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 15 November 2023

Function or fashion? The practical and stylish accessories

Your impression of accessories may be beautiful and decorative, but have you ever thought about how they add beauty and style to our lives and serve a functional purpose at the same time? The Roman Bath houses a stunning collection of accessories spanning various historical periods. Reflecting on history, it becomes clear that accessories have long been a fusion of functionality and aesthetics.

Functional yet fashionable

In the Roman period, people already focused on developing aesthetically pleasing and useful ornaments. Brooches were particularly popular, and people used them to fasten their clothing. These brooches came in various types, including the penannular brooch with an open frame, the plate brooch prevalent during the first century, and the bow brooch commonly found in Roman archaeological sites. Don’t think these two thousand years ago ornaments are just simple copper alloys. On the contrary, they are often very exquisite, with changeable shapes and colourful enamel surfaces.

Left to right: Roman plate brooch, bow brooch, and replica of a penannular brooch

Expressions of belief

By the medieval period, in addition to delicate metalwork techniques like inlay, enamelling, and filigree becoming more common, their function began to reflect individuals' spiritual convictions or to show people's faith. For example, before the trend of wearing bells gained widespread popularity, it was mainly priests and pilgrims who adorned them, thereby symbolising their affiliation with the religion. Pilgrims collected various badges in different shapes to commemorate their pilgrimage and to express their religions. Similarly, influential figures have often awarded badges to their allies to commend their loyalty and support towards a certain belief or ideology. 

Left to right: Medieval dog badge and bell

Symbols of taste

After the 16th century, with the development of craftsmanship, the styles of functional ornaments became more varied and popular. For instance, in the Georgian period, wigs changed from functional preventing head lice to a symbol of style. Following the Industrial Revolution, the advent of mass production brought about an increase in diverse and accessible ornaments, which were no longer considered a luxury reserved for the upper class alone. Buttons, once the exclusive of the nobility during the medieval era, became a commodity that could be easily moulded and mass-produced. With the rise of the bourgeoisie, the popularity of shirts gave way to the fashion of cufflinks. Though seemingly unremarkable at first glance, these functional items embody a sense of style, and the variety of their forms and materials showcase the wearer's discerning taste.

Left to right: Georgian wig curler, moulded metallic button, and cuff links

Upon observing today's clothing, can you think of other decorative features that are functional but also fashionable? Maybe it is your stylish watch, glasses or even a zipper? Let us take a closer look at our clothing and appreciate the practical and astonishing accessories that have been thoughtfully designed.


Placement student

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Secrets of Roman Building Materials

Have you ever wondered, in a world dominated by concrete and synthetic materials, what the Romans used over two thousand years ago to produce enduring buildings, all without the aid of modern technology? 

Crafting from Nature 

Roman Britain had a variety of small workshops in every town, with the majority of the goods being produced there to satisfy regional demands. The Romans used natural resources and transformed them into purpose-fit building materials. From the rock and clay in the ground, timbers in the forest, to sand on the seashore, they selected materials wisely. 

Experienced craftsmen then made the raw materials into durable building components. For instance, tufa, which is a porous sedimentary rock created in mineral springs. Its sponge-like texture, which was both light and robust, made it an ideal material for creating vaulting structures. Due to the tufa's special characteristics, craftsmen used it to create wedge-shaped voussoirs that, when placed next to each other, supported beautiful vaults or arches.

Tufa from the Great Bath, Roman Baths 

Functional and Aesthetic 

The Romans were more than just engineers; they were artists who celebrated both beauty and function. The colorful and well-designed mosaics that adorned their rooms were a clear sign of this mix. 

Mosaics have a long and interesting past. They started in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC and spread to places like Ancient Greece and Rome before being used all over the world. In the Roman Baths, mosaic art is a burst of color. The secret? The tesserae made from different stones including hematite, pyrite, yellow iron oxide, and local Bath Stone. Bath Stone, which is also called freestone, got its name because it is soft and easy to cut in any direction. Since Roman and Medieval times, it's been a go-to for building across southern England. From churches to homes, its honey-colored beauty remains. Even today, Bath's Georgian buildings shine, thanks to this ancient material. 

