In Antioch and its hinterland during late antiquity, Christian leaders frequently attacked baths and the activities that took place within them. Despite efforts to anathematize their use and to discourage their construction, baths remained important social and civic fixtures in both large cities and in semi-rural settlements continuously into the Islamic period. This survival, documented in archaeological and literary sources, offers a means to trace divergent attitudes towards their roles against their changing physical forms. Baths could be understood as places of luxury, yet also in early Christian perspectives understood by the evils produced by their excesses, while their construction could commemorate local civic patronage. Yet it is the notion of bathing as a means to promote hygiene and healing that survived to become dominant, adopted as the primary feature of baths in hagiographic texts in the fifth and sixth centuries, and further echoed in the physical transition into new smaller, more austere forms.
Although some of the most ubiquitous and important public (and publicly accessible) buildings in the Roman world, baths played host to tensions derived from the various social and cultural roles they performed as locations that could promote ostentatious luxury and leisure, affirm social connections, or were more practically understood to improve health or offer relief to those afflicted with various maladies.1 Contemporary sources portrayed these varying aspects as often at odds or least in opposition, a situation further complicated by the rise of Christian attitudes in the late fourth and fifth centuries, when new modes of living and increased value on characteristics such as modesty, chastity, and the care for the poor became the rallying cry for many. These new ideals were epitomized in the writings of monastic and ecclesiastical leaders and authors, who frequently attacked bathing as a feminizing and anti-ascetic activity, and baths themselves as centers for immoral behavior.
Despite the fervent drive by members of the church to anathematize the social use of baths and to discourage their construction, they remained important social and civic fixtures during this period. In Antioch and its Syrian hinterland (composed of suburban communities, towns, and semi-rural settlements), archaeological and epigraphic evidence supports their continued function and value from the fourth century continuously through the Islamic period. Even during the ninth and tenth centuries, when the reports of visitors to Antioch mentioned many details of a city in decay, describing the sparse population and urban orchards, they also commented on the existence of baths in the city and the continued practice of bathing, even through the period of Crusader rule. This survival of an initially Hellenistic and Roman practice into the later Byzantine and Islamic periods is not unique, but the documentation in literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources on baths and bathing offers a rich template to study this cultural transition in the post-Roman Mediterranean.
For Antioch and its hinterland in particular, the exceptional literary sources on bathing practices and the archaeological evidence of baths, along with accounts of the baths’ construction and use across late antiquity, demonstrate a convergent evolution of the changing forms of the bath and perception of its role in society.2 Late Roman baths were commonly portrayed not only as valuable locations of healing and health, but also places of luxury and leisure, where business could take place and social boundaries could be tested, while their opulence, well-attested archaeologically, was often a product of imperial or civic euergetism (private baths and those attached to the most opulent homes not withstanding). On the other hand, Christian perspectives on baths in the homilies and letters of monks and bishops in late antiquity were predominantly negative and focused on the possibilities for baths to encourage social transgressions and moral laxity; nevertheless, many also at times promoted their role in hygiene and healing, a traditional use almost universally understood even in Greek antiquity.3 For example, as part of an arsenal of healing locations used by holy men and women, a specifically medical function of bathing was adopted as the dominant feature of baths in hagiographic texts in the fifth and sixth centuries. This status and function seemed to have been echoed in the smaller, more austere baths being constructed in this period, some with inscriptions detailing their position in the care of the sick and maintenance of well-being in the community.
Baths were certainly not the only “classical” institutions affected and transformed by the changing values, Christian and otherwise, in late antique Antioch. For example, the Antiochene Olympics, secured by the city in the early third century following two centuries of quadrennial games, survived into the sixth century as the sole remnant of Greek athletic competition. The last was celebrated under the emperor Justin I in 520, following earlier bans that had temporarily prohibited contests (often temporarily).4 The ultimate abandonment of Antioch's Olympics was at least in part a symptom of the crises Antioch suffered following 520, including fires, earthquakes, and the sack of the city by the Persians, but was also a reflection of changing attitudes towards athletic contests. This change was well underway in the fourth century, when games were considered “spectacles” rather than festivals accompanied by competitions (with pagan religious overtones), attitudes that diminished their traditional value, and as sites of popular entertainment they were seen to encourage a range of vices objectionable to Christians, inciting the invectives of those also critical of baths for the same reasons.5
Focusing primarily on the example of Antioch and its hinterland, this study seeks to explore the coexistence of multiple perspectives on baths, as unlike games and the locations that held them, they overcame Christian objections because of the alterative benefits they provided and remained important in both urban and semi-rural settlements. In fact, while ideas promoting baths as objects for the display of ostentatious wealth or as locations for relaxation or transgression diminished, those that supported their function in health survived, which led to changes visible in both the form of the bath and the many acceptable facets of its social function. These elements proved essential for their survival and continued use during a period in which Christianity rose to dominance and new economic realities transformed baths and the culture of bathing from late Roman luxury to maligned wickedness to medicinal remedy, and at times simultaneously all three.
