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, 19 December 2012

Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas!

Look out for more blogs in the new year!

In the meantime if you would like to look at blogs from the past just click on the timeline (top left of the page) or choose from the many labels as you scroll down (right of the page).

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tuesday Time Tables – Modern Monsters and their Roman Myths

And so we came to our last Tuesday Time Table event of the summer and I chose to take the evening in a very different direction.

As an English graduate, I am passionate about writing in any form; you name it, I’ll have read it! So, stories, myths and fables were the clear themes for me to explore. But how to link it to the Romans? And how to create an interesting handling session with this theme?

Perseus and Medusa
The Roman period is rich in myth and legends, often referring to the creation of the great city of Rome. These Roman narratives often focus on the trials and tribulations of humans, who possess a divinely ordered destiny and often this comes with occasional intervention from the gods. Frequently, these stories are equipped with ferocious beasts that must be vanquished by the stoic hero. There are hundreds of stories, with masses of mythical characters, creatures and moral endings. So, finding stories to use for the handling table was effortless; the real difficulty came in whittling down which stories to pick! I chose the following:

- Romulus and Remus, raised by a she-wolf

- Medusa and Perseus

- Hercules and the snakes

- Salus and the snakes

But finding the objects? In the vast museum collection, which objects could combine with these stories? After trawling through the collections database I came across a selection of coins (depicting Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf and Salus feeding a snake respectively), a medal (showing Medusa fleeing from an unknown figure) and the remains of a wolf’s tooth. Despite countless searches, no object could be found relating to the story of Hercules. In place of an object, I brought in gummy snakes instead that visitors could freely sample. So even if the visitor didn’t enjoy the handling table, they could walk away with a sweet taste in mouth!

On the evening of the event, I was nervous; would the evening be a complete failure? But as the visitors came to the table, all demonstrated a keen interest in both the stories and objects. Though many recalled the stories, some visitors had never heard them and were enthusiastic to listen to the tales. Children, in particular, enjoyed the table, loving the monsters and the sweets that accompanied them. Over the course of two hours, 92 visitors came to the event; it was a great success but it unfortunately this meant there were no celebratory sweets left over for me to nibble on!

Fiona Davies

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Decorative Plants for the Roman Garden

A number of plants were used for decorative purposes although many were also used to freshen the air inside houses. Ivy, myrtle, box, bay and rosemary as evergreens were particularly favoured as decorative plants as they required little water.


• Acanthus was used as a ground-covering plant on banks and borders
• Bay-Laurel
• Box was used extensively around the garden as boundaries and was often shaped in formal gardens
• Citron was grown for decoration rather than being eaten. It was also used for medical purposes
• Cucumber
• Cypress
• Holly
• Ivy
• Jupiter’s Beard
• Madonna Lily
• Maidenhair covers the ground very well
• Mint
• Moss
• Oleander
• Myrtle - beautiful scent, flowers as well as useful berries
• Periwinkle, another excellent ground-coverer
• Pine
• Plane trees provided shade and were used in groves and shaded walks such as at the Academy in Athens
• Rose
• Smilax
• Southernwood was praised for its golden flowers which are heavily scented and its grey-green foliage
• Strawberry tree (not strawberry bushes) was reminiscent of Lychees. The fruit could be eaten but not very easily
• Vine
• Violet

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Flowers and Foliage for Garlands, Wreaths and Chaplets

Garlands (strings of flowers) were used to decorate places of worship, gardens and courtyard walkways and made for special occasions such as birthdays and weddings. Wreaths and chaplets (circles of flowers and foliage) were intended for feast days and banquets and would have been strongly scented. Wooden ‘frames’ made from flexible young trees and branches were worked to form a chaplet, then decorated with flowers. If no fresh flowers were available owing to the season, dried flowers could also be used. Evidence in mosaics shows the seasons, represented by women, wearing chaplets made of flowers and foliage associated with that specific season.

