The bathhouse is a new building introduced to Egypt by the Greeks in every rank of settlement from the 3rd century BC. The available evidence suggests a wide use of the new practice, which spread all over the country until the Late Roman period and on-wards. Their dimensions varied, but they were generally of small to medium size.
Baths were built among the houses and their heating system would have created a lot of waste and smoke. Hips or thick layers of ashes and glazed materials are often piled nearby. Some public baths of Greek tradition with different tholoi for men and women are well attested in Fayoum, not only in written sources but also archaeologically. The majority of the baths known in the Fayoum are of the tholos type, but one with a hypocaust system was built in Karanis in the 4th century.
Baths in Egypt
Under the rule of the Ptolemies, numerous public baths were built in Egypt following the Greek model: they included circular rooms, separate for men and women, with a number of individual hip-baths against their walls. Water was poured from jars over the persons sitting in the basins. Later, large communal basins for a relaxing dip were added, usually in rooms with a separate entrance, but the tradition of using individual hip-basins continued for a long time in Egypt. By the first century AD, Roman-style bathhouses became popular, characterized by a sequence of gradually hotter rooms heated by the underground hypocaustum. Forty-six “Greek style” baths have been discovered in Egypt, almost a half of those known in the entire Greek world, while from the Roman period between the 1st and the 6th centuries AD, archaeology revealed at least forty-nine more.
Elements and Geometry of the Bath Plan
The Graeco-Egyptian baths par excellence fit into a rectangle (average: 16–18 m × 15–20 m, i.e. circa 300 m2), the entrance being located on one of the long sides, while access to the semi subterranean furnace for the bath attendants is at the opposite side. Within the building, the distribution of the functions and spaces is arranged in a very organised manner, following a tripartite layout, with the succession of an “entrance section”, a “cleansing section” and a “heated section’.
The first section (1) consists of a large hall, which occupies the entire width of the building and is sometimes split in two parts; this was certainly the waiting room and cloakroom, the bathers could leave their most bulky items, coats and bags, as mentioned in the written sources, which often led to thefts in this section of the baths. This room is also sometimes equipped with a basin, probably for initial ablutions.
The second section (2) comprises the two tholoi fitted with hip-bathtubs topped with niches.
The last section (3) is composed of an oblong corridor (3a) occupying the entire width of the building and opening onto three strictly organised spaces: in one of the corners, the relaxing bath room (3b), equipped with individual immersion bathtubs; in the centre, the furnace, topped by a boiler; and in the corner opposite to the bathtub room, the tank (3d), supplied with water from outside. Cold water was directly accessible from the corridor, in a small overhang formed by the tank towards the corridor. The tank also supplied the boiler above the furnace, thus producing hot water. Facing the furnace, in the corridor, often between the two tholoi, one can also notice the almost systematic presence of a semi-circular or semi-oval basin, supplied by the cistern through a pipe.
The Greek Baths of Fayoum City
In Fayoum city four bath houses were discovered two of which are still visible today amidst the urban growth of the Fayoum city. The other two are submerged or destroyed by the underground water and the vegetation.
East Bath, Ptolemaic Temple: Location: 29°19’21.33” N, 30°50’0.15” E
About 600 m south of the main temple, in the centre of the ancient town Arsinoe Crocodilopolis – Kiman Faris, in a place called nowadays “Ptolemaic temple”. Today, the bath house is a bit covered by little vegetation after the Fayoum Antiquities inspectorate cleaned the temple area recently (May 2020).
This bath house was Probably excavated in 1965–1966 by the SCA (F. Yacoub?) and restored by Supreme Council of Antiquities in the 1990s (information of P. Davoli). The place was Visited in April 2011 by Th. Fournet, B. Redon and M. Vanpeene, and it was not visible due to the vegetation. Built during the Ptolemaic era with a probable classical tholos model with unknown bathing circuit.
The bath house has at least two tholoi, two rectangular rooms and several corridors. Two tholoi with hip-bathtubs; probably other bathing facilities. The Tholoi and rectangular rooms decorated with mosaic floors; in the two tholoi,a wonderful circular panel with a rosette.
North Bath: Location: 29°19’44.35” N, 30°49’53.23” E
The Bath house is located in Northern limit of the kom, 350 m west of the main temple’s south-west corner. It is relatively well preserved (all walls robbed out).it was fully excavated in 2006 by the SCA under the supervision of M. Abd el-Aal, but unpublished. The bath house was visited in April 2011 by Th. Fournet, B. Redon and M. Vanpeene. It is About 405 m2 and dates back to the Ptolemaic period with at least one major remodeling phase, maybe in Late Ptolemaic/Early Roman times.
