Résumé de C. DI NICUOLO

The Bath Complex of the Serangeion in Piraeus. New Perspectives of Research

Archaeologist, Italian Archaeological School of Athens, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli – ITALIE

Type de contribution : poster

From the hundreds of balaneia, both public and private, of late classical and hellenistic age, recovered in every corner of the Greek world from Marseilles to the far Ai Khanum, stands out a nucleus of three buildings that have in common to be realized exploiting natural hollows reprocessed on purpose or created ex novo.
The group is composed from the complexes with public bathing function known in Cyrene, Taposiris Magna and in Peiraeus.
The building attested in the great harbour of Athens constitutes the sole object of the present communication, through a new perspective of research about the archaeological evidences and the literary and epigraphic sources, to the light of the most recent acquisitions in the studies dedicated to the bathing culture in the Greek world before Rome.
TOPOGRAPHICAL ASPECTS: Along the south east coast of Peiraeus, the limestone cliff, in ancient times sheer on the sea, introduces, as its pre-eminent feature, a series of partially natural, partially artificial cavities, which already constituted, in ancient times, a remarkable aspect for who had to catch up from the sea the ports of Zea and Moynichia.
In the Augustan Age Strabo (IX, 1, 15-16) describes the hill of Moynichia, defining it “χερρονησιάζων καὶ κοῖλος καὶ ὑπόνομος”, that is “similar to peninsula, rich of caverns and galleries” and adds “πολὺ μερὸς φύσει τε καὶ ἐπίτηδες, ὣστε οἰκήσεις δέχεσθαι”, that is “in good part natural, but also realized purposely, because they could accommodate rooms”. This piece turns out of interest because it puts in prominence a peculiarity of the described area, that evidently still had to draw the attention of an observer around the end of the 1st cent. B.C., and because the news on the habitability of these caves has generated the conviction (still to verify) of many scholars of the beginnings of last century, that they were the remains of the most ancient settlement of Peiraeus.
Actually in the opinion of Judeich, Curtius and Von Eickstedt, the big number of subterranean channels, that often create interesting arranges of tunnels, covered of hydraulic mortars and communicating through wells with the outside, probably correspondent to the cavities observed from the augustan geographer, must more simply have the function of tanks, part of the system of water supplying of Peiraeus, about which Thucydides speaks clearly (II, 48, 2).
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”.
Serangeion was therefore as a place rich in galleries, tied to the collection and distribution of the water resources of the Peiraeus ; but also place consecrated to the eponymous hero Serangos, like Photius and Hesychius tell us.
THE RESEARCH: Between the subterranean complexes of the area in object an important place occupies the building with bathing function discovered from I. Ch. Dragatsis at the base of the east slope of Kastella and from the same scholar investigated for the first time in 1897, that he wanted to recognize as the famous “bath of the Serangeion”, various times cited in the literary sources.
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 LITERARY SOURCES: The baths of the Serangeion constitute today a unicum between the best known βαλανεῖα, of which we could have some literary testimonies, offering the possibility to formulate some useful considerations. Traditionally for this building a particularly rich panorama of literary references is indicated, but to a careful new reading of the ancient texts, it can be rendered easily that only three are the sure reportable testimonies to the history of the bathing complex.
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.
MORPHOLOGIC ASPECTS OF THE BUILDING: The balaneion was realized approximately twelve meters down by the street to Phaleron, at the base of a sacred area, characterized from the presence of remains of structures probably related to a ἥρωον, datable at least from the second half of the 5th cent. B.C., and from more conspicuous testimonies from the excavation of the famed Asklepieion of the Peiraeus.
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.
CONCLUSIVE OBSERVATIONS: The area is distinguished for the highest concentration of material connected to religion under several forms. In the Lexicons the toponym Serangeion is related to the figure of a mythical eponymous hero Serangos, of which the sources say to exist a ἥρωον. The discovering in the course of the research work lead in 1897 of the inscription in attic alphabet from the end of 5th cent. B.C., with dedication to the hero, has strengthened the suggestion furnished from the ancient sources. According to a broadly documented process, the subsequent arriving of the cult to Asklepios in this locality can have lead to the absorption of part of the before exclusive prerogatives of the heroic cult.
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.

