Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Everyday life: leisure activities, food and dining, clothing, health, baths, water supply and sanitation


Few people had private bathing facilities.

A number of public baths have been discovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

A visit to the baths was a social occasion. See p134-5 for sources relating to activities within the baths.

  • Stabian Baths (oldest)
  • Forum Baths
  • Central Baths (under construction at the time of the eruption)
  • Sarno Baths
  • Suburban Baths (Just outside Porta Marina)
  • Baths of Marcus Crassus Frugi – known from an inscription – these have not been located.

  • Forum Baths
  • Suburban Baths

Features of a bathing complex:
  • Different sections for men and women or different bathing hours for each gender.
  • Vaulted ceilings, walls and ceilings decorated in stucco, floors in mosaics.
  • Various rooms:
    • Apodyterium – changing and waiting room with niches
    • Frigidarium – circular cold bath
    • Tepidarium – warm room for transition from hot to cold and vice versa – laconium sometimes off the tepidarium
    • Caldarium – hot room, rectangular heated bath (alverus – could hold ten people, marble) and large circular basin (labrum) for cold water. Heating was provided by a hypocaust system.
  • An exercise area.
  • Stabian and Forum Baths in Pompeii and Forum Baths in Herculaneum had public toilets
  • Heating system - furnaces provide heat, heated air is sent through a hypocaust system to the caldarium and sometimes the tepidarium

Pompeii – Forum Baths

Note: the plan on page 132 is of the Forum Baths in Pompeii NOT Herculaneum.

Links: Soprintendenza di Pompeii; images at Pompeiiinpictures; the Pompeii Forum Project has a plan and set of videos

  • Built around 80 BC by Lucius Caesius (duovir) and Caius Occius and Lucius Niraemius (aediles) according to two inscriptions
  • Uncovered in 1824
  • Only baths in operation at the time of the eruption in AD 79 as they had been repaired quickly after the earthquake of AD 62
  • Separated into men and women’s section; the men’s section was much larger and more ornately decorated
  • Palaestra in men’s section
  • Three entrances to the men’s section: Via delle Terme, Via del Foro, Vicolo delle Terme


  • Had vaulted ceiling with stucco decorations, little of which remains
  • Walls didn’t contain recesses, so clothes were probably stored in a pile on the benches
  • Pavement of white mosaic with black band around edges

  • Round room with dome skylight
  • Walls decorated with stucco friezes and pictorial representations of gardens and cupids

  • Attractive room, ornamented with stucco panels along the ceiling of mythological scenes such as Eros with his bow, Apollo riding a griffin and Ganymede carried off by the eagle
  • Series of recesses along the walls, framed by terracotta Atlases, with entwining plant motifs also decorating walls
  • Large bronze brazier in the centre, that heated the entire room, decorated with insignia of donor Marcus Nigidius Vaccula who also donated three bronze seats, decorated with cow heads

  • Constructed so warm air could circulate to heat the entire room
  • Stucco roof
  • End wall features labrum in the centre
  • Labrum was provided in 3 - 4 AD
  • Alverus on opposite side


forum_baths_herculaneum_small.jpgHerculaneum – Forum Baths

Men’s Section
A Apodyterium
B Frigidarium
C Tepidarium
D Caldarium

Women’s Section
E Waiting room
F Apodyterium
G Tepidarium
H Caldarium

Note: the plan on page 132 is of the Forum Baths in Pompeii NOT Herculaneum.

  • Built around 10 BC
  • Women’s section was smallest and least decorated, but has best preserved structure
  • Palaestra in men’s section
  • Figures of fish decorated vaulted ceiling of frigidarium

Women's section - apodyterium
The floor is decorated with a mosaic of Triton and sea creatures.

Women's section - tepidarium

Women's section - caldarium

Men's section - entrance and palaestra

Men's section - apodyterium

Men's section - frigidarium

Men's section - tepidarium
Floor mosaic of "galloping triton" - hypocaust can be seen at the base of the walls.

Men's section - caldarium