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Baths of Nero

Baths of Nero

These were the second public bathing establishment in Rome and were built by Nero (A.D. 37-68) in the Campus Martius not far from the Pantheon and the earlier Baths of Agrippa. The Baths of Nero were rebuilt in A.D. 227 by Alexander Severus, after which they were called the Thermae Alexandrinae.

Thermae Neronianae

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 531-532.

The second public bathing establishment in Rome, but by Nero near the Pantheon (Suet. Nero 12; Aur. Vict. Ep. 5; Eutrop. VII.15). According to the Chronica (Hier. a. Abr. 2079; Cassiod. Chron. min. II.138) they were erected in 64 A.D., but if they are to be identified with Nero's Gymnasium (q.v.), which was built in 62, their construction must also be assigned to that year (HJ 590). They were among the notable monuments of the city (Mart. II.48.8; III.25.4; VII.34.5, 9; Philostr. vit. Apoll. iv.42; Stat. Silv. I.5.62), and evidently became a very popular resort (for incidental references, Mart. II.14.13; XII.83.5; CIL VI.8676, 9797.5 = AL 29.5).

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    130. Baths of Caracalla (and baths in general). Commentary.

    After the Baths of Trajan were built on the Esquiline c. AD 110, more than a hundred years passed before the next of the giant imperial baths was built. These, the Baths of Caracalla (called the Thermae Antoniniani in antiquity), contain the most impressive ruins of an ancient bath in Rome, with the possible exception of the central hall of the Baths of Diocletian, which was remodeled into the church of S. Maria degli Angeli by Michelangelo and subsequent architects. Whereas this remodeling gives some impression of the finished splendor of the imperial baths that Caracalla's brick, stripped of its colored stone, stucco, and art is ill-suited to convey, the ruins of Caracalla preserve a sense of the total space and the relation of the many various parts of an imperial bath, in addition to the substantial (but closed to the public) subterranean remains of service corridors among the complex plumbing and heating installations.

    The Baths of Caracalla were built on a large man-made terrace that extended the Little Aventine towards the Caelian Hill. The main approach was on the Via Appia, paralleled as it neared the baths by a beautiful new avenue, the Via Nova, which may have formed more of a plaza than a street, bounded on one side by the perimeter walls of the bath. Brick stamps show that the huge central complex containing the open-air swimming pool, the vaulted hall, and the rounded, towering hot-room, was built between AD 212 and 216. The perimeter walls may be the porticoes referred to by the sources and attributed to Elagabalus and Alexander Severus [130.2], but these walls were rebuilt under Aurelian and cannot provide original dating by means of brick stamps.

    Public bathing was an integral part of a day of most who lived in ancient Rome, and I have included a few sources here on the bathing experience in general: Seneca's description of the sounds emanating from a Roman bath house [130.4] is justly famous, and reminds us (since his lodging was directly above this bath) that there were hundreds of smaller or larger, spartan or lavish, private baths scattered throughout Rome and incorporated into other structures. The passage by Martial [130.5] humanizes the factors determining which of Rome's many baths to attend, as the short epitaph humanizes the consequences of attendance for one Fortunatus [130.6]. Finally, there is the curious inscription by a man named Ursus, the greatest player but one of the “glass ball game” that he performed in front of crowds in all of Rome's grandest baths of the day. The Verus referred to in the inscription was Annius Verus, consul for the third time in AD 126 and father-in-law of the later emperor Antoninus Pius. Ball playing was a common sport in the baths, but either this version with glass balls (nowhere else mentioned) was a higher-stakes specialty dramatized by this mock-heroic inscription, or possibly an allegory, as some have argued, for the fragile game of imperial politics.

    130. Baths of Caracalla (and baths in general). Sources.


    My name is Ursus, and I was first among the Romans

    To play with grace the glass-ball game with my companions,

    Cheered on (I tell the truth) by large applauding crowds

    In the Baths of Trajan, Titus, Agrippa, and often Nero.

    Rejoice, my fellow ballplayers, gather round my statue

    And load it down with leafy boughs, with garlands of violet

    And rose, dispense with loving care the pungent scents,

    And with the finest wines from my ancestral cellar

    Pour libations out for me, though I still live.

    Eulogize old Ursus with one concordant voice:

    “He was a witty, cheerful, extremely learnèd ballplayer

    Surpassing all in strategy, grace, and subtle skill.”

    But let an old man use this verse to tell the truth:

    I've been defeated, I confess, not once or twice

    But often, by Verus, three times consul and my patron,

    For whom I am content to be called a warm-up act.

    ILS 5173 = CIL 6.9797

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