Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy New Year!

2019 has been a busy year, with the Archway Project in full swing, new displays in the Sun Lounge, lots of wonderful events, and a huge update to our Collections Management database. Our amazing team of placements and volunteers helped to create over 3500 new records on the database, and 6400 were records altered or updated!

Imogen explains animal bones in archaeology

Imogen spent most of 2019 on a placement with the Collections team, all the way from Australia! She helped us to care for the collection, catalogue archives, and created a fantastic new display  of medieval objects in Keynsham Civic Centre.

Bournemouth PhD student Owen running a handling table by the Great Bath during the summer

We ran events on site throughout the summer, and out and about in Sydney Gardens, Batheaston and at both of our offsite stores. These events help to bring the hugely varied collections out of storage. From Roman death and burial to Victorian Spa equipment, we’re got it all!

Some of our wonderful volunteers investigating displays at St Fagans

To celebrate everyone’s hard work, we went on a brilliant trip to St Fagans National Museum of History in the summer to explore their open-air museum and see amazing archaeological finds.

Most of the time, however, you could find us in the office or in our stores, sorting boxes and cataloguing objects. Our work is never finished!

Typical scenes in store - sorting Staffordshire slipware sherds

In the Collections office we do tend to welcome Christmas and the new year with open arms as the holiday gives us some time to catch up on all the little things, so stay tuned and look out for our blog posts as we dust our way into 2020…

Dusting a model of the Roman Temple...just one of our many chores for the winter!

Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Curious Coins from Batheaston

Recently, visited Batheaston to display a range of incredible objects from the local area. Of course, I chose my favourite subject – coins! We had several lovely Roman coins on display, from Emperor Domitian (77AD) to Emperor Gratian (367AD), but my two favourite coins found during excavations at the Batheaston Bypass aren’t Roman at all…

Visitors to Batheaston Scout Hut find out about the archaeology of the area

The first is what I think is one of the most beautiful coins in the collection. It is a sceat (a small silver coin) from the eighth century AD - just before the Viking invasion. It might have been minted in Denmark, or Frisia (now part of the Netherlands or Northern Germany), but there is a lot of ongoing debate about when and where these coins were made.

On one side, there is the bearded face of the Ancient German sky god called “Wodan”, related to the Norse god Odin. On the other there is a mythical monster, possibly a dragon!

The Woden/Monster sceat from Batheaston

The second is a European copy of an English silver penny, originally minted for Edward I (1288-1299). At the time, these were nicknamed “crockards”, which is a term of uncertain origin. There is also a medieval Latin word crocardus which is translated as “bad money”, but this may have been derived from the English term and not the other way round.

At the time, the English silver penny was famous throughout Europe for its quality and purity. European merchants would trade their goods to the English for the coins. Then they would melt down the coins, mix the silver with some cheaper metal, and mint more coins for themselves. By making the coins look like the English pennies, they could then pretend that the coins were just as high in value as the originals.

However, the crockards weren’t considered “counterfeit”, because they were not identical to the English pennies. The names of the European moneyers were on the coins, and instead of the royal crown, Edward I is wearing a “chaplet of roses” – or a flower crown!

A 'crockard' from Batheaston - with Edward I in a flower crown!

Our coin was minted by John, Duke of Brabant (part of Belgium), who was Edward I’s son-in-law.  

At first, Edward tried to use crockards as currency, saying that they were worth half a penny instead of a full penny, but this was confusing, and soon he decided that all the crockards should be destroyed instead. This makes our coin very special!

Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

An Alphabet of Objects: B is for Bottles

When you visit the Roman Baths and walk through the Pump Room, you will come to a small room on the other side called the Sun Lounge. Here, our A-Z display has now changed from A…to B!

Installing the new Alphabet display

Created by our volunteer Zoƫ, the display showcases beautiful bottles through time. Over the summer, Michela did a lot of research into the marvellous Victorian bottles in the collection and found that every bottle has got a story to tell:

Glass Codd-neck bottle

This is known as a Codd-neck bottle because it was invented in 1872 by a British engineer called Hiram Codd. He designed and patented a bottle specifically invented for carbonated drinks. In fact, the Codd-neck bottle has a unique closing design based on a glass marble that is forced against the washer by the pressure of the gas contained in the beverage. 