Essential Bibliography:

  • BONACASA, ENSOLI 2000: N. BONACASA, S. ENSOLI (a cura di), Cirene, Milano 2000;
  • BRECCIA 1923: E. BRECCIA, Di alcuni bagni nei dintorni di Alessandria, in BSAA, 19, 1923, 142-151;
  • BRELICH 1958: A. BRELICH, Gli Eroi Greci, Roma 1958, 145;
  • CAPPS 1911: E. CAPPS, The Date of Aristophanes’Georgoi, in AJPh 32, 1911, 421-430;
  • DONALDSON 1965: M.K. DONALDSON, A pebble mosaic in Peiraeus, in Hesperia 34, 1965, 77-88.
  • ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ 1896b: ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣ Χ. ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ in MDAI (A) 1896, 246;
  • ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ 1897: ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣ Χ. ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ, Piraeus. The Serangeum, in AJA, Second Series, Vol. I, 1897, 350;
  • ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ 1917: ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣ Χ. ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ, Ἒκθεσις τῶν πεπραγμένων κατὰ τὸ 1917, in PAAH 1917, 19-20;
  • ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ 1925-1926: ΙΑΚΩΒΟΣ Χ. ΔΡΑΓΑΤΣΗΣ, Τὸ ἐν Πειραιεῖ Σηράγγειον, in AEph 1925-1926, 1-8;
  • EKROTH 2002: G. EKROTH, The Sacrificial Ritual, Kernos Suppl. 12;
  • EICKSTEDT (V.) 1991: K.-K. VON EICKSTEDT, Beitrӓge zur Topographie des Antiken Pirӓus, Athina 1991, 116-133;
  • EICKSTEDT (V.) 2001: K.-K. VON EICKSTEDT, Τὸ Ἀσκληπιεῖον τοῦ Πειραιῶς, Ἀθήνα 2001;
  • FOURNET, REDON 2007: TH. FOURNET, B. REDON, Tell el-Herr, Taposiris Magna et les bains de l’Égypte gréco-romaine, in D. VALBELLE (a cura di), Tell el-Herr. Les niveaux hellénistiques et du Haut Empire, Errance, Paris, 2007, 116-124 ;
  • FRAZER 1898: J. G. FRAZER, Pausanias’Description of Greece, V, London 1898, 477-478;
  • GARLAND 1987: R. GARLAND, The Piraeus from the fifth to the first century B.C., Ithaka N.Y. (rist. Bristol 2001).
  • GINOUVÈS 1962 : R. GINOUVÈS, Balaneutikè. Recherches sur le bain dans l’antiquitè grecque, Paris 1962.
  • GLASER 2000 a: F. GLASER, Fountains and Nymphaea, in Handbook of ancient water technology,
  • (a cura di Ö. WIKANDER), Leiden 2000, 414-451;
  • GLASER 2000 b: F. GLASER, Water Landscaping, in Handbook of ancient water technology (a cura di Ö. WIKANDER), Leiden 2000, 453-466;
  • HIRSCHFELD 1878: G. HIRSCHFELD, Ein topographischer Versuch über die Peiraeusstadt, Athen 1878;
  • KEARNS 1989 : E. KEARNS, The Heroes of Attica, in BICS Suppl. 57;
  • LEAKE 1841: W.M. LEAKE, The Topography of Athens, London 1841, 320;
  • PALAIOKRASSA 1991:  L. PALAIOKRASSA, To ιερó της Aρτέμιδoς Moυνιχίας, Aθήναι 1991;
  • ΠΑΝΑΓΟΣ 1997: ΧΡΗΣΤΟΣ Θ. ΠΑΝΑΓΟΣ, Le Pirée. Étude Économique et Historique depuis les temps anciens jusqu’à la fin de l’Empire Romain, Athénes 1997, 117-121;
  • RANGAVIS 1888 : A. R. RANGAVIS, Topographie d’Athènes ancienne, Athènes 1888, 181 ;
  • WRIGHT 1957 : G. R. H. WRIGHT, Cyrene: a survey of certain rock-cut features to the south of the Sanctuary of Apollo, in JHS, 77, I, 1957, 300-310;


L'identifiant "Balnéorient" regroupe deux des membres du projet éponyme, Th. Fournet (Ifpo) et B. Redon (HiSoMA), en charge de la mise en ligne des billets. Ces derniers sont cependant souvent le fait d'autres participants au programme. Ils sont dans ce cas signalés comme auteur.

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