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.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

After Aquae Sulis

“Are you familiar with the Anglo-Saxons and what came after Rome?”

Unfortunately, unless an enthusiast or someone who has studied the period at University, your answer will probably be: no. The years AD410-1066 are hardly touched upon in school curricula and yet are some of the most formative in the history of Western Europe; helping us to understand everything from the formation of countries to why Bath is in Somerset rather than Gloucestershire. Not learning about it is equivalent to Americans not learning about Columbus. So that's why I chose to do this period for my handling table this summer.

map of the South West in Saxon times

When King Alfred (AD 871-899) founded his burh at Baðum (Bath) in the aftermath of his wars with the Vikings, he established a market town on a new street plan, next to an earlier English monastery within the decaying walls of Roman Aquae Sulis. The latter had been in long decline, beginning even before the end of Roman Britain. Iconoclastic Christians had cast down the pagan statues and altars for use in road surfaces, residential buildings were converted into workshops and tell-tale layers of organic material illustrate ever increasing agricultural activity within the walls. 

The ruins of Aquae Sulis as were immortalised by an early English Poet in the words of The Ruin:
Wondrous is this stone-wall, wrecked by fate;
the city-buildings crumble, the works of giants decay.
Roofs have caved in, towers collapsed

undermined by age.”

Bath, along with Gloucester and Cirencester, was conquered by the English in 577 at the battle of Dyrham, not far from Bath. In this era of squabbling petty kingdoms and Bath became the southern tip of the kingdom of the Hwicce, a sub-kingdom of Mercia, whose King Osric founded a minster in the city in 675. Bath’s Roman past and location on the Mercian/West Saxon border meant that it remained important throughout the period. 

Major towns had exclusive rights to minting and trade. This silver penny of Aethelred was minted in Bath and is in the Roman Baths Museum collection

Almost certainly concerned with the defence of his realm the powerful Mercian King Offa (757-796) effectively confiscated the land given to the church by Osric and as already mentioned, the ruined city was later chosen by Alfred for the site of a burh. Bath’s imperial connotations must also have been key in Edgar’s decision to be re-crowned in the city in 973.   

Part of a Viking sword found in the ditch of  the Saxon town on Upper Borough Walls, Bath 
Wil Partridge, volunteer

Friday, 2 September 2016

Tuesday Times Table: How did the ancients make pottery?

 Pottery is the most common archaeological find in most places, and the Roman Baths Museum has a great collection of pottery, from which various interesting points can be discovered. I focused on the techniques of making pottery and tried to connect pottery fragments with the processes of decoration and firing they had experienced.

 Prehistoric people collected clay from nearby, dried it in the sun, sieved and mixed it with water, and made ring-built or thumb pot vessels by hand. Firing was also quite simple. They use dried dung and brushwood on the ground and the firing process took only 30 to 60 minutes. Later people started to select the clay, remove impurities from it and then leave it to weather before using it. They also used several pools to wash clay and mix it with grit and sand for special use. Turntables were used in shaping and glazes were introduced as decoration. Various kilns and kiln furniture were designed to make firing more effective.
 Roman Samian ware from France compared to imitation Samian made in Britain

 In the activity, I chose different types of pottery to show the improvements in ceramic technology, from Iron Age coarse ware to modern fine ware. Many of them were manufactured in Europe while almost all of them were excavated in Bath, which shows the ancient trades of pottery. The spread of pottery techniques and the imitation of styles are my favourite points, thus I chose a British imitation of Samian. Compared with Samian made in continental Europe, this British samian is of grey and orange fabric, and its surface is variegated. This is due to the preparation of clay and the temperature in the kiln.

 During the display, people enjoyed feeling the decoration and glaze on the pottery, and many people were interested in the Roman finewares. Children were satisfied with their own pieces of clay decorated using stamps, sticks and ropes, just as the ancients did.

