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.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: Marvellous Medieval Metalwork

On 1st August, I took eight different objects to the Great Bath area for visitors to handle. These objects were all under the theme of medieval metalwork to show the public a different side of the Roman Baths collection.

Vicky with her Tuesday Times Table

The tweezers were especially popular as they look so similar to modern day ones, but my personal favourite had to be the Papal Bull Seal. The Papal Bull was a formal proclamation from the Pope at that time, which was sent out to the countries whom it was relevant to. This would have been sealed with a lead bulla, which is unique to that Pope. Papal Bulls were first used in the Sixth Century, but were not officially known as Papal Bulls until the Fifteenth Century. At this time one of the offices of the Papal Chancery was named the ‘Register of Bulls’, though the term itself has been used from the Thirteenth Century.

Left: front of Papal Bull seal. Right: Reverse of Papal Bull seal

At first sight, it looks like a plain circular piece of stone, though on further inspection it can be seen that it is made of lead, which due to its property of corrosion resistance means that a lot of the pattern is still intact. On the front, there are two visible faces, and on the back is barely decipherable writing, though it can be identified as being a Papal Bull from Pope John XXII. 

This narrows the timeline down to 1316 – 1334, which in comparison to the other items on the table (where only general periods could be provided) is a lovely precise date. Sadly we do not have the Papal Bull itself, as it was made of parchment so hasn’t survived, meaning we cannot know the exact declaration which this seal was attached to.

For me, the most interesting part of this object is how it was found. According to our records a Mr. Symons was casually digging up his turnips and suddenly he found a Papal Bull seal in the ground in Freshford, Bath. Luckily, he knew it was important and not a useless circular stone and now it remains in the Roman baths collection. If only I was so lucky with my gardening!

Roman Society Placement

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: The Idyllic Iron Age

When the Romans invaded Britain they found a country divided into tribal territories, some of which offered staunch resistance to the Roman advance. But this was not always the case. The Dobunni, who controlled the Cotswolds and northern Somerset, capitulated to the Romans and may have even surrendered before the army entered the South West. The goddess Sulis-Minerva, who was worshipped at the Temple in Bath, was a combination of Roman and British mythology and may have been a Roman tribute to the peaceful locals.

Bath has a relatively high concentration of nearby Iron Age hillforts, defensive structures that dominate the skyline, and yet remarkably few weapons, limited to a handful of iron spearheads. Instead, the artefacts that we have found in the area are more suggestive of a peaceful and pastoral landscape. The hillforts perhaps acted as meeting places or food distribution centres, with the lower slopes covered with cultivated fields and farmsteads.

The ramparts of Little Solsbury Hillfort

Carbonised grains of Emmer wheat, an early form of domesticated wheat and very important in Iron Age life, was found in a hearth in the Little Solsbury hillfort. The wheat could be made into porridge, and sherds of the courseware pots it was cooked in have also been found.

There are also indications of cloth making. Spindle whorls made of stone and bone were used to spin the fleece of local sheep into yarn. A large lump of Bath limestone with a hole drilled through it was used to weigh down threads on a loom to create woollen textiles. A fine bone pin would push the weft threads together to create a tighter concentration and a finer cloth.

Iron Age coin showing horse and wheel on reverse (BATRM1980.316)

 The archaeology around Bath shows there was a preoccupation with ritual and belief. Two bronze spoons were deposited in a stream in Weston. They are decorated with beautiful curvilinear designs. Pairs of spoons like these are found infrequently across Britain and always in ritual contexts, in water or burials. Coins like the one pictured were discovered in the Sacred Spring at the Roman Baths, and indicate the importance of the waters before the arrival of the Romans. Many were minted by the local Dobunni tribe, but others were from the tribe south of Bath and may show tribal interactions were good-natured in the area.

These artefacts were brought out for visitors to investigate Iron Age Bath as a landscape of domesticity and mystery as part of our programme of Tuesday Times Tables, so join us next week to find out how they continue!


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Festival of Archaeology: Baffling Bones!

