An Archaeological Excavation of a Roman Bath Complex

Florida State University
Tallahassee, Florida
DOI: 10.18258/2089
Raised of $3,000 Goal
Funded on 5/23/14
Successfully Funded
  • $3,105
  • 103%
  • Funded
    on 5/23/14

About This Project

Water, water every where, nor any drop to bathe in. The Roman town of Cosa on the western coast of Italy presents an enigmatic bathing complex. The area was neither equipped with an aqueduct nor did the water table allow easy access to fresh water within the confines of the town. As of last summer, an archaeological excavation is currently underway to discover the plan and hydraulics of this puzzling Roman structure.

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What is the context of this research?

The site of Cosa is situated about 140 kilometers north of Rome and overlooks the Tyrrhenian sea. Beginning in the 1940s with the seminal exploration of the town by Frank Brown, a series of important excavations have taken place at the site. Although Cosa has been well studied, there are still sections of the town that have yet to be excavated and explored. One of these unexamined zones includes a small bath complex near to the forum, which is now the focus of an archaeological excavation led by Dr. Andrea U. De Giorgi of Florida State University and Dr. Russell T. Scott of Bryn Mawr College. Although the project has only completed its first season (2013), more excavation is necessary in order to investigate the implications of this small bathing complex.

Last summer, the first excavations were undertaken in the area of the baths during the month of June. Several areas of the bath were of particular interest for the inaugural season: excavation of the laconicum (the sweat room that utilized dry heat - you can see an interactive model of the laconicum here.); the discovery of the southern façade and its relationship to the street; exploration of a potential terminal wall at the eastern line of the building. Many of these goals were accomplished during the first season, or at least the team began to investigate those areas. Some hindrances still remain, however. For example, in the laconicum several large pieces of vaulting had collapsed into the circular area, which restricted excavation of the feature until they could be removed with a mechanical crane. Although several of these fragments were successfully extracted from the area, a few were unable to be removed due to time restraints and difficulty with the mechanical crane. The incomplete removal of all vaulting fragments resulted in the halting of progress, as excavation at the time was too hazardous to continue.

At the southern end of the complex, several rooms were uncovered, which, at this time, appear to have included the entry way (as a threshold block was discovered in the final week of excavation) and a potential apodyterium (changing room). In order to concretely identify the purpose of the bench, the purpose of the room as a whole, and its relationship with the surrounding rooms of the complex, further excavation is necessary.

One of the most interesting architectural remains associated with the complex is a large reservoir or cistern located to the south of the building's façade. Given that the site was not fed by an aqueduct, the capacity of the reservoir is strikingly large, as is the main conduit that fed water to the bathhouse proper. Further investigation, which could result in a potential dissertation topic for myself, would indicate how the water tank was supplied, how it fed the baths, and how often would have needed to be refilled.

What is the significance of this project?

The site of Cosa is extremely important for Roman Archaeology, as it presents one of the best examples of Republican architecture and urban planning. As the bath complex is situated so close to the forum (the political center of the town), perhaps the bath complex is contemporary with these early forms of Roman urbanization. If this is the case, then the example at Cosa would present one of the earliest examples of a public bathing structure on the Italian peninsula.

The city, however, appears to have had limited access to water, as the water table is too low for wells and no aqueducts are connected with the area. Therefore, an exploration of the water supply and hydraulics of the bath complex is necessary to understand the workings of the bath.

Although the Romans were very well known for their use and implementation of aqueducts throughout the empire, by no means did every town or city have access to this form of water transportation and supply. By exploring the bath complex at Cosa, a site that is known to have no access to water through aqueducts, we may present to the field of archaeology and architecture a new understanding of how, two thousand years ago, one engineered such a structure that depends so highly on water flow in an area of limited water access.

Another facet of the project is to promote visitation to the site and to spread awareness of cultural preservation and its importance in central Italy and beyond. In recent years it appears that interest in maintaining and visitation of the site has dwindled. As a result, the structures that illustrate practically every textbook on Roman archaeology and architecture have been almost entirely covered over with vegetal growth.

By systematically uncovering once more the ruins that were exposed in the last century and studied by archaeologists, we would not only save the archaeology from further destruction, but also bring in more visitors to the site, that, in turn, would help the local economy.

