Emperor Vespasian’s baths… In Gonio
04 September, 2014
Emperor Vespasian’s baths… In Gonio
Georgian-Polish joint archeological expedition has unearthed extremely old Roman baths and ruins of other buildings at the territory of a fortress in Gonio-Apsarosi , located in the Adjara region in southwestern part of Georgia. The baths date back to 1st century A.D., and according to archeologists’ estimates, were built in its second half, during the rule of Emperor Vespasian.
The archeological dig was conducted by both Adjara’s Cultural Heritage Protection Agency’s Gonio-Apsarosi Museum-Preserve and the Archeological Institute of Warsaw University.
The first stage of the expedition is already complete. In expectation of more archeological discoveries, the second stage is planned for 2015.
Head of the Polish side of the expedition declares that the baths were most likely built for Roman legionnaires stationed in Western Georgia. Mosaics decorating their floors point at the significance of these baths for the Romans. Polish archeologists, together with Georgian ones, plan to unearth the baths in their entirety, conserve the ruins and build a roof over them.

Shota Mamuladze, professor of Gonio-Apsarosi Museum-Preserve and head of the expedition, explained the discovery in detail:

“We have discovered remains of buildings that date back to I and III centuries A.D., among them Roman baths, which we managed to study only partially. Among our discoveries is a tiled floor, a water reservoir and the remnants of a mosaic. The latter fact points at the particular significance of the bath.

– Which Roman forces and how many of them were stationed in Gonio?

– Five cohorts total, according to historians, but there is no data regarding whether they were legionnaires or auxiliaries. However, insignias discovered at the site point at auxiliaries. We even know the designations of the cohorts. One cohort was comprised from 200 to 300 soldiers. Here at the fortress, from 1,000 to 1,200 people were garrisoned, which was enough for exercising control of both land and marine routes, as well as keeping an eye on and preventing possible threats from the north.

– You mentioned that archeological research was conducted in four areas. What else did you uncover?

– Besides the baths, some quite interesting ruins were unearthed. Soldier barracks, discovered in the southeastern part of the fortress, were a particularly interesting find: they are equipped with a multi-tiered floor and some parts have hypocaust heating. Plumbing and sewer systems are also present. Cultural sediments of various epochs have also been found in the same location. For example, remnants of certain settlements can be found here, dating back to VIII-VII centuries BC, which seem to be dedicated to a cult. They are chronologically followed by Roman sediments, dating back to I-III centuries A.D. and are represented by two construction styles. The same region is also home to cultural sediments of the Ottoman Empire (XVI-XIX centuries), which are distinguished by the relatively modern plumbing, tiles and other remnants. In the southwestern part of the fortress, more Roman ruins were unearthed, especially distinguished by the discovery of furnaces designed for working with ceramics.

Gonio-Apsarosi Fortress (222m length, 195m width, total area – 4.75 ha)

Located 12 km from the city of Batumi, it lies on the left shore of the Tchorokhi River (known as Apsarosi/Akampsisi/Harpasosi in the past). This is the region where Colchian metallurgy was born and the first Georgian states, Kolkha and Diaokhi, were formed (XIII-VIII centuries BC). According to Roman and Byzantine written sources, it was in this period when Apsaros was established as a settlement. As various historians and ethnographers claim, among them are Stephanus of Byzantium, Artemidorus Ephesius and Procopius of Caesarea. The name of the settlement is related to the Argonauts’ journey to Colchis, their murder of Absyrtus, son of Aeetes and his burial here.
According to Pliny the Elder, the fortress was already built by 77 A.D. Apsaros was a strategic, political, economical and cultural center of Rome’s eastern border. Five auxiliary cohorts (about 1,200-1,500 soldiers) were stationed here; there also was a functional theater and a hippodrome. According to some sources (Epiphanius of Salamis, Sophron and others) this is the final resting place of apostle Matthias. In the 40s of the VI century, Byzantines established themselves in Apsaros and in X century this place became known as Akampsi. In the XII century it was renamed Gonio. From 1547 to 1878, a significant Ottoman force was stationed here.
Among the first to become interested in the fortress’s history was Heinrich Schliemann, Nicholas Marr and Fyodor Uspensky. Archeological digs at the site began in the 60s of the past century.
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