Bath Stone (photo credit: The Open University Geological Society) 

Sea Horse Mosaic, Roman Baths 

Materials from Far and Wide 

 As the Roman Empire expanded, a wide variety of building materials flowed in from diverse lands, bringing abundant supplies. A good example is the Roman Baths, which made use of both native materials and imported ones. 

Due to a scarcity of natural marble in England, this expensive stone was imported from Spain or Southern Italy, giving luxury to the construction. Purbeck marble stepped in as a low-cost replacement. It has a polished shine while not being real marble. This fossiliferous limestone from Dorset, England, sometime contains fossils of ancient freshwater organisms. This is a Labrum fragment made of Purbeck marble found at the Roman Baths to hold water, which was used to cleanse before entering the bath or to cool down in the Caldarium (hot bathroom). 

Labrum fragment made of Purbeck marble 

Xingyue Yang Placement Student







在罗马巴斯浴场发现的 Tufa  



马赛克历史悠久,起源于公元前三世纪的美索不达米亚,然后传播到古希腊和古罗马,最终全世界都能发现它们的身影。在罗马巴斯浴场,马赛克迸发出绚烂的艺术之光。五颜六色的马赛克由不同石料制成的 tesserae 组成,包括赤铁矿、黄铁矿、黄色氧化铁和当地的Bath StoneBath Stone,又称 "freestone",因其质地柔软、易于从任何方向进行切割而得名。从罗马时期和中世纪起,在英格兰南部地区,Bath Stone 便成为常见的建筑材料。无论是神圣的教堂,还是日常的民居,都可以找到Bath Stone的如同蜂蜜般的黄色外观。时至今日,巴斯城中的乔治亚风格建筑依然熠熠生辉,这要归功于这种历史悠久的材料。

Bath Stone (图片来源: The Open University Geological Society)




在英格兰本土,天然大理石十分稀少,这种昂贵的石材往往从今天西班牙或者意大利南部进口,属于极其奢侈的建筑材料。Purbeck marble 是天然大理石的平价替代品。这种石材虽然不是真正的大理石,但打磨后也有抛光的质感。这种产自英格兰 Dorset 的石灰岩化石,有时含有古代淡水生物的化石。下图是在罗马巴斯浴场发现的由 Purbeck marble 制成的 Labrum 的文物遗存,用于装盛清水,在进入浴场前用来清洁,或在 Caldarium(热浴室)中用来降温。

 Purbeck marble 制成的 Labrum



Wednesday 18 October 2023

By Jove: It’s the Roman Gods!

How much do you know about the Roman religion? The Romans worshipped many gods, and they were part of their lives every single day. It seems that the Roman gods are everywhere and on everything at times. Coins, pottery, figurines, and more constantly depict the gods in all of their glory. However, there are more to the gods than we realise.

Roman Religion handling table at the Roman Baths

Who are the major gods?

 The major gods are the most well-known and powerful gods. These include Juno, Apollo, and Vulcan, and objects from the collection can show us how multi-dimensional these gods were. For example, there are two different coins with Venus on them. One of them shows Venus standing with an apple, which is one of her common symbols that represents love. The other coin shows Venus Victory, depicted in armour and holding a sceptre and a helmet. Here, we see Venus as a warrior instead of her as a goddess of love. It is helpful to see the gods as complex beings who represent more than one idea.

Venus with an apple (l)  and Venus Victory (r)

Which gods were worshipped at the Roman Baths?

