Bathing was a part of an important Roman social tradition, which spread throughout the Roman Empire. That tradition emphasized the benefits of leisure and combined the pleasure of bathing in tepid, warm, and cold water with conversation, exercise and intellectual pursuits. Roman bath buildings are the physical manifestation of that tradition and their remains help clarify our understanding of it. In the traditional Turkish bath, or hamam, we see a distant but direct extension of the Roman baths and bathing.
This complex at Sardis is one of at least two monumental bath buildings in the city and covers 23,000 square meters. It belongs to a fairly standardized type of "imperial" bath known in other cities of Asia Minor such as Ephesus, and throughout the Roman empire. In plan, the rooms and halls are symmetrically arranged, with pools of hot and cold water (the caldarium and frigidarium) located on the central axis. The eastern half of the complex was an open court (palaestra) that provided space for exercise and ceremonies. The western half was the bath unit, composed of many large halls covered by vaults.
The two-story colonnaded space known as the Marble Court was originally separate from the baths and was used for special ceremonies. An inscription on the first story (with red-painted
letters) dedicates this space to the Roman Imperial family: Emperors Caracalla and Geta, and their mother Julia Domna; and records that the hall was gilded by two ladies of consular rank; the sarcophagus of one of these ladies, Claudia Antonina Sabina, was found at Sardis and is in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
The complex was probably completed in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD. Repaired and modified in succeeding centuries, including the conversion of one of its halls into a Synagogue, the bath fell into ruin in the 7th century AD.