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July 2003-July 2010InteractiveDig Sagalassos
One of the partially preserved hypocausts
The mosaic in the frigidarium
Digging the upper floor level
A 100-square-meter vault in the ground floor of the baths
The Roman Baths of Sagalassos

Photos courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Click on images to enlarge.
by Marc Waelkens

The Roman Baths

The upper floor level


We've been able to excavate the southwestern section of the huge Roman Baths at Sagalassos since 1995, thanks to a generous grant made available by the family L.Lamberts Van Assche.

The complex was built on a hill east of the Lower Agora. Early in the second century A.D., most probably during the reign of Hadrian (r. 117-138), the hilltop was leveled and its buildings removed. Its surface was then enlarged considerably by the construction of an enormous artificial terrace, composed of a number of large vaulted rooms, of which four have been exposed along with their connecting corridors. Most of these rooms never served any specific purpose. Only later, when the whole complex was repaired, most probably after the A.D. 500 earthquake, was one of these rooms transformed into a public lavatory with room for around 50 visitors. Another room served as a kind of vestibule, giving access from the Lower Agora by means of a stairway to the upper part of the building and to the actual bathing section. The latter was built on the top floor of the whole complex.

The western part of the top floor bath complex comprised a caldarium (caldarium 1) and, to the north of it, a tepidarium, partially excavated in 2000. We found nearly 40 tons of Docimian marble inside caldarium 1. Some are column capitals belonging to a second-century A.D. building phase, others document a partial repair during the fourth century. During the sixth century, a new praefurnium was built south of caldarium 1, inside a brick and mortared-rubble structure, added to the southwest corner of the bath complex. A large shaft east of caldarium 1 provided for the circulation within this part of the building, connecting the upper bath level with the lower level of the building, which also provided access to the Lower Agora. In 2002, a dressing room or apodyterium was identified east of the central shaft in the central part of the building complex. Various features indicated that the current condition of the room was a later re-arrangement. Nonetheless, the room may prove crucial in understanding the circulation and functional patterns within the Roman Baths. The room remained in use into the last days of occupation at Sagalassos and contained a very nice opus sectile floor.

Southeast of caldarium 1, we exposed a large hall that was originally provided with four exits or entrances. At first it seems to have functioned as a kind of royal hall that, according to a fragmentary inscription, was inaugurated in A.D. 165 and dedicated to the emperors Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. During the fourth or the earlier part of the sixth century, this richly decorated room was partially dismantled, stripped of its marble veneer and, with the exception of one exit, completely closed off and provided with heating systems against its walls. The latter were then covered again with some of the original marble slabs. Along the shorter sides of the hall, two heated pools were built. Four smaller pools completely lined with reused marble slabs were installed along the longer sides of the room, transforming it into a second caldarium, provided with its own heating system in a small room southwest of it. Along its north side, caldarium 2 gave access to another room excavated in 2002, which in its final phase was equipped as a secluded and possibly private bathing zone. Graffiti on the parapets of the pools indicate that caldarium 2 remained in use until at least the sixth century A.D. and that it was then frequented by a predominantly Christian population. The floors of both caldaria consisted of a hypocaust system, largely destroyed in caldarium 1, but partially preserved in caldarium 2 and in the tepidarium.

We have already excavated a double row of service rooms east of this caldarium 2. The western one consisted of two parts, separated by a vaulted passage. During excavation of corridor east of this room, we uncovered the upper part of a stairway probably leading down to the chimney in the roof of the Roman Baths. The north end of this corridor also connected to a series of other service rooms and corridors. Part of these facilities possibly provided water to the northeastern bath in caldarium 2. Most of the other areas await further investigation, and may provide structural links to the vaulted rooms sustaining the southern part of the bath complex.

In 2001, we partially exposed a large frigidarium with perfectly preserved mosaic floors east of caldarium 2. The construction of its western wall may show us what the frigidarium of the Roman baths of Sagalassos originally looked like. Toward the east, the room may extend beyond the second row of ashlar piers as far as the east wall of the bath complex.

Another large public space was identified northeast of Corridor 5, laid out with a semicircular niche in its western wall. Its function cannot yet be determined and the excavation area needs to be extended in order to do so.

Aims of the 2003 excavations

In 2003, we intend to continue our excavations in the following areas of the upper floor:

  • The area north of the central shaft and the apodyterium We'll extend the excavation in this part of the building up to the north wall of the monument. Clearing of the destruction fill inside the building may allow us, either this year or at a later stage, to completely excavate the central shaft.

  • The eastern half of the apodyterium and the connecting service areas (and possible new rooms in that direction). Clearly, the apodyterium continued to the east, and .this side of the room may reveal further aspects of internal circulation within the building, and also how the network of service rooms and corridors provide access to the building's major public areas.

  • The room with the semicircular niche, identified in 2002 and located to the north of the frigidarium. Only a small part of this room was excavated in 2002, so its chronology and function remain to be determined.

  • The large cold-water bath exposed in 2001 has only been excavated over a very small area. Excavation of this room will continue toward the east and south depending on what arrangements can be made transporting the excavation earth, getting access to a crane for the large ashlar blocks from the pillars that supported the roof, and, of course our own safety.

The ground floor level


In 1999, we excavated and studied a number of vaulted rooms on the ground level of the western part of the bath complex. The following year, we decided to continue the excavation on the upper floor before continuing those below, in order to remove the enormous weight above the ground-level vaults.

Aims of the 2003 excavations

During the 2003 season, a number of rooms located at ground level may be reached while we complete the excavations of the central shaft and those of the service room with the stairway, located between caldarium 2 and the frigidarium. Although we do not intend to continue the excavations at ground level now, some of these rooms may need to be partially excavated in order to remove the earth from the central shaft and a corridor and service room. As in 1999, however, another inspection of the conditions in all the vaults in the ground floor of the baths is planned.

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