Sulis Minerva is the main goddess worshipped at the Roman Baths, but she is not the only one. Others worshipped here include Diana, Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars. Jupiter is on an altar in the Temple Courtyard, and we can also see him on coins and pottery. On a coin, Jupiter is seated holding Winged Victory and, on a piece of pottery, his arm is flexed to throw his thunderbolt. Even though this site is dedicated to Sulis Minerva, it does not mean that we cannot see other gods represented at this same location.

Jupiter holding Winged Victory (l) and Jupiter’s hand on thunderbolt from the altar in the Temple Courtyard (r)

Who are the minor gods?

The minor gods are not as well known by the general public and are personifications of virtues that the Romans promoted and tried to follow. One coin that shows this depicts Libertas, goddess of liberty. On the reverse of the coin, we see Libertas holding a soft pileus (a hat that freed slaves wore) and a sceptre. The pileus on the coin symbolises freedom for freed slaves which was a common virtue to put on a coin. Libertas is one of many smaller gods who represent Roman virtues.

Libertas holding pileus and sceptre

Take a look at your money today! Do you see symbols or themes represented on your coins?


Samantha Kestler

Collections Placement (MA Museum Studies)

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Stone Age Toolbox

Prehistoric tools are fascinating! The technology to make them is so old, yet we can still recreate them today. 

‘Stone Age Toolbox’ handling table, August 2023

The oldest man-made object in the Roman Baths collection is a Palaeolithic hand axe made of chert (a type of rock). A hand axe is a hand-held stone tool used for digging, chopping, scraping, piercing, and hammering. These axes are the longest used tool in human history, used throughout the Palaeolithic period (1,000,000 to 12,000 years ago) and most likely into the Mesolithic period (12,000 to 6,000 years ago).

Replica of a Palaeolithic hand axe

This hand axe, found near Bath, dates from 500,000 – 250,000 years ago! It was made by Homo Heidelbergensis, a species of early human who no longer exists, and yet it still fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. This physical connection to early humans is what makes the Prehistoric period so interesting.

During the Neolithic period (6,000 to 4,200 years ago), handles were added to axe heads, as they start to be used to cut down trees to create fields. This was the start of crop farming, a new idea which spread from the continent.

Axe head with handle

Axes continued to be used to cut down trees for the rest of the Prehistoric period however the format of the handles changed drastically during the Bronze Age (4,600 to 2,700 years ago). This was to compensate for the new methods of construction of axes; they were being cast in bronze in two-part moulds, creating the distinctive ridge around the axe head.

Bronze Age socketed axe head

Flint was used to create tools during the Prehistoric period. Large pieces were used as axes and smaller pieces used to make tools. This was done in a process called flint knapping, where the hammerstone (a rock) is hit against a core (piece of flint) to create the desired shape. This is continued until a tool has been created that is comfortable to hold. To create the sharp cutting edge, the flint knapper chips away at the tool with smaller, softer items, such as bone, which is more precise than the first attempt.

Flintknapping, drawing by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez

Palaeolithic burins and flint blades were made from the flint chips created during flint knapping. Burins are small pieces of flint with sharpened edges, usually in the shape of a circle. They were used to create leather by scraping the skin, then to make clothing by piercing holes into the leather and sewing it together with grasses. Flint blades were used to cut soft materials such as food, animal skin, plants, or twigs.

Palaeolithic burin

During the Mesolithic and into the Neolithic period, microliths and arrowheads start to be used. Microliths are small flint shards, usually attached to a handle.

Mesolithic microliths

Prehistory is about so much more than just weapons and fighting. Most of the objects in the collection are tools for the creation of food or resources, for example arrowheads used for hunting animals.


Placement student


Edited by Eleanor, Collections Assistant

Wednesday 20 September 2023

What Can We Learn From Animal Bones?

Animal bones found at archaeological excavations can provide valuable information about the past. They can tell us about butchery and eating habits, tool use, and the environment the bones were disposed of or buried in.

First, we must identify which animal the bones belong to. We can look at the overall size and robusticity of the bones, as well as the cranium (skull) and the mandible (jaw). The size, curvature, and profile of the mandible display distinct differences between animals. Sheep mandibles flare at the curve of the jaw, which differs from the more sloping profile of pig mandibles.

