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, 21 December 2011

Season's Greetings

Here's hoping you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year.

We will see you with a our latest blog in the New Year!
Please click on the link below for a message from us to you


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

How To Let Your Objects Know You Care

Museum objects need to be cared for, especially because they are extremely old, so proper handling and storage is very important. When handling objects, the first thing you really need is common sense – like knowing you shouldn’t throw objects around or make tea with one in your hand! It’s also useful to have a gently padded strong surface to place objects on, and to wear gloves.

Gloves are incredibly important when handling all objects, but particularly when working with metal. This is because your skin constantly secretes sweat, which contains all sorts of nasty chemicals that can actually etch into metal surfaces! Sweat also contains potassium lactate, which means that the fingerprints will attract moisture and cause dust to cling to the surface, risking corrosion and mould growth. Wearing gloves stops your fingerprints from attacking the object.

There are also plenty of airborne pollutants that can cause damage to artefacts without any human contact. In the air outside, chemicals such as sulphur and nitrogen dioxides cause metals to tarnish, and affect other objects too; damaging textiles, dyes, and photographic materials. Objects containing calcareous materials like limestone and bone can also be affected by chemicals in the air such as acetic acid from glues and sealants.

To prevent objects from all sorts of dangers, including physical damage, pests, dust, pollution and light, they are stored in polythene boxes. These also buffer changes in temperature and humidity. All the packaging involved, including the box, should be inert and as non-biodegradable as possible to prevent any chemicals from leaking out and causing damage.

Not your average lunch box: A storage box holding boxed objects safely cushioned in acid free tissue.
Objects are packed in nests of acid free tissue, and the climate within each box can be controlled with silica gel, which is conditioned to maintain a specific humidity level by absorbing moisture from the air. The most commonly used silica gel changes colour when it needs to be replaced, and can dried by gentle heating for reuse.

The graph below shows the different conditions preferred by various materials, for example wood is best preserved in a very humid environment, whereas metals require the air to be much drier. When an object is made of more than one material, it is much harder to protect, but it could be kept at a mid-range relative humidity to prevent any damage.

Graph showing recommended ranges for relative humidity
 If you would like to learn more about how to care for objects why not come along on a ‘Behind the Scenes Tour'? see the link below for forthcoming dates…


More about our 'Behind the Scenes' Tours in January....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Spinning a Yarn.....

As promised, here is more about the Roman Spindle whorl, but first a little history…

A frieze on the Forum Palladium in Rome features a series of bas-reliefs of women spinning thread using the spindle whorl. This goes to show that spinning was a common activity for Roman women, girls and female slaves. Although the spindle whorl was used in creating thread for clothes and textiles, it was also used as a sacrifice to the gods and would sometimes be carried in bridal processions. The act of spinning was also associated to women coming of age and, in the myth of the 3 Fates, each thread spun by the women hold the life of every man’s past, present and future. Interestingly, in rural districts of Italy, the women were forbidden to spin when travelling on foot because it was considered an evil omen.

So, how do you use this object? Here is a fun step by step guide;

The spindle whorl normally consists of a stick of 10 or 12 inches long (spindle) and a circular weight (whorl). Spindle whorls are made from various materials - wood, stone, ceramics or metal.

Spindle Whorl

Imagine if you have the spindle whorl…

1) With your two hands, take a piece of wool and rub it together to form a long strand. Tie one end near the whorl and the other on the top of the staff (there should be a slit or catch). The weight of the whorl should help spinning.


2) Hold the wool in your left hand and, with your right hand, spin the spindle whorl. Let the spindle whorl weight draw the spindle down, drawing out the thread.


3) Once reaching the ground, take it out of the slit and wind onto the spindle. Replace the thread in the slit and twist out another length. Repeat.

Congratulations, you are spinning!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Web of Deceit

When working on the “Gift’s for the Goddess” display table during Heritage Open Week, I came across a replica of an ancient Roman spindle whorl. Being who I am, I was intrigued to find out more about this strange little round item, especially how it worked. Learning how it twists the thread into long strands ready for weaving reminded me of a Roman myth of a weaving competition between Minerva and Arachne. The story goes as follows…

Arachne was considered the best weaver of textiles of all mortals. People across the lands would come watch her as she created the most beautiful textiles with such grace. One day, Arachne claimed to the public that she could out weave the goddess Minerva. Unfortunately, after Minerva heard this, she was not pleased and disguised herself as an old woman. The goddess went to visit Arachne and under her disguise she warned Arachne about the wrath of the gods and to not tempt the goddess Minerva. Arachne having heard the advice, refused to do so. Minerva took away her disguise and stood before Arachne and declared she would accept her challenge. Arachne surprised and bashfully agreed to do so.
Many gathered around the competitors as they took their stations and attached the webs to the beam. They watched in awe as they elegantly spread the slender shuttle in and out along the thread. Both of them worked with such skill and speed. Eventually the colourful images started to form on the textiles.

