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, 27 April 2011

After the trenches are filled…

The Channel Four program Time Team has done wonders to raise the profile of archaeology in Britain. Thanks to Time Team many people now know what an archaeological excavation looks like; indeed some of us may have taken part in an excavation or two!
Excavation of the Sacred Spring 1979
But how many of us know what happens next? What happens after the trenches have been backfilled? How does the archaeology end up in a museum?

Well, it’s rather a long process between excavation and museum storage, excavation is merely the start of a process that often takes years to complete. Once the excavation stage is completed the artefacts have to be cleaned, conserved, analyzed, reported on, published and finally deposited into a museum.

The cleaning, conservation and analysis work of artefacts forms part of what is commonly called post excavation. During post excavation all the significant material is sent to specialists, whose jobs are to look at everything and write reports on what they find. This ranges from working out what an artefact is exactly, how old it is, where it came from and how it was used.

A mix of bone and stone objects
After the specialists have written their reports, and everything that is known about the archaeological site has been written down, all the information is brought together to form one final report. It’s very important that this final report is then published, but why is publishing it so important?

Excavation is a destructive process; once it’s been done you can’t press an undo button and put everything back! So it’s extremely important to publish your findings, even if you didn’t find anything, that way others can learn from it! If you don’t let people know what you found what’s the point of doing the excavation?

Once all the finds have been processed and a final report created the archive (artefacts and records) can be deposited into a museum for permanent storage. Why does everything go to a museum? Well if everything is in a museum, it makes it a lot easier for interested people to find it so they can study it.

So what does this mean for the Roman Baths Museum? Well the Baths happens to be the English Heritage approved repository for archaeological archives in Bath and North East Somerset; this means any archaeological work undertaken in the county will probably end up here.

East Bath Store
So if you are interested, why don’t you come on a tour of our storerooms and see all the archaeology that’s just waiting to be looked at?

Charlotte A

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

All that Glitters may not be Gold but........

33 carved gemstones (intaglios) were found on site in 1878. Discovered as a group, they were found in the Great Drain, just after the outflow from the Great Bath.

All the intaglios date to the latter half of the first century; most likely the Flavian period. It is unclear if the group was casually lost or given as a votive offering to the goddess Sulis Minerva. The position of discovery means that they could have been lost in the Great Bath or given as an offering into the Scared Spring (both of which expel water into the Great Drain).

The gemstones were probably cut by a continental gem cutter or gemmarius. The Romans wore these cut gemstones set into signet rings. By pressing the image into wax, it created a personal and individual seal for letters. These signet rings would have also been a desirable and fashionable item of jewellery.

Below are four of these beautiful gemstones with accompanying descriptions:

Image depicting a Roman maenad cut into blue surfaced nicolo (quartz). 10.5mm in length.

Roman maenad
Maenads were the female worshippers of the god Bacchus (the god of wine and festivity).This maenad has long hair and a hair band. If you look closely you will see she has animal skin pulled tightly over her left shoulder. This is one of fifteen intaglios found in the collection that come under the subject heading of 'deities and personifications'.

Image depicting a leaping lion cut into a pale yellow cornelian (quartz). 12.5mm in length. 
Leaping lion
This lion engraved intaglio is one of three depicting wild beasts in the collection. During the Roman period images of wild beasts represented the power of natural forces.

Image depicting a discus thrower cut into a deep orange cornelian (quartz). 12mm in length.

Discus thrower
The man cut into this intaglio is a discus thrower on tiptoe with a discus in his left hand and an outstretched right arm. In front of him is a vase containing a palm; this represents the health and success of athletes. This is one of five intaglios found in the collection that come under the subject heading of ‘amusement’.

Image depicting cattle under a tree cut into a dull green/grey chalcedony (quartz). 11mm in length.
Cattle under a tree
Portrayed in profile, these three cows are all facing a tree. Two are standing and one is lying down. Cattle were a popular theme; set to remind people of the peace and tranquillity of the countryside. This is one of six intaglios found in the collection that come under the subject heading of 'countryside'.

For more information and direct references for each stone (as well as a description for the others we hold in the collection) please follow the web link below:


For a general reference please use the book listed below:

Barry Cunliffe (editor), The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, Volume 2: The Finds from the Sacred Spring (1988), pages 31 to 52.

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

Monday, 11 April 2011

A Wedding by the Water

This is the part of the day when I most enjoy my job as events manager. I am standing beside the Great Bath, in the early morning stillness, just prior to a civil ceremony. It is 8am and all I can hear is the hot water flowing from the Sacred Spring into the Great Bath and all I can see is the mystical mist rising from the water. In the 2000 year old remains of the Roman bath-house, the flickering torches and rising steam make this place one of the most atmospheric and romantic options for a wedding. In fact, if I were to marry again, I’m sure this would be the place for me!