Pigs have one of the most distinctive teeth of domestic mammals. As omnivores, their teeth need to be able to both slice and grind their food, and so they display more pronounced canines and incisors compared to herbivores. Their teeth have flat shaped cusps ideal for their diet, this contrasts with the “W” shaped profile of sheep teeth, deer and cattle.

Sheep mandible (left), pig mandible (right)

Once the bone has been identified, we can examine the texture for signs of use by humans. Looking at the long bones for marks and scrapes can indicate intentional defleshing and butchery.

Differences in butchery methods and skill can lead to differences in cut marks, and it can sometimes be difficult to identify signs of intentional butchery. The clearest way to do so is by observing a V-shaped cross section. This V shape is characteristic of cutting with a lithic or metal knife, whereas a U-shaped mark indicates stone tools were used. 

Sheep tibia with cut marks (left), split cow radius (right)

Worked bone is also common, and indicates bone was also used to make tools, decorations and jewellery. Bone can be polished and incised with a decorative pattern.

This worked Roman sheep metapodia that was used as a handle for a blade or utensil

The colour and condition of the bones can also reveal information about the environment the remains were discarded or buried in, as well as actions of other animals.

When bones are discarded there is often still meat on the bone, and this can attract rodents which leave distinct parallel grooves and scrapes.  

A bright white bone indicates it was bleached by sunlight, whereas black and dark brown suggest exposure to bacteria, fungi and soil minerals. Green marks indicate contact with copper; this is a frequent occurrence in human remains due to grave goods. By noting these observations, we can construct a profile of the animal's environment.

Overall, there is much to be learned from animal bones in the archaeological context!


Collections placement student



Wednesday 6 September 2023

Spa Treatments in Bath

For over 2000 years, people have been drawn to the waters here in Bath. They have bathed, sought healing, worshipped, and socialised in the only natural hot springs in the country. There have been numerous spa sites in Bath since the Roman period and, in the 1800s, it was a thriving spa town. The current free display in the King’s Lounge focuses on the Victorian bathing establishment.

“If they can’t be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere” Dr Oliver, A Practical Dissertation on the Bath Waters, 1707

Map of Bath (1959) showing Victorian spa sites.

This consisted of three sites:

  • the redeveloped Hot Bath, known as Old Royal Baths (1829) which included Bath’s first spa swimming bath, the Beau Street Swimming Bath
  • the New Royal Baths and Physical Treatment Centre, which opened as a luxurious treatment centre in 1870
  • the New Queen’s Baths, next to the King’s Bath, which showcased fashionable treatments from 1889.

The Stall Street entrance to the Roman Baths
with a sign for the King’s and Queens Baths.

These centres and their spa treatments remained popular through to the 20th century.

With the Physical Treatment Centre, new and fashionable treatments were made available, inspired by spa towns on the continent. Much of the spa equipment was custom made, and included variants on the Needle Douche, the Plombières Douche, and a sulphur bath. The Vichy Needle Douche was named after the prestigious spa town in Vichy, France. A lifting mechanism was custom made for the Hot Bath, slings or chairs lifted patients in and out of the water.

Electricity was used in conjunction with mineral water,
including the Hydro-Electric Four-cell Bath, in which
patients’ limbs were placed in four separate tubs, allowing the
controlled current to pass in any direction.

The water was celebrated for its healing properties, some believed this to be due to the presence of radium, now known to be a toxic gas. This was seen in treatments such as Radium Inhalatorium, in which radium was inhaled through the nose or mouth, or, when used with mineral water, as a nasal or throat spray. Although the water was proudly advertised as radioactive, in reality radium is only present in minute quantities.

During World War One, thousands of wounded soldiers were sent to Bath to recover. They received treatments at the Mineral Water Hospital and the New Royal Baths were enlarged in 1915 to provide facilities specifically designed for them.