Weaving loom
Minerva displayed the story of her triumph over Neptune in claiming the city of Athens. Arachne wove stories of gods who failed or caused errors to mortal kind.

This outraged Minerva and she destroyed Arachne’s beautiful textile. The goddess then placed shame into Arachne’s heart for defying the gods.

The next day Arachne felt such guilt and shame that she tried to take her own life. Minerva, having heard this, felt pity on Arachne and went to visit her. While standing before Arachne she said “Live, guilty woman and that you preserve the memory of this lesson…” and promptly turned Arachne into a spider.

(Want to learn how to use a Roman Spindle Whorl?...keep reading there will be more on that later!)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Cast of Little People Take 2

When I drew up the list of characters for the model (see blog Wednesday, 11 May 2011) I didn't realise I'd be working with little Romans again in 2011.

When we started to think of a different way of showing what people did in the Baths and Spring, for the new development in the West Baths, we soon came up with the idea of a new model with moving figures and an overhead screen to show details of a day in the life of 7 people.

To get avatars of less than 10mm and moving images of the characters in the baths, I visited Audio Motion, motion-capture experts in Oxford. They have a huge studio with many cameras that create data which can be used to make digital people and objects. The studio has worked on some big productions requiring "mo-cap", including the films Gladiator, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, and Iron Man II, and the games Kill Zone3 and Kinect Sport

Lee and Sean were our patient actors who took everything in their stride, including strigilling themselves with paint rollers for "the detail can be added later digitally", as I kept on being told. They were kitted out in body suite, with many reflectors stuck on them which reflected the light from many lamps and gave 3D co-ordinates to a computer as they moved. The hardest activity they had to do was mime taking off a toga (which would have been 7m long and made of heavy woollen cloth, but we couldn't use a real one as it would block the signals to the sensors). Clyde, from the company, ISO, who we'd worked with before for a touch screen interactive, directed the proceedings with utmost patience and understanding. In the weeks that followed, his incredible team managed to transform the data into believable Roman characters.

Finished Projection Table
So now, projected down onto a plan of the baths, are many of the characters who appeared in the model, once again reminding visitors that it wasn't just fun and games at the Baths (well, we have got 2 men playing ball); there were people working there as well. We see young Belator puffing away, stoking the fires from (almost) dawn to dusk, Flavia bathing, having a massage, scolding her slave Apulia and, of course, chatting to friends, and Bellinus, one of the maintenance men carefully painting the walls.

What will these little Romans do next?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Preserving Skills

Great Bath looking north easterly towards Bath Abbey
We all love the Roman Baths; the thrill and excitement of seeing, touching and experiencing one of our most treasured national monuments. Now try to imagine a future where no one has cared for its preservation and it has crumbled to dust, or makeshift repairs have defaced any reference to its historical significance. This issue appears to underline the research carried out by the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) in 2008, not just for monuments such as the Roman Baths, but for all our historic buildings, great and small. The published report, funded by The Sector Skills Development Agency, Construction Skills and English Heritage, was created to highlight the growing gap between those older professionals with skills to conserve buildings using traditional materials and methods, and a lack of equally knowledgeable young people to continue the work.

The findings of the report and the reasons for the decline are numerous, although not always negative. They range from increased funding pressures and a reduction of the amount available for grants, to contractors having a limited knowledge of traditional building materials and methods. This has led to a culture where a greater level of commitment is given to new builds, with many training providers simply perceiving a lack of demand for specialist heritage training.

The report reveals three years of changes to the heritage sector and a greater emphasis has been placed on training, with new initiatives attempting to provide solutions to the problems. For example, the development of new training qualifications to entice younger people to the profession. These include a new Heritage Skills NVQ Level 3 and a Heritage Apprenticeship Programme. Furthermore, NHTG continues to work with English Heritage in establishing a Works and Training Contract Framework that can be used across the built heritage sector.

In the six years since the original report, there have been clear improvements with notably better recruitment practices and more effective careers and qualifications in marketing. However, the skills gap remains, with only one third of the workforce using traditional building materials and many still requiring retraining. Nonetheless, there is a concerted effort within the heritage sector to reset the balance and provide and maintain a workforce that has the skills and knowledge to authentically preserve our historical buildings, not just for us but for future generations.




