Bab Er-Roumia, the Arabic name given to the Severus Alexander arch 23 .
Under the reign of the Severans, where the year 205 saw the promotion of Thugga to the ranks of municipium and thereby the demise of the pagus/civitas, the drive to build public monuments did not slow down. Under the ephemeral joint reign of Septimus Severus and Clodius Albinus, thanks to a legacy from L. Octavius Roscianus, the pagus and the civitas built a temple to Saturn that replaced the old sanctuary to Baal 24 .
Under Caracalla, Gabinia Hermiona gave the city a luxurious temple devoted to the Victory of the emperor 25 . The same benefactress also donated land already bearing the name of circus on which, ten years later, under the reign of Severus Alexander, the circus of Dougga was built, whose vestiges have been identified in the north-western area of the site 26 . Another member of the gens Gabinia, Quintus Gabinius Rufus Felix Beatianus, donated the fine temple of Caelestis located in the western part of site 27 .
This above documentation presented in a brief and non exhaustive manner was for the most part known to the late L. Poinssot. In a paper published 80 years ago now, the scholar attributed the foundation of the forum and the urban development of the entire quarter surrounding it to members of the pagus who “did not want nor could found a new city, wishing simply to have a place they could call home near the Punico Numidian city 28 ».
This interpretation making Thugga a double city, on the one side a Numidian city and on the other the Roman quarter, is often cited without ever having been seriously discussed. Yet, in the present state of research, nothing authorises the foundation of the forum to be unequivocally attributed to the Roman period. The discovery in the immediate surroundings of the square, of architectural elements having belonged to pre-Roman monuments, would argue in favour rather of a Numidian origin. On the other hand, the monuments presented are not grouped in the same quarter which would then be the Roman quarter; but are spread all over the site, from north to south and from east to west. Moreover, certain monuments, even though situated not far from the forum, were built by members of the civitas ; while others, although lying in the areas which, according to L. Poinssot’s thesis, belonged to the native city, were built by members of the pagus. Finally, there is general agreement to place the temple of Saturn, built under Tiberius, on the western side of the forum. Yet the inscription ILAfr 551 tells us that the sanctuary that should have depended on the pagus, was restored during the first half of the IInd century, at the expense of the civitas.
To conclude, we can say that L. Poinssot’s hypothesis sustaining that the city of Thugga was a double city, Numidian city on the one side and roman quarter on the other, is based rather more on speculation as to what the juridical organisation of the city was at the time than on any historical reality. Thugga, which was never a double commune, as all specialists of Roman Africa’s municipal history now admit, was never a double city either. It was within the same urban framework that the two juridically distinct communities coexisted during a little over two centuries.