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, 26 October 2010

Cooking Roman Style

One of the most popular Education room activities we had this summer was a table filled with spices and oils that the Romans could have used. I swear, there were a dozen people and two camcorders around the table at one point! If you want to experience the tastes and smells of the Romans, it’s to set up at home.

A Roman Mortatium and Some Roman Herbs and Spices

Start by gathering herbs and spices which the Romans used - things like honey, lovage, rosewater, wine, olive oil, black pepper, mustard seed, garlic, sage, mint, coriander, thyme and salt. You probably have a lot of these in your cupboards already.

Romans mixed their spices (and their foods) a bit differently than we do today - how many recipes have YOU seen which call for you to pulp lettuce, then mix it into a batter to deep-fry it?*

Romans also used a few things which Western cooks usually don’t - the closest we have today for their fermented fish sauce, Garum, is Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla). Man, is it strong smelling! A few of their ingredients, like silphium, went extinct due to over harvesting.

Close your eyes and smell the ingredients you’ve gathered. Can you imagine a Roman kitchen? They would’ve grilled, boiled, fried and baked their foods, using hot coals in ovens. Many poor people would have only eaten food from takeaways - not everyone could afford a kitchen.

If you’re really ambitious, you could try cooking a Roman recipe! Apicius wrote a book of Roman Cookery, and experienced cooks may be able to get something out of his recipes. You can find translations here. Be warned, Apicius wasn’t too keen on writing down times and temperatures, just ingredients and a sketchy ‘how-to’ guide.

Lots of people have made modern versions of Roman recipes - I’d recommend checking out Mark Grant’s book Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens, or The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger. Who knows? You might find a new-old favourite!

* There’s a recipe for Seasoned Fritters made out of lettuce on page 62 in Mark Grant’s book, Roman Cookery.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Why don’t you take a Picture? It Lasts Longer.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

The Great Bath while Drained

Like many admirers of historical sites and landmarks, I’ve looked in awe at the images captured and presented in books, leaflets and posters, and wondered what it must be like to have actually been there and to have seen these things.

The chance to take photographs around the Roman Baths site was an exciting opportunity, and it came as quite a surprise when I learned I’d been visiting different museums and areas during my time here; even more so when I was asked to do it in a professional capacity, as their official photographer.

The Temple Pediment

From my first trial run around the Roman Baths, to the exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to the displays at the Fry’s Club and Cadbury’s factory; I’ve loved the moments I’ve been able to walk away with more than just memories to take with me; now I have images captured, printed, and sealed in both my own photo album and in our latest events leaflets (most recently, a small collection of my photos of No. 4 the Circus).

Cadbury Chocolate Bar Display at the Fry's Club

For me, it’s a wonderful thought to know that your job can also be your hobby. In my previous blog I talked about the sketches I’ve done and how drawing was always a hobby and interest of mine before I started working here. It’s actually rather like that with photography as well. After all that time spent admiring the photographic works of others, now I’m actually there with a camera in my hand experiencing the same enjoyment and satisfactory feeling that they must’ve.

Back Garden of No. 4 the Circus
(used in the leaflet)

And who knows, years from now I may one day open a leaflet or look at a poster, and find myself looking at my own photographs. When my contract expires, I may be gone from this workplace, but I take great pride in the thought that in the time I’ve been here, I have made an impression, and left my mark.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Pottery Fragments Everywhere and Sometimes a Complete Bottle or Two

I’ve been spending a lot of time here at the Roman Baths down in the study room in the storage areas working on the collection material from No 4 The Circus. The material comes from an archaeological excavation that took place in the back garden at No 4 in 1986 that was done by the Bath Archaeological Trust.

I have been cataloguing and organising all the material and let me tell you, at times it felt like I was drowning in pottery fragments. I’ve experience this feeling before while working as an archaeologist, but it is always overwhelming; even more so when you have to sort and identify it.

Among the many pieces of broken pottery there were a few special finds. Some of them were pottery pieces that could be pieced together to create a more complete vessel, others were even more exciting. Among the many broken bits were two complete stoneware bottles. (Well, they have a few small chips, but for material from an archaeological dig that is pretty good!)

Two Small Stoneware Bottles from 4 Circus

Every year for Heritage Open Days No 4 the Circus is opened up to visitors. This year Joanna and I were in charge of events. The building is used throughout the year for Bath College’s fashion program. Although the inside has all the requirements for modern fashion students the building still maintains most of its original features.