Chenxi Sun
University of Leicester MA Museum Studies
Placement with the Collection team







莱斯特大学 博物馆学硕士

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tuesday Timetable – il potere espresso attraverso la moda

Grazie alla School of Museum Studies dell’Università di Leicester, ho avuto la fortuna di passare l’estate a Bath, lavorando con il Collections Management team del Museo delle Terme Romane. Un’esperienza unica, che mi sta permettendo non soltanto di crescere professionalmente in uno tra i più rinomati musei del Regno Unito, ma anche di scoprire, giorno dopo giorno, l’affiscinante storia di questo sito, direttamente attraverso le sue collezioni.

Uno dei momenti più interessanti è stato progettare il cosiddetto Tuesday Timetable, un’attività il cui scopo è di mostrare oggetti, appartenenti alla collezione museale, generalmente non accessibili al pubblico. L’idea è di sviluppare un tema e presentarlo ai visitatori in un tavolo, posto nella scenografica cornice dei Great Baths.

Il titolo del mio Tuesday Timetable è stato “Il potere espresso attraverso la moda”. Durante i miei studi in archeologia classica, mi sono appassionata di iconografia antica, cioè lo studio e l’interpretazione delle immagini e i loro attributi.

In antichità, monete e statue svolgevano la stessa funzione degli attuali mezzi di comunicazione di massa, diffondendo immagini e i loro significati simbolici ad ampio raggio. Grazie alla loro presenza costante nella vita di tutti i giorni - le monete erano il principale mezzo di scambio, così come le statue decoravano i principali luoghi pubblici delle città  - le immagini rappresentate erano facilmente riconoscibili anche dalla gente comune.
Nell’antica Grecia, i principali soggetti sulle monete ritraevano dei ed eroi, mentre i Romani col tempo li sostituirono con effigi degli imperatori e membri della loro famiglia. In tal senso, monete e statue erano i principali veicoli di propaganda politica del tempo.
L’influenza sociale e politica per i Romani si esprimeva attraverso la moda. Gli imperatori portavano corone radiate e d’alloro, erano raffigurati col volto rasato, o con una folta barba, mentre le loro mogli sfoggiavano acconciature destinate a fare tendenza, sia semplici che estremamente elaborate.
Busto femminile con acconciatura tipica del periodo Flavio (fine del I sec. d.C.). Roma, ©Musei Capitoliniusto 

Busto dell’imperatore Adriano (76-138 d.C.), che reintrodusse la moda della barba. Roma,, ©Musei Capitolini Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme 

Una lavagna mostrava ai visitatori immagini di scultura antica e i cambiamenti nello stile; sul tavolo, invece, era possibile ammirare e toccare monete di epoca greca e romana, e le repliche delle teste della famosa Sulis Minerva, e di Agrippina Maggiore, madre dell’imperatore Caligola, i cui originali sono esposti nel museo. Ma non è tutto! Nella ricca collezione museale, ho trovato alcune medaglie inglesi della metà del XVIII secolo, in cui i profili dei reali si ispiravano chiaramente a modelli Greco-romani, a conferma del profondo radicamento della cultura classica nella cultura occidentale.
Il mio Tuesday Timetable ai Great Bath

Il pubblico ha molto apprezzato poter vedere e toccare i reperti, commentando e comparando i cambiamenti di stile, gusti e moda passati, rispetto ai giorni nostri. Anche i più piccoli non si sono annoiati, impegnati a disegnare le loro monete personali!
Io e la mia compagna di corso Yahao… Da Leicester a Bath! 

Tuesday Timetable - Power through Fashion

Thanks to the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, I am fortunate enough to spend my summer in Bath, carrying out a placement with the Collections team of the Roman Baths. This experience is giving me the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge in museum studies, as well as to discover, day by day, the most interesting facts about the history of this inspiring site, directly from the objects belonging to its collection.