After the Second World War, the baths’ popularity began to decline. Leisure travel and spa therapy were no longer fashionable, and the city’s infrastructure had been damaged during the Bath Blitz. The New Queen’s Bath was demolished in 1970 and the Physical Treatment Centre closed in 1976, following the withdrawal of NHS funding established in 1948.

Temporary display in the King's Lounge.

The objects displayed in the King’s Lounge were removed prior to work on the new Thermae Spa which opened in 2003. They include a hook and handle from the lifting mechanism used to lower patients into the Hot Bath, a pressure gauge from a Vichy Douche, a thermometer which hung in the Hot Bath, and a pamphlet which details treatments and their prices in April 1923.

You can see the display for free by accessing the Stall Street entrance during opening hours between 10am-5pm.


Collections Assistant 

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Pottery Party!

Did you know that we don't just have Roman objects in our collection? We have a wide array of objects, from sedan chairs, stone coffins and even mammoth teeth. But perhaps one of the most important finds we have is pottery. Pottery is a great tool for archaeologists as it gives an approximate time period for their excavation. But how do we know this? To figure it out, we employ the help of our trusty pottery flow chart.

The aim of this pottery game is to follow the questions on the flow chart to work out which time period your piece is from. If you are unsure about what a word means, scroll to the bottom of this article for our 'fun pottery words'. Let’s have a go together with this piece of pottery:


Do you think it is coated?


Coating is a shiny glaze which is put on the pottery for either decorative or waterproofing purposes - sometimes both! This sherd does have coating, as you can see the shiny green colour. Great! You answered the first question! Follow the flow chart to see where you end up next...


Is it coated only on the inside, only on the outside, or all over?


This piece is coated all over, as you can see the shiny green colour everywhere. It even has some lovely decorative addition on one side, with a motif that suggests nature and perhaps a recurring pattern. This takes us down to either Late Georgian period or the Victorian period. Congratulations! You narrowed it down to a much smaller time period. This piece is Victorian, and we can tell because of the fantastic colour and the decoration style.


Its intense green colour and the decoration tells us it is part of a 'Majolica' ware - a type of brightly coloured serving platter or plate that had recurring motifs with foliage or nature imagery on the top side. It would have been quite common in Victorian England.  You can see that this is a rim piece, showing a beautiful amount of detail in the patterning. 

This sherd came from an excavation in the Lower Borough Walls in Bath. Historically, the majolica ware's glaze was made from tin oxide which gave it the fantastically bright colour. Modern day majolica is still made today, but the tin has been replaced with something safer.


These are the kind of questions we ask ourselves as curators, archaeologists, and specialists to figure out the approximate time period of a pottery fragment, and now you've done it too. Consider yourself a pottery expert!


Fun Pottery Words


Ceramic or pottery – Pots, plates, cups and more that have been made from clay and heated to harden into a permanent shape.


Glaze – a glassy, shiny coating on the pottery used for both decoration and for protection, for example to make it waterproof.


Slip – a mixture normally made from clay and water that is put on the pottery before firing it. This slip can be colourful and decorative, and pottery with decorative slip is called ‘slipware’.


Kiln – a special oven made for firing pottery.


Firing – the process of putting the pottery in a kiln or fire at a high heat to harden the clay and make the pot usable. The exact process is different depending on what type of clay you are using, and what type of pottery you are making.


Handmade pottery – this is the oldest pottery technique. Handmade pottery involves shaping the pottery with your hands, such as pushing the clay into a curve with your fingers.


Wheel made or wheel thrown pottery – pottery that has been made on a spinning wheel to make it round. The spinning wheel has a flat, spinning surface that you can shape the pot on. This can also be called wheel thrown pottery, as you ‘throw’ the clay on the spinning wheel. Wheel made pottery is easier and quicker to make than handmade pottery.


Collections placement student