Matthew Hulm - Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

To Coin a Phrase

A Royal Imperial gold aureus of the emperor Allectus, on display at the Roman Baths Museum. This is a good example of a coin in excellent condition.
The Roman Baths Museum has an enormous collection of Roman coinage, primarily recovered from the Sacred Spring. Visitors in Roman times threw coins into the water as offerings to the Goddess, just as we today throw pennies into wells for luck.

As with modern coins, there were denominations of Roman coins, which were worth different amounts and made out of different materials. These are shown here in decreasing value:

Metal: Coin: Value:

Gold Aureus 25 denarii

Gold Quinarius 12 ½ denarii

Silver Denarius 16 asses

Silver Quinarius 8 asses

Orichalcum Sestertius 4 asses

Orichalcum Dupondius 2 asses

Copper As 4 quadrantes

Orichalcum Semis 2 quadrantes

Copper Quadrans ¼ as

The nature of the metal is also important for identification. The silver content of a denarius or quinarius can help with dating - the first silver coins were often 95% pure! This standard was dropped, raised, and then dropped again until in 270 it contained a mere 1% silver. The coins made from orichalcum are what we know today as brass, being made from a particular alloy of zinc and copper. This helped to distinguish similar coins through a difference in colour. The dupondius and as were about the same size, but could be told apart because orichalcum is very yellow in colour, and copper is obviously red.

Size, weight and thickness are three other factors that are very useful when identifying Roman coins. In general, the size of Roman coins decreased over time, from the hefty bronze examples of over 25mm across and more than 3mm in thickness, through to the tiny nondescript issues from the period between 260 and 402. This can provide an indication of the coin’s date at a glance, particularly when confronted by a large selection of unidentified coins.

Inscriptions and images are essential in identifying coins. Roman coins were decorated on both sides, usually with the emperor on the front (obverse). The reverse types are varied, but commonly show depictions of various deities, victories, architecture, animals, or representations of the emperor’s family. The front of the coin will generally bear an inscription showing the emperor’s titles and dignitaries, whereas the reverse is dependant on what is depicted, with the inscription being relevant to the goddess shown, for example. The reverse of the coin sometimes bears inscriptions with information about the coin itself. This includes the letters S.C., found on the backs of copper and orichalcum coins after 23 B.C. This stands for ‘Senatus Consulto’ to show that the coin has been issued by the Senate. When mint-marks appear, they are also usually imprinted on the reverse. These were introduced in order to control and standardise the activities of mints.

When coins are very worn or damaged they can be impossible to identify. This coin shows the state in which the majority of coins are found, although this one is a particularly extreme example.

Richard Reece & Simon James 1986. Identifying Roman Coins. London, Seaby Ltd.

David R. Sear 1974. Roman Coins and their Values 2nd edn. London, Seaby Ltd.

Zosha - Roman Baths Intern

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow.......

The mountains of Caradhras from "the Lord of the Rings", Narnia, Christmas Town from "the Nightmare before Christmas"; what do they have in common? They are all miracle places and environments of snow and winter but with one common fault; they're all only fictitious.

A snowy scene - Keynsham
But the world we see around us can be a winter wonderland too if you know the right places to look. And no, I don't mean you should travel all the way to Antarctica. Many places such as woods, parks, even towns can make a dramatic transformation with a little help from the snow. When the snow began to fall around Bath, I was eager to see what attractions such as the Great Bath would look like in snowy weather. Unfortunately, being a bath full of hot water and steam, a first-ever photograph of the Baths in the snow was a futile wish; thank you very much laws of nature. At least the Roman Emperor and Governors statues around the Great Bath terrace were willing to play along with my latest photographic experiment.

Snow on the statues around the Great Bath
But that wouldn't stop me from finding some other snowy area to capture in pictures. Last year, in November, when I went to see the Don McCullin: Shaped by War exhibit at the Victorian Art Gallery and got the chance to look at some of his work with black and white winter photographs; it inspired me, the following month, to take a few snaps around the parks and fields of my hometown; Keynsham. And as you can see by the included photos, the results were quite successful.

The banks of the River Avon in the snow
A lot of people may look on this season and weather as a traffic disruption and a slippery risk. But what a snowy winter lacks in travel convenience, it makes up for in giving photographers opportunities like this. They say "an artist must suffer for their work"; and after falling over at least seven time's whist taking these photos, I think I've done the suffering part. And it's been worth it.