JOHN CHRYSOSTOM AND CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TOWARDS BATHING
Of the Antiochene religious leaders who decried baths and bathing culture, the most notable and extensive was John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), from whom a wide range of writings and sermons illuminate the bathing practices of Syria and Antioch. Chrysostom's own concepts of their value and function were notably organized in the proto-hagiographic work composed by his followers shortly after his death. Palladius of Galatia wrote the Dialogue on the Life of John Chrysostom in response to the saint's exile at the hands of the Patriarch of Alexandria, bishops of Asia Minor, and the clerical and aristocratic elite of Constantinople.6 By this time, Chrysostom had already left a sizable mark on Constantinople, Antioch, and monastic communities across the East, and as one of Chrysostom's most fervent followers, Palladius carried on his legacy and directed his Dialogue primarily against the inherent evils of unchecked ecclesiastical power (and the men who had disgraced his master), while addressing in a more general way the spiritual values of a moderate and monastic lifestyle following in the same vein as his Lausiac History.7
Within the Dialogue's history of Chrysostom's career and admonitions to lead a spiritual monastic life, Palladius nestled specific details on the best ascetic practices, and in particular on the role of bathing and use of bathhouses for a wide range of groups, including nuns and widows, bishops, and members of the Christian community in general. In Palladius’ narrative, Chrysostom advocated the position that baths were places to be avoided by those seeking to maintain their ascetic lifestyle, the same attitude echoed in the first chapter of Palladius’ Lausiac History, in which he praised the monk Isidore, who at his death had “never had a bath.”8 Following this paradigm, Palladius's Chrysostom admonishes nuns found to be fond of carnal delights and other misconducts and urges them to practice fasting and, naturally, to abstain from entering bathhouses.9 Olympias, one of Chrysostom's patrons in Constantinople and used as his model of how an aristocratic woman might lead a virtuous life, was said to have “rarely ever bathed,” and when she did as a remedy for stomach illness she bathed clothed, dressed in a short chiton.10 It was not just the bathhouse as a location itself, but the construction of baths in lieu of charity that inflamed Palladius. The “Bishop” of Palladius’ Dialogue denounced the construction of extravagant additions to buildings by materialistic bishops, who “waste the money of the poor on hanging corridors, and water-cisterns raised into the air three stories high, and disreputable baths, hidden from sight, for effeminate men.”11
What becomes apparent in the descriptions of baths in the works of Palladius is the complexity of social rules and practices surrounding them for Christians of the fourth and fifth centuries. While the one redeeming factor of baths may have been the healing properties they were believed to convey as a carryover from Hellenistic and Roman medical practices, baths otherwise bore a negative connotation as locations that reduced sanctity (either through flagrant nudity, the mixing of the sexes, the feminization of men, the excesses of leisure, the vanity of public displays of wealth in their construction, or any possible combination of these facets). Moreover, in instances of baths built as showcases for prestige or demonstrations of wealth, the euergesitic practice of supporting and constructing them was equated to the abandonment of the poor.12 These ideas, although found in Chrysostom's own writings, distilled in Palladius's Dialogue, and common also in the writings of other sermonists and ethical commentators, were not entirely universal. The value of baths as important public spaces within both semi-rural environments and cities, built by and maintained through civic euergetism and the desire to offer health to the members of the community, is unambiguous in the archaeological evidence. The continued construction of baths throughout late antiquity and the historical and hagiographic sources on their use demonstrate the continued importance of these buildings and institutions they support.
