The Capito Thermae are a Roman bath complex. A donor’s inscription reveals that the bath was built at the behest of Cnaeus Vergilius Capito, a high-ranking Roman soldier from Miletus who became the governor of Asia during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41–54 CE). This dates the Capito Thermae to the middle of the first century CE. The public complex is accessible through the rear of the Ionian Hall in the west and from the north and south. All 3 entrances lead to the palaestra, a columned forecourt used for athletics training. The palaestra consisted of a courtyard with a width of 40 meters and a length of 38 meters, surrounded by columns (peristyle). On the eastern side of the peristyle, there was a semicircular swimming pool (natatio). A representative 2-story facade adjoined the natatio to the east. Its ornamental design consists of a tabernacle facade, with 2 columns each sharing a gable to form a tabernacle, and an open gable created on the middle axis of the facade by the wider distance between the columns.
The actual bath complex is located behind the tabernacle facade. A door in the middle of the tabernacle facade led to the warm bath section and a square room, which was either a vestibule, a thermae hall or a changing room (apodyterium). The 2 rooms to the north of this section were also accessible from the peristyle, and they may well have been changing rooms, too. Two further large halls were located on the same axis as the aforementioned room. The first, referred to as the hypocaust hall, had several wall niches. It is likely that they either contained water basins or statues. To the north and south of the western hypocaust hall, there were 2 more small hypocaust halls. The southern one was connected to a changing room, which suggests that this hall was only moderately heated. If this was indeed the case, the room was a tepidarium or unctuarium: a transition zone for people moving from the warmer hypocaust hall to the unheated changing room. The eastern hypocaust hall was the larger of the 2 and used as a caldarium. It also had several niches. Most of them contained warm-water basins allowing visitors to take a sitting bath. Another niche in the southeastern part of the room revealed a passageway leading to a lower warm-water basin with a hypocaust floor. The round laconicum containing another warm-water pool was accessible through a southwestern niche. A laconium is the warmest room of a thermal complex; it is used as a steam bath. The Capito Thermae, then, had multiple warm bathing sections (tepidaria and caldaria) but lacked the otherwise commonplace cold bathing sections (frigidaria). Much like in modern spas, the complex had various heating ducts and maintenance rooms that were off limits to visitors. These contained water reservoirs amongst other equipment. At first, the reservoirs of the bath complex used to be fed from bucket wells. It was only after the construction of the Nymphaeum Aqueduct in 79/80 CE that thermae began to be connected to urban aqueducts.
The Capito Thermae were the first bath and gymnasium complex with an axisymmetric layout.
Text: Caitlin Bamford
A. von Gerkan – F. Krischen, Thermen und Palaestren. Mit Beiträgen von F. Drexel, K. A. Neugebauer, A. Rehm und T. Wiegand, Milet 1,9 (Berlin 1928).
K. Tuchelt, Bemerkungen zu den Capito-Thermen in Milet, in: A. M. Mansel (ed.), Mansel’e Armağan. Mélanges Mansel (Ankara 1974), S. 147 – 169.
P. Schneider, in: P. Niewöhner, Milet/Balat. Städtebau und Monumente von archaischer bis in türkische Zeit. Ein Führer (Istanbul 2016), S. 64 – 67.