A winter wonderland

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Exploring Mediterranean Pottery

I must admit that investigating pots from all around the Mediterranean is an exciting but challenging process. The task I had been challenged with was to “decode” a great collection of ancient Mediterranean vases dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age (BC 2500-30) that had mysteriously ended up in Bath. After one visit, three books, and countless articles and museum’s websites I have just about cracked it.

Here is a brief introduction to just some of the objects and their fascinating history.

The first one is a bottle-shaped vase called unguentarium or also known as spindle-shape unguentarium. This pot is a pinkish-grey bottle with a rounded biconical body, a tapering base and an uneven concave neck. Dating ito the Hellenistic Period (BC 325-30) and made in Cyprus, this small narrow-necked flask was made in order to store perfumed oils. Unguentaria were used throughout the Ancient Hellenistic and Roman World and it was common that they would not stand. These types of vessels were placed in tombs as grave offerings.

Unguentarium - BATRM1986.27.5
The next pot is a jug, and more specifically an oinochoe (οινοχόη in Greek). The name reveals that this jug was made to contain wine (οίνος in Greek). This vase is a Mycenaean style ware dating to the Late Bronze Age (BC 1650-1050) and was probably imported into Cyprus from the Aegean. It is made of a cream slipped decorated bichrome fabric and has a flat rim sloping outwards, a globular body, one vertical handle and a spherical ring base. It was decorated with lines and bands of concentric circles in purplish-red and dark brown paint, placed vertically on either side of the body. Vases of this type are found in two types of context either as an indication of high quality tableware (domestic) or as grave offerings (ritual).

Jug - BATRM1986.26.9
The last object is a black figure Attic lekythos (λήκυθος in Greek) and dates to between late 5th century and 6th century BC. This pot was made in Greece and depicts standing figures including Orpheus. Vases of this type were originally made to contain oil; however, the ones made in Attica are a bit different. They are called Attic white lekythoi (the background is white and the figures normally black) and were used as grave offerings. After the construction of the Parthenon, the ancient pot-makers were inspired by the beauty and perfection of the monument’s sculptures, and therefore they started making a new type of lekythos with both white background and figures (imitating the marbles).

Vase - 1985.293
Mystery objects: Among the collection, two objects found in Carthage were really hard to identify. After many hours of research the mystery was finally solved and the result was far more exciting than expected. The first object is a syringe-shaped pipe quite common in North Africa. The second one is an ancient rattle which was used in order to help young children fall asleep, and at the same time drive away evil spirits.

Pipe - BATRM1986.23.1
Rattle - BATRM1986.23.2

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Just my Luck, a Very Interesting Coal Truck.......

The German Coal Truck prior to the move to St John's Store
Oh, the wonders of coming upon something so unique. Have you ever found an object and wanted to know more? I’ll let you in on a little secret, and I found it in the Roman Baths Local History St. John’s Store.

I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes in the store and look around. When walking into a room, gloriously to one side of the wall, something caught my eye. As always, like most people, I ran over like it was an ice cream truck. It wasn’t an ice cream truck but rather a German coal wagon. Now you may be thinking: a German coal wagon? It is more interesting than you may think.

The German coal wagon was discovered near Bath Spa railway station by Network Rail workers in 2001. This wagon was found when railway arches were opened to be changed into retail units. Along with the wagon, was a section of the track and a small section of the turntable.
The German coal wagon, which had been in Bristol for conservation, is now housed in the St. John’s Store. The wagon was considered of interest to the Railway Heritage Committee, so long-term plans were organized. This is why they found a lovely home for the wagon.

What more is there about this intriguing wagon? Well, the German coal wagon was built by Orenstein & Koppal. This company, founded in 1876, made railway equipment for trenches on the German side during the 1st World War. This particular wagon distributed coal from Bath station to the coal fired power station.

Finding such an item in Britain is rare. I sparked your interest, didn’t I?

You may now be pondering profusely: when can I see the German coal wagon? My dear friend, your time has come...
To learn more about the 1890’s wagon and other interesting and captivating items, come to St. John’s Store during Heritage Open Week, on October 29, 2011. Trust me when I say it is a visit you will not regret!

Solange - Collections Intern
For exact opening times please follow this link: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/pdf/Open%20Week%20Prog%202011%20FINAL.pdf

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Ancient Egyptian Time Table

As part of the Tuesday Time Tables at the Roman Baths, I chose to do my Time Table on the Ancient Egyptians, as I love Egyptian history. It was also a good opportunity to get objects out of the collections which the public rarely see. My theme was religion as it was an integral part of Egyptian culture and belief. Egyptian religion is complicated but it is better understood by looking at objects connected with it.