BATHS AND BATHING AS SECULAR ACTIVITY IN ANTIOCH
The changing status of bathing in Antioch in the fourth century can be surveyed through two sources: a documentary papyrus record from Egypt from the beginning of the century, and the literary output of Libanius at the end. Together, these describe baths as a late Roman might understand them: places of popular leisure and business, and core locations of civic pride and social engagement, operated by the wealthy as a sign of status, as examples of the largess of civic government, or as private entrepreneurial enterprises.13 These functions may be reflected in the depictions of baths in the fifth-century mosaic from Yakto (a suburb of Antioch), which features a detailed cityscape as the border to a scene known as the Megalopsychia Hunt incorporating baths, both public and private, as active civic spaces.14
In the early 320s, a scholasticus and businessman named Theophanes, a Greek-speaking Egyptian and local public figure from Hermopolis, travelled on a six-month business trip that ultimately led him to Antioch. Theophanes was exceptionally well-connected and travelled “as a spokesman for his city or province, chosen for his prestige and connection to represent his constituents before the imperial authorities.”15 Although the specific purpose of his venture does not survive in the many reports that he produced documenting the trip, the receipts and lists detailing his spending allow a great deal of insight into the everyday enterprises of an early fourth-century traveler, including the goods, clothes, and essentials he took with him, the purchasing of meals and consumables on the road, and of course his trips to the baths.16 In the two and a half months Theophanes was in Antioch, he went to the baths at least eight times, almost once a week. The receipts note that on at least three occasions he went to the bath with a man named Antoninus, who was also a frequent lunch companion and may have been as, John Matthews suggests in his comprehensive study of the records of the journey, “a working colleague from the ranks of the judicial or financial administration” in Antioch.17 Theophanes’ bathing activities also seem to have been connected with meals and, given the company, likely involved both business meetings and leisure pursuits. For the men in these financial accounts, baths were primarily social venues tied to the reinforcement of personal and professional relationships.18
Additionally, a key point relevant to understanding the access to baths gathered from the records from Theophanes’ trip to Antioch is the variety of costs associated with bathing. Going to the baths was inexpensive, with the reports indicating that the entrance fees varied between 100 and 300 drachmas (as reference, a loaf of “fine bread” was 100 drachmas, equal to two copper nummi, the smallest denomination of currency in the fourth century). Even adding the additional costs for soap (100 or 200 drachmas) and niter (100 drachmas and used in conjunction with soap), an afternoon spent at the bath would still be a reasonable expenditure.19 The fact that the baths visited by Theophanes had different entrance fees may reflect the variety of establishments (private luxury baths, public large baths) operating in Antioch and the growing commercialization of bathing establishments.
The variety of baths in the city is further supported with the evidence from the excavations of six baths during the 1930s by the Princeton-led team (labeled A-F by the excavators) along with two baths that have been recently identified, as well as the depiction of two baths in the Yakto mosaic with its visual itinerary depicted along the border.20 Two different baths appear in this frame, the first a large elegant structure with white columns and a figure standing in the doorway labeled τὸ δημόσιν (δημόσιον) (the same term used to designate public baths found in Libanius in the late fourth century), and the other a smaller building with tiled roof and two domes, τόν πρίβατον Αρδαβυρίου, the private or commercial bath of Ardabourius.
Whether private or public, the function of the baths as loci for the building of personal and professional relationships was echoed in the correspondence of Libanius, in which he frequently described his closest friends and colleagues as his bathing companions. In a letter of introduction written for his friend Clematius and delivered to Jovianus, a senior notarius in the imperial court in Milan in the winter of 355/6, Libanius described his closeness to Clematius in terms of their shared activities: “we could ride together, inseparable, visiting the authorities and the baths, both those in town and the one in the suburbs [of Antioch]—you've heard of it, that large, beautiful bath with which Datianus beautified our city.”21 In Libanius's lament to the orator Themistius of 362, the loss of amity in the latter's correspondence became a rejection of the relationship built in the baths: “However, you were eager, it seems, to show that the man who has, if nothing else, frequently gone to the public baths with you was more worthless than Melitides.”22
The importance of baths for the citizens of Antioch was further captured in other works of Libanius, who made his career as the city's most important teacher and rhetor. Even though Antioch had private baths and imperially sponsored baths, the local community baths were especially important. In his eleventh oration, the Antiochikos, Libanius stressed the role that these baths played in strengthening the bonds within the city, especially involving those who become responsible for their upkeep: “Accordingly every district of the city outfits baths with their own decorations surpassing their own name. They are more beautiful by far than the public baths, just as they are smaller in size than the public baths, and there is much competition between those living in the districts about which one has the most beautiful.”23 Here, the local bath (ἰδιωτικός) was a point of pride for the citizens of Antioch, even if the maintenance of public baths among other community expenses, such as lighting, was a burden for members of the city council.24 The financial burden of upkeep and maintenance of baths could be offset by the fees collected for their use; for example, a recent study of the Liber Pontificalis identified that not only was a bath in Antioch part of the gifts of property given to the martyrium of Saint Peter in Rome by the Emperor Constantine, but it was also given so that its modest annual income could support the Church.25