• Ivy, smilax and vine would have been woven together with seasonal flowers and foliage (sometimes fruit!) to create garlands and decorations for gardens and walkways.
• Mulberry and fig provided the wood for chaplet frames
• Narcissus, roses, lilies and larkspur, were often combined
• Parsley stalks and flowers were woven together to create a very fragrant and lasting chaplet.

Did you know? Parsley only flowers if grown in a green house or warm climate

• Rose and violet was a favourite combination
• Amaranth
• Anemone
• Casia
• Chrysanthemum
• Fennel
• Hesperis
• Hyacinth
• Iris
• Marjoram has a strong and very pleasing scent
• Melilot
• Mint was scattered on the floor, used in chaplets and stuffed into cushions to freshen the air
• Oleander
• Periwinkle very pliable stems and a beautiful array flowers
• Quince
• Rosemary
• Saffron
• Southernwood
• Thyme


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Plants used for Roman Perfumes

Perfume was a touch of luxury. Flowers, leaves and other fragrant plants were boiled down and then mixed with oil such as olive, myrtle, laurel, cypress and terebinth-resin to make a scented oil. To preserve perfume and to stop it from evaporating salt and gum were added.

Saffron Crocus
• Roses were an absolute favourite and attar of roses, or rose oil, was imported from Phaselis in Turkey (the centre of its production) especially for this purpose.
• Casia
• Fenugreek
• Iris
• Lily could also be used to make a skin-cleansing mask by mixing its oil with honey or roses
• Marjoram
• Narcissus
• Nard
• Quince
• Saffron
• Spikenard
• Styrax

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Plants used for Bee-Keeping

As the production of honey was important (sugar was not available in Europe at that time) bee-keeping was highly regarded. Certain plants were used to attract bees and thereby aid pollination of fruit trees and to keep bees kept in hives healthy and well fed.


• Apiastrum balm soothes bees by being rubbed onto the hive
• Beans
• Casia
• Cerintha
• Cunila
• Poppy
• Rose
• Rosemary and trefoil was planted to provide ‘medicine’ to bees
• Thyme was used as a food source for bees
• Tree medick
• Vetch
• Violet


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Plants for Wine

Wine was produced from various plants, including grape vines. The production of wine from grapevines was undertaken by families who owned large gardens as it was only feasible to produce wine if enough space was given to vines. Some of the more unusual plants for winemaking are listed:


• Asparagus
• Carrot
• Catmint
• Cedar
• Cornflower
• Cypress
• Dittany a form of Marjoram / Oregano
• Juniper
• Laurel/bay
• Lavender
• Marjoram
• Medlar
• Mint
• Dried Mulberry
• Nettle
• Parsley
• Pear
• Pine
• Pomegranate
• Rose
• Rue
• Sage
• Terebinth
• Thyme
• Turnip
• Valerian

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Plants for Medicines

Many medicines would contain a variety of ingredients, with different parts of the plant being crushed into powder (in a mortarium) and then mixed with oil to apply externally or added to wine to make a liquid remedy. Plant material was boiled down to create a liquid or a paste and often honey would be added as a sweetener to a medicine meant to be drunk.


• Acanthus was usually a decorative plant but its roots could be cooked and applied as a poultice for burns, sprains and gouty limbs

• Basil was eaten to ease flatulence

• Cabbage in various forms has been accorded no less than 87 different cures ranging from ingestion, infusion and application by Pliny the Elder

• Hemp/Cannabis ripe seeds were used as a contraceptive

• Hollyhock, even though more commonly used as a herb, was also made into an ointment to treat wasp and bee stings

• Marsh Mallow was crushed and boiled in wine, which thickened due to the mallow,and was applied to the skin as a poultice to treat bruises and tumours, or could be drunk to soothe toothache

• Mustard was used to cure snake bites, mushroom poisoning, toothache and stomach ailments, to soothe asthma, epilepsy, bruises and sprains

• Onion, due to its eye-watering effect, was thought to improve poor vision and if mixed with rue and salt it was applied onto dog bites

• Sweet Flag could be used on its own or in combination with terebinth-resin (turpentine) to treat coughs, with the smoke being inhaled through a funnel

