The so-named Suburban Baths of Pompeii were probably constructed some time around the end of the 1st century BC, with their location against the city walls north of the Porta Marina. And as the name suggests, they served as a public thermal complex corresponding to the Julio-Claudian age. But beyond their functionality, these baths have also served as legacies of the Roman world, especially with their artworks mirroring many of the ‘hidden’ social and cultural aspects of the burgeoning empire. To that end, Professor Massimo Osanna, Superintendent of the Archaeological Site of Pompeii, has recently agreed to give public access to some of the recently restored Suburban Baths – known for their erotic frescoes.
Now beyond sensationalism, the artworks when viewed objectively, do reflect a slice of sexual history shared by the Romans, at a time when they were arguably at their apex in terms of political power and influence. According to the scholars, these frescoes used to decorate the apodyterium or dressing room, and probably were drawn to give a ‘snapshot’ of the services provided by the prostitutes in the establishment. These ‘benefits’ were offered in the private upstairs, while the brothels were frequented mostly by the rich merchants who traveled and plied their trade in the important hub of Pompeii.
And since we are talking about history, like most of Pompeii, the Suburban Baths were also destroyed by the calamitous eruption of Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD. And ironically, the consequent volcanic ash (and pumice) rather aided in preserving many of the explicit frescoes, along with the numerous structural elements of the ancient Roman city. And by the later half of the 20th century (and in the recent years), most sections of the thermae had been successfully restored by archaeologists.