Beyond the local baths, the value of the bathhouse as a civic institution was so great in Antioch and other major cities that imperial authorities used the closing of baths as a threat or a punishment for the misbehavior of a city's inhabitants. A prime example occurred in the aftermath of a riot in Antioch against taxes newly imposed by Theodosius in 387. Although urban violence was not uncommon in cities, in their fury the Antiochenes had destroyed statues and images of the emperor and his family.26 This event is the focus of orations of Libanius and homilies of Chrysostom, and it is from the latter that part of the punishment inflicted upon the city is preserved: “The emperor shut down the baths of the city and ordered that no one was to bathe…”27
Although he saw the silent suffering of those who most needed the baths for their medical or hygienic effects (people in weak health and women who had recently born children), Chrysostom still used this as a didactic moment, as the closing of the baths provided the chance for redemption for Antiochenes who indulged in the luxurious and frivolous:
“Are you distressed because of these things, my dear? Say now, because of these things it is necessary to rejoice, and to be cheerful, and to agree with the favor granted by the emperor, because his chastisement became correction, and his retribution became retraining, and his infuriation became instruction. But because the baths are closed for us [you are upset]? But it is not an unendurable thing, and those who live delicate, frivolous, and pliant lives are led involuntarily to the love of wisdom.”28
Chrysostom took issue with those who lamented (in unrealistic fashion) the closing of the baths, acting as if they had been without the facilities of the bathhouse for an entire year when it had only been twenty days:
“It is said: “It is impossible to endure without bathing.” Oh you of shameless disposition! Oh you of vulgarity and corruption! How many months have passed, tell me? How many years? You have not been shut out of the baths for even twenty days and so you are excessively distraught and acting hopeless that you act as is you have spent an entire year unwashed?”29
Furthermore, while the city was wracked with crisis, Chrysostom noted that the desire to bathe led some of the more brazen of the city's inhabitants to run down to the Orontes, where they “were having endless fun, behaving licentiously, rejoicing, celebrating with dance, and dragging in women.”30 While the description may include some rhetorical hyperbole, it underscores that for Chrysostom the simple act of bathing for pleasure, even in a river, provokes a sinful response.
BATHING IN NON-URBAN CONTEXTS
The variety of contexts in which Chrysostom describes baths and bathing lends additional insight into the integration of baths into both urban and semi-rural life. While he frequently attacked baths along with games and theatres, outside of large cities the latter two would be rare events lacking dedicated and purpose-built venues. Even for those living beyond the reach of urban life, however, baths were still available and used with enough frequency to warrant Chrysostom's condemnation that “baths make the village people softer, taverns make them more delicate.”31 In the same homily, which begins with an exegesis of Acts 7:54, Chrysostom also criticized the propensity for villages to build baths and markets as opposed to building churches as they should, an argument later echoed by his follower Palladius.
Although the sermon mentioned above has been thought to have been composed in Constantinople, the setting Chrysostom describes suggests it could have been delivered in Antioch, as it has a stronger connection to the region through its descriptions of what are presumably the rural bathhouses of northern Syria.32 The archaeological and epigraphic data from semi-rural baths, including those found at Toprak-en-Narlidja (also known as the Bath of Apolausis based on the mosaic found there) and Jekmejeh within Antioch's hinterland (data originally published in the third volume of the Princeton archaeological reports), and from the towns of the limestone massif within Antioch's sphere of influence, including Brad, Mujleya, Serjilla, North Dana, and Babisqa (where two baths have been identified), demonstrate continuous use and patronage of these institutions from the fourth century into seventh and perhaps beyond.33 The baths at Serjilla feature a mosaic inscription that both gives the date of dedication (473 CE) and evidence of the motivation for constructing baths in extra-urban settlements: “Julianos built this [bath] with his wife Domna, and it holds grace for the entire village and it gives unspeakable happiness, giving honor to the fatherland; but may honor drive out envy and glory always raise you up. The bath was completed in the month of Panamos of the 784th year, the 11th indiction.”34 Here, while promoting the benefits of “grace and happiness” that the bath provides to the community, the inscription also functioned as a monument to the charity, wealth, and status of Julianos and Domna. In this manner, it reminds the readers of the role of baths (offering more than healing), while it simultaneously served to announce the promotion of elite identity through civic euergetism far outside of a major center like Antioch.