• Valerian, just as today, was used as a sleep-inducing medicine, with its petals being scattered between bed sheets. It could also be used as a dusting powder if dried and mixed with dried lily petals

• Willow contains salicylic acid, the main ingredient in Aspirin, and was used to treat fever and pain


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Tuesday Time Table - The Roman Kitchen Garden

Flowers were generally not found in early Roman gardens as they were used predominantly for vegetables and fruit but the poppy is an exception as its seeds were cultivated for bread making. Unlike today vegetables and fruit were only available in certain growing seasons and as no refrigerating facilities existed, many vegetables were pickled. Here are a few plants found in a kitchen garden:


• Cabbage, including kale (also used for medicinal purposes)
• Asparagus
• Almond
• Anise
• Artichokes
• Beans
• Beet
• Brussel sprouts
• Catmint
• Cherry
• Chives
• Coriander
• Cucumber
• Dill
• Endive
• Fennel
• Fig
• Garlic
• Hazelnut
• Hemp/ Cannabis used to produce ropes and hunting nets ....
• Leek
• Lettuce
• Mallow
• Marjoram
• Medlar
• Mint
• Myrtle was used as a form of pepper, which was not yet widely available as an import from the East
• Olive
• Onion
• Parsley
• Peach
• Pear
• Plum
• Pomegranate
• Quince
• Radish
• Rocket
• Rue
• Saffron
• Thyme

NB: Many plants on the various lists will appear more than once as they were used as a food source as well as for medical, ritual and ornamental uses as boundaries were fluid between some of these categories.


Tuesday Time Table - Roman Gardens

My name is Julie Allec and I am on a work placement with the Roman Baths Collections Team as part of my MA in Museum Studies at Leicester University. As part of the placement we were asked to do a Tuesday Time Table and I chose the topic of ‘Roman gardens: their plants and uses’ as I have just recently rediscovered my love for horticulture ( the last time I was regularly active in a garden was in primary school, believe it or not!).

Me and my Time Table

This week will be an introduction into the Roman garden in general.

The Roman garden (hortus) has always been an important part of the family home, although it was originally a vegetable plot rather than a decorative garden. Having a ready supply of vegetables meant self-sufficiency and therefore the garden had a certain sanctity attached to it. Before tending to the garden certain Gods had to be called upon and rituals performed to avoid a failed harvest. The hortus was located next to the house for easy access and its beds were marked by raised edges. A cistern collected rain, which was used to water the garden.

Within the towns and cities of the Roman Empire space was a rare commodity, but a garden that could supply food for the family table was even more important. The first type of housing incorporating a garden in a strict manner of layout can be dated back to the 4th and 3rd century BC and was discovered at Pompeii.

Most plants found within a Roman garden either originated in one of the provinces of the Empire or came from an area that the Empire traded with.

Since my research into the Roman hortus, or garden, yielded a lot of interesting information I decided to develop separate blogs to give you an insight into: kitchen garden; plants used for medicines, wines and cordials; bee-keeping and perfume production; chaplet-making; decorative plants and plants used for religious purposes. These will be released each week on a Wednesday  for the next few weeks. Today and for the next two weeks there are two per Wednesday (AM/PM) as some blogs are shorter than others - the last two will be released individually.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Textiles

The variety of cloth in the Roman period was not as diverse as today. The Romans only had cloth made from both animal and vegetable fibre, i.e. wool, silk, flax and cotton. Their availability determined their value, for example, as silk cocoons were difficult to find silky cloth was very expensive.

Now for a little bit on how the people of the past created thread and how they made cloth. The Romans used mainly five or six different sources of material to make thread. The most common was wool, which is made from a sheep’s fleece, carded using combs and then spun using a drop spindle.

Mulberry Moth

Silk is also an animal fibre, is spun by an insect called the mulberry moth. When it is a caterpillar it eats the leaves of the mulberry tree and weaves a cocoon of silk thread around itself. Man releases this thread by boiling the cocoons.

