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, 29 June 2011

ACCES to Egypt

If I were to ask you what sort of items we have in our collection here, I reckon the first thing you would mention would be Roman things. What else would the Roman Baths Museum have? Well our collection spans a much bigger time period than that. It actually runs right up to the present day! I’m also pretty certain you wouldn’t guess that we have a small collection of Egyptian artefacts.

Winged Scarab
Yeah, it came as quite a surprise to me, too! So how did I come to discover this little collection? Did I just open a random box, look inside and find it in a rather Indiana Jones like fashion? Not so much…

You see I was helping respond to an enquiry from the Association of Curators for Collections from Egypt and Sudan (ACCES). ACCES have recently re-vamped their website and, as part of this, have created a Facebook page which features a gallery of highlights from museum collections. This gallery includes images and captions from museum collections.

Limestone Shabti
And, since the Baths works very hard to raise the profile of all of our collection, naturally we took part in this. So James took the photographs while I researched and wrote the captions. Not the most exciting way to discover something, I’ll admit, but still enjoyable!

I suppose you are wondering how the Roman Baths Museum came to own a collection of Egyptian artefacts? Well, artefacts from Egypt have always been popular with private collectors and a long time ago this collection was donated to the Victoria Art Gallery, who, in 1982, transferred the collection to the Baths.

In general, I’m not that interested in Egyptian archaeology, but I still find this collection to be rather exciting. Of the five artefacts we have highlighted from our collection, my favourite is a model of a winged scarab. It is most likely to be an amulet (scarabs were popular motifs for amulets) and I find it adorable! While it may be very simply constructed (just three pieces, tied together with string), and has no glitzy gold or gems, I love it. I think it’s quite sweet really.

Are you interested in seeing what other pieces we have highlighted? Then why don’t you check out the ACCES Facebook page?



Thursday, 23 June 2011

It’s not all rotting fish...

The first thing most people think of when you mention Roman food is garum also known as fish sauce. Famously made from rotting fish entrails, the idea puts many people off Roman food. However there is a lot more too Roman food than fish sauce, plenty of Roman dishes don’t actually contain any.

For example, honey cake.

Fresh from the oven
Now in my official position as Office Cake Baker and in honour of the Roman Festival of Bakers, I decided to recreate this recipe.


200g/7oz clear honey

3 eggs

50g/2oz plain white flour


1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (350 F)/gas mark 3. Prepare a baking pan either by oiling it with vegetable oil (olive if you want to be really Roman!) or lining with baking parchment

2. Beat the eggs, and then slowly add the honey. Beat until all the honey is mixed in and the surface of the mix is covered in tiny bubbles

3. Sift the flour and carefully fold it into the mixture

4. Pour into the baking pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Serve warm and drizzled with more honey or enjoy it cold. Either way it’s absolutely delicious!!!

This lovely cake will probably feature in any picnic baskets I prepare this summer, and I do hope you enjoy it too!


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Stanton Drew – The Secret of the Stones

Stanton Drew Main Stone Circle
In 2009, as part of the Festival of British Archaeology events, we went out into the parish of Stanton Drew. Here lies a little known set of stone circles that date to 2000-3000 BC. What’s most interesting about this site is that, unlike Avebury and Stonehenge, it has never been excavated. In 1997, a geophysical survey of the stone circles turned up some impressive results – wooden post holes were found indicating that there would have once been a series of wooden circles on the site.

In 2009, Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society, under the careful guidance of Richard Sermon (County Archaeologist for BANES), carried out a geophysical survey of the cove. The cove is a name given to three stones outlying the stone circles – the findings indicated that these three stones were once part of a long barrow, a place where the ancient people used to bury their dead.

Members of Bath and Camerton at The Cove
 We set up displays in the local village hall; we had a story teller, handling objects and coil pot making activities. The WVS were on hand to serve tea and cake (some of the best I have ever tasted). There was a flint knapper making prehistoric flint tools in the ‘Druids Arms’ garden (alongside the cove) and a self guided walk that allowed everyone to enjoy the archaeology.

Flint Knapper in Action
A big thank you must go to all those who got involved - the villagers, teachers, school children, local farmers and landowners, Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society and the other interest groups who came on the day to share some of thieirwork. It truly was a magical day in a very special setting.