Another method of cultural preservation which our project has begun to implement is the creation of accurate 3D reconstructions of the buildings on site. One method of manipulating the information found during an excavation is to create accurate 3-D models of the archaeology and its environs. Digitalizing the archaeology also makes the material much more easily accessible to the public, a facet of archaeology that has long been criticized.

What are the goals of the project?

There are several goals that the project would like to accomplish in the coming seasons at Cosa. The current, shorter term goals of this project are:

1.) to complete excavation of the bath complex at Cosa, as well as the water supply systems that are situated in the area. This includes completing excavation on the different areas that were both undertaken in the previous, inaugural season, and also those that we intend to excavate in the coming months.

2.) the complete excavation, recording, and publishing of the laconicum (a model of which you can see here). In order to perform this task, however, a large piece of vaulting, which sits precariously on the edge of the feature and threatens collapse into the structure (and potentially those within), needs to be removed with a mechanical mover. In order to hire such a device, as well as people who are trained in using it, more money needs to be raised (approximately $600 for one mechanical mover for one day). Once the laconicum has been thoroughly excavated, material will be published in the year immediately after its completion.

3.) to make public up-to-date information about our ongoing excavations on several websites, including the official site of the Cosa Excavations. Information from this area will no doubt also aid graduate students in writing their dissertations.

4.) to excavate the cistern to the south of the bath complex. Again, just as with the laconicum, the data from excavations in this area would result in not only publications, but also, for this area in particular, one or more dissertations could be written.

5.) to establish a chronology of the bath complex should be established in order to state whether or not the structure had its foundations in the Roman Republic or the Empire. The difference could bring Cosa, once again, into the forefront of Roman and Classical Archaeology. This is one of the overarching goals that would be easily accomplished, so long as excavations are able to continue in the future.

There are also several other goals, which are certainly actionable, although they involve a longer term involvement in the site. The ultimate goal of the project, extending beyond the excavation of the baths, is to bring focus back to the archaeological site of Cosa. There exists a nice, albeit outdated, museum at the site that can be explored by the public for a small fee. It is our intention to aid in the refurbishment of this museum to include updated information, more visitor-friendly displays and information, and more technological advances, such as the potential creation of a mobile app, implemented in the building.

Additionally, the entire site is open to the public, including the area around the current excavations run through FSU and Bryn Mawr Therefore, the site is extremely accessible and important for those who wish to learn about Roman architecture and urbanization. Unfortunately, the current popularity of the site is minimal. Few people visit the museum, let alone the archaeological park, and the state of the forum, a highlight of every textbook on Roman Republican architecture and archaeology, is now covered with trees and weeds. A full scale cleaning of the forum area would be necessary, but by no means is it unfathomable or inconceivable. Only future excavation seasons are necessary for its completion, something that can be fostered with outside funding.

There also exists a large house (domus) near the forum and baths at Cosa which features spectacular mosaics. As of last year, the project is beginning to conserve these works of art, which have been sorely neglected and left to the elements. In the coming seasons, we hope to continue to conserve these mosaics and others found around the site.

Again, a very realistic, and feasible, goal for the project is to aid in the education and training of graduate students in excavation, conservation, and the implementation of practical museological skills. The different spheres of the project also would allow a great resource for numerous dissertations and publications that would be vital for the research and furthering of our knowledge of ancient Cosa and other similar sites on the Italian peninsula and beyond its borders.


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The expenses that I am asking your help with involve personal and group costs. Half of the $3000 ($1500) that I am seeking will be used towards my own travel. In order to arrive at Cosa, I must have a round trip plane ticket to Italy, as well as train tickets to and from the airport (Fiumicino: FCO). If I cannot reach Italy, I cannot proceed with my personal research and, as our dig team is small, my absence would slow down progress. Although $1500 may not cover then entire cost of these tickets, any help would be greatly appreciated and $1500 should help with a great majority of these costs.

Once we are in the area of Cosa, we need a rental car to take us and our tools up to and from site every morning and afternoon. Since I am one of the few people who know how to drive a manual car, I am usually the person to drive to site everyday. If the $3000 goal is met, I would use $500 of that money towards helping to lessen the financial burden of renting a car, both renting the vehicle and paying for gas during our time at Cosa.

Another vital use of your help is the hiring of a mechanical crane and workers for one day so that we can remove a large piece of vaulting that remains, dangerously, at the edge of the Laconicum (you can see a 3D model here). If we do not remove this vaulting, however, for health and safety reasons, work cannot continue on this extremely interesting and important area of the bath complex. The price of hiring such a device for one day, which should be all we need to continue working, is $600.

