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Lepcis Magna: Hadrianic Baths

Model of the Hadrianic Baths and Palaestra at Lepcis Magna. Museo nazionale della civiltą romana, Roma (Italy). Photo Tineke Meinema. Lepcis Magna: Phoenician colony, later part of the Carthaginian empire, the kingdom of Massinissa, and the Roman empire. Its most famous son was the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
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Hadrianic Baths, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
The entrance of the Hadrianic Baths, with inscription IRT 361. Photo Marco Prins. The first photo shows a model of the Hadrianic Baths. It can be found in the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana in Rome. The oval field in front is the Palaestra, in the background are the baths themselves, which are among the oldest monuments in Lepcis to be erected from marble.

The second photo shows the inscription that is recorded as IRT 361. It commemorates the opening of the bathhouse when the emperor Hadrian had the tribunician powers for the twenty-first time (our year 137 CE), by a governor named Publius Valerius Priscus, acting through his deputy, a man called Popilius Celer. Behind the inscription one can see a swimming pool with a length of almost 30 m, and behind that are the remains of the tepid and warm baths.

The swimming pool of the Hadrianic Baths in Lepcis Magna. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Hadrianic Baths are among the most famous monuments of Lepcis Magna, not in the least because it appeals more to modern taste than the monuments of the Severan age, like the basilica, which most people think is too pompous. Still, the Hadrianic Baths are a very large building too; in Africa, only the bathhouse in Carthage was bigger. The photo to the left shows the swimming pool ( natatio), on a rainy day.

The frigidarium in the Hadrianic Baths. Photo Marco Prins.
To the east and west of the swimming pool were dressing rooms (apodyteria). The entire complex is symmetrical, and it is possible that men and women could bathe at the same time, separated from each other. Only the hot bath may have been closed for one group. This photo shows the northern wall of the central hall between two cold water baths (frigidaria). The gate leads to the tepid baths.

The frigidarium in the Hadrianic Baths. Photo Ab Langereis.
The eastern frigidarium. The columns surrounding the pool were made of granite, which had been imported from Egypt. The hall between the two cold water baths, which measured about 20 x 18 m, was covered by cross-vaults in three sections; it was supported by eight heavy Corinthian columns made of cipollino, a type of green-white marble that was imported from Carystus in Greece.  (c) Ab Langereis
The frigidarium in the Hadrianic Baths. Photo Jona Lendering. The western frigidarium. Although the Lepcitanians lived in a cosmopolitan city, the use of stones from other provincesof the empire was a luxury they had not seen before. It is interesting to know that building the bathhouse, with all its splendor, was a long-term project: it had been prepared by constructing an aqueduct, and funds must have been created well in advance of the building of the baths.
The frigidarium of the Hadrianic Baths, with inscription IRT 396. Photo Jona Lendering. The damaged inscription known as IRT 396, which was found in the frigidarium, records restoration works by a mayor called Rusonianus. According to the text, which contains several spelling mistakes, the project is dedicated to the emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and his son Caracalla. It also mentions that a new statue of Asclepius was erected.

The floor of the frigidarium in the Hadrianic Baths in Lepcis Magna. Photo Jona Lendering. The floor of the hall between the two frigidaria. Although the stones are not on the ancient position, they are all authentic and one gets an idea what the floor must have looked like in Antiquity. The cold water bath (and, in fact, the entire bathhouse with Palaestra) was decorated with several statues, although not of the same quality. The following photos offer an impression.
A statue of the diadumenus from the Hadrianic Baths. Archaeological Museum of Tripoli. Photo Marco Prins. A statue of Asclepius from the Hadrianic Baths. Museum of Lepcis Magna. Photo Jona Lendering. Statue of Antinous from the Hadrianic Baths in Lepcis Magna. Archaeological Museum of Tripoli (Libya). Photo Marco Prins.
A column in the frigidarium of the Hadrianic Baths in Lepcis Magna. Photo Marco Prins.

The statues, from left to right: a copy of the statue of the Diadumenus ("fillet binder") by the Greek sculptor Polyclitus, the god Asclepius, and finally a Dionysus with the head of Antinous, the lover Hadrian. The young man had been with the emperor when he visited Lepcis Magna in 128; he was nineteen years old when he died in Egypt in 130. Like the first statue, it is now in the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli. The central one, Asclepius, is in the museum of Lepcis; it may be identical to the statue dedicated by Rusonianus mentioned above.

The photo to the left shows one of the capitals of the columns in this part of the Hadrianic Baths. They are first-rate quality, and not everybody who admired them had the best of all possible intentions.

Columns from the Hadrianic Baths, now on the beach. Photo Marco Prins.
For example, between 1686 and 1708, the French consul in Tripoli, Claude Lemaire, took away several cipollino columns. Much of it was reused when the palace of Versailles was built, a part was donated to Windsor Palace near London, but these columns were left behind on the beach.

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© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 29 Feb. 2008
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