Résumé de C. DI NICUOLO
The Bath Complex of the Serangeion in Piraeus. New Perspectives of Research
Carmelo DI NICUOLO
Archaeologist, Italian Archaeological School of Athens, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli – ITALIE
Type de contribution : poster
The place has been identified from various scholars, beginning from the archaeological researches by I. Dragatsis, with the locality, attested in the texts of the lexicographers and some literary sources, said Serangeion. The toponym derives from the Greek word σήρανξ “gallery” ; and σήραγγες, in the Lexicon Suidae, are said to be “οἰονεὶ φλέβες τινὲς οὖσαι τῆς γῆς, ἃς ὑποτρέχον τὸ ὕδωρ ζητεῖ διέξοδον”, that is “like subterranean channels that act as conducts for the outflow of waters”.
The building, for a long time hardly accessible because of two enormous rocks overhanging from the cliff, was popularly known as “Caves of Paraskevà” ; it had become at that time ill-frequented and unsafe, till the realization, at the beginning of the 19th century, of the taverna “Spilià”, that, leaning on its external façade, used the spaces like wine cellar/warehouse. The continuous exposure and the constant use of these rooms in the course of the centuries, have strongly compromised the original aspect of the place, so that in the state of total abandonment and degradation, in which they are today, does not even allow us an exhaustive reading of the morphologic characteristics of the complex.
Yet it is still possible to throw new light on the “baths of the Serangeion” by means of the re-examination of the documentation of the “Dragatsis excavations” and the precise census with consequent attempt of replacement in original context (where possible) of the most significant materials. A more exhaustive organization, moreover, of the literary sources and the epigraphic testimonies, organically systematized, will concur to draw new reflections on the argument.
The bibliography on the argument generally uses the passage of the Lexicon by Harpokration (to the entry “Σηράγγιον”) in order to already remember a reference to the βαλανεῖον in a line of the Γεωργοὶ by Aristophanes, represented for the first time during the Dionysian Feasts of the year 424 B.C., date that came therefore to constitute a terminus ante quem for the realization of the building, beyond that in the discourse by Lysias Against Androtion, composed approximately in the same years. In reality by a re-examination of the text it is possible to notice that the lexicographer never speaks about thermal structure, but simply about the χωρίον (locality) of Peiraeus (like already emphasized from Dragatsis). In this way the most ancient explicit literary reference to the baths of the Serangeion would be the discourse by Isaeus “In favour of Philoktemon” (6, 33), in which is recorded the sale for 3000 drachmas of the βαλανεῖον of the Serangeion by Euktemon of Kiphissià, in favour of Aristolochos (τὸ δ᾽ἐν Σηραγγίῳ βαλανεῖον τρισχιλίων Ἀριστολόχῳ).
The bill of sale, particularly interesting in himself for the information about the status of the bathing complex, that it would turn out to be, at least in the specific phase, of private property and not therefore pertaining to a sanctuary, was dated from Forster and Wyse from 376 B.C. (and from the majority of those who have taken care of this subject, within and not beyond the first half of the 4th cent. B.C.).
In the 2nd cent. A.D. in one of the letters by Alkiphron (III, 7) reference is still made to pauses for baths in the balaneion of the Serangeion, but this might not mean that the author describes a contemporary situation, since the entire literary work intentionally reconstructs situations dating from the 4th cent. B.C. Athens.
The present day access to the building, besides the fact that it is about two meters higher than the ancient one, rests on masonries that completely obliterate the original inlet area, that Dragatsis could still see. An irregularly quadrangular little hall (A), was opened by a passage today walled directly on the wide tholos (B) of approximately 6.60 m of diameter, situated immediately to right, that show all along the circumference twenty-six small niches, in correspondence of which it is possible to imagine as many bathtubs, today disappeared. In origin the ambient was paved with a pebble mosaic, of which Dragatsis still found in situ the threshold at one of the entrances.
The mosaic represented a young woman escaping from left to the right with heads of dogs to the height of the inferior extremities. This detail, with the image of a fish between the waves, makes it easy to distinguish that the myth depicted is related to the sea, and has carried the scholar to recognize in it one of the most ancient depictions of Skilla.
A specular opening practiced on the left, crossing the little hall leads to an access room (C) of 3,12 x 2,48 m, with another pebble mosaic, today covered from the modern perron. The mosaic measures 2,75 x 2,10 m and represents a young figure driving a quadriga.
Between the legs of the four horses a dolphin jumps between the waves, to mean that the scene must belong once again to a marine context. This decoration, already discussed from Dragatsis and erroneously thought to be roman, has been successively object of study by K. Donaldson, that knowing the rich corpus of comparisons recovered above all in macedonian area, proposes a more correct dating within the late classical/hellenistic age.
