An archaeological team has discovered the oldest Roman baths in Asia Minor - underneath existing Roman baths.  Location:  Sagalassos, Turkey, which was inhabited as a city until the 7th century AD, when it was destroyed by earthquakes. 

Prior to the Sagalassos discovery, the Capito Baths in Miletus, built during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), were the oldest known Roman bathing complex in Asia Minor.

This summer, however, below the remains of the previously unearthed Imperial Baths (ca. 120-165 AD – with a surface area of more than 5,000 square meters), a second bathing complex was discovered in Sagalassos, much older and smaller than the Imperial Baths and dated to 10-30 AD, though it was probably built earlier, during the reign of Augustus or Tiberius.

The newly discovered complex measures 32.5 by 40 meters and well preserved.  Professor Marc Waelkens and his archaeological team, who discovered it, say the walls must have been at least 12 meters high, though 8.5 meters remain erect today. Those Old Baths were replaced by the larger Imperial Baths, when Hadrian selected Sagalassos as the centre of the Imperial cult for all of Pisidia, to which the city belonged. This included the organization of festivals and games (agones), which attracted thousands, so that a new urban infrastructure became necessary in order to accommodate the Pisidian visitors to these events.

sagalassos south wall of the heating room of the bathing complex
The approximately. 3 meter high south wall of the heating room of the bathing complex. Warm air was blown under the floor of the middle apsidal space or ‘caldarium’ (hot water pool).  Credit: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

The Roman and Italian bathing habits consisted of a succession of a warm water pool, a hot water pool and a cold water pool. Each pool was housed in a separate space; a ‘tepidarium’, a ‘caldarium’ and a ‘frigidarium’, respectively. The latter usually contained a pool (a ‘piscina’ or ‘natatio’).

Excavations this past summer also revealed the façade of an important public building dating from the reign of Emperor Augustus (25 BC - 14 AD). It may have been the town hall of Sagalassos. Furthermore, it was concluded that the triumphal arch, hitherto thought to pay tribute to Caligula, was actually erected in honour of his uncle and successor Claudius (41-54 AD) and Claudius’ brother Germanicus, Caligula’s father.

sagalassos arched walls of the three parallel apsidal rooms
The arched walls of the three parallel apsidal rooms (ns. 1-3) of the bathing complex that was built no later than 10-30 AD are visible under the straight walls of the southern façade of the ‘Imperial Baths’ in Sagalassos (3 to 6 upper layers of stone). The older bathing complex was modelled on Campanian examples (the baths at Pompeii, for example).  Credit: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

At the end of the season’s excavations, an Antonine Nymphaeum (monumental fountain) was inaugurated at the site.

More on Sagalassos