CONFLICTING ATTITUDES IN LATE ANTIQUE ANTIOCH
The continued development of the treatment of baths as places relevant to hygiene, both in curative and preventative capacities, and as vehicles for ostentatious display in construction or as tokens of civic pride (such as the bath built by Datianus mentioned by Libanius or that of Julianus in Serjilla), existed in parallel with attitudes that determined baths were places where luxurious pleasures of all sorts could, or continued to, happen. Following their adoption from Hellenistic tradition, baths were viewed frequently with an eye to remedial value. Roman medical writers such as Galen and Celsus prescribed baths for a wide range of ailments, and evidence supports doctors’ practicing medicine inside baths.35 Libanius, who frequently suffered from migraine headaches, often chose a trip to the baths as his typical remedy.36 Nevertheless, because they provided venues for the intersection of a wide spectrum of the social hierarchy, and were locations where nudity was the norm, prostitution was common. Baths also earned their reputation as institutions with variable moral standards, as they were served by members of the lowest social standing.37 The Christian perspective on the evils associated with bathing was explicitly outlined in Clement of Alexandria's Paedagogus (written in the last years of the second century), in which an entire chapter is dedicated to the evils of baths. Baths were disruptive not only in the ostentation and wealth they displayed, but also in the visual and physical access that they allowed (and even encouraged) between the sexes and across social lines:
Common baths are opened for men and women together, and there they strip naked out of a lack of self-control; (from this, as men gaze they begin to lust), just as if their dignity had been washed away in the bath. While the women who are not shameless avoid strangers, they nevertheless bathe with their own servants, and freely strip naked before their slaves, and when they are rubbed clean by them, they give to the one crouching the freedom to lust, to caress without fear.38
While troublesome for women, baths remained problematic for men even for simply attending and washing, as it “softened” bodies that should remain hard from toil. The tension caused by bathing as a feminizing influence for those who work the land also appears in Chrysostom, but baths remained in broader contexts as places bringing “grace and happiness” to entire villages and at times would even serve to benefit the health of monastic communities in the fourth and fifth century.39
This possibly of the Christian acceptance of baths is firmly reinforced in the contemporary hagiography, which reflects the quotidian lives of holy men and women as well as those around them (and serves to make the heroic acts of the saints all the more accessible). Because they display a level of verisimilitude absent in apologist writings, saints’ vitae promote baths as locations for the improvement of health under the correct spiritual supervision, as well as for the demonstration of miraculous events.40 For Antioch in particular, the various baths form the backdrop or even the center stage in a wide range of hagiographic sources, including the miraculae of the Egyptian Daniel of Sketis and the vitae of Symeon the Fool and Symeon the Younger. In opposition to the primarily negative views presented by Chrysostom, these hagiographic accounts stress the charity involved in patronage of baths and caring for the poor, hygienic aspects of bathing, and the bath as a location to display the healing power of the saints.41
One of the miracula associated with Daniel of Sketis encapsulates the charity that bathing and washing (especially of the poor and sick) would allow. Set in the sixth century, the story of Adronikos the Money-Dealer and his wife Athanasia fits many of the tropes of Egyptian ascetic lives, including the rejection of wealth in favor of coenobitic monasticism, female transvestitism, and of course the character of Daniel of Sketis himself.42 The author of this tale, however, opened with Andronikos and Athanasia as wealthy Antiochenes with devout tendencies: he was a money changer and she was the daughter of one, but “for the sake of their love for the poor [four days a week] from evening to morning, Andronikos devoted himself to the bathing of men, and his wife to the bathing of women.”43 The idea that a wealthy couple would bathe the poor both as a medical remedy and as a testament of their spiritual aspirations stems from the use of the term λοῦσμα, a washing, in early Byzantine texts to signify a practice connected to health or hygiene as well as baptism; for example, in the life of Theodore of Sykeon, a nameless priest with a dislocated hip tried to correct it with much λοῦσμα and medications (although without relief).44
In hagiographic narratives, Antioch seems to be at the center of a movement that encouraged the bathing and washing of the poor as means to promote piety and charity. In particular, Syriac sources point to the sixth-century monk (and Monophysite) known as Paul of Antioch, who established this practice first in Antioch and then throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Found in the compilation of the Lives of the Eastern Fathers, the vita of Paul presented a native of Antioch full of religious fervor: “the object of this zeal was to carry poor and old and sick persons by night, and he would take them and bathe and anoint them…”45 Paul found an enthusiastic following, and left to visit “other great cities” to encourage the welfare of the poor, including Constantinople, “Chalcedon, and Nicomedia, and Cyzicus and Prusia and Heraclea…. while he also provided relief and refreshment with every kind of bathing for the poor and the strangers who were present.”46
It is unlikely that Paul of Antioch was the originator of this practice (as the healing aspect of baths had long existed), and beyond the interest of members of monastic communities, the epigraphic evidence from Syria supports the notion that the wealthy were also building baths specifically to aid the health and well-being of the community. So while the abovementioned bath at Serjilla “holds grace for the entire village and it gives unspeakable happiness,” many baths had dedications with similar intentions, perhaps following on the models of Andronikos, Athanasia, and Paul. The bath at Androna (although rather far from Antioch's direct sphere of influence) has an inscription on the lintel above the entrance that declared, “What is the name of this bath? It is ‘Health’ [‘Υγία]. Passing through this doorway, Christ has opened for us the bath of healing.”47 This supports the medical and hygienic perception of baths (and their importance in communities in Syria both large and small). The Androna bath was dedicated around 560 by Thomas, who was, if not an imperial representative, then certainly the most important private individual in the city. He was listed in an inscription celebrating the construction of the kastron in the town the year before.48 Another example from even further south comes from Scythopolis, a city of the Decapolis, which consists of a dedicatory inscription describing baths as being renewed specifically for “those sick with the very grievous disease of leprosy.”49
The importance of the patronage of baths as centers of health was not limited to Christians, however. A letter from Libanius to Aristaenetus noted that “Argyrius (the grandson has the same name as his grandfather) is caring for men's bodies at the baths” without Christian references or mention of spiritual healing, and, as noted above, Libanius himself often sought relief for his frequent headaches in the baths.50 The late fourth-century career of Argyrius aptly highlights the ambiguity of baths between its various guises, and the way in which their support could both fulfill civic responsibilities and demonstrate euergetism while simultaneously addressing the hygienic needs of the community, somewhere between models of civic euergetisim and charity.51 Care for the community, in a way, was also manifest in the other later roles taken by the youngest Argyrius, who as decurion presented chariot races, acted as choregus, and underwrote games.
