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, 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 Vases of this type were originally made to contain oil; however, the ones made in Attica are a bit different.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