Baths of Zeuxippos

1. History

The Baths of Zeuxippos were located by the northeastern corner of the Hippodrome and close to the Augustaion and the Great Palace. Byzantine sources attribute their construction to Septemius Severus (end of the 2nd century AD). Constantine I enlarged and redecorated the complex. The baths were destroyed by fire in 532 and were subsequently rebuilt by Justinian. They might have been functioning up to the 9th century. Thereafter, parts of the building became a prison, known under the name Noumera, while another part was converted to a silk workshop.

The Baths of Zeuxippos have all but disappeared today. Parts of the bath proper along with parts of a large peristyle that flanked it to the east, probably of Justinianic date, were unearthed in 1927 and 1928.1 During these excavations three statue bases (two bearing inscriptions with the names of the statues they originally supported) and a much-mutilated fragment of a colosal female head were uncovered. In the excavations of the Baths was first identified a type of Byzantine glazed pottery which was named Zeuxippos Ware and was often considered as Constantinopolitan production.2

2. The sculpture collection

The baths were famous for being decorated with an impressive collection of statues, some of which are described in an ekphrasis written by the poet Christodoros of Koptos at the end of the 5th century.3 The ekphrasis indicates that there were three types of statues: images of gods or demigods (Dionysos, Hermes, Aphrodite), portraits of famous Greeks and Romans (Demosthenes, Virgil), along with mythological figures, primarily inspired by the Trojan war (Achilles, Odysseus). Several of the statues were bronze while certainly the majority was made of marble. Their date and provenance varied. Stupperich argued that the statuary was assembled with the intent to describe Constantinople as the New Troy,4 whereas Bassett sees the choice and arrangement of the statues as an effort to link Constantinople with the universal cultural tradition of Greece and Rome.5

1. Casson, S., Talbot Rice, D. and Hudson, D.F., Preliminary Report upon the Excavations Carried Out in and near the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1927 (London 1928); Casson, S., Talbot Rice, D., and Hudson, D.F., Second Report upon the Excavations Carried Out in and near the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1928 (London 1929); Casson, S., “Les fouilles de l’Hippodrome de Constantinople,” Gazette des Beaux Arts 30 (1930), pp. 213-242.

2. Megaw, A. H. S., “Zeuxippus Ware”, Annual of the British School of Athens, 63, 1968, p. 67–88; Dark K.R., Byzantine Pottery, Stroud 2001; G. Berti & S. Gelichi, “Zeuxippus Ware in Italy”, Materials Analysis of Byzantine Pottery, ed.  H.Maguire, Washington, 85-104

3. Beckby, H. (ed.), Anthologia Graeca 1 (2nd ed., Munich 1965), pp. 168-193; engl. translation by Paton, W.R., The Greek Anthology 1 (London 1916), pp. 59-91.

4. Stupperich, R., “Das Statuenprogramm in den Zeuxippos-Thermen,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 32 (1982), pp. 210–235.

5. Guberti Bassett, S., “Historiae custos: Sculpture and Tradition in the Baths of Zeuxippos,” American Journal of Archaeology 100 (1996), pp. 491-506.