Beyond the concern of the wealthy for the health of their communities, baths also featured as the location for miraculous healing by saints. In addition, because bodies are exposed in the baths, they also served as places where the results of saintly wonderworking might be put on display. The vita of St. Symeon the Younger, composed in the sixth century and centered on the Antiochene Stylite and his miracles, features a number of different tales grounded in the geography and urban environment of late antique Antioch, and places two episodes in baths which underscore their role in the promotion of divine miracles.
In the first, a scriniarius named Theodore had become afflicted with leprosy and sought out Symeon for a cure.52 After reaching at the top of the mountain outside of Antioch where Symeon resided and finding the saint, the vita reports that “the one selected by God (that is Symeon) raised up his valuable and wonderworking rod, and set his seal upon him and said to him ‘Go to bathe in the bath in the district of Tiberius (which is situated next to the river on the road going to the Miraculous Mountain) and in this bath you will be set free from leprosy.’”53 While the bath “in the district of Tiberius” is unknown outside of this vita, in using what we presume to be a real location and ailments of a typical person, the account fortifies the hygienic aspect of baths, especially in that while the saint sets his seal on Theodore, it is in the bath where he ultimately finds his cure through divine means (and echoing the use of bathing specifically for leprosy from the inscription in Scythopolis).
In the second tale, the role of the baths is not for healing but rather as a location to demonstrate restored health and physical appearance. The protagonist was Virgil, a servant of Ephraim, the Patriarch of Antioch (527–543), who had become ill and was sent to see Symeon.
So after [Symeon] said so many other things, straightaway the man was healthy in every part of his body. Standing up, he leaped around and he walked up and down, prostrating himself, being very glad and praying and stretching up his hands towards the heavens. He went down the road to the bath called the Tiberion and after washing himself, he went running back up, continuing in this way until he made the round trip seven times each day.54 The interval from the slope of the mountain up to that bath was three miles. Finally, after receiving the blessing and returning to the city, he saw that everyone was filled with amazement by what had happened to him, an incredible mark of healing.55
In this episode, the athleticism of the recently-healed Virgil was on display through his repeated runs up the mountain, and while in the baths, his body, now free from ailment, would have been visible to the community as proof of Symeon's divine gifts. The use of a bath to show the miracles of healing (and a healed body) brought on by contact with Symeon is reflected in the shame sometimes felt by bathing with maladies. In the twenty-first miracle associated with St. Artimios, a deacon in Constantinople often “bathed alone in the small hours” and took to “bathing in poorly illuminated baths and during the noon or evening hours” to prevent his disgrace (in the form of ruptured and swollen testicles) “to be seen by anybody.”56 After he visited the shrine of St. Artimios to seek a cure for this unsightly, painful, and dangerous ailment, he returned to the baths where, after entering the hot room with his injury, he exited completely healed.
