Sunday, 18 October 2015

“Fancy popping down to my leisure centre?” - Thermae of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla - part 1

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“Fancy popping down to my leisure centre?”

From what I’ve read of the exploits of Caracalla in northern Britannia, I’m not sure I’d be taking up his offer, mainly because I'd be pretty suspicious about his intentions!

I’ve portrayed him as a nasty piece of work in my teen time travel The Taexali Game, Caracalla being the son of the ancient Roman Emperor Severus who, apparently, was equally harsh on the local tribes of the large swathe of territory which is now named north east Scotland

Caracalla, nickname for Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus, might well have been the one who ordered his legions to decimate the Taexali tribes of the part of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where I currently live.

I call him Caracalla because it’s a lot easier than his full name, though I realise that some writers prefer to name him Antoninus.

The part Caracalla plays in my novel is that of the ‘bloody’ conqueror, his abhorrence of the natives clear and strong, but I’ve also included a ‘fairly predictable, classically anecdotal’ scene to indicate that relations with his father, Severus, weren’t on an amiable footing either.

However, to understand Caracalla’s ambitious drive a little better, I’ve been investigating what he did after the withdrawal of his troops from north east Scotland, his stay there having probably only been for a short few months. According to sources (Cassius Dio) Caracalla went south to Eboracum (York) after Severus, where it’s said he was present at Severus’ death in February AD 211.

I can easily understand Caracalla personally abandoning the unpredictable Scottish weather as soon as possible and only leaving some of his troops to monitor the areas. Though if those troops were the ones that Severus had raised from tribes of southern Britain on his arrival in AD 208, I don’t see those soldiers as being happy with the vagaries of the ‘Taexali’ weather either!

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Back to my topic- the Baths of Caracalla. I’m pretty sure Caracalla had very rudimentary bathing during his Caledonian campaign and that he most likely missed the luxurious baths that Rome had to offer. Perhaps he even dreamed of spectacular baths while he was in northern Britannia, during the time he was denied the decadence of some of those bathing places that he’d frequented in Rome during former years. 

Some sources appear to indicate the idea of building a massive bathing complex was the idea of Septimius Severus, and that the basic planning had been done by him prior to his death in 211. I’ve read (apologies, I can’t remember the source) that Severus sent thousands of ‘Spanish’ captured slaves to Rome, to level the ground for the foundations of the baths. If true, then the building timescale of the spectacular Baths of Caracalla would make more sense, regarding the huge man power necessary to build the structure.

Lookout for the next part of the Baths of Caracalla coming very soon to this blog!


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