The bath house’s entrance in Hall 13, leading to Corridor 1 that opens on both sides into Tholoi 2 and 3, and into the relaxation room (5) in the south-east corner. The bather’s circuit apparently was divided into two sections. West: possible entrance from Hall 13, leading to distribution Hall 1, giving access to Tholoi 2 and 3 (transformed into a relaxation room), and relaxation Rooms 4 and perhaps 5; East: entrance from north-west corner into Corridor 11, leading to Corridor 6 (probably opening onto Room 10), with a small recess to the north; Corridor 6 leads to Corridor 7 that gives access to Room 8, that finally opens into a relaxation room. two tholoi (2, diam. about 4.80 m; 3, diam. about 5.10 m), most likely each with 18 hip-bathtubs (preserved in 2) and one rectangular room with at least two immersion bathtubs and a hip-bathtub. The bath’s west section: 18 hip-bathtubs in Tholos 2, two large immersion bathtubs in Tholos 3, one hip-bathtub and one immersion bathtub in Room 4; East section: at least three immersion bathtubs in Room and possibly other immersion bathtubs in Room 10 (?).
the heating system was by a furnace (with boiler?) in Room 1, heated from north-west corner of Room 5 (which was probably abandoned as bathing room at this time) and a reservoir in Room 4 and probably in Room 8.
North-West Small Bath: Location: 29°19’31.89” N, 30°49’46.43” E
Located to the North-west limit of Kiman Faris, 600 m south-west of the main temple, in an area called “small baths”. Nowadays, the bath is unfortunately Submerged. It was Probably discovered in 1964 and excavated in 1965 by F. Yacoub (SCA) but unpublished. Visited in April 2011 by Th. Fournet, B. Redon and M. Vanpeene, not found (hidden by vegetation and water). One tholos with 20 hip-bathtubs, one room with one or two immersion bathtubs. According to the plan by el-Khachab 1978, the bath had One (semi-circular?) basin near the entrance of the tholos. (No plan provided)
The “Sarapeion Bath” the largest Bath in EGYPT: Location: 29°19’17.8” N, 30°49’48.8” E
Now buried under the water vegetation. it was fully excavated in 1964 by F. Yacoub (SCA), published by el-Khachab 1978. It was visited in April 2011 by Th. Fournet, B. Redon and M. Vanpeene, not found. The bath is About 980 m2 and built during the Ptolemaic period. The bath Plan suggests remodeling phases (e.g., Room G added later, Rooms E and H remodelled etc.) maybe in Late Ptolemaic/Early Roman period. Entrance from south-east into a central corridor (J), opened on both sides onto two tholoi (1, 2) and leading to Hall C, that gives access to the relaxation rooms (E via D, G and R). Possible secondary (or service?) entrance in the south corner, in Room A, giving access to a winding corridor that leads either to Corridor J or to Room B. Rooms B and R lead to Latrines I.
The Bath had Two tholoi (1, 2; both diam. about 7.15 m) each with 26 hip-bathtubs; three rectangular rooms with a total of 10 immersion bathtubs (E, G, H), but probably not functioning at the same time. Remains of another room fitted with three bathtubs under Room E. the heating was Probably by a furnace with boiler (F) and probably heating walls in Rooms E, G and H. Three large reservoirs (P, Q, T); several small basins in corridors (C, J); three small basins in Room D. Water from south-west bathing rooms is drained through Rooms I and U to the W, along the south-west façade; water from north-west rooms drained through a pipe in the north wall of Room D. This is the largest bath building found in Egypt; includes many rooms of unknown function, among them probably two or three latrines (I, N, room north of D).
- Thibaud Fournet, Bérangère Redon. Bathing in the shadow of the pyramids. Greek Baths in Egypt, Back to an Original Bath Model. Bérangère Redon. Collective baths in Egypt 2. New discoveries and
perspectives, Presses de l’IFAO, pp.99-137, 2017, 9782724706963. hal-01758076
- Thibaud Fournet, Bérangère Redon. Romano-Byzantine baths of Egypt, the birth and spread of a little-known regional model. Bérangère Redon. Collective baths in Egypt 2. New discoveries and
perspectives, Presses de l’IFAO, pp.279-322, 2017, 9782724706963. hal-01758079