Most of the jewellery worn by the Ancient Egyptians would have acted as amulets to offer protection to their wearers. They often depicted gods or specific animals associated with gods, such as the three I used showing a frog, a baboon and Shu (the god of air).

One such piece is a beautiful scarab beetle. Scarabs are one of the more iconic symbols of ancient Egypt, and were often used in jewellery and decoration. They symbolised the god Khepri, who rolled the sun across the sky every day.

Scarab Beetle
As time went on, ‘shabtis’ (funerary figurines), became a common part of burials. Shabtis were servant figures that carried out the tasks required of the deceased in the underworld. They are commonly found in museum collections, but have you ever asked why they are so common? Perhaps it is due to their size which makes them both portable and beautiful? I have always been particularly fond of shabtis simply because I liked the idea of having little people come to life to help me out in the afterlife! Of the two shabtis displayed, my favourite was made of limestone. This object was my favourite because it was beautifully painted.

I also chose to display a copper alloy Osiris figurine. Osiris was the God of the afterlife and is one of the better known gods in the Egyptian pantheon. Figurines of the gods could often be found in household shrines or burials in Ancient Egypt.

For more information on objects from the Eygyptian collection please follow this link…


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Oil Lamps- Lighting Antiquity

Lighting has always been important throughout the history of mankind. A long time ago our ancestors began finding ways to "illuminate their lives" - and one way they did this was with elaborate oil lamps.

The oil lamp is an old invention, the earliest date from between 15,000 to 12,000 BC. They have been found in Egypt, dating to around 4,000 BC. The Eygyptians used them not only to illuminate their houses, but also in death rituals and other religious ceremonies as a means of purification.

Historical records reveal that in ancient Greece a famous large oil lamp called Callimachos (Καλλίμαχος in Greek) “The golden lamp” was kept in Acropolis and burned daily with only one refill of oil per year. Adopted by the Romans, oil lamps spread across the Roman Empire and this is how they came to Europe. In Roman Britain lamp usage is strongly linked to military sites and large urban centres.

Pottery oil lamp - BATRM1985.324.2
A lamp has an oil chamber to contain the fuel, a filling-hole to introduce the oil, a nozzle and a wick-hole to hold the wick (the most frequently used wick-material was probably linen as it was quite soft and fibrous). In order to create a lamp, the ancient craftsman needed to construct an “archetype” of fired clay which would exhibit the shape and all the details both decorative and functional. When the “archetype” was finished it was fired ready for the mould to be taken. Wet plaster was poured around, and when it had hardened, registration hollows were cut out.

The decoration could vary…deities, myths and legends, scenes from everyday life, animals, chariot racing etc. The maker was free to play with the design and create new patterns but would often place his or the workshop’s name on the underside of the lamp (this has proved to be very helpful for archaeologists when trying to identify the date or place of a lamp’s production).

Metal oil lamp - BATRM1986.22.2
So, next time you visit a museum and you come across these small objects, look closer at the patterns, try to identify their different parts, and think about how important they were to our ancestors.

I found a very interesting museum in Portugal dedicated to oil lamps. For more information: http://en.lifecooler.com/lifecooleren/oil-lamp-museum-museums-382661-1.html

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Roman Jewellery

Roman women were extremely over the top with their jewellery; so much so that a law was passed limiting the amount of gold one person could wear, as it was deemed ‘tacky’!


Compared to the Mayan civilisation for example, the Romans were not the flashiest of societies, preferring pearls to diamonds for their natural colouring – colour was a key element in Roman fashions, not how shiny or elaborate something was. Gem stones were often left in their natural state and were not polished or cut to catch the light.

Rings and bracelets were integral parts of accessorising in the Roman Empire; as well as wearing them as we do today, bracelets were pushed up to the upper arm and rings worn on the lower finger joint – hence their tiny sizes.

Small twisted finger ring

If a man was seen wearing any other form of jewellery that was not a signet ring, he would have been considered effeminate. The rings were used to determine the wearer’s status, position and as a means of sealing letters or identifying personal objects. The gemstone on the top was carved with the owner’s personal emblem, but often cheaper copies were made out of glass displaying cruder images of goddesses or emporers. Another type of ring that is frequently found is that of the betrothal band; these were placed on the ring finger (modern wedding ring finger) as Romans believed that this was directly connected to the heart via the nervous system.

Necklaces were most commonly worn short, similarly to modern day chokers, sitting just below the neckline. Materials varied from glass beads, metals and precious stones. One of the most common variations of necklace was the torc, believed to have originated from the Celtic inhabitants of Britain and Gaul as the symbol of the warrior. The Romans wore these to represent their status, and they were most commonly made from gold, although other materials, such as copper-alloy, were also used.

