The Terme di Caracalla is one of the nine Rome museums / archaeological sites that may be visited using the Rome Archaeological pass. Below is some background information.
The Terme di Caracalla, or ‘baths of Caracalla’ are the only legacy in Rome of this little known and little lamented emperors. This beautiful site inspired Shelley to write one of his major works, and has latterly become a marvellously atmospheric venue for al fresco opera.
Caracalla was one of the lesser Roman emperors, and little missed after his premature death in 217AD at the age of just 31. Proclaimed joint emperor with his brother at the age of 25, upon the sudden death of his father, the Emperor Septimius Severus, he promptly had his sibling murdered and assumed sole power.
Having killed Publius Septimius Antoninius Geta, he then worked his way through his brother’s supporters. His dictatorial grip on power was assisted by his support within the army. His father had told him to ‘mind the soldiers and ignore everyone else’, and the wily Caracalla boosted legionaries’ pay (though he did so by debasing the silver content in Roman coins by 25 per cent).
The emperor was mocked for his pretensions and cowardice, fleeing a sea battle with the Britons. His response was brutal, on one occasion slaughtering 20,000 citizens of Alexandria, because the city hosted a satire pricking the emperor’s claims. By the end even the army had had enough, and Caracalla was assassinated while on a campaign in Turkey. His assassin was one of his closest attendants, and his replacement Marcrinus … head of the Praetorian Guard. The army had turned on their protector.
But Caracalla did build the public baths (or thermae) in Rome, a valuable centre of social interaction (as well as public hygiene). The baths were raised between 212 and 216 AD, and have become a popular tourist attraction by virtue of their excellent state of preservation. You have to exercise your imagination with the ruins in the Forum, but the Baths of Caracalla give an excellent sense of the scale and grandeur of the Roman public buildings.
The social function of the thermae is evidenced by the fact that the complex of buildings had a public library within the complex — with one building for Greek language texts and one for Latin language texts, as was the custom.
The baths have inspired a succession of creative talents in recent centuries. In 1819, Percy Shelley was moved to write Prometheus Unbound after a trip to the Baths of Caracalla. And In the early twentieth century, the design of the baths was employed by the architect Charles McKim as his inspiration in the design of Pennsylvania Station in New York City.
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