Although the Great Bath is no longer covered by a roof, you need not worry about the weather as you’ll be under cover from the surrounding terrace above; and even when the rain falls on the naturally hot water, this only adds to the magical atmosphere.

Recently voted the UK’s ‘most seductive building’ in a poll by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), the Roman Baths was also dubbed, ‘the place people would most like to take somebody on a date’.

The Great Bath

The registrars’ tables have been positioned beside the Bath, complete with floral decorations, and the first of the guests begin to arrive. The groom follows, along with a flustered looking photographer, anxious for the best shots in such an inspiring venue. At 8.25am, the bride arrives, escorted by three little bridesmaids, and the ceremony begins….

The Roman Baths has been licensed for civil ceremonies since May 2004. 8.30am is the only time that civil ceremonies can be performed (the Roman Baths is open to the public after this time), and is becoming increasingly popular. The Georgian Pump Room, up at ground level, is often used for morning wedding breakfasts and evening wedding receptions, along with the Terrace, overlooking the Great Bath.
For further information please go to www.bathvenues.co.uk Alternatively, if you would like to discuss your ideas or make an appointment to view the venues, please call 01225 477782 or e-mail bath_venues@bathnes.gov.uk . Click on the link for details of our wedding open day on 8th May.

Please note you will need to book a registrar from the Bath Register office to perform your wedding ceremony. They can be contacted on 01225 4777234 or e-mail


A Cast of Little People

One of the most interesting aspects of my job recently has been my involvement in the Roman Baths Museum's Development Plan.
In 2008, I was asked to draw up a "cast list" for the scale model of the site in the 4th century AD. The model maker (the artist Gerry Judah) asked for full descriptions; complexion, hair colour, stance, and even who each person was interacting with, even though the people were only ...mm high..

I tried to include many ordinary people in it; different ages, colours, fashions, visitors and workers. Local Aquae Sulis residents, like modern day Bathonians, familiar with the amazing buildings and seeing the baths just as a place to go on a wet afternoon. But to the foreign visitors, looking around at the colourful buildings, they were very Roman though so far from Rome, and with a twist of local interpretation.

If you look carefully you'll find children are playing behind the temple, in the large open air precinct. A woman with her washing gazes at a religious ceremony walking past.

A lot had to be guesswork. All the evidence of Roman baths and temple, the inscriptions and literary references, tend to be from the Mediterranean, so we don't know whether these were the norm everywhere else. When the nineteenth century excavators dug the baths, they didn't record what they found in each room. As a result, we're not sure whether women were in the east baths or the west, or whether mixed bathing was allowed; the Emperor Hadrian did ban it, but did the Baths manager obey this? How were the rooms lit? 100s of oil lamps or burning torches? Who knows if the staff (or were they slaves?) had uniforms, but we dressed them all in green tunics, so you can find them as they sweep, sell snacks or hand out towels.

In 2009, the model was installed. Apart from one drunk priest, a wayward ball player who fell over and had to be re-glued, and a purple alien who joined the religious procession, all the little people are still there in suspended animation. Next time you visit, take a closer look!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

An exhibition? How hard can it be?

Every time Jeremy Clarkson says “how hard can it be?” on Top Gear you can predict the chaos about to unfold, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover an exhibition was a lot more challenging than I thought, once I’d made the mistake of saying “how hard can it be?”

As an intern in the Collections Office I get lots of projects to do, and one of these projects was to create a small display on the Romans in Keynsham as part of the “Story of Somerdale” exhibition held at the Cadbury factory in Keynsham during January.

Setting up the display
The project started out easily enough, once I had discovered that Somerdale was the Cadbury factory, where the Roman villa was and where all the artefacts were stored (in Keynsham, oddly enough!). I selected a dozen or so small artefacts, fibula brooches and the like and all was well.

And then it got complicated, you see it turned out the display case available for us to use was a lot bigger than we expected! What I had so far wasn’t going to be enough!

The next two weeks were a hive of activity, more artefacts were selected and the real hard work began, designing and making the display boards! The boards were a real challenge, the information had be accessible to people of all ages and knowledge levels as well as being easy to read and interesting to look at.

Quite a few re-writes and mock-ups later the boards were printed, the artefacts were packed and the labels made. Now was the fun part, setting it all up.

So was it worth it in the end? I think so.

The final product
The exhibition had around 5000 visitors over 5 days and I got lots of really positive feedback for my contribution! The experience was at times extremely frustrating (the display boards) but has given me a new appreciation for the displays in museums. Until you try to make one yourself it’s hard to appreciate how much work goes into a display.

I learnt a lot from this and I’m sure it’ll be much easier in the future!

So next time you visit a museum, why not take a moment to appreciate the hard work that has gone into creating that fantastic display?