The power of a bath for health or ritual restoration was not limited to pagans and Christians. Antioch's late antique Jewish population is well attested, as was their use of baths for the purposes of ritual purification, although primarily in attacks against the community by Christian writers. Notable again was Chrysostom, who acknowledged that the practice of Jewish ritual bathing was distinct from the public baths in regards to its greater sanctity (σεμνότερος), but significantly inferior to baptism.57 This notice came in his Instructions to Catechumens, rather than in his homilies against the Jews and Judaiziers, and underscores his discomfort with the positive perceptions of Jewish rituals baths among his Antiochene community early in his career. While evidence supports the continued use of Jewish ritual baths into the sixth century in Antioch, and likely into the medieval period, the ritual aspects would have been suppressed by the ascetic practices of bathing the poor or the use of baths in miraculous cures loaded into Antioch's rich hagiography.58
This beneficial position of baths within the Antiochene and Christian worldview was clearly supported in hagiography such as the vita of St. Symeon the Younger, where they play key roles in divine healing and the demonstration of miracles. The emphasis in the general perception of these public spaces shifted, leaving the views of Palladius and Chrysostom as only representing a narrow and perhaps unsuccessful rejection of baths and what we could consider Roman bathing culture. Nevertheless, the strength of Christian traditions, which called for the necessity of ritual baptism over the possible beneficial and hygienic washing, was manifest in the development of baptisteries, locations dedicated to the practice of the former but perhaps in some way mirroring in form the latter.59 As the notion of baths as luxuries faded and civic euergetism gave way to Christian practices of charity, the main value of a bath as a tool for the restoration of health and maintenance of hygiene drew complementary parallels in both those responsible for their construction (shifting from imperial patronage to local, episcopal, and even monastic support) and in the form they would take, leading to the development and wide-spread appearance of smaller, more austere, bathing complexes.
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF ANTIOCH'S LATE ANTIQUE BATHS
While inscriptions and literature reveal the landscape of conflicting and complementary attitudes towards baths and bathing, the physical variety of the forms of baths is primarily known from a substantially less complete body of evidence: the excavations of Antioch that took place in the 1930s. These excavations were instigated by Charles R. Moray in 1932 and explored not only elements of the core of the ancient city, some under more than 25 feet of soil, but also areas in Seleucia and Daphne on its fringes. The final season concluded in 1939, and reports of the excavations findings were published irregularly through 1972. Much that was excavated remained unpublished and under-studied.60
The excavations revealed six baths in the contexts of the Roman city, one of which was still clearly in use in the sixth century, and dramatic differences in sizes between one of the smallest baths, labeled by the excavators as Bath E, and the largest, Bath C. The contrasts in size as well as in decoration point perhaps to differences both in their use and in the way in which they were funded and maintained. While local sponsorship for neighborhood baths may have been an option, as has been alluded to above in the form of Libanius' description of the neighborhood baths in Antioch and the epigraphic evidence from Androna and Scythopolis, others may have been privately owned and constructed, or imperially sponsored. Yet, the maintenance of baths, and especially the wood needed for heating the water, was a serious expense, and even in the fourth century, the ways in which baths were financially supported had already diverged; beyond the divisions between public (both city and neighborhood) and private, the cost of heating could be obtained from civic funds, from special funds, or by liturgy (a service performed for the public that wealthy citizens, like Argyrius mentioned above, were compelled or obligated to support). These aspects, along with the forms and sizes of the baths themselves, were likely tied to both economic priorities and to changing attitudes over time.
Five of the baths were excavated on what was once an island on the Orontes, which also had housed the imperial palace. Of these baths, the one described as Bath C is the only one that could be typologically defined as “imperial” due to its size, layout, and the date of its construction, and was built through the largess of the emperor [Figure 1].61 Although quite large by Antiochene as well as eastern standards at 3,700 square meters, it was still dwarfed by baths in Rome, like the baths of Diocletian (38,000 sq. m.) or the Thermae Alexandrinianeae of Nero (15,730 sq. m.). Like these Roman baths, however, Bath C had precursors well into the imperial period: a first phase, ending when the bath was destroyed or damaged during the earthquake of 116 C.E.; a second phase, which saw the construction of the building into its full potential; and a third phase, which was seen as reconstructive—stylistic evidence of the mosaics suggests that this final phase can be dated to the latter half of the fourth century, and may perhaps be part of a public building program undertaken after the earthquakes of either 341 or 365.62 Yet beyond this, the large bath would have been significantly expensive to maintain, perhaps a reason why it was not refurbished or seemingly reused in the fifth century.