To open a Codd-neck bottle it is necessary to push the marble down and let the gas spill out. These bottles also have a special chamber to prevent the marble from blocking the neck when pouring the drink. This clever bottle design is still used in Japan for carbonated beverages. This bottle was produced in Newport (South Wales) but the drink that was inside was product by a soda-lemonade factory called Brooke & Co. that was founded in Bath (5 Walcot Street) in 1846.

Glass 'torpedo' bottle

This ‘torpedo’ bottle was introduced in 1814 to preserve the pressure of the bottle. This shape does not allow you to keep the bottle standing up, only lying down! In this way, the liquid keeps the cork covered, preventing it from becoming dry and avoiding the loss of bottle pressure. This particular example contained a carbonate drink produced in Bath by a factory called R. B. Cater & Co. that had a phoenix as trade mark. Can you spot the phoenix on the side?

Medicine bottle containing 'Kay's Linseed Compound'

This medicine bottle contained a preparation of chloroform and morphine that was sold as remedy for coughs, colds, bronchitis, influenza and asthma. This medicine was produced in Stockport by a factory called Kay Brothers Ltd. that was probably founded in 1867. On the 5th of December 1908, The British Medical Journal examined the contents of Kay’s Linseed Compound (page 1698). Reading the contents, it’s not surprising that it isn’t found in pharmacies today!

Extract from the British Medical Journal 1908

The A-Z display is free to see in the Sun Lounge during opening hours. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way through the alphabet!

Michela Amato
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Bones

"In nature, there is no separation between design, engineering, and fabrication; the bone does it all"
Neri Oxman 

Why bone? Bones are exciting as they connect us with the past, but also feel forbidden as they are not a part of everyday life. They can prove useful as they survive through time where other materials (e.g. wood) may not.

Visitors to the Roman Baths find out about bones in archaeology

Past societies used bone to create different objects. Although this may seem gross to us now, bone was a readily available material and therefore an obvious choice to build things from. Many artefacts were made from cow or sheep bones, probably because they were the most commonly butchered animals. But how did the people of the past actually use bone?

Roman gaming counter

Imagine a Roman beating their competitors with this gaming counter. Gaming is a forever concept; whereas today we play on the Playstation, Roman games were far more rudimentary but just as competitive. One inscription from a Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum game board in Rome read ‘Levate dalocu, ludere nescis, idiota recede’ (Jump up, push off, you don’t know how to play, get out stupid) evidencing how heated games could get!

Gaming was clearly important as a 24 year old man from Lullingstone villa was buried in AD300 with his gaming board and 30 gaming piece (15 red and 15 white) possibly so he could play eternally in the afterlife. I wonder if anyone has ever been buried with a Playstation?

Two Victorian toothbrushes made from bone and animal hair

Picture the Victorians using their bone bristle toothbrushes. It’s hard to believe that it was not until 1780 that the Europeans produced a bristle toothbrush. Before this, rags and salt or soot were rubbed on teeth to keep them clean.

Our dental saviour was William Addis who, whilst incarcerated, found a bone on the floor and connected this with animal hairs to create the bristle brush. This was perfectly timed as the toothbrush industry boomed with the increase in refined sugar travelling from the West Indies. Toothbrushes were used with toothpaste made from odd materials such as soot, chalk or even powdered cuttlefish! Would you try that?

Bone object handling table

We are incredibly lucky to have objects like this readily available, teaching us the importance of everyday ritual to the people of the past. They have truly all been worked to the bone!

Roman Society Collections Placement

Alcock, Joan. Life in Roman Britain. English Heritage (1996) pp. 54-5.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Building (part 2!)

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries"
Victor Hugo

Last week's blog introduced you to Roman ceramic building materials (CBM), so today let's discover the science behind the study!

How and why is Roman CBM studied by archaeologists?

Archaeologists use a range of traditional and cutting-edge analytical techniques to study bricks and tiles. These range from morphology-based examinations, that is looking at their shape and function, to fabric analyses, which basically look at the recipes of clay and temper (an extra material added to clay to change its working or firing properties) used to make the artefacts. 

The author using portable x-ray fluorescence to analyse Roman tile (with kind permission from the Culver Archaeological Project)

Expensive scientific compositional techniques such as portable x-ray fluorescence, which gives an elemental profile for the object, are also occasionally used. These analyses often aim to source the brick or tile, seeking to work out where the object was made and how far it was transported. This is done in order to understand the scale of production and infrastructure in place for building materials across the Roman world. 

What relevance does Roman CBM have to our society?

