The remains of a Roman bath have been discovered in York in northern England.
Archaeologists made the find while excavating ahead of construction of the new City of York Council Headquarters. York (then called Eboracum) was an important trading center in Roman times. So important, in fact, that it had more than one bath. The image above is from the basement of the Roman Bath pub, where a small museum shows off the remains of another bath.
Based on coins and pottery found at the site, the newly discovered bath dates from the late second and early third centuries AD. The site will be open to the public for free this weekend.
Unlike many Roman cities, York continued to be important mercantile and religious center in the later Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. The Yorkshire Museum exhibits a huge collection of Viking artifacts from an earlier excavation.
Public bathhouses were very popular in Roman culture. They included cold, warm, and hot pools and places for relaxation and socializing. The best preserved example is at the appropriately named city of Bath, an easy day trip from London.
Roman soldiers liked a good swim, especially after a hard day’s work suppressing rebellions.
Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have discovered the remains of a Roman swimming pool. Some roof tiles at the site bear the inscription “LEG X FR”, which stands for Tenth Legion Fretensis (“of the sea strait”, referring to one of the legion’s early victories). This legion was responsible for controlling Jerusalem. During the Jewish rebellion of 70 AD it besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, as seen here in an 1850 painting by David Roberts. During the bloody Bar Kokhba Rebellion of 135 AD the Roman legions were again kicked out of the city but were again able to recapture it.
The pools are more like large bathtubs lined with plaster. They’re part of a large complex of buildings housing pools and of course Roman baths. It’s not unusual for Roman military bases to have such luxuries, especially if the legion stayed put for any length of time.
The site is in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. One surprising find was a ceramic roof tile that a dog walked over while it was still wet. Check out this article for a photo. Tiles from the Roman baths in York, England, bear human footprints, some so clear you can see the nails used to attach the sole of the sandal to the upper.
One of the most important Roman archaeological sites in Turkey will soon be underwater.
The Roman spa town of Allianoi will be submerged beneath a reservoir once the nearby Yortanli dam becomes operational. The town was built in the second century AD near Bergama (ancient Pergamon) and has remained remarkably preserved. Archaeologists have uncovered baths, sculptures, artifacts, and elaborate mosaics that are giving them insights into Roman medicine and culture.
The site has become a battleground between archaeologists and European Union cultural officials on one side, and the Turkish government and farmers on the other. Local farmers are eager to see the dam finished because it will irrigate almost 20,000 acres of land. The EU has weighed in on the controversy because Turkey hopes to become a member state, yet the construction goes against both EU and Turkish heritage preservation laws.
Ironically, the site was only discovered because of an archaeological survey conducted in anticipation of the dam’s construction.
Only a quarter of the town has been excavated so far. Workers are currently burying the site in sand in order to protect it when it gets inundated.
[Photo courtesy Cretanforever via Wikimedia Commons]
Visitors to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are already familiar with the eye-popping art in the brothel, but most miss another naughty site–Pompeii’s suburban baths.
The changing room in these baths had cubbyholes for storing clothing. Each one was decorated with lively scenes of straight sex, group sex, oral sex, and just plain acrobatic sex. The example to the right, with two men and one woman enjoying each other’s company, is a typical example.
While many Roman baths segregated men and women, this suburban bath was a mixed one, so perhaps it served as a place for amorous trysts. Another theory is that the pictures were advertisements for prostitutes. Both men and women in ancient Rome uses prostitutes, although of course the majority of customers were men. A third theory holds that the pictures were a way to make the customers remember where they left their clothes.
“Where’s my toga? Ah yes, in the cubbyhole with the bisexual orgy.”
A large amount of erotic art has been found in Pompeii, from explicit graffiti to phallic dinnerware, and the city had a reputation for looseness before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash in 79 AD. The ash preserved many artifacts and buildings, making Pompeii and her sister city Herculaneum two of the archaeological treasures of the world.
The baths were closed for decades after their discovery, first out of prudishness and then for conservation work. Only small groups with special permission may enter, so you’ll need to book through a tour. You can check out all the images here, and if you want to wander through the city check out Pompeii on Google Street View.