Greek tradition, Roman innovation
baths in North Africa - the Egyptian case
Among the various cultural practices brought to the provinces after the Roman conquest, baths figure prominently due to their long duration, the vast territory they cover on three continents, and the remarkable number of remains they’ve left behind. When compared against each other, the architectural features of this body of buildings exhibit a significant variability as we move through time and space. While the North-African provinces, which were strangers to public bathing practices before the Roman conquest, boast thermal complexes built according to the imperial model, monumental and symmetrical, in Egypt we contemplate a wholly different panorama. This discrepancy can be attributed to the influence of Greek bathing culture, firmly rooted in Egyptian soil throughout three hundred years of Ptolemaic rule after Alexander’s annexation in 331 BC. Egyptian baths display original features generated by local choices, and constitute an atypical case of regional model – in their plans, their dimensions, their bathing forms, and in the rejection, or partial and often belated adoption of new Roman techniques and architectural innovations, particularly heating by hypocaust.
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