Combing Flax

Obtaining thread from flax and hemp is a more labour intensive process. Fibres are taken from the stems of these two plants by submerging them in water and then by beating the dried stems. These two phases soften the hard outer stem which can then be removed more easily. They are then combed and spun into a thread. While hemp was a fibre of low value more suitable for ropes and linen, the cloth made from flax fibre was a luxurious fabric often worn by priests.

Cotton Flower

Cotton comes from the cotton plant. As it ripens woollen seed balls form and they are then picked by hand. This fibre, like wool, is then carded and spun to obtain a thread. Cotton was a rare and luxurious fabric in the Roman period and it was imported from India and southern Egypt.

Roman Loom
Using a loom, a number of threads are then woven together to make cloth. The loom is the frame that supports the threads as they are being woven together. Looms come in different shapes and sizes and they can look different as they eveolved through the centuries to suit the nature and size of the cloth being produced.

Woven Cloth
[For more on spinning see http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/spinning-yarn.html ]

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hat and Feather - The Copper Alloy

Following on from the explanation of the Hat and Feather excavations and Will’s blog on the worked bone, this blog will take a closer look at some of the copper alloy objects from the site.

Living in Aquae Sulis Case
As part of the recent redevelopment of the public displays at the Roman Baths, nine pieces made from copper alloy from the Hat and Feather site were chosen to go on display in the new Aquae Sulis area. Below are images and information we have drawn from some of these objects to better inform you, the viewer, about Roman Bath.

Roman hair pins

As Will so neatly explained in the worked bone from the site blog, these types of pins were used to fix things. In this case they were used to fix the fancy hairstyles as seen in a previous blog http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/qui-dignes-es.html

Living in Aquae Sulis Case

Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.5

Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.5
Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.6
Roman brooches.

Brooches were worn to hold clothes in place and as ornamental decoration. Brooches changed with fashion and styles and you can see below three different types of brooches popular during the Roman period.

Bow Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.8

Floriate Cross Plate Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.9

Oval Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.7
Roman balance arm

Used by Roman traders and merchants to be sure of the weight of the goods they were selling. They used scales, in which an arm had a hook suspended from it (to attach to whatever was being weighed) and a weight. When the arm balanced exactly, the trader and customer could see that the item being sold was the same as the weight.

Balance Arm  BATRM2001.62.2.3
Reconstruction of Roman Balance
Along with these objects on display at the Roman Baths Museum there is a display of the object material and more information on the site at T R Hayes’ Furniture Store, London Street, Bath (the site of the excavation). If you are interested to see more then why not pop along to the shop and take a look? Not local? No time? Then follow this link for more information on the creation of the display http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/hot-off-press.html  

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hat and Feather - Worked Bone

As promised following last week's blog here is a little bit more on some of the bone artefacts from the Hat and Feather yard, Walcot Street, Bath......

The Roman items from the Site

A reconstruction of the items, showing how they may have looked
The Hat and Feather site has a varied collection of bone items either lost or discarded by the occupants. An antler offcut (1) shows that items of bone and antler were being produced on the site which may have contained a Roman workshop and some of these items may have never been completed…..

As with most Roman sites, one of the most common finds of worked bone are fragments of pins (2) used to hold clothing instead of buttons, or to fix hair into fancy hair styles. These were probably then discarded as they became broken by the Romans who lived and worked on the site.

A tooth from a hare or rabbit (3) was found at a Roman level. The Romans kept rabbits but finds are rare and so this object needs further research. This find could be confused with bracelet fragments such as (4) since it is curved and has the same cross section as Roman bone bracelets made from a thin strip of bone curved into a loop, then held by a metal fastening and pins.

Also found was a pinned handle (5) (where the blade is held in place with a metal pin) made from the leg bone of a sheep. The maker has used the natural bone shape as a starting point from which to shape the handle.

Another handle (6) has taken more work to produce. It is made from an antler point that has been smoothed down and hollowed out. Its purpose is probably to prevent a wooden handle from splitting as it holds the blade in place (6A.) Alternatively it could have formed the other end of a handle held together by a washer at the blade’s tail (6B).

