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Regio III - Insula X - Terme dei Sette Sapienti (III,X,2)

The Baths of the Seven Sages form an entity with the Caseggiato degli Aurighi and the Caseggiato del Serapide (III,X,1 and 3). These two buildings are to the north and south of the baths, that are therefore not directly accessible from a main street. Vestibule 2, with benches, was reached from the Building of Serapis.

The room of the Seven Sages

The building was named after the paintings in room 5. Most of the walls of this room belong to a pre-existing building from the late-Flavian period (Domitianus). The paintings belong to the Hadrianic or early-Antonine period. The "seven Greek sages" are depicted, who all lived around 600 BC. Their names and city of origin are painted in Greek next to them:
SOLÒN ATHÈNAIOS ("Solon of Athens")
THALÈS MEILÈSIOS ("Thales of Milete")
[Bias] PRIÈNEUS ("[Bias] of Priene")
(Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mitylene, and Periander of Corinth have not been preserved).

Humorous, ironic texts in Latin refer to activity in the latrine:
VT BENE CACARET VENTREM PALPAVIT SOLON ("Solon rubbed his belly to defecate well")
DVRVM CACANTES MONVIT VT NITANT THALES ("Thales recommended that those who defecate with difficulty should strain")
VISSIRE TACITE CHILON DOCVIT SVBDOLVS ("The cunning Chilon taught how to flatulate unnoticed")
Below Solon is the text:
IVDICI (?) | OR(di)NA (?)
Below Thales we read:
VERBOSE TIBI | NEMO | DICIT DVM PRISCIANV(s) | (?) (u)TARIS XYLOSPHONGIO NOS | (? a) QVAS ("No one gives you a long lecture, Priscianus, as long as you use the sponge on a stick ...").

Below the sages the heads have been preserved of people that are probably sitting on a communal latrine (plaster added later and a bench cover the lower part). We can read what they say:
MVLIONE SEDES, PROPERO ("I'm making haste")
AGITA TE CELERIVS | PERVENIES ("Push hard, you'll be finished more quickly")
Above the sages and on the vault are paintings of a flying male figure (perhaps Pan) and of amphorae, one with the word FALERNVM, referring to high-quality Campanian wine, one with the letter M. This suggests that originally the room was a bar, that was obviously visited by well-educated people. In the Antonine period new paintings covered the sages. The room may now have become a destrictarium, a room where athletes cleaned their body with strigiles (scrapers).

Hadrianic and early-Antonine rooms

Hadrianic and early-Antonine masonry is found in rooms 1 and 15-16, in the round hall 7, in rooms 26-33 (rows of piers), and in rooms 34-36. These rooms may have had a commercial function and according to Heres the large, circular hall 7 may originally have been a market (macellum). This hall was covered by a cupola in antiquity. On the floor is a black-and-white mosaic with a diameter of 12 metres. Depicted are vegetative elements and hunting scenes with fifteen hunters. The mosaic has been dated to c. 130 AD, c. 150 AD, and to the Severan period. At some point in time the hall became a frigidarium, with a basin in room 4 to the north. In the rooms to the east of hall 7 are remains of paintings with vegetative motifs. In room 6 are remains of a polychrome wall-mosaic.

Plan of the building. Heres 1992, fig. 1.

The first bathing rooms

Rooms 41-44 are the oldest rooms of which it is certain that they were built as part of baths. They were erected during the reign of Antoninus Pius, c. 140 AD. Hall 42, a caldarium, had basins in three recesses, covered by barrel vaults. Between the recesses was a cross-vault. Rooms 41, 43, and 44 were used for heating air (but 43 may originally have been a caldarium).

Rooms built in the early third century

Rooms 19-24, basins 23 and 25, and underground room 40 belong to the early third century. These rooms may have replaced earlier bathing rooms. On the floor of vestibule 19 is a black-and-white mosaic with the depiction of a naked man and the text:

IVLI CARDI H(ic) C(onspicitur) E(ffigies)

"Here one sees Iulius Cardo". He was probably the caretaker of the baths. It has been suggested that room 20 was an apodyterium, but on the walls are heating-pipes. In tepidarium 21 is a black-and-white mosaic with amorini, Nereids, and marine monsters. Room 22 was another tepidarium, room 24 a caldarium. To the east is service corridor 9.

To the west of corridor 27 is frigidarium 26, with a large basin. On the back wall is a painting of Venus Anadiomene (emerging from the water), between amorini, fishes, and crustaceans. It has been dated to the Severan period and was probably made by the same artists who painted Europa in the Terme del Faro (IV,II,1). Further Severan paintings can be seen in rooms 28, 29, and apodyterium 30.

[1] See J.N. Adams, Classical Philology 78 (1983), 315.


Room 5, painting of the Seven Sages, general view.
Photograph: Stephan Mols.

Room 5, painting of the Seven Sages.
On the upper part: an amphora and the word FALERNUM.
On the central part: Chilon of Sparta.
On the lower part: a row of men on a communal latrine.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 5, painting of the Seven Sages, Solon of Athens.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 5, painting of the Seven Sages, Thales of Milete.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 5, painting of amphorae, a flying figure (Pan?) and amphorae on the vault.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 6, walls and an arch decorated with a polychrome mosaic.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The round hall 7. Photograph: Laura Maish - Bill Storage.

Room 19.
Mosaic of a man, presumably the caretaker of the baths,
with the text IVLI CARDI H(ic) C(onspicitur) E(ffigies).
Photograph: Eric Taylor.

Tepidarium 21, mosaic of an amorino on a marine monster.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.

Tepidarium 21, mosaic of a marine monster and heating system.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.

Frigidarium 26 with the painting of Venus Anadiomene, seen from the east.
Photograph: Stephan Mols.

Frigidarium 26, detail of the painting of Venus Anadiomene.
Photograph: Laura Maish - Bill Storage.

Room 30, painting of a bucket, a strigilis, a shovel, two small balls,
a large ball with a "net-pattern", and a curved object with rings. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 28, painting of a male figure and garlands.
Photograph: Eric Taylor.

Room 28, painting of a man (an athlete?) and a vessel on a low table.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 28, painting of a naked man (an athlete?).
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room 3, painting of two persons in a boat (top),
and of a man leading two yoked oxen (bottom).
Photograph: Sopr. Arch. di Ostia A1892.

[jthb - 4-Mar-2007; some translations by Michael Gilleland]