What is the significance of the Baths of Caracalla to Archaeology?
The Baths of Caracalla served as the new "ideal" for Roman baths. It could hold over 1,600 people and it allowed the Romans a new place to go. It was one of the grandest and most elaborately decorated buildings within the city limits of Rome and was a place to take visitors to in order to show off the capital. It was also the last major building project undertook in Rome until nearly one hundred years later.
The Romans loved these Baths and frequented them often. As a majority of the major imperial bath complexes have not survived to this day, the Baths of Caracalla give archaeologists a unique view of what the bath complex would have looked like when it was first made. Other bath complexes have been torn down or remodeled in Medieval times into churches, leaving only the Baths of Caracalla as a reminder of the once great bath complexes that dotted the city of Rome. This allows for an excellent area and excavation site to study the architecture, sculpture, and mosaics from the early 3rd Century AD, as the Baths are now conserved and maintained by the city of Rome's archaeology department.
How is this bath complex different from its predecessors?
The Baths of Caracalla differed from its predecessors (the Baths of Nero, Titus, Domitian, and Commodus) by its large scale and imposing facade. The opulence inside was never paralleled in another bath complex, nor in any other major public building with Rome. As so much of the original building is still standing, it allows archaeologists to examine the inner workings of a typical bath complex. While many of the other bath complexes have to be studied from written records, you can go to Rome and examine the Baths of Caracalla up close and personally.
What purpose did it serve in everyday life to the Roman people? Why did Emperor Caracalla commission it?
The Baths of Caracalla were set up by Emperor Caracalla as a good will gesture, trying to ensure them that he cared about the everyday Roman citizen. They served as a propaganda tool, portraying the Emperor as someone who could lead, but who was also in touch with what his people wanted, in this case a new bath complex. Caracalla also wanted to ensure peace in Rome and wanted the people's support after he had just killed his brother, the co-emperor. In setting up the Baths, Caracalla projected to the Romans an image of peace and tranquility, where all people could come and bathe together. He also wanted to dissuade those who wanted to possibly murder him (for revenge for the death of Geta) by making himself popular with the people. It also helped to preserve Caracalla's name, for he died too quickly to leave any other major building with which to remember him.
Why was it built where it is built?
The Baths of Caracalla are on the outskirts of the southeastern part of the city, near the Circus Maximus and the imperial Palace. This area underwent mass construction during the reign of Caracalla's father, Septimius Severus, and so Caracalla completed the architectural landscape with the Baths. Thus, Caracalla marked this area of Rome as "Severan" territory. There are also no major bath complexes nearby, so this was a new area to attract visitors from. Plus, it was located near several major roadways, the Via Appia for example, which would allow visitors from outside of the city easy access to the entertainment of the baths. In addition, the location on the outskirts of the city allows the Baths greater access to the aqueducts for water, making sure that the water is fresh and clean from the mountain springs. More importantly though, there was simply no room closer to the center of the city for a building as large as the Baths of Caracalla were. The location on the edge of town allowed the architect to do what he wanted without fear of space constrictions. The location worked out for the best, and we now have the great Baths of Caracalla to admire for thousands of years in the future.
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