One of my favourite moments so far was to design a handling table for the so-called Tuesday Timetable evening event. The idea is to take out objects from the store and offer visitors a literally “hands-on” engagement, in the fascinating backdrop of the Great Baths.
The title of my Tuesday Timetable was “Power through Fashion”. As part of my background in Classical archaeology, I am very interested in ancient history of art, especially iconography, that is to say the study and interpretation of images and their symbols.
In the past, coins and statues served the role of today’s newspapers and mass media, spreading images and their symbolic meanings through space and time. Since coins were the main means of exchange, and statues decorated public places, people easily got used to the represented imagery.

In ancient Greece deities and mythical heroes were the most common subjects to be found on coins, but the Romans replaced them with actual portraits of emperors and members of the royal family, using coins and statues as tools for political propaganda. Romans expressed their individuality and power through fashion. Emperors’ wives showed several hairstyles, from simple to extremely elaborated ones, and rulers wore radiate crowns or laurel wreaths, having a beard or being shaved.

Bust of a woman showing a typical Flavian hairstyle (end of the 1st century CE).
copyright Capitoline Museums Rome

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE), who reintroduced the fashion of having a beard.
copyright National Roman Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome.

On my display, people could admire pictures of ancient sculptures and their style, and on the table Greek and Roman coins, and the replicas of the heads of Sulis Minerva and Agrippina the Elder, mother of the Emperor Caligula, were free to touch. But not only these ! Some ancient artistic models became emblems of the Western culture. In the rich Roman Baths' collection, I found and displayed some 19th century British medals, depicting the Royals as ancient gods.
My Tuesday Timetable by the Great Bath

Visitors enjoyed looking at and touching the objects, comparing past fashion, taste and lifestyles to our contemporary societies. Children were also happy to draw pictures of themselves as kings and queens on a coin, the activity I designed for the table.
Me and my classmate Yahao… From Leicester to Bath!

Chiara Marabelli

School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Friday, 19 August 2016

Rings fit for Kings...

We don’t venture onto the site unless necessary, and so it is that in my three years at The Roman Baths, I am still ticking off areas of the site I’ve been on! I came in recently to discover the Sacred Spring being cleaned (this is something that is done periodically to remove excess build-up of algae (and bird feathers!)), and having a valid excuse to venture through the door to the Spring, I went exploring…

We’re currently designing a new display to go in the King’s Lounge (overlooking the Sacred Spring), and one of the objects going in the case is a 17th century bathing ring. There are 25 of these, still in situ around the walls of what was the King’s Bath; but as there would also have been rings around the Queen’s Bath, I was eager to see if we could establish whether the ring came from the King’s Bath…it looks like it may be from the King’s Bath, there’s a pretty big hole it could have fitted!

Bathing ring from the King’s Bath

Currently in the King’s Lounge, we have the detail of some of the inscriptions on the bathing rings, and so whilst down there I took the opportunity to do a photographic survey of all the rings I could (safely) reach, wanting to see how many it was possible to still identify…

Well, so far I have managed six; the inscriptions on the rings have been worn over time, so I was working with varying levels of visible inscription.

Working with the illustration and comparing them to my photos, I was able to identify four of the rings.

Three of the inscribed rings, in situ

Further research led me to discover that in a book of 1883 ‘The Mineral Bath’s of Bath: The Bathes of Bathe’s Ayde in the Reign of Charles II’ by Charles E. Davis, there were inscriptions of 13 bathing rings around the King’s Bath. Using this information I was able to identify another ring that we had illustrated (though all you can see today is the inscription on the attachment, which wasn’t illustrated).

Bathing ring identified by inscription on attachment

One further ring, though not illustrated, had enough of its inscription remaining to be identifiable using the publication; reading ‘Sir William Whitmore, Barronnet, when Mr. Robert Chapman his Frind was 2nd the Mayor, 1677’.

Bathing ring identified through 1883 publication

Further rings bear hints of remaining inscription; maybe one day we’ll be able to get closer looks at them all and identify more.