The remaining money, $400, will be used for buying tools and materials that we need while in Italy. Sometimes while digging tools break or you find that you need something different from what you have. In order to facilitate excavation, it would be extremely useful to have a fund for back-up tools and materials, such as shovel, pickaxes, brushes, notebooks, pens, and paper.

Endorsed by

As her colleague on the Cosa Excavations, I fully endorse Allison's project. She is an incredibly experienced, methodological, professional archaeologist and an integral part of our team. Allison is a crucial element to the Cosa Excavations--not least of all because she gets us to site everyday--so please lend your financial support to her.
I had the pleasure of working with Allison at Cosa in 2013, and hope to do so again in 2014! She is a terrific asset to the dig, and brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding of best practices and site history, as well as a willingness and interest in incorporating new technologies. The mystery of how the ancients of Cosa acquired fresh water for drinking and bathing is a worthy subject of study, and Allison is the perfect investigator.
I am extremely pleased to endorse Allison Smith's project. Exploring, understanding, and explaining a Roman bath at a waterless site is no easy job. Yet her intelligence, hard work ethics, and curiosity will no doubt help glean new evidence and thus further the study of Roman baths.

Meet the Team

Allison Smith
Allison Smith

Team Bio

I completed my undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. It was at UNC where I developed an interest in Roman archaeology and architecture. I have worked on archaeological excavations at several sites in Italy, namely a Roman bath house at Carsulae, in Umbria, (2007) and the town of Gabii, near Rome (2009; 2010; 2012). My primary research interests involve architecture of public spaces in Republican and Imperial Italy, particularly baths. I am very interested in the hydraulics of these spaces, specifically water transportation and storage, as well as how the different rooms of a bath complex would have manipulated the water. Human interactions of the bath buildings are also extremely interesting, such as trying to reconstruct use of the space, estimating the number of individuals who could have utilized the structure, and examining what management would have been necessary to run and maintain the baths.

Allison Smith

Affiliations: I received my MA from Florida State University in Classical Archaeology in 2013, and am currently pursuing my PhD in Classical Archaeology, also at Florida State University.
Background: Originally from Marietta, Georgia, I completed my undergraduate education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. It was at UNC where I developed an interest in Roman archaeology and architecture (and NCAA basketball). In 2011, I completed an MPhil in Archaeological Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of Cambridge where my dissertation work focused on differences between grassroots and the National Park Service's representations of Civil War battlefields. In 2011, my interest in the ancient world was revived and since I have been interested not only with the excavation of the past, but also the ways in which the ancient world is exhibited, particularly in museums. I have worked on archaeological excavations at several sites in Italy, namely a Roman bath house at Carsulae, in Umbria, (2007) and the town of Gabii, near Rome (2009; 2010; 2012).

Current Research Interests:
My primary research interests involve architecture of public spaces in Republican and Imperial Italy, particularly baths. I am very interested in the hydraulics of these spaces and the engineering of the different rooms.

Press and Media

In January 2014, a group of graduate students, including myself, won "Best Poster Designed Entirely by Students" at the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meeting in Chicago. You can see it and the other winning poster titles at:
In 2013, our project was featured alongside other archaeological excavations that are run through Florida State University in Across the Spectrum, the magazine of Florida State University's College of Arts and Sciences. The article, titled "Going out and finding it: The impact of FSU's archaeological field sites on research and education in the Department of Classics," discusses our work at Cosa and myself, as well as a few other students involved in the program, were used to illustrate our experiences on the site.

Additional Information

Be sure to keep in contact with Cosa Excavations for updates on publications and news.
Official Site of Cosa Excavations
Cosa Excavations on Facebook
Cosa Excavations on Twitter
To view photos from the 2013 excavations, please visit the Facebook site for a taste of what we've done so far. (And while you're at it, friend us!) OR you can visit my photo stream on Exposure for a few more glimpses into what went on at Cosa: Cosa Excavations on Exposure You can also preview one of the 3D models that has already been made for Cosa's laconicum: Tour the Laconicum! (3D modeling done by Matthew Brennan)

Project Backers

  • 22Backers
  • 103%Funded
  • $3,105Total Donations
  • $141.14Average Donation
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