Contrary to popular belief, brooches were not primarily decorative items; they were mainly functional, working to hold Romans’ clothes together. There are many designs when it comes to brooches, from simple fibulas to more elaborate disc shaped ones. These variations suggest the status or wealth of the owner and let us know that everybody in society was wearing them.

Brooches from the Sacred Spring

Hair pins, as brooches, were practical items that held up a lady’s elaborate hair style, but they also added grandeur to her look. The longer pins were worn in larger, more complicated styles, whereas the shorter pins would have been used for simpler, lighter dos. Many were extremely detailed with carved goddesses and scenes at the tops, jewels were inlayed and the pins themselves made from silver or ivory. More commonly, the pin would have been made from wood or bone.

To have a look at some of the amazing, more elaborate pieces check out this website: http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_ancient_roman.html


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Roman Tableware

The evening of the last Tuesday of August was a clear, calm one, a lovely atmosphere to set up the last Time Table of the summer season around the Great Bath. The topic I had chosen to explore was Roman tableware as it was something all Romans would have used and like many objects would have been an indication of a person’s power, wealth and status.

For the most grand of dining tables gold and silver vessels and platters would have been the material of choice but would these objects have been eaten off? Perhaps exquisitely decorated pieces of metal such as the Mildenhall Treasure were placed on display in Roman dining rooms to be admired. Bronze was also used to make tableware and metals were used to make spoons. Spoons were the main cutlery used by the Romans as they did not have forks and mainly ate with their fingers.

Pewter Ewer from the Sacred Spring

I was fascinated to learn of the popularity of pewter tableware as I had not associated the material with the Romans. However it was popular as it was cheaper than silver and not as breakable as pottery. A number of pewter objects have been found in the Sacred Spring presumably ending their lives as religious offerings. If you joined me at my Time Table I hope you enjoyed making a mini Pewter platter to take home.

Glass still appeals to us today as it did in Roman times. The Romans however seem to have been a lot more adventurous with the colour of their glass using yellow-browns, greens, dark blues and orange-red.

Samian Bowl

Before the Romans came to Britain very few people had fine pottery. That all changed though and soon the Romans were importing loads of pottery such as red samian ware from Gaul and British potteries were trying to copy Roman styles.

Next time you are looking in a museum case at pewter jugs, glass bottles or samian pottery have a think about their original setting. Try to visualise the dining room decorated with wall paintings and mosaics, think of the smells of hot food and wine and listen for the sound of conversation, laughter and music.

Emma Traherne – Volunteer at the Roman Baths and Assistant Curator at the Museum of Farnham (Surrey)

For more information on the Sacred Spring and the Pewter Finds


For more information on the Mildenhall Treasure


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Creating a Tuesday Times Table

My fellow interns and I were set the task of creating a themed table for the Roman Baths’ Tuesday Times Tables. We were given free range on everything from choosing the theme, picking out objects for handling and designing the information leaflets and posters.

I was first to pioneer the Times Tables and chose the theme of Roman jewellery.

Sophia at her Tuesday Timetable
Behinds the scenes, I spent a lot of my time researching pretty much everything I could find that related to Roman jewellery, and preparing myself for tricky questions that would be asked by the public. Books such as Roman Clothing and Fashion by A. T. Croom really gave me an idea of what to include on my table.

Fortunately our Learning Officer, Lindsey, who is in charge of all the educational events that take place at the Baths, already had a box of handling items that were perfect for my table – this saved me a lot of time looking through the archives for complete objects that would have been safe to be touched by the public. The box contained an original and a replica brooch, a replica chatelaine (toilet) set, original bracelets and rings, and a model necklace. One of the rings included was a signet ring with its gem stone missing (signet rings would have had a carved gemstone on the top to show the owner’s seal and status). In order to show what the gem would have looked like, I created some colouring sheets with a variety of engravings on, that children - or adults! - could take away with them. There were also photos of original gems and other pieces of jewellery.

When the table was set up, I was visited by numerous members of the public who were fascinated by the size of the rings – tiny! – or the detail on the bracelets.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Question of Soles

For my Tuesday Time Table, I explored Roman civilian shoes. I studied a collection of leather soles found on Walcot Street and used modern replicas to show usage and construction.

Finding well-preserved organic material, such as leather, is great because it often doesn’t survive, due to various geological factors, such as acidic soil. In the case of the Walcot Street pit, a clay layer allowed the leather to stay damp and preserved.

