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.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Let's 'Brooch' the Subject!

Everyone likes a bit of sparkle and the Romans were no exception! This week I had my Jewellery Handling table at the Roman Baths. I displayed some pieces from the Roman Baths collection and replicas along side them to show what the jewellery would have looked like originally. If you came along, I hope you liked it!

I also included a few images of the Fayum death portraits (Fayum is an area in Egypt!). These are likenesses of the deceased when they were young, that were painted onto the linen wrappings of mummies and date back to the period when Romans occupied Egypt.

My favourite Fayum death portrait

Here’s my favourite one of the death portraits because she’s modelling the fashionable mono-brow of the time, where ladies actually filled in their eyebrows to create a mono-brow for the sake of beauty. How times change!

The subjects of the Fayum death portraits, all seem to be dripping in gold. However, Jewellery wasn’t just for the mega rich. Not only gold and silver were used but also bronze, iron, bone, glass (for beads), enamel and much more! 

Snake bangle on display at The Roman Baths

Snakes were a very popular image to have on jewellery and were worn as arm bands, bracelets, necklaces and rings. It was only when Christianity came in when snakes were connected with evil (in the Bible when the devil tempted Eve, in the form of a snake, in the garden of Eden). Before then snakes were thought highly of in the Roman Empire, being thought have healing powers. Snakes were also associated with several gods and goddesses in the Roman Religion, with some deities even depicted in snake form.

Me choosing pieces from The Roman Baths collection

Looking at the pieces I picked from the collection, the replicas and the fayum death portraits it really shows that jewellery really hasn't changed that much! If you look for it, Roman-style jewellery can be found everywhere on the high street. Shopping time!
Look out for the next handling table! It's free and there's no need to book, not to mention it's an opportunity to see objects from The Roman Baths collection that aren't normally displayed to the public! See you there!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Ongoing Conservation

One of the more unique parts of my role at the Roman Baths involves the conservation of the monument. As you go around areas of the monument you will see the natural wear and tear of a site such as ours, nearly 2000 years old, and still being walked on by 100, 000s of people a year.

In order to preserve the monument we carry out a programme of work to stabilise of the monument that may be more fragile than others.

Around the walls of the Great Bath, you will see substantial areas of surviving Roman wall plaster; what you may not have noticed is that below this plaster (and sometimes about it), there is often a line of mortar, which differs slightly in colour and make up.

Spraying newly mortared wall to ensure it sets

 This line of mortar is known as sacrificial mortar. We apply it next to the Roman plaster to provide a barrier for the Roman remains, taking moisture away from it and supporting and preserving the Roman layers, more substantially than if we were to leave it unprotected against the elements.

We use the same types of ingredients for our mortar as the Romans would have done; lime, brick and sand, but the composition we use differs. If you look closely at the surviving plaster, you will see mortars with quite large chips of brick in, this tends to indicate that it is original Roman mortar (we use smaller brick chips in our modern mixes). We mix our modern mortars, to look similar to the Roman, but distinct enough that it can be seen where, the original lies and where the sacrificial mortar has been added.
Modern mortar below existing Roman plaster

Last month, I was down by the Great Bath, replacing some of the sacrificial mortar which had fallen away. The mix I used complements the Roman mortar nicely, not being too different so as to stand out, but still making it easy to spot where the Roman mortar ends, and my additions begin.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Winter Work at the Baths

After the busy Summer and Autumn months, the winter period is when we take the opportunity, as the site is quieter, to do maintenance and development work.

Visitors to the Roman Baths may have noticed that this year, that work seems particularly extensive. Just this week alone has seen scaffolding go up round the exterior of the Pump Room and across the Sacred Spring, in advance of work being done to repair the roof of the Pump Room, and to clean its exterior, and later in the month we’ll see scaffolding going up in the Great Bath for further improvements to the site.

Scaffolding erected ahead of repairs to Pump Room roof
However, the most extensive work is that going on behind the hoarding in the museum area…

The temple precinct area is currently closed to visitors as we are undergoing major development work to install a new walkway. This involves a substantial amount of work by contractors, including the protection of the monument before work began.

Temple Precinct protected against dust and damage during development work

Changes to the modern elements of the precinct, is uncovering some interesting features, including Georgian and Victorian elements of the building that had previously been covered up by false walls.

Victorian tiles and doorway in Temple precinct

The conservation of the site is an on-going feature of life at the Roman Baths, and we are constantly checking the environment on the site, and any changes to it. One event we are currently monitoring is the recent rise in water levels at the Roman Baths (and across the whole region!). Though they have now dropped down to normal levels, Christmas Eve saw us presented with some of the highest water levels on site staff could remember!

Water levels reached a significant height on Christmas Eve!

Keep an eye out for my next blog, about the more common conservation work we carry out on site…