While Bath C represented a bath with a traditional Roman form and function, other baths were constructed in the fourth century whose forms would survive into the seventh century. The best example is Bath E. This was the most “Syrian” of the fourth-century baths at Antioch, sharing many features with the baths at Dura-Europus and the hammams associated with the “hunting palaces” of the Umayyads.63 While significantly smaller than Bath C, Bath E was well decorated and featured a fully iconographic mosaic floor with intricate labeled figures (mainly nereids and tritons, but also personifications of Egypt, the river Eurotas, Gaia and Aurora) and geometric patterns. These would have been especially brilliant at night when the baths were lit, a practice mentioned in Libanius [Figure 2].64 This type of well-adorned and decorated bath must have been common not only in Antioch itself, but also in the surrounding suburbs, as shown by the mosaics from the bath at Toprak-en-Narlidja featuring personifications of Salvation and Enjoyment (rather than health); many of these baths may have survived until at least the end of the sixth century.65
The best archaeological evidence for the longevity of baths in Antioch was Bath F, which was in use into the sixth century following restoration after the earthquakes of 526 and 528. These earthquakes began a period of intense crises, including fires and the Persian sack of the city in 540. Yet following these earthquakes, which could be especially damaging to baths, Bath F was restored by an imperial functionary celebrated in a mosaic inscription placed in the central hall: “Under Philotheos (?), the great and most glorious… of the East and the all-pervading sacrae largitiones, the public bath… was rebuilt from the foundations, (and a) four-sided colonnaded court was contrived (in it). In the times of the first indiction of the 586th year (537–538 CE).”66 Although Philotheos seemed to have restored the bath to functionality through perhaps his personal largess, the entire structure was not rebuilt and in its new form was both smaller and shabbier than its earlier iteration, notable in the reuse of inscribed stones for the opus sectile (rather than mosaic) floor (Figures 3 and 4).
None of the excavated baths survived into the seventh century, and the large amount of deposition covering many of them indicates the fate of post-Roman Antioch, partially abandoned and left to the alluvial runoff from Mt. Silpius and the annual flooding of the Orontes (with the depth of sediment visible in the general view of Bath F). The city was never completely abandoned, however, as some of the antique churches that survived in the Islamic period can attest.67 While “Roman” baths and “Roman” attitudes of bathing as a luxury both become absent, like the churches, evidence for continuities appear in various ways.
CONTINUITY OF BATHS IN MEDIEVAL ANTIOCH
The picture of baths in Antioch after the calamities of the sixth century and the following Arab conquest in the seventh is dim, especially as the city experienced a demographic decline and lost its prominence to Aleppo. Archaeological evidence from the region suggests that there was continued use and maintenance of baths and especially those that foreshadowed the smaller hammam-style baths constructed in new Islamic settlements, notably in Androna, a small Byzantine settlement south of Aleppo and beyond Antioch's sphere of influence, where the baths likely functioned into the seventh century.68
Baths are still mentioned in Arabic literary sources after the conquest, in sources from the century of Byzantine rule (969–1084), and ultimately in accounts of the Crusader state based in Antioch. Despite the dramatic political and demographic changes in the post-antique city, all note that bathing culture, and the baths supporting it, remain active in the city itself despite its transforming. In an Arabic text presumably dating from the period of Muslim rule before the tenth century, Antioch is described as possessing ten baths, and one that was built near a temple dedicated to Mars, from which “hot water flowed from the mountain… and during the time of the festival people would enter without fee.”69 It seems that not only did thermal baths survive, but that there was still a regular cost to attend them.
During the period in which the city fell again into Byzantine control, Ibn Butlan, an Arabic-speaking Christian from northern Iraq, described a terraced area of the town that contained “baths, and gardens, where beautiful points of view are obtained,” perhaps a reference to the survival of suburbs like Daphne into the eleventh century. His most significant observation (although one which may be subject to rhetorical flourish) was that “in [Antioch] there are hot baths, such as you can find the equal nowhere else in any other town for luxury and excellence; for they are heated with myrtle wood, and the water flows in torrents…”70 The irony was that other near-contemporary descriptions of the city note widespread abandonment and the decay of the civic infrastructure, and that “within this wall [surrounding Antioch] are fields and gardens, mill and pasture lands, and trees.”71 Nevertheless, even later, during the period when Antioch became the capital of one of the key Crusader states (1096–1268), baths still operated and had become integrated into Frankish daily life. Usāmah ibn Munqidh, a noble who lived in close proximity to the crusaders, noted that some Latins chose to incorporate bathing, but did so in their own fashion, including the mixing of sexes.72
Returning to late antiquity and the transition away from the classical models of bathing, the sources from Antioch and the surrounding region offer a window on the role of bathing and the baths themselves during a time when shifts in cultural position and perspective are not uniform. The Roman baths of Libanius, for personal interactions, relaxation, and comfort, existed simultaneously with the feminizing and wicked baths of Chrysostom and the healing baths of the hagiographers, while massive, imperially-constructed baths like Bath C coexisted with smaller neighborhood and private baths, some in a form that lasted for centuries. Because the views of Libanius and Chrysostom give way to the dominant perspective of baths as centers of health, hygiene, and healing, and in their form smaller baths become ascendant, baths and bathing culture survive in these new modes and forms long into the medieval era of the city.