I have been looking at two main types of shoe: The ‘Carbatina’ and the ‘Calceus’. Both types of shoe would have been worn as outdoor shoes, covering most of the foot. The soles show evidence of hobnailing - providing protection for the soles against the damp ground.

The stereotypical image of a Roman wearing sandals and a toga is not a Romano-British one - would you wear sandals in the middle of a British winter?! In Rome, flip-flop like ‘Solea’ were worn as house shoes, although in Rome it was deemed uncivilised to wear sandals with a toga.

The collection of shoe pieces found at Walcot Street also contains evidence of Roman ‘Soccus’, a slipper-type shoe. It is also likely that Romano-British wore socks under their Calcei to keep their feet warm.
A Man wearing Soccus

It is believed that Walcot Street pit was situated near a cobbler’s shop and this would explain the large quantity of shoe soles and leather offcuts.

Hobnailed sole
Mystery Sole: This collection of soles lacks the evidence for house shoes, as most of the soles are hobnailed. This poses an important question: did the Romano-British buck the trend and go barefoot in the home?

I believe it more likely that they wore Soccus or cloth socks instead of Solea, which wouldn’t have kept the feet warm. The fragile nature of these cloth shoes would mean that they were less likely to have been preserved in the pit.

Make your own Carbitina!

Georgina - Roman Baths Volunteer

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Bath

Black and white photograph. Sir Mortimer Wheeler giving opening address at 1958 Bath Festival in Abbey Churchyard. Council dignitaries including Mayor of Bath on platform behind speaker. (Televised event) - image from Roman Baths Collection.
 The 1958 Bath Festival included a televised opening ceremony, in Abbey Churchyard, carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), the eminent archaeologist.

His speech included the statement that Bath could become ‘a mere archaeological specimen’. He then went on to say:

‘I am going to be quite frank with you about this. If there’s one thing I dislike more than another, it is archaeology. The moment you think of a place as mere archaeology, you may be sure that the place is dead. But Bath, you’ll agree with me, is not dead. It is a Roman city; it is a Georgian city; but Bath is also a modern city.’
Bullamore 1999, pp.53

Sir Mortimer Wheeler is often viewed as being one of the first ‘modern archaeologists’. One of the reasons for this is his encouraging the use of volunteer diggers rather than cheap labour. Previously, many amateur excavations were funded by inviting contributions from wealthy investors, who would then get a share of any proceeds if anything of value was found. Another reason is his development of the ‘Box grid system’.

The site is divided into squares which are then dug leaving just a dividing wall, similar to an ice cube tray. By using this method the site could be dug, but with layers of earth still preserved, so it is still possible to see how a site has changed over the years.

His career began as in 1919 as Director of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, then becoming Keeper of Archaeology at the Museum of London in 1926. He undertook a five year excavation at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset. He also worked in India as Director General Archaeological Survey of India and establishing the Archaeological Department of Pakistan and the National Museum of Pakistan.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler

He died in 1976.
Bullamore, T. 1999 Fifty Festival – The History of the Bath Festival. Mushroom Publishing: Finland

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Sweet Cheese Cake but not as we know it....

You will need:

130 grams plain flour
250 grams ricotta cheese
1 egg
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons of clear honey
Serves 4

Libum to be made as follows: 2 lb cheese well crushed in a mortar; when it is well crushed, add 1lb bread-wheat flour or, if you want it to be lighter, just half a pound, to be mixed well with the cheese. Add one egg and mix all together well. Make a loaf of this with leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a brick
Cato on Agriculture 75

Cheese was generally salty in Roman times and while the recipe above does not state it, other sources for libum contain honey. The combination of a salty cheese and a honey finish would not go down too well; as such, a soft-cheese substitute has been chosen to make a ‘sweet’ cheese cake based on the recipe above.


• Sift the flour into a bowl. Beat the cheese until smooth.

• Combine the flour, cheese and egg into a soft dough. It will be quite sticky.

• Split the dough into 4 and place on a grease-proof papered baking tray with a bay leaf pressed to the underside of each ball.

• Place them in the oven for 30 minutes, oven setting 220 degrees Celsius, until golden brown on top.

• Score and pour warmed honey over them.

• Leave to cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Recipe formed part of Bel's Tuesday Timetable event - What did they eat?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Matter of Mosaics

Working as an intern for a month at the Roman Baths, I was asked to put together a handling table for the Times Table event at the museum on Tuesday evenings. My mind immediately jumped to mosaics and I thought I’d share the information on the blog.

Mosaics are one of the first things that captured my imagination about the ancient world. I remember going to Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester when I was younger, where some of the best mosaics in the country are preserved. The Cupid on a Dolphin mosaic is perhaps one of the best known, and best preserved, mosaics from the site.

