Athena Review  Vol.1, no.1

The Roman Fort and Bath at Bearsden, Scotland

Located at the western end of the Antonine Wall, the Roman fort in this town near Glasgow, Scotland was occupied between 142 and 165 AD. The Bearsden fort covered 2.4 acres (0.9 ha.), which included administrative and storage buildings, graneries, workshops, barracks, and a bath complex. The site has yielded sculpture and inscriptions, the latter showing that the fort was built by the Twentieth Roman Legion.

Fig.1: Bathhouse at Bearsden, with cold plunge bath in the foreground. In back are the cold room (frigidarium), hot and dry room, or sweatbath (sudatorium), and tepidaria or warm rooms (photo: Athena Review).]

Most of the site lay only 30 cm. underground, yet was largely undisturbed by extensive Victorian building on the property. While part of the site is now overlain by modern apartments, the bath complex was excavated in 1973-1979 and is well displayed, with easy access from a street aptly named Roman Road.

[Fig.2: Plan of the Roman bath house at Bearsden (based on site display).]

The bathhouse contained all major components of a second century Roman bath. These included a changing room (apodyterium); a cold room (frigidarium) and cold plunge bath; two warming rooms (tepidaria); a hot dry room, or sweatbath (sudatorium); and a hot room (caldarium).

[Fig.3: The cold  plunge bath at Bearsden.  (photo: Athena Review).]

The warm and hot rooms were heated from below by hot air from a furnace, circulated through cavities in the walls and a subfloor system of heat ducts (hypocausts), made in this case of stone slabs rather than the more typical ceramic pipes. While most of the bathhouse was built of stone, two of the rooms, the apodyterium (changing room) and the frigidarium (cold room) were made of timber, like many of the other fort buildings.

Artifacts and inscriptions from Bearsden are now in the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. Nearby are two well-preserved sections of the Antonine wall, located at the Hillfoot Cemetery about a mile from the baths.

[References: Keppie, Lawrence. Scotland's Roman Remains. Glasgow, 1986, 1990.]

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