From this last space, a S/E – N/W linear run, through a corridor of approximately 13 m, divided in two segments, of 5,25 x 3,25 m (D), and 5,20 x 2,68 m (E), between which we find another circular room (F), that has been dug in the center, thus to create a quadrangular space to an inferior level regarding the pavements of the rest of the building, and that could be interpreted as bathtub for immersions in cold water. N/E and N/W of the quadrangular cut of this room, the remaining spaces, respected from the central cut, create them two small exedras with curvilinear walls and counters. From the first segment of the corridor (D) a passage 1,30 m wide and 2,00 m high offers one ulterior access to the large one tholos, that is dug in the rock bench, reproducing characteristics of many of the reservoirs attested in the area of Moynichia.
The maximum height of the dome of the tholos is of nine meters in proximity of the central circular opening (ὀπαῖον), used in the majority of the bathing chambers of this kind for the lighting system and the aeration. Exactly in axis with the entrance to room “B” (tholos) another gate was cut on the south wall of the corridor “D”. This passage, currently walled, has been interpreted from René Ginouvès, during the realization of the new graphic documentation of the building, like access to a second one tholos, whose dimensions should be similar to those of the precedent one.
Finally, at the bottom of the complex, N/E of the second sector of the central corridor (E), they have been found two almost rectangular rooms (G and H) of uncertain function.
In general terms the bathing establishment occupies a relatively small surface of about 10 x 7 m and strongly recalls comparison with the structural and planimetric characteristics of the complex of reservoirs, found on the top of the hill, close to the theatre of Moynichia, traditionally famous like “Caves of Arethusa”. Maybe also that our system of caves could have been created originally like hydraulic establishment and that only afterwards it could have been transformed in a balaneion, beginning from the consecration of the area to the cult of those subterranean galleries bearers water, which is to say life.
In year 422 B.C. is handed down the first staging of the Wasps by Aristophanes, from which elements can be drawn of a sure interest for the chronology of the creation of the Asklepieion, built close to the baths.
Von Eickstedt recalls the passage in which the young Bdelikleon sends his father for some therapies to the Asklepieion of Aigina, which means that in 422 B.C. the same sanctuary in Peiraeus did not exist. For the scholar the God of Health could not be joined to Peiraeus beyond 420 B.C., considering the text of famous the Stele of Telemachos, transcribed in year 420/19 B.C., describing the institution of the cult of Asklepios at the southern slopes of the Acropolis of Athens, and that it remembers the “anabasis” of the statue of the God from the port of Zea. The foundation of the Asklepieion of Peiraeus could therefore be dated within a narrow period, included between the 422 B.C. (terminus post quem) and year 420/19 B.C. (terminus ante quem).
It is probable that the bathing building did already exist before the sanctuary and was risen probably in relation to the ἥρωον of Serangos like divinity tied to waters, little elements of which have been recovered from I. Ch. Dragatsis over the area of the βαλανεῖον. From one of the rooms next to the ancient entrance there seems to be a poros altar with a much fragmentary epigraph, integrated from Dragatsis, with dedication to Apollo Apotropaios. Dated generically to hellenistic age, the epigraph gives confirmation about the vocation of the area to be a cult place of therapeutic/apotropaic divinities still between 3rd and 2nd cent. B.C., and enriches the picture of the religious stratifications along this section of the coast of Peiraeus. Interesting to notice also the vicinity of the sanctuary of Artemis Moynichias, discovered on the overlooking cape of Koumoundourou, that together with a series of “votive niches” described in the sketches by Judeich, dug along the rock between the Artemision and the balaneion, creates a cult system completely similar to the one of the area of the acropolis of Cyrene consecrated to the cult of waters, of the Nymphs and of the same Artemis, and equipped with one of the only three bathing complexes within cliff attested in Mediterranean area.
In addition to that, it is well worth remembering the information (brought back in AJA 1897) of the recovery inside the establishment of numerous fragmentary marble reliefs with depictions of snakes, with votive registrations with dedications to Zeus Meilichios and Zeus Philios. For the moment these reliefs are guarded in the warehouses of National Archaeological Museum of Athens, while others have gone dispersed in private collections of the rest of Europe, above all in Germany. Present in various publications, of them we only read the generic origin from Peiraeus and only in some cases is offered a more specifical specification of the place of the find thought to be close to the sanctuary of Asklepios.
If to a more careful examination we were able to obtain confirmation of the origin of the dedications from the area of the balaneion, we then would be in presence of a picture of the cult stratifications concentrated around the building, much more complex and fascinating than it is now held to be.
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