A 19th Century Bone Ring pull and how it may have looked
The most recent bone object (7) is almost two thousand years younger. It was found in the cellar remains of some 19th century cottages and is most likely the ring pull from a drawer. The green stain is perhaps the last remains of a copper or brass fastening. Unlike the Roman examples, where bone was used as a material in its own right, this ring pull was probably intended to imitate ivory.

Will - Post Graduate Collections Volunteer

Additional web sources:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Hat and Feather Excavations

Hat and Feather excavation photo
The excavations at the Hat and Feather Yard formed part of a series of excavations that spanned the late 1980s and the early 1990s centred on an area of Bath called Walcot, which lies less than a mile to the north east of the centre of Bath along one of the main access roads.

Plan of excavations
The evidence from these excavations showed that people settled in Walcot shortly after the invasion in 43AD but before the Baths and Temple were built by the springs. They founded a settlement that grew rapidly in the first two centuries into a bustling small town, capitalising on the tourist trade provided by the Temple and Baths. The influx of people from the Roman Empire included highly skilled stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, potters, and glass makers. They brought with them new skills in stone carving, metal working and glass blowing. Trade and industry flourished and the area around the Hat and Feather yard grew to become a mix of workshops and domestic dwellings that remained in use until the fourth century AD.

Reconstruction drawing of the Walcot area during the Roman period
What the archaeologists had uncovered was a site of great importance, showing the development and growth beyond the city walls during the Roman occupation, and later shrinkage. All the archaeological evidence indicates that after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the once bustling suburbs of Bath had all but disappeared. By the time the Saxons conquered Bath in 577 AD, the town had shrunk back to within the city walls. Extension of the city settlement during the early medieval period was limited to the very south of Walcot Street. The city began to spread again in the 13th century, but it was not until the 19th century that Walcot became a major suburb of Bath once again. At that time the site contained cottages and outbuildings of the Hat and Feather Pub which still stands next to the most recent occupant of the site, a furniture store (T R Hayes).

In next week’s blog Will tells us a little bit more about some of the worked bone from the site.

Did you know?
The name “Walcot” is thought to mean either “place of strangers” or “cottages of the Britons.”

Helen Harman – Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Stone Tools: Bath

Thousands of years before the Romans came to Britain the land was occupied by prehistoric hunter–gathers. Stone tools were a big part of everyday life for the hunter who used them for warfare/defence, cooking and craft.

In the centre of Bath there is little evidence for prehistoric occupation. However, there is evidence to suggest a large amount of settlement lay on the surrounding hills.

Sacred Spring Excvation
During the excavation of the Sacred Spring within the Roman Baths complex in 1979 a number of prehistoric flint tools were found. The finds included scrapers, an arrowhead and unfinished projectile points, a possible knife, worked flakes and two microliths. Tool technology of this assemblage is characteristic of others found in Mesolithic Britain; particularly the microliths. The projectile points indicate a later Neolithic date. All of this clearly tells us that the prehistoric population had been attracted to the hot springs at Bath for centuries before the Romans ‘discovered’ them.

Flints from the Spring
At Rainbow Wood, on the outskirts of Bath the evidence strongly suggests temporary prehistoric settlement. Here excavations uncovered 306 flint fragments including hundreds of flakes, an arrow head, a blade, scrapers, an awl and microliths. The presence of this flint assemblage confirms prehistoric activity of an early farming group. This is just one of a few sites that have excavated on the hills around bath that show this type of prehistoric activity…..

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Stone Tools: What Are They?

In prehistory stone tools were very important for everyday life; they were used for hunting, cooking, agriculture and warfare. The raw material flint is used to produce stone tools. Flint knapping is a very skilful craft which involves flaking off thin sections of flint (flakes) from a flint core to create a tool. In Bath small flint pebbles were found locally in the river, but larger pieces would have been imported to the area.