Coil Pot Making
In 2010, we explored the Medieval in Englishcombe (see Katrina’s previous blog for more details!) and this year for the Festival of British Archaeology we are back in the prehistoric, but this time we want to share with you the ‘Secrets of the Downs’. We will be at the University of Bath Arts Barn on Saturday 30th July 2011. So if, like me, you are really into your archaeology or maybe you just want a fantastic free day out with the family – why not come along…..

For more details on the event this year please follow the link below


For the full and in-depth report on the geophysical survey findings please go to


Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Feathered Friends

Sometimes you need to escape work for a few minutes and get some fresh air. Usually, I just walk onto the Terrace, but sometimes I go and sit by the Great Bath. Normally, all you see are visitors enjoying their trip to the Baths, and maybe the odd pigeon. So imagine my surprise when a bird of a more aquatic nature landed on the water in front of me!

Can you guess what had come to visit?

Yep, ducks.

To me this is extremely awesome, why? Because ducks are cool.

The first time I saw them, the female one then proceeded to preen herself in the Great Bath. I found that extremely amusing. I actually ended up sat next to the Bath for ten minutes watching her. There is something very cool about a duck having a bath in the roman bath, and it’s nice to see the thermal waters being appreciated again!

I have since been informed that these two ducks visit the Baths every summer. They have also attempted to nest around the bath but have not yet been successful in that area. It would be amazing if they did though - can you imagine how cute ducklings would look on the Great Bath?

Personally I think these two have got the right idea, why swim on the cold River Avon when you can swim in the warm waters of the Great Bath?

The ducks can usually be spotted sitting on the stone in the picture, or swimming on the Bath. They aren’t here all the time though, so keep your eyes peeled for them!


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Six of the Best

Following on from ‘The Curses Condensed’, here is an up-close and personal look at six of the curses from the collection. The main text source and all of the transcriptions and line drawings have come from Roger Tomlin’s work on the curses in Cunliffe, B. (ed.), 1988, The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath Volume II : The Finds from the Sacred Spring, Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph No 16

1. Celtic curse - BATRM1983.13.b.118

List of names

Celtic text written down in Latin letters

It is likely that British was only a spoken language and therefore in writing, people would have used Latin letters, i.e. an attempt to write British sounds in Latin letters.

2. Theft of a woman’s cape – BATRM1983.13.b.27

‘Lovernisca [gives] him who, whether [man] or woman, whether boy or girl, has stolen (her) cape.’

Written from right to left in mirror-image cursive, the letters are unevenly spaced and sometimes distorted.

Did you know ?

Lovernisca is a female ‘Celtic’ name that means vixen.

3. Theft of a bathing tunic – BATRM1983.13.b.157

‘To the goddess Sulis. If anyone has stolen the bathing tunic of Cantissena, whether slave or free,…’

This curse relates to the theft of a bathing tunic, sneaky thieves or did someone just forget to pack their swimming costume?

4. ABC…… - BATRM1983.13.b.110

‘A B C D E F X’

Part of the alphabet, A-F. Was the X added at the end for magical significance?

Did you know ?

Alphabets and part-alphabets were commonly found as graffiti?

5. Theft of VILBIA – BATRM1983.14.b.1

‘May he who has stolen VILBIA from me become as liquid as water. who has stolen it [or her]. Velvinna, Exsupereus, Verianus, Severinus, A(u)gustalis, Comitianus, Minianus, Catus, Germanilla, Jovina.’

This tablet is also known as the ‘Bath Curse’. It was found on site in 1880, during Major Davis’s excavations of the Sacred Spring. Although written conventionally (left to right), several of the letters within this piece of text have been reversed.
This curse tablet alludes to a more serious theft - the theft of a woman (perhaps a slave) named Vilbia.

6.Theft of a rug – BATRM1983.13.b.113

‘…the rug which I have lost,…(his) life…has stolen…unless with his own blood.’

The text on this tablet is mixed and needs to be treated as a series of anagrams to be deciphered. Rather than being a secret cryptic text, it would seem that the writer suffered from dyslexia and got his letters muddled up.

For the full inside story on the featured curses and more read:

Tomlin, R.S.O., 1988 ‘The curse tablets’ in Cunliffe (ed.) 1988.

Tomlin, R.S.O., 1992 ‘Voices from the Sacred Spring’ in Bath History Volume IV, Millstream Books

The ‘Celtic Curse’ features as one of Bath in 100 Objects more information can be found at http://visitbath.co.uk/site/100-objects