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Regio II - Insula IV - Terme di Nettuno (II,IV,2)

To the east of the theatre are very large baths (c. 67 x 67 metres), today known as the Baths of Neptune. The building was excavated by Lanciani in 1888 and Vaglieri in 1909 and 1910. It is famous because of its black-and-white floor mosaics. The complex replaced baths from the late first century AD. The masonry is clearly Hadrianic, confirmed by brick stamps. Modifications took place in the last decade of the third and in the fourth century.

It is often stated that an inscription in the Vatican Museums belongs to it, documenting baths financed by Hadrian with two million sesterces and finished by Antoninus Pius with additional money and marble. These baths were inaugurated in late December 138 or 139 AD:

PRONEPOS T(itus) AELIVS HADRIANVS ANTONINVS AVG(ustus) PIVS PONTIF(ex) MAX(imus) TRIB(unicia) POTES[tat(e) II co(n)s(ul) II?]
THERMAS IN QVARVM EXSTRUCTIONEM DIVOS PATER SVVS ((sestertios)) XX ((centena milia)) POLLI[citus erat]
The Emperor Caesar, son of the deified Hadrian, grandson of Trajanus Parthicus and great-grandson of the deified Nerva,
Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus, pontifex maximus, wth the tribunicia potestas for the second time, consul for the second time,
delivered the baths for the construction of which his divine father had promised 2,000,000 sesterces,
after adding more money than was wished for and also marble for the entire decoration.

Recent research of the confused reports of the antiquarian digging during which the inscription was found however, strongly suggests that it belongs to the Terme di Porta Marina (IV,X,1-2) in the south of Ostia.

Plan of the baths. After SO I.

The building was entered from the east, through vestibule 1. To the south is a large latrine (2), with a mosaic with a Nilotic scene. At one end is a crocodile chasing a pygmee. In the centre is a river boat, transporting amphorae. Two poles may have supported a canopy. In the centre of the boat are a few remains of a naked figure. Here an erotic scene of a woman and a pygmee may have been depicted. In room 4 is the mosaic that gave the building its modern name: Neptune is depicted in a chariot drawn by hippocampi. He is surrounded by marine creatures: dolphins, tritons, and Nereids on sea-monsters. In the room to the south (3) is a mosaic with Neptune's wife, Amphitrite, on a hippocampus. She is accompanied by Hymenaeus (a winged Eros with a torch, referring to marriage) and tritons. To the north is frigidarium 5, with two basins with niches for statues. In the entrance to the eastern basin are two granite columns. On the floor we see Nereids, tritons and Scylla, striking with an oar. Rooms 7 and 8 are tepidaria, room 9 is a caldarium with two basins. Room 10 was also a caldarium, that was later abandoned. To the north-west and north-east of room 10 are furnaces. In the north-east corner were upper cisterns (16). To the west of the heated rooms is service passage 15.

To the west of the bathing rooms is a large palaestra, surrounded on three sides by a portico with marble columns. In the ground are blocks of travertine, with holes in which apparatus related to sport were attached. In room 12 is a mosaic with naked athletes: two boxers with spiked gloves, two pancratiasts (boxers-wrestlers) and a wrestler have been preserved. The position of the mosaic, next to the palaestra, is significant. Behind the porticus, to the west of the palaestra, is an accentuated room (13). Against the back wall of this room is the base of a statue, probably of Sabina, Hadrian's wife, with the symbols of Ceres. In the north-west corner of the building is latrine 14. Below the palaestra is an older, huge cistern (36 x 26 metres), that was abandoned when the Hadrianic baths were built.

In the transitional room 6 is a later white mosaic with small symbols (see the figure below). These are Christian symbols, for which parallels are known. Becatti suggests that the mosaic may be dated to the second half of the third century or the first half of the fourth ("in un periodo in cui ancora non v'era stato un pieno riconoscimento ufficale della nuova religione, ma il cristianesimo era già profondamente infiltrato nella società romana") (Becatti's full text).

The Christian symbols in room 6 (showing their position). From SO IV, fig. 16.

The Christian symbols in room 6 (not in their original position). From SO IV, fig. 17.

Detail of some of the Christian symbols. Photo: Il Messaggero.

Top row:
  • Grapes (a symbol of heaven).
  • An 8, the number M (the life cycle of the phoenix, referring to the resurrection).
  • Grapes (a symbol of heaven).
  • The Greek letter chi (initial of Christ).
  • A vessel below the letter I (initial of Christ).
  • Swastika with the Greek letter rho (symbol of the cross).
  • A schematic branch of a palm tree.
  • A heart-shaped leaf.
  • Bottom row:
  • The word IESVS, four times.
  • The Greek letter chi (initial of Christ).
  • A cross and the Greek letter chi (initial of Christ).
  • The Greek letters iota and chi (initials of Jesus Christ), a heart-shaped leaf, two black ovals (the number M, the life cycle of the phoenix), the letter R (of resurrectio), a phoenix (referring to the resurrection).
  • The letters RE and LE.

  • Photos

    The palaestra seen from the south-east. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    Room 13 with the statue of Sabina (?), seen from the south-east. Photo: Melissa Sellers.

    Room 4 with the mosaic of Neptune, seen from the south-west. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    Detail of the mosaic of Neptune. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    Detail of the mosaic of Neptune. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    The mosaic of Amphitrite in room 3. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    Frigidarium 5 seen from the south-west. Photo: Klaus Heese.

    Frigidarium 5 seen from the west. Photo: Jan Theo Bakker.

    Frigidarium 5 during the excavation in 1888, seen from the north-west. Photo: Arachne.

    The mosaic of Scylla in frigidarium 5. From SO IV, Tav. CXXXV.

    A triton in frigidarium 5. From SO IV, Tav. CXXXVI.

    The Nilotic scene in latrine 2. From SO IV, Tav. CXVIII.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: general view. Photo: Jan Theo Bakker.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: boxers. Photo: Eric Taylor.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: detail of left boxer.
    Photo: Eric Taylor.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: detail of right boxer.
    Photo: Eric Taylor.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: detail of wrestler. Photo: Eric Taylor.

    Mosaic with athletes in room 12: detail of pancratiasts. Photo: Eric Taylor.

    The cistern below the palaestra. Photo: Jan Theo Bakker.

    A basin to the east of room 16, on the street, seen from the south-east.
    The sloping ramp supported a pipe connected with an upper basin.
    Photo: Daniel González Acuña.

    [jthb - 26-Jul-2020]