After Thermae Romae Novae, what was the biggest bathhouse in Ancient Rome?

As anime fans digest Netflix’s hilarious Thermae Romae Novae series, we reveal what was the biggest functioning bathhouse from Ancient Rome.

The very best TV series and movies make a point of teaching the viewers something that had previously passed them by. Whilst the majority of these ‘lessons’ are related to some moral dilemma or wide-spreading statements about society, Netflix’s new anime series takes history to a whole new level.

Thermae Romae Novae tells the story of Lucious, a bathhouse architect who finds inspiration for innovating his work when he travels to modern-day Japan.

The anime is as ridiculous as it is hilarious, but Thermae Romae Novae does a fantastic job at teaching viewers about the history of bathing in Ancient Rome as well as how baths have become an integral part of Japanese culture.

Thermae Romae Novae | Official Trailer | Netflix Anime

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Thermae Romae Novae | Official Trailer | Netflix Anime

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Thermae Romae Novae teaches everything bathing

After watching the first episode of Netflix’s Thermae Romae Novae anime, viewers may be confused about the series’ plot and downright-ridiculous comedy.

However, the show isn’t just about unique storylines and hilarious moments, it also teaches viewers about bathing culture from both Ancient Rome and modern-day Japan.

From using natural geothermal energy to hit the ground beneath a bath, to the general rules of bathing etiquette, the show spares no effort in giving every scene the historical context it needs.

Of course, not all of the ‘inventions’ that Lucious comes up with after visiting modern Japan necessarily featured in Ancient Roman Thermae architecture.

Yet, the inspiration is one built on merit; with additions including paintings, music, beverages and snacks all being real parts of ancient Thermae, the name given to bathhouses.

What was the biggest bathhouse in Ancient Rome?

There is some debate about which bathhouse complex was the largest in Ancient Rome, as it all comes down to what you define as ‘biggest’. In terms of the most land space used, the largest bathhouse would be the Bath of Caracalla but in terms of capacity, the Baths of Diocletian takes the crown.

The Bath of Caracalla, located in Rome, was built between 212 AD and 2016 AD during the reigns of Septimius Severus and his son, Caracalla; the emperor whom the facility was eventually named after.

This bathhouse was not only free to enter but open to the public to enjoy, being renovated several times over the course of its lifespan until it was abandoned around 537 AD.

The complex itself took up an astonishing 62 acres of land (25 hectares), that’s over 250,000 square meters equivalent to 46 NFL Football pitches or 574 NBA Basketball Courts!

In terms of the water needed to make the bathhouse function on this colossal scale, the facility had a volume of over 8 million cubic litres, that’s 2.1 million US gallons.

“Even though the construction period of 5 years seems like a lot, this facility in Rome was enormous. It’s was to be the second-largest bathing complex. [to Diocletian] ever constructed in the Roman Empire.” – Kevin Fisher, Art Facts.

Interestingly, the architecture reportedly was the inspiration behind many modern-day buildings, including the Chicago Union Station, New York’s old Pennsylvania Station and even the current Canadian Senate building!

On the other hand, The Baths of Diocletian were notably smaller than the Bath of Caracalla, at only around 140,000 square meters, but it had the benefit of having a much higher simultaneous capacity.

According to the records of Olympiodorus, a historian from Ancient Rome, 3,000 people could simultaneously use the bath on its busiest day!

Whilst some historians are sceptic about the bath’s true capacity, it certainly could hold more visitors than any other Thermae – only about 1,600 people could fit inside the Caracalla Baths at once.

After the bathhouse fell into ruin after 537 AD, infamous Renaissance artists Michelangelo actually built the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the ruins of the bathhouse.

“Emperor Diocletian’s aim was to provide the northern parts of the city with baths that would meet the varied needs of the Romans, as his predecessor Caracalla did in the south of Rome. Many buildings were demolished to make way for this immense complex, built rapidly between 298 and 306 AD and covering 140,000 square meters.” – Colosseum Rome Tickets.

By Tom Llewellyn – [email protected]

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