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, 18 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Numismatics

“Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money”

As part of my numismatic placement at the Roman Baths, I put together a handling table exploring different forms of money over time; this included coinage, bank notes, currency tokens and jettons. I began with the Iron Age and then went on to explore money in the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods, and the 17-19th century. I hoped to illustrate that money has never had a single form; for thousands of years, the label ‘money’ could be ascribed to any object or material with tradable value!

Visitors to the handling table investigate Iron Age coins

One of the most popular items on my handling table was a copper alloy dupondius, issued by Nero in 64-67 AD, which was found in the Sacred Spring at the Baths. The front, or obverse, of the coin depicts the head of Emperor Nero, and his head is surrounded by text which names his many titles. If we compare this coin to an English pound coin we can see that although the names and values of coinage have changed, what is depicted on coins is not too different.

Roman dupondius issued by Nero

To represent the 19th century, I chose to display 19th century bank notes. Like our modern bank notes, this note from 1841 has the statement, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £5”, meaning that the person who held this note could take it into the bank which issued the note and exchange it for the equivalent price in gold coin. This £5 note would be equivalent to around £300 in today’s currency!

£5 bank note issued by Bath Old Bank

Tokens were produced throughout the 17-19th century in times of coin shortages where they acted as substitutes for pennies, farthings and shillings. They were used in both a commercial setting, such as in a shop or a warehouse, and in some cases they were used as gambling tokens! Tokens were in frequent use, and the Roman Baths collection holds examples that were used locally in Sydney Gardens, the Pump Room, and even the Crystal Palace Inn around the corner from the museum!

Bath Token from 1811

I really enjoyed talking to visitors about this forgotten form of money, especially when it had such a big impact on our economy. It was an excellent way to exhibit objects that are not permanently on display!

British Numismatic Society Student Placement

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Delicious Cakes

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience”

James Beard

In last week's blog I described cooking in the Roman period, but to provide the full experience at my handling table, I also did some Roman cooking!

Putting the finishing touches on my Roman cakes; a sprinkle of nuts and a drizzle of honey

From the bookshelf I pulled ‘The Roman Cookery of Apicius’ (De Re Coquinaria), translated by John Edwards.

Apicius was a Roman man who wrote a recipe book during the first century BC. It is not what we would call a recipe book today, with his recipes giving little to no indication of quantities or cooking time. We can assume his book was meant for the experienced cook who could use their own judgement.

Flicking through the book, many of the recipes didn’t seem so bad, pleasant even; pears cooked with cinnamon and wine, lentil soup, marinated pork chops. But there were some recipes that I wasn’t too keen to try; apples and calf’s brain casserole, liver, chicken and onion hors d’oeuvres.

I settled on the recipe for aliter dulcia (sweets), a rich sweet honey cake topped with nuts. YUM! John Edwards’ book provided a modern adapted recipe which I used to make the cakes. Wine and honey replace the sugars we use to sweeten our cakes and cinnamon and rosemary fill the cake with a burst of flavour.

Rich sweet Roman cakes, fresh from the oven!

Apicius recipe:

Mix pepper, nuts, honey, rue and raisin wine. Cook in milk and pastry. Thicken with a little egg and bake. Pour honey on top, sprinkle with nuts and serve.

Adapted Recipe: 

Rich Sweet Cakes

2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup almonds (chopped)
½ tsp ground rosemary (rue)
2 cups pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ cup sweet raisin wine
1 egg
4 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
¾ cup milk

In a mixing bowl, put cinnamon, chopped almonds and rosemary (rue). Add flour, baking powder and mix. Next, combine sweet wine, well beaten egg, honey and milk. Blend and stir into the dry ingredients. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven in a greased 9 inch round pan, for 30 minutes. Pour a little honey on top of the finished cake, garnish with nuts and serve.

From De Re Coquinaria (Roman Cookery of Apicius), translated by John Edwards.

Why not have a go at making them yourself?

Imogen Westcott
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Delicious

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” 
James Beard

Food is part of our everyday life, sometimes we even plan our days around food, eating it or cooking it! It’s not a surprise that the Romans did too.

My own love of food and cooking was the inspiration for my handling table. I wanted to learn about Roman cooking tools and methods, maybe even try a bit of cooking myself. When I began looking at the objects within the museum’s collection, I was stunned to find that much of the methods and utensils of cooking weren’t too dissimilar to those used today.

Getting up close and personal with the collection, visitors are encouraged to hold objects

The Romans increased the availability and variety of food in Britain, introducing new and exotic ingredients, especially for the wealthier classes. Food scraps found by archaeologists today, such as bones and shells, are evidence of food eaten by the Romans. Fish varieties were eaten widely and used to make garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a salty seasoning in cooking.

Butchery marks on animal bone tell us that people were eating and probably selling meat. The scratches and cuts in the bone require a closer look. A bone will splinter or shatter if broken; we know these marks are butchers marks because of the clean cuts into the bone, which can only be caused by a sharp blade.

Handling animal bone with obvious signs of butchery

Pottery was used throughout the kitchen for cooking, storage and serving. Large ceramic pots were used to cook stews and soups and could also be used to store food. Lighter, smaller cooking vessels, such as pewter or bronze pans were popular with soldiers but could also be used in the home.

Bronze patera found during excavations of the Sacred Spring, on display at the Roman Baths

My favourite object was the mortarium, a bowl-shaped vessel with grit embedded surface used as a grinding and mixing bowl. This ancient mortar and pestle was one of the most important tools in the Roman kitchen. The Romans liked food that was heavily spiced, possibly to hide the taste of old meat, and needed a tool to grind all these spices to a useable powder or paste.

Left: North Gaulish mortarium rim, Right: close up of maker's stamp

This particular mortarium is special because of the maker’s stamp near the spout (see image above). This stamp belongs to Quintus Valerius Veranius, with a date range of 65-100 A.D. His stamps have been found on mortaria in Northern France, western Belgium and Britain. This helps us trace the movement of the maker and their wares from workshop to country, which in turn helps us create a bigger picture of Roman life in Britain.

Imogen Westcott
Collections Placement