Cupid on a Dolphin
Not far from Fishbourne is Bignor Roman Villa, also containing some incredibly well- preserved mosaics. If you’re interested in such art work, I would definitely recommend a visit.

The technique of making mosaics was developed by the Greeks, around 400BC. They used small black and white pebbles to create mythological or other pictorial scenes. Soon, they started to use small pieces of marble, glass, pottery and stone, known as tesserae.

This technique was adopted by the Romans and spread with the empire. Local people would be trained in workshops, examples of which have been identified in London and Colchester. It is believed that there was a ‘handbook’ of common motifs used by artists, which would have presumably been cheaper than getting a unique design done, although no copies of such a book have been found.

Mosaics are often associated with bathing in Roman buildings and certainly many mosaics are found on the surface of the hypocaust heating systems. Unfortunately for us, this means they often collapse in on themselves – as has happened here at the East Baths.

East Bath Mosaic
The colours for the individual tesserae were found naturally in the raw materials selected for the mosaics. Glass was rarely used in Roman Britain but does feature in mosaics elsewhere in the empire.

For me, no discussion of mosaics would be complete without mention of my favourite - the Alexander mosaic. Dating from c. 100BC, it is from the House of the Faun, in Pompeii, the largest house uncovered in the town. The presence of this mosaic, as well as others throughout the house, indicates some very wealthy owners indeed…..

Alexander Mosaic
Measuring 5.82 x 3.13m, around 1.5 million tesserae were used. That is a lot of stone, and a very talented artist! The mosaic depicts the Battle of Issus (333 BC), between Alexander the Great and Darius, the Persian king. The one currently in Pompeii is a reconstruction, as the original has been moved to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Next time you’re looking at a mosaic, have a think about both the artist and whoever commissioned it – can you get a sense of how wealthy they were? What does the mosaic tell us about the building and its owner?

Have a look at this website for some excellent images and a brief description of some lovely examples: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/mosaics_gallery.shtml

For more information on Fishbourne: http://www.sussexpast.co.uk/property/site.php?site_id=11

For more information on Bignor: http://bignorromanvilla.co.uk/

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Light Bite

Honey Omelette

You will need:

4 eggs

½ cup of milk

4 Tablespoons of butter or oil

2 Tablespoons of liquid honey

Cinnamon or Nutmeg

Take the eggs, milk, and butter and combine. With butter, grease a shallow pan or skillet and then heat. When the melted butter begins to bubble, pour in the eggs and cook the omelette. Do not fold. Serve with honey poured on top and a sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg.

Courtesy of Apicius. Book VII –The Gourmet.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A Few Great Men - Statues on the Terrace

Many visitors to the Baths believe the statues around the terrace to be Roman; they are, in fact, just over one hundred years old. Julius Caesar is even more modern - one morning in the 1980s, he was found languishing at the bottom of the Great Bath after being given a helping push by some drunken youths!

All of the statues are male except for the bust of Roma and many of these men are instantly recognizable from the annals of Roman history. The governors of Britain are less recognizable names and yet played a far more important role than any Emperor in conquering Britain.

Suetonius Paulinus
One governor who deserves better recognition is Suetonius Paulinus (governor: 58-61 AD), famous for his role in subduing the Boudiccan rebellion. Before he came to Britain, he had made his name leading an expedition across the Atlas Mountains, becoming one of the first Europeans to experience the harshness of the Sahara Desert. His undertakings are recorded by Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia.

Julius Agricola
Another great man, Julius Agricola (governor 77-87 AD), stands proudly on the terrace. He subdued a large part of Britain including Wales, northern England and even parts of Scotland. He helped establish control of the area that today is referred to as Roman Britain. His exploits are recorded by Tacitus in De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae.

Ostorius Scapula (governor 47-52 AD) had a huge impact on both the military and the economy of Britain, but Scapula is most famous for capturing Caratacus. Caratacus was the most powerful British warlord before the Roman invasion and he continued to be a thorn in Roman sides for a long time after, until he was captured and sent to Rome by Scapula.

Ostorius Scapula
The city of Bath (or Aquae Sulis as it was during the Roman period) is surrounded by the Mendip Hills. These hills are rich in lead and this was first exploited under Scapula’s leadership. Lead became one of Britain’s biggest exports - it even turns up in places like Pompeii!!

These men are great characters from history and have had a huge impact upon the British nation. Their role in history should not be forgotten or ignored merely because they never rose to the same dizzy heights as the Emperors.

Heath Meltdown