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, 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