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Rome: Baths of Agrippa

The Basilica of Neptune. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Basilica of Neptune. 
Baths of Agrippa: bathhouse near the Pantheon, built by Agrippa, the right-hand man of the emperor Augustus.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/63-12 BCE) was a close friend of the emperor Augustus, who ruled Rome between 27 BCE and 14 CE. In 33, the two men started a large building project to improve the quality of life in the city of Rome. It was probably financed with the spoils of the Dalmatian war (35-34) and it was supervised by Agrippa, who occupied the office of aedile. The project received a new boost when Agrippa occupied the consulship in 27 and was finished in 25. One of the main buildings was the Pantheon, which is not identical to the current building with that name, because this is a later building phase from the age of the emperor Hadrian (117-138).

South of to the Pantheon was a rectangular hall that measured about 46 x 19 meters; on the first photo, you see the northern wall, which is attached to the southern wall of the Pantheon., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Central apse of the Basilica of Neptune. Photo Jona Lendering.
Central apse of the Basilica of Neptune.

The brickwork shows that it dates back to the time of Hadrian, but its depth -2 meters below street level- proves that this brickwork goes back to the age of Agrippa. It is the Basilica of Neptune, called after the god of the sea. His statue must have stood in the central apse.

Agrippa had good reasons to be grateful to this deity, because he had risen to fame and power after he had won several naval engagements, including the battles of Mylae and Naulochus in 36 against Sextus Pompeius, and the naval battle of Actium against Marc Antony and queen Cleopatra VII Philopator of Egypt (31). In the first of these battles, the last republican resistance had been overcome; in the third one, Agrippa had gained the unchallenged monarchy for his friend Augustus.

Decoration of the Basilica of Neptune. Photo Jona Lendering.
Decoration of the Basilica of Neptune.

The decoration of the basilica contains all kinds of sea motifs. You can see shells, leaping delphins, and Neptune's tridents. There are also acanthus leaves and palmettes, which are traditional motifs.

It is not known for what purpose the Basilica of Neptune was built. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 80.

Remains of the Baths of Agrippa. Photo Jona Lendering.
Remains of the Baths of Agrippa.

The emperor Hadrian incorporated the Basilica of Neptune into the Baths of Agrippa or Thermae Agrippae, which are now almost completely invisible, except for this curving wall of brick, that once supported a cupola with a diameter of 23 meters. It is in the Via dell' Arco della Ciambella, and here you can see a satellite photo.

Although built by Agrippa, this was one of the first "imperial" bathhouses, because Augustus of course paid for its construction. The Baths of Agrippa, which measured about 90 x 120 meters, were finished in 19 BCE.

The Apoxyomenos of Lysippus. Copy in the Vatican Museums. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Apoxyomenos (Vatican Museums)

It is known that there was a large open air swimming pool south of the Baths of Agrippa. The Roman author Pliny the Elder tells that among the many statues that decorated the splendid monument was the famous Apoxyomenos of Lysippus:
It was dedicated by Marcus Agrippa in front of his Baths. [The emperor] Tiberius also much admired this statue [...] and removed the Apoxyomenos to his bedroom, substituting a copy. But the people of Rome were so indignant about this that they staged a protest in the theater, shouting "Bring back the Apoxyomenos!" And so despite his passion for it, Tiberius was obliged to replace the original statue.
[Natural history 34.62;
tr. J.F. Healy]
The Baths of Agrippa were destroyed by fire in 80, restored by Hadrian, and restored a second time in 344-345 by the emperor Constans.

Another article is here.

Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2005
Revision: 19 April 2011
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