Veiw of back door to 4 Circus from the back garden.

And although our event for Heritage Open Days has now long passed, I hope you will come and visit next year.

Did you visit No 4  The Circus this year or have you visited in the past? What did you think?

Katrina Elizabeth

Friday, 15 October 2010

Hot off the press…….

It’s September 2009 and I have been dealing with transfer of title for an archaeological site called the Hat and Feather, the dig took place in the early 1990’s behind a shop along London Street in Bath. I meet Mr Hayes the owner of the archive and the shop; he is a lovely gentleman who is genuinely interested in the finds from the dig and the archaeology that took place. He signs over the finds without question in the knowledge that they are going to a good home. All he asks in return is that we create a display of some of the material to go in his shop.

Archaeologist at work on site 1991

So I set to work pulling together all the local history and archaeological research on the site and, with Penny our Friday volunteer’s help, it is soon done. Katie our Canadian volunteer and Edina from Hungary help me choose the objects, photograph them and fill out the masses of documentation required. I set to work pulling together images and text whilst researching the objects and pretty soon I have two boxes of objects and the design for two display boards. Mr Hayes is pleased with the objects, ideas and designs and sets about finding a special display case.

Work in progress September 2010
Leap forward to the end of September 2010 and the display has been designed, installed and is now ready to view and it looks fab! (Even if I do say so myself) So if you have an interest in Roman Bath or just like looking at pretty things why not pop along to T.R. Hayes 15-18 London Street and take a look - the purchase of furniture is not compulsory!

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant - Roman Baths signing out..........
If you want to read a little bit more about the background of this project just follow the link below

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Found It! - Pop Quiz!

Pop Quiz:

Who discovered the Baths?

a) a prince
b) a major
c) some pigs
d) the Romans

Excavations at the Great Baths

Answer: A B or C.

When the Romans came to Bath in the first century AD the local Celtic tribe was the Dobunni . The Dobunni had been worshiping a local god called Sulis.

Twenty years later the Romans built a religious and bathing complex on the site. They dedicated the temple to Sulis Minerva, a combination of the Celtic god Sulis and the Roman Goddess Minerva.

The Roman bathing complex fell into disrepair after the Fall of Rome but people continued to enjoy the hot spring, building new facilities over it. In 1878, Major Charles Davis unearthed the Great Bath when he was looking for the source of leak.

While some would credit the Medieval King Edgar as the founder of Bath, others prefer to go back in time to 863 BC to a story about a man and his pigs.

According to the legend, it was King Lear’s father, Bladud who founded Bath, but if you read the legend carefully the spring was actually discovered by pigs.

Bladud had contracted leprosy while studying in Greece. He was cast out of court when he got home for fear that the disease would spread to the rest of the court. Reduced to working as a swine herder, his pigs soon contracted the disease.

One day when he was out, his pigs started rolling around in some warm mud. Surprisingly, the pig’s skin had cleared after wallowing in the mud. Intrigued, he decided to jump in the mud too. Miraculously, his leprosy was cured.

The cured Bladud returned to court eventually becoming king.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In the Education Office…

You might not be able to tell from looking at the Baths buildings, but there is a heck of a lot of behind-the-scenes space. A lot of it is storage, but a lot of the work done in the offices might come as a surprise to anyone thinking all museum workers hunker down around boxes of old stuff, and mostly clean old pots with toothbrushes all day.

On any given day at the Roman Baths education office we’re not just working on Roman Baths programs, but also things for the Fashion Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery. Definitely a lot of fun - and as you can see, the Learning Apprentice, Greg, agrees!

Greg in Family Event Hat

The tissue paper, card and ribbon hat which Greg is tolerantly modelling for us in our office was made at the Fashion Museum as part of an activity called Flower Power. We explored how flowers have been used in fashion throughout the years, and made our own stylish flower creations.

Family in Laurels during Family Event at the Roman Baths

Everything we do as an activity has to tie in to what you see on display, or the themes which we cover in the museum – still, when you’ve got a museum dedicated to the Romans, a museum dedicated to Fashion and a museum dedicated to Art? I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to do but until we do, our office will remain filled with Model Magic, Pritt stick, strange spices and lots and lots of pretty paper.