Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Swimming in Ancient Rome: Caracalla and Pompeii


"Swimming was one of the favourite activities of Roman boys, and it was widely practiced in the Tiber River, next to the Campus Martius. Most Roman baths were also equipped with plunge pools, in which swimming was enjoyed. There are some accounts of women who knew how to swim in ancient times." (this website)

Julius Caesar was famous for his swimming ability.

Swimming was part of boys' education, and the Romans built the first swimming pools separate from bathing pools. 

"The first heated swimming pool was built by Gaius Maecenas of Rome in the 1st century BC. 

The Baths of Caracalla and other baths built by the Romans were enormous, but the swimming tanks set aside for actual swimming were very small (although the frigidarium at Caracalla was about 200 x 100 feet).

Those at Pompei were only 13 metres wide, and Cicero complained that he needed a wider pool to avoid hurting his hands against the wall.

- From: Breakthrough Swimming by Cecil M Colwin:

The Baths of Caracalla in Rome

Below: The Baths of Caracalla (multimedia reconstruction and aerial plan)


Piero and me at the Baths of Caracalla in January 1984. In the summer of 1992 we went to see a performance of Aida there.




According to Wikipedia, Caracalla was built between 212 and 216 AD under the reign of Emperor Caracalla. They also incorporated a library with two separate and equal sized rooms: one housing Greek langauge texts, and the other Latin language texts.

 They were the inspiration for the design of Pennsylvania Station in New York City.

Ancient Pompei - the Stabian Baths

For detailed information about these baths, click here.


There was a pool measuring 13m x 8m and 1.5 m deep. On either side were shallow basins where athletes could wash prior to entering the pool

The Palaestra (a series of small rooms containing baths), with a swimming pool in the middle:


Own photo taken on visit 30 May 2008


Photo taken 30 May 2008



The plan of the baths above is from this website. "V" represents the pool, "S" the Palaestra. 
Other features of the complex: 
A: main entrance on Via Abbondanza
B: secondary entrance off Via Stabiana
C: ?
D and E: original entry to women's baths (no access to palaestra)
F: an entrance
G: an entrance
H: an entrance
I to N: Men's baths
I: small annexe of apodyterium
J: Vestibule to men's baths
K: Changing room (apodyterium)
L: Tepidarium (warm room)
M: Caldarium (hot room)
N: Frigidarium (cold room)
O: ?
P: Tepidarium women's baths
Q: Caldarium women's baths
R: ambulatory goving entrance to women's baths
T: dressing room for the pool complex
U and W: wash rooms for swimmers
X: Locker room for players of a game resembling ninepins
Y: Latrines
Z: Individual bathing rooms

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