The Thermae of Alexandria Troas

August 14, 2017

The remains of the Thermae of Herodes Atticus are the most important architectural vestige of the once magnificent city of Alexandria Troas, in the remote north-west of Turkey. Undoubtedly they formed a more than outstanding building complex to the point that, despite the plunder and to stand unexcavated, they look still grandiose in sight.


Figure 1.- Plan of the ruins of the Herodes Atticus thermae elaborated in 1745.


The thermal complex was built, along with the rest of elements of the city's water system (aqueduct, reservoirs, fountains and nymphaeum), between AD 135 and 138, reigning Adriano, at the initiative of the great sage, politician and patron Herodes Atticus: at that time Imperial Corrector of the free cities of Asia (Legatus Augusti ad corrigendum statum civitatium liberarum). The sophist Philostratus of Athens tells us in his book "Lives of the Sophists" that Herod Atticus obtained from Adriano a subsidy of 3 million denarii to solve the problem of the water supply of Alexandria Troas: a city that despite its great importance kept on being supplied in the manner of the smaller settlements, this is by means of wells of doubtful salubrity and the rainwater accumulated in the domestic cisterns. In view of the costs soared up till 7 million, the procurator of Asia angrily protested to the Emperor Hadrian for what he considered to be a disproportionate expense, arguing that the tribute of 500 cities was being used for the welfare of only one. Outraged, Hadrian sharply rebuked Atticus, the father of Herod Atticus, asking for explanations; But he would only get the answer that everything that had been built in Alexandria Troas was necessary and that he was ready to give his son the 4 million extra cost to balance the accounts. Here is an echo of the legendary fame that once had the enormous fortune forged by the grandfather of Herod Atticus, a banker by profession, which, passed on to his descendants, allowed them all kinds of rights and licenses, including replicating with arrogance to the emperor of Rome.


Photo 1.- Southeastern corner of the Herodes Atticus thermae, made with solid and well worked ashlar blocks.


In figure 1 we can see a plan of the thermae realized in 1745. Although some of the represented structures do not exist anymore, in general the sketch is still valid and useful to study the ruins.


Photo 2 .- Southern Wall of Herod Atticus´ thermae with its large, typically roman, half-barrel vaults.