Collections Assistant

Monday, 15 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Curses and the Sacred Spring

One of my favourite jobs during my internship at the The Roman Baths has been working on my Tuesday Times Table. I chose to show to the visitors the curse tablets and the other objects thrown into the Sacred Spring by the Romans. The curses are tablets made of lead and pewter, inscribed by hand and dedicated by people to the goddess Sulis Minerva (as well as Mars and Mercury), asking for revenge and justice for missing objects, probably stolen. Some of them were folded or rolled. Most of the curses are written in colloquial Latin, specifically the Vulgar Latin of the Romano-British population. The tablets contain religious prayers and Roman and Celtic names. Some of them are written in capital letters, others using the old or new Roman cursive and others are illiterate. In the Sacred Spring were found many other objects like coins, jewellery, vessels and wood and stone objects. They were all offerings to the goddess.

During my display by the Great Bath many people seemed to be interested in my project. I had a table on which I could show the objects, in particular the curses with a display board with some further details. People were invited to handle every object (well in their boxes!) and this is the very good thing about the Tuesday Times Tables, because usually people can’t handle objects in museums, but thanks to this project they could personally discover the finds, and they were very surprised by this, and sometimes hesitant!

My handling table by the Great Bath

At my table there was an activity for children too. They could try to write their names using the ancient cursive Roman alphabet. This activity became very popular with adults too, many people tried to write their names or other words with the alphabet and they realised that it is very different from the English alphabet and that there are missing letters!

Stefania Ballocco
Universita’ degli studi di Cagliari (Italy)

Erasmus intern with the Collections team

Le maledizioni e la fonte sacra
Uno degli incarichi svolti durante il mio tirocinio al Roman Bath Museum e’ stato lavorare al Tuesaday Time Table, un progetto che prevede l’esposizione al pubblico di oggetti normalmente non visibili. Ho scelto di mostrare ai visitatori le tavolette delle maledizioni e gli altri oggetti che venivano riposti nella fonte sacra dai Romani.
Le maledizioni sono tavolette di piombo o peltro, incise a mano e dedicate alla dea Sulis Minerva. I dedicatari chidevano giustizia e vendetta per oggetti persi, probabilmente rubati. Alcune di queste sono state ritrovate nella fonte piegate o arrotolate. La maggior parte sono scritte in latino colloquilale, in particolare e’ stato usato il latino volgare della popolazioni Romano –britanniche. Le tavolette contengono preghiere alla dea e sono una fonte per lo studio e la conoscenza dell’onomastica romana e celtica. Alcune sono state scritte in stampatello, altre utilizzando il corsivo, altre ancora sono incomprensibili o illegibili. Nella fonte sacra sono stati ritrovati molti altri oggetti, quali monete, vasi, gioielli,  e oggetti in osso e in pietra. Erano tutte offerte per la dea.
Durante l’esposizione nel Great Bath i visitatori del museo si sono mostrati interessati al mio progetto.  Ho esposto le maledizioni e gli altri oggetti in un tavolo, nel quale si trovava anche un pannello con informazioni aggiuntive. Le persone erano invitate a toccare con mano ogni oggetto (posto ovviamente all’interno della sua scatola!), e questa e’ la vera cosa interessante del Tuesday Time Table, in quanto di solito i visitatori nei musei non possono toccare gli oggetti, ma grazie a questo progetto possono scoprirli personalmente, e molti di loro sono sorpresi da questo, alcuni addirittura esitanti.

La mia esposizione nel Great Bath

Nel mio tavolo c’era anche un attivita’ dedicata ai bambini, i quali potevano provare a scrivere il loro nome usando l’antico alfabeto latino corsivo. Questa attivita’ e’ diventata molto popolare anche tra gli adulti, che si sono cimentati nel provare a scrivere i loro nomi e altre parole, scoprendo che l’antico alfabeto latino e’ completamente diverso da quello inglese e che molte lettere sono assenti!