Last month, we decided to assemble a table of animal bones and activities for the Festival of Archaeology, which was held at the Roman Baths on Monday 17th July. This involved sorting through and selecting an appropriate variety of animal bones, that were suitable for the public to handle and use for the activities.

Once we had chosen the bones, we then had a task of identifying what part of the skeleton they came from and what animal it belonged to (this could be hard, especially if they were broken!) After going through 5kg of assorted animal bones and fragments, we had a huge mixture, that ranged from a pig’s vertebrae (part of the spine) to a horse’s tibia (upper back leg bone) and a cow’s mandible (jaw).

Vicky and Maddy with their 'Baffling Bones!' handling table

We also set up an activity called “Baffling Bones!”, the aim of this was to see if people could identify the bones provided, and try to figure out which animal they came from. For the younger children, there was a game, where they were given a picture of a cow’s skeleton, and they had to put the labels of bones in the correct places to win a sticker!

On the table, we also had a cow’s skull which was found in the Temple Precinct (thought to be medieval) and photos of the Temple Precinct under excavation. 

I brought the bones out again for Tuesday Times Tables the next day, and had a total of 96 visitors in 2 hours!

If you missed the Festival of Archaeology or the start of our Tuesday Times Tables, don't panic! Handling tables continue every Tuesday evening until the 29th of August.

Placement Student

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Is Money the root of all Evill?

There are many different ways an object can end up in our collection at the Roman Baths, which means that we have a huge range of items, from enormous Roman stones to Haile Selassie’s golf clubs! This is because our museum’s collection policy includes objects that have relevance to Bath’s long and fascinating history, so when an important item surfaces we are sometimes able to acquire it.

Our latest acquisition is a perfect example. It’s a Bath Bank banknote from 1814, worth £5 at the time, and like many of our objects it has a story to tell. On the front of the note you can see the signature of a man called William Evill, and just above that is the name of his business; James Evill & Son. This was one of Georgian Bath’s most famous toy shops – but not as we might know them today.

The front of the banknote, showing Evill’s signature
These toy shops were full of fashionable commodities, luxury goods, and beautiful hand crafted souvenirs. To begin with, Evill’s store opened in the Marketplace around 1759 as a “cutler and hosier”, but this was only the tip of the iceberg! It went on to be the longest running toy shop in Bath, and Evill expanded the remit to include everything from gilt thimbles to pistols, handmade watches to surgeon’s instruments, all lavishly displayed on glass shelves in glass windows, sparkling and catching the eye of every passer-by.

The back of the banknote, with various handwritten notes
The banknote was originally issued in Evill’s name but it seems to have changed hands a number of times after that point. There are handwritten notes of different names and dates on the back, possibly reminding the bearer when or where it had come from. They’re a little hard to decipher, but my favourite is the writing halfway down the banknote when it was “taken of a gentleman”.

Can you distinguish any names or dates? We’re hoping to do some research and find out a little bit more about these individuals.

Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Way Back Wednesday: the Science of Skeletons

As well as organising the Science Week events at the Roman Baths, I was able to design a handling table. My topic of choice was human remains, as I have an interest in them and there is a lot they can tell you. One issue with this is the ethics of choosing to have human remains in public areas of the site as visitors may not wish to see human remains outside a case. This was overcome by producing a sign to warn visitors about the remains on show and to only have skeletal elements not whole skeletons out.

My research for the table was into how you could age and sex a skeleton from different elements. It was hard to condense the information down into language that the everyday reader would understand as there are lots of technical words such as diaphysis and epiphysis for the shaft and ends of long bones respectively.  This could have be why information sheets explaining how to do this have not been produced before.

Skull of a Roman Male

One common comment made about the table was about the condition of the teeth.  Teeth are the most common skeletal element found as they are resistant to chemical and physical destruction. The teeth which attracted the most attention belonged to a 25 year old Roman male, and the condition divided opinion. Some said they were well looked after and in better condition than the modern equivalent, while others said they were worn. The teeth could be in better condition due to the fact the Romans didn’t consume as much sugar as the modern population, as sugar wasn't available in Europe at this time. Instead, they were worn due to milling methods used to make flour leaving sand which in turn wore down the teeth.