While Roman brick and tile might seem like a dry and dusty subject (which the objects quite literally are!), my own PhD research at Bournemouth University on the Roman Baths is hoping to ask questions that make these materials relevant to how we understand our world. 

Roman CBM - part of the vaulted roof that would have enclosed the Great Bath

CBM was introduced into Britain by the Romans around the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain in 43 AD. The native people never used it and never produced it, and subsequently Roman brick and tile industries and workers have been assumed to be entirely imported from the continent. My research is hoping to check this assumption, exploring if there is evidence for the incorporation of local potters or other individuals into these industries. In this way, I will be exploring the role that the production and use of CBM played in the development of Romano-British identities. I aim to contribute to our understanding of how people thought of themselves and how they identified, whether native, Roman or somewhere in between, in this important period of British history. 

At a time where so many different British identities intersect, acknowledging and working to understand the complex role of identities in Britain’s past can also help us to understand our own contemporary society.

Thank you very much for reading, I hope this post has inspired you to look on humble brick and tile with a new light!

Owen Kearn
Bournemouth University PhD student

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Building

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries"
Victor Hugo

A couple of months ago I presented a handling table at the Roman Baths for the Words on Wednesday events.  This blog aims to give a general overview of the use of ceramic buildings materials (CBM), that is bricks and tiles, in Roman Britain, as well as how and why archaeologists continue to study these materials and what relevance they have to our modern society.

Owen manning the handling table at the Roman Baths

What are bricks and tiles?

Bricks and tiles are rectangular or flat blocks of red or white clay that have been shaped and fired at high temperatures to produce the hard and durable building blocks of homes and buildings across the world.

How were bricks and tiles used in Roman Britain?

While the Romans used bricks of a range of unfamiliar shapes, at least to our modern eyes, they employed a lot of their bricks and tiles in the same way that we do today. This includes in building walls and structures as well as in roofing. The Romans are also famous for the construction of heated floors, known as hypocausts, and channelling hot air through buildings using specialised hollow tiles. Examples of these can still be seen throughout the Roman Baths at Bath, so keep an eye out for them the next time you visit!

A hypocaust in the West Baths at the Roman Baths

Stay tuned for next week's blog, where we find out how and why Roman CBM is studied by archaeologists, and what relevance this has today.

Owen Kearn
Bournemouth University PhD student

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Home

"Home is where one starts from"
T.S. Elliot

My name is Qin Li and I am on a work placement with the Learning and Participation team as part of my MA study. During my placement, the most appealing and the most difficult work for me was my ‘Words on Wednesday’ handing table. For my table, I chose the topic of  'at home with a Roman Family', which is mainly about the day to day activities of the Romans at home. There were three themes on my table, women’s work at home - textile working, leisure activities - gaming (board games) and dinner.

My handling table

During my display, I used the timeline of the day to join these different themes. When Roman women were at home during the daytime, one of their main tasks was textile working. They were spinning and weaving yarn and making clothes for their families. Due to demand for clothing, the family workshop gradually developed into an industry and played an important role in the Roman economic system. In the Roman Baths collection, I found spindle whorls of various shapes and colours, they are my main objects in this section. Some loom weights and needles were also displayed on the table.

Spindle whorls made of pottery and shale

The second part of my display was about Roman leisure activities after work. When they were at home or in the bath house, they enjoyed some leisure time. Gaming is one of the things they did. They used counters, dice and other things to play the board games. In this section, I showed counters of different materials. The Romans used counters of different materials such as ceramic, shale, glass and bone. Visitors seemed to be attracted by the beautiful glass counters.

Gaming counters made of black and white glass and worked bone

After the end of work and leisure time, they had dinner time. I chose to show the pots and dishes which were used to serve on the table in this section. Ceramic pots of different colours and textures were chosen. One of my favourite objects is a piece of Samian ware pottery. The mould-made decoration on the Samian is very beautiful, which also attracted visitors’ attention. This piece of Samian is in a good condition and visitors were able to touch it.

Samian bowl rim

At my table there were some activities to engage with visitors. In the working section, a replica of the spindle was provided. I tried to learn the Roman spinning technique when I was researching my table. Visitors were very happy to see me show it! In the gaming part, a Roman board game was there for visitors to play. Merels, the Roman three-in-a-row game, attracted many people. Most of them chose to take a board game home with them when they left the table. I hope this little game will give all the visitors good memories of this handling table.

Visitors enjoying a game of Merels

Qin Li
Placement Student