Apolline Project

illuminating the dark side of Vesuvius

The Roman Baths in Pollena Trocchia - the annual reports



In February 1988 the remains of a Roman building were identified in the municipality of Pollena Trocchia (on the north side of the Somma-Vesuvius, probably part of the territory of Naples in antiquity), in the locality of Masseria De Carolis. At the time the area was used for quarrying volcanic material, used for construction in the vicinity. Despite the fact that vast damage had been caused to the ancient walls by the quarrying machinery, it was possible to identify two vaulted structures, at the time interpreted as granaries belonging to a villa rustica of 2nd century AD date. Following this discovery the site was abandoned, partially fenced in and then buried by an illegal rubbish dump.
From 2005 the “Apolline Project” has undertaken various research activities on the archaeological sites within the territory of Pollena Trocchia. During the 2005 and 2006 campaigns, the site in the locality of Masseria De Carolis was identified and cleaned of vegetation and the rubbish inside the fenced in area.

The first excavation campaign began in 2007. A georadar survey was undertaken to the north and west of the vaulted structures. This showed the edge of the quarry created in 1988. Five trenches were excavated which documented the deposition sequence of the eruptive material. In fact, two thirds of the site had been buried by volcanoclastic material from the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 472 (known as the “Pollena” eruption).

A number of modest structures (including an oven) made from elements robbed from the walls that had not been buried post dated the eruptive material. These structures were then covered by the ash from another eruption, dated AD 505/512. Above this layer, in the eastern sector of the site, the collapse of a wall from a second construction level was found. This had been covered by a volcanic deposit that could not be precisely dated, but was probably Medieval.
A trench was dug inside one of the vaulted structures discovered in 1988. Below the volcanic material of AD 472 a semi “a cappuccina” burial of a boy about four years old was uncovered. The only object in the grave was a siliqua of Marcian (AD 450-7) emperor of the eastern empire. The burial overlay 5th century AD layers, which produced pottery, half of which coarse, mainly plain buff ware and cooking ware, and a lesser quantity of amphorae, colour coated ware and ARS. Worthy of note among the finds were fragments of glass and tegulae mammatae, which suggest that the vaulted structures were not used for agricultural purposes. There was no dating evidence for the walls, however they presented characteristics typical of the 2nd century AD.


The 2008 campaign greatly increased knowledge of the site. In fact, five trenches were excavated in diverse parts of the site, which identified ten rooms. The two vaulted features (“g” and “f”), partially investigated in 1988, were completely excavated and identified as a praefurnium with a long furnace (probably for the combined use of metal boilers – aenea – and testudo alveolorum), steps leading to the furnace floor and three openings, two in the east wall (one providing access to room “f”) and one in the north wall.
The praefurnium heated the calidarium “e”, where suspensurae were present (partially excavated). The vaulted feature “f” had a single access in the west wall and was also a praefurnium, with two small furnaces, one on the south side, the other to the east. The rooms “d” (partially excavated), “c” and “b” were situated to the south of the two praefurnia and had suspensurae. Moreover, room “c” also preserved the hypocaust floor, collapsed in the central part before the eruption, and the first row of flue tiles. Room “b” was probably the tepidarium, as it received heat in an indirect form, via an opening in the hypocaust connecting it to room “d”. It was also linked by a passageway to room “a”, which was probably in origin the frigidarium. In the north-east sector of the site there are three rooms yet to be investigated and of uncertain function.
The phases of the vulcanoclastic fill identified in 2007 were confirmed and the directions of the volcanoclastic flows were identified, the main one from the east (Somma-Vesuvio) towards west, the second from north towards the south, with the consequent thinning of the eruptive matter and the refinement of the material.
All occupation layers date to the 5th century AD, although in some cases the presence of residual 2nd and 3rd century material was noted. This probably corresponded to the removal of floors in many of the rooms, leading to the disturbance of the foundations. However, excavation below foundation level showed a thick ashy layer identified as that of the Vesuvian eruption of AD 79. The volcanologists’ interpretation was confirmed by the presence of pottery and frescoes dating to the 1st century AD, both above and below the ash layer.
The terminus post quem provided by the ash of AD 79 further supports – together with the residual material in the 5th century contexts – the dating of the complex to the 2nd-3rd century AD. It is still unclear whether the bath complex was autonomous or connected to a residential villa.


Several trenches were opened in various parts of the site. In the south-west sector two trenches were opened in order to gain a more precise plan of the calidaria “e” and “d”. However, this area had suffered severe disturbance caused by mechanical diggers in 1988. In fact, traces of a bucket from one of these machines were identified on the floor levels of the hypocausts and the walls were almost razed.
Between them the north and east areas revealed the complete stratigraphic sequence.
North of the praefurnium “g”, room “h” (probably the wood/coal store), was completely excavated and provided useful information regarding both the nature of the eruptive fill of AD 472 and the wood used for heating the rooms in the bath complex. Above room “h” there was a cistern “i”, also completely excavated. Following the AD 472 eruption, the cistern was emptied and used, together with other parts of the northern area of the site, and later buried by the ash from the AD 505/512 eruption. Numerous carbonised leaves were found within this layer which, together with the anthracological samples taken in previous years, provided a reconstruction of the late antique cultivations in the Vesuvian area.
During this season mortars samples were also taken and a three-dimensional scan was made of the site.


The 2010 campaign concentrated on the southern side of the site where the heated rooms of the baths and the courtyard in front of them are situated. The excavation inside the calidarium “e” defined almost its complete perimeter. The stratigraphy was heavily disturbed by building work undertaken at the time of the site’s discovery in 1988. Despite this the hypocaust floor was discovered, already robbed in antiquity. Some of the sesquipedales were stamped “DVO DOM”, showing that they were produced in the kilns of the brothers Domitius Lucanus and Domitius Tullus, active between AD 60 and 93/94. Considering that the entire construction was built above the AD 79 ashes it is possible to date the entire structure to between AD 79 and 93/94. This data is of particular importance for the understanding of resettlement in the Vesuvian area following the AD 79 eruption.
The courtyard south of the baths, paved in opus signinum, was also excavated. Here the stratigraphy was less disturbed by the 1988 intervention and still preserved a thick volcanoclastic layer from the AD 472 eruption. Below this two infant burials, placed close to each other, in amphora (LRA1 with titulus pictus, Keay LII), were found. DNA analysis is being carried out in order to discover any relationship between the two.