The assessment of skeletal remains is very subjective, as this comment on the teeth wear shows, so even if you know the correct methods you might still be wrong, and if sexing you only have a 50/50 chance of getting it right!

Katharine Foxton

Bradford University Placement Student

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Saltford Festival: Musings on Metalwork

Roman Baths object handling at Saltford Brass Mill

At the beginning of June, our Collections and Learning teams packed up the van and spent the day at Saltford Brass mill for the Saltford Festival.

We took a selection of archaeological metalwork to fit with the theme of the location, choosing objects from the local area and that could showcase the use and preservation of different types of metal.

Copper Alloy

A pair of Roman tweezers found in Keynsham
As we were in a Brass mill, brass would be the most fitting metal to choose! However, archaeologists choose not to distinguish between brass and bronze, instead using the term ‘copper alloy’. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin and brass is a mixture of copper and zinc, and without scientific testing it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.

You can recognise copper alloy from the tell-tale green colour caused by corrosion, sometimes called verdigris.


A selection of iron objects including an axehead from the site of the Thermae Spa in Bath
Again, iron is recognisable from the way it corrodes, producing distinctive red rust. As with all metals we do our best to slow down and prevent this process, keeping the objects as dry as possible in sealed containers with packets of silica gel to absorb any moisture.

The objects pictured are in particularly good condition. Archaeological metalwork is not always so lucky!


A piece of the lead sheets used to line the Great Bath

Lead from the Roman Baths has survived incredibly well and some Roman pieces are still in place, for example the sheets that line the Great Bath. We took a section of that lead with us to Saltford, and almost everyone commented on the incredible weight of just this one small piece!

You may question the use of lead, and rightly so. Today we know that it is poisonous, and we definitely wouldn’t use it to line our baths! However, the Romans didn’t know this and instead prized it as the perfect material for plumbing.


A silver coin of Julian II
There are a number of silver objects in the Roman Baths collection, and most of them are coins. The examples we took to Saltford included a Roman Imperial coin known as a siliqua of Julian II, made at the mint at Trier, Germany. 

Silver is a perfect choice for making currency, and even though this coin is well over 1,000 years old the design is as crisp as the day it was struck! 

Did you know?

The Latin for Lead is plumbum (also used for its chemical element symbol Pb), which is where the word ‘plumbing’ comes from!


Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Katharine’s Placement Reflection

When I first applied for a student placement with the Roman Baths Collections team over a year ago, I could not have imagined the experiences I would have and how quickly the 6 months would pass. During this placement I have learned about how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep a museum running and everything that needs to be considered when interpreting the collection.

One of my main projects was to catalogue the archive for the archaeological excavations at The Tramsheds on Walcot Street. This consisted of a large paper and archaeological archive of a variety of artefacts, including Roman pottery, clay pipes and tile. The first task for cataloguing was to arrange the paperwork into relevant sections and then number them accordingly. This task seemed like it went on forever due to the large number of photographs - about 1,050 in total! The cataloguing of 47 boxes of artefacts was completed by our amazing volunteers, so a huge thank you to them. Cataloguing this site has shown me how much information about the local area is stored in museums.

Katharine with her completed Tramsheds archive

As well as cataloguing, I helped with various events celebrating the history of Bath.  World Heritage Day showcased the wide range of artefacts in our collection showing the history of the Spring from the Mesolithic to the 20th Century. We also had a selection of spa equipment out and photos showing the different treatments you could have received. This was very interesting as I got to learn more about the history of Bath while explaining this to visitors.  The event at Saltford Brass Mill showed what an amazing collection is housed at the Roman Baths with a wide variety of objects of differing metals.

Susan and Katharine with the handling table at Saltford Brass Mill

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working at the Baths and will miss all my colleagues who have made the experience so special. One day I hope to come back, but who knows…

Katharine Foxton 
Bradford University Placement Student