Stefania Ballocco
Universita’ degli studi di Cagliari 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: Art and Design in Roman Britain

Choosing the theme of ‘Art and Design in Roman Britain’ was easy for my handling table, due to the wealth of art within the collections in the Roman Baths. I focused on pottery, glass, wall painting, mosaics and jewellery as they were perfect examples of art in Britain, and within Bath as all my objects were local finds. Having only ever studied Roman art within Rome and the surrounding empire, it was a challenge learning new things about art within Roman Britain, especially the cultural overlapping with the Celtic tribes within Britain at the time of the Roman conquest.

Overlap between the Celtic and Roman styles was mainly seen within the jewellery on my handling table. The brooches and bracelets were perfect examples of a Celtic influence, due to the swirling designs which are identifiable as Celtic. I had beautiful twisted bronze and copper bracelets, with a tiny child’s bracelet which was a personal favourite. I also had a number of replica brooches, pins and torcs on display as examples of how varied and colourful Roman jewellery was and how the styles had changed.

Child's Copper Alloy Bracelet

Mosaics are always important examples of art within the Roman world, let alone in Roman Britain where fewer have survived. I used tesserae (the square stones in a mosaic) as an example of the scale on which each tiny tessera was placed, and was amazed how durable they are considering their age. Accompanying my tesserae was a piece of mosaic from Weymouth House School in Bath, found in 1897.  The mosaic was popular with those who had never seen or had contact with a Roman mosaic before.

Mosaic piece from Weymouth House School

Using Samian pottery as examples was perfect due to its vibrant ochre colouring and beautiful designs of birds, and a sun among other motifs on the sherds of the pottery, I also had a replica Samian bowl with a Barbotine design around the top to show how Samian ware might have looked when complete.

Samian Bowl Sherd

The most popular and impressive item was a small bronze eagle, which was an ornamental fitting for an object. I was amazed how well preserved the eagle was with the perfect incision of feathers on the wings outstretched, and on the face of the beak. Although small it made a big impact on my handling table due its beauty, and for its symbolism of the Ancient Roman world and its presence which is still here today.

Roman Bronze Eagle Figurine

Roman Society Intern

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Timsbury Hoard

I have spent the majority of my volunteering time over the last 2 years working on the Beau St Hoard, and during that time, I discovered a whole new love of Roman coins. So, when the Beau St project was finished, and I got the chance to do a handling table for the Tuesday Times Tables, I wanted to choose a different group of coins to show off. As the Collections team were going to Timsbury for the Festival of Archaeology, what better choice than the Timsbury Hoard?

The Beau St Hoard has 17,577 coins (or thereabouts!), so in comparison, the Timsbury Hoard, with only 20 silver coins, is very tiny. However, the coins themselves are just as interesting.

 The Whole Hoard

The coins were found in 2011 in the village of Timsbury, about 7.5 miles south west of Bath. They were discovered separately by a metal detectorist who was detecting in a field. As they were found in a small area, even though they weren’t together in a pot or box, they are still considered a hoard.

They cover roughly 100 years of Roman Imperial history, from 141AD to 249AD. The earliest coin depicts Faustina the Elder (wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius), and the latest shows Emperor Philip I. When Faustina’s coin was minted, the Empire was in safe hands. By the time Philip’s coins were issued, the Empire was in turmoil, with almost all the Emperors murdered by the army or their successors.

I chose 5 of the 20 coins from the hoard as handling objects for my table. These included the earliest coin, one of the latest coins, and my favourite coin from the hoard. I don’t think many people believed me that we would let them handle real Roman coins that were over 1700 years old!

 My favourite coin!

My favourite coin from the hoard is a denarius from Emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193-211AD. He was the first African emperor of Rome. He also renovated Hadrian’s Wall, invaded Caledonia (Scotland), and died in York. On the back, or reverse, of the coin, is a picture of an ancient African goddess known in Rome as Dea Caelestis (Goddess of the Sky). She is riding a lion, which is jumping over a spring. It’s a complicated picture, but it shows how detailed and interesting the coins could be!

Can you imagine if modern coins had such exciting pictures on them?