This week, both teams working in the northern part of the Roman Baths finished excavating Apodyterium A 2 and Frigidarium F 2 with the natatio (swimming pool). Thanks to the generous grant provided by the family L.Lamberts-Van Assche (Belgium) for many years, the excavation of the baths turned into the highlight of this week and one of the sensations of this year's campaign. It had become obvious that both rooms formed an enormous single space measuring 12 by 32 m, of which the smaller western extremity served as a dressing room with marble-clad benches dated to the early fifth-century A.D. along its walls. Most of the larger central and eastern part served as a second cold-water bath, with, respectively, one and two smaller bath tubs in rectangular recesses in the central part of the space along the north and south walls, and a large swimming pool almost completely filling its eastern extremity. We had to reach the floor level and excavate the large pool before the end of the week and of the excavation campaign, so that the necessary protective measures against the winter could be taken. So, the Bath teams were joined by part of the workmen from the Domestic Area and of the Hadrian & Antoninus Pius Sanctuary crews. By the end of the week all floors were freed of rubble, the swimming pool was completely exposed, and the protective layer composed of geotextile, sand, and pumice above the floors unearthed in 2003 removed. Because of the shortage of time, the protection of the benches of the dressing room exposed during 2003 was left in place. The considerable increase of the workforce in the eastern half of the room made the construction of a bridge with double lanes necessary in order to remove all the destruction material using wheelbarrels. Counting has shown that during the 2004 campaign a total of 21,944 wheelbarrels of debris were removed from the room, corresponding with 685.75 wheelbarrels per workman or nearly 47 wheelbarrels per workman each day. This also means that every six minutes a wheel barrel left the room.
Originally, this enormous space was accessible from the north by a door in a recess in its north wall that was eventually blocked off, and from the "Kaisersaal" later transformed into Caldarium 2 in the south. Two small doors in the southern and eastern curved recesses surrounding the large pool gave access to, respectively, a service corridor to the south (Co 4 on the map) and to the still unexcavated hall with six piers of large ashlars east of the frigidarium. Given their dimensions, these doors probably were not intended for public use.
The brick walls suggest that most of this enormous space was part of the original planning of the bath complex. The whole space seems to have been redecorated and received its current floor and wall revetments during the fourth century A.D. But the division of the western extremity into a small dressing room in the north and a heated corridor in the south, together with the construction of the current benches, seems to be dated to the earlier fifth century, when the Kaisersaal became a second hot-water bath. Further study should reveal to what period the construction of the pool dates, but most probably it already was part of the original layout.
We have recovered tons of marble veneer, apparently composed of green cipollino in the lower part of the curved recesses around three sides of the pool, and of white or purple-veined (pavonazetto) from the Docimian quarries (near Afyon, Turkey) in the upper parts and the rest of the room. However, as mentioned last week (see Roman Baths, August 8-12), part of the south wall had a vegetal decoration in polychrome opus sectile. Pilasters carrying elaborately carved white marble capitals both belonging to the original layout of the Antonine period (the third quarter of the second century A.D.) and to the repair of the fourth century emphasized the corners of the niches. The fact that most of these capitals were recovered without any damage suggests that the room had collapsed in successive stages after the seventh-century earthquake. A first layer of debris seems already to have protected the capitals when they fell. As mentioned previously, also faunal remains discovered inside the destruction layers, indicate that people still gathered inside the ruins of the baths before their final collapse (see Subsistence Studies, August 1-5). Some of these capitals had traces of red paint on their acanthus leaves. Both the wall veneer and the opus sectile floor slabs exposed this week, were made of recycled material. Among the former was Egyptianizing engraving of a standing sphinx. The eastern part of the room had a much better preserved floor than that of the dressing room exposed last year. It is composed of several large opus sectile panels, with large white marble slabs around the edges.
This week we excavated the natatio (swimming pool). This pool has a width of about 9.5 m and a maximum length of about 10 m. Along its southern edge it has a higher rim and is about 1.35 m deep, while at its northern edge the depth measures ca. 1.1 m. The pool's eastern and the western edges have an apsidal form, as does the room's east wall. In the southwestern and the northwestern corner, stairs lead to the bottom of the pool. The stairs are identical and have three steps each descending parallel to the north and south edges of the natatio. In the southeastern corner another stairway also composed of three steps leads to the bottom of the pool, this time however the steps are laid out in two directions (to the north and to the west). The bottom of the pool is covered with large brick slabs; the edges and the inside of the pool are covered with marble revetment slabs and brick tiles. As expected, the swimming pool proved to contain lots of statuary fragments. We found many small pieces--mostly body parts, such as arms, legs and hands--but also some larger fragments, such as torsos. They belonged to several statues, two representing Aphrodite of which one head was found, two other ones representing Eros, at least one carrying a large amphora (see Sculptural Studies, August 15-19). Both statues may have stood on top of two round pedestals with a height of about 1.5 m found inside the pool. These bases probably stood in the eastern curved recess next to the swimming pool.