Common Tools

Barbed and Tang Arrow Head
Projectile Points – leaf shaped flints ranging from simple triangular points to complicated shapes e.g. the famous ‘Barbed and Tang’ arrow head. Points range in size and are hafted to wooden arrow or spear shafts to make weapons.
Hand Axe

Hand Axe – axes vary considerably between periods from earlier Palaeolithic flaked axes to later Neolithic polished axes. Uses include tree/wood cutting, butchery and digging.
Knives – knives are long, broad flakes, which are worked into a sharp edge and retouched if they become blunt. Sometimes knives are hafted to a wooden handle.

Scrapers - made by working one edge of a flake to sharpen it and produced in a range of sizes. Scrapers are the most commonly found implement and they were used as simple hand tools for working hide, wood, bone or food.


Awl – flint flake worked into a point at one end and used to pierce holes into material e.g. animal hide to make items of clothing.

Blade – long and thin flake which can be used in butchery/meat cutting.


Microliths – a common find from the Mesolithic period. These small blades have a multi-functional use and were often imbedded into different wooden or bone tools to make harpoons and sickles.

Amesbury Archer

The Amesbury Archer’s Bronze Age grave has an excellent example of a prehistoric hunting tool kit. The Amesbury Archer was aged 35-45 years old and originated from the European alpine region. He was buried in the Beaker burial tradition, near Stonehenge. This was an unusual grave with around 100 grave goods which indicate the man’s occupation as a hunter and a metal smith.

Hunting tool kit;

-16 Barbed and tang arrowheads.

-2 blank, ready to finish arrow head.

-2 Sandstone wrist guards, to protect the man’s wrist while using a bow.

-Flint knapping debris.

-Flint scrappers, used for skinning animals.

-Flint knife, used for butchery.

-Fire lighting kit.

-Boars tusks; a prestige item kept by those hunters skilled enough to hunt a wild boar and possible sharpened for use as awls to pierce leather.

-Red deer antler possibly used for flintknapping to finely retouch tools.

In addition to the above hunting kit other flint knapping tools would often feature in a prehistoric hunter’s kit such as a hammerstone, core and flakes. These would have been used to replace or reshape tools which are broken during hunting.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Coins

A few weeks ago, I set up my first Tuesday Times Table. For those of you not in the know, this is an opportunity for us volunteers and interns to meet and interact with visitors to the Baths using various historical items from the collection.

The subject of my table was ‘Roman Money’. I chose this topic for a few reasons. First, I’m extremely interested in Roman coins themselves and wanted the chance to nerd around with them; second, because money is such a humdrum everyday item to us - I wanted to show people its fascinating ancient roots. The Baths, with upwards of 12,000 Roman coins salvaged from the Sacred Spring in their collection, seemed the ideal place to do this!

Mock up of Tuesday Time Table

Centre-stage on my table was a large map of the Roman Empire (drawn by yours truly) with the location of just some of the major mints (places where coins were manufactured) marked upon it. It came as a surprise to many people that the Empire had dozens and dozens of mints, since most of our modern countries mint all of our money at one central location. In a world where travel and communication was hampered by a lack of fast transportation, it paid (literally) for the Romans to site mints all over their empire - from Egypt to London. The Roman Empire was, for the most part, a single-currency zone where a coin minted in Antioch (Syria) was just as valid in Britain or France. In order to imagine how large an area this actually was, I asked people to picture the size of the modern Eurozone, and roughly double it. Only then do you get an idea of how massive was the area served by Rome’s coins.

The Sacred Spring coins offered me the perfect chance to emphasise this point to everybody. As you can (sort of) see in the picture, each mint is marked out by an example of a coin that it produced. I encouraged visitors to search for the ‘mintmarks’ on the tails sides of the coins - the Romans placed these on their coins so that, at a glance, you could tell where in the empire a coin came from. This was a really important part of my display, because it showed people how astoundingly far some of the coins had to travel before being deposited as offerings into the Sacred Spring. This was one of my favorite parts of my table, and people really enjoyed being able to pick up a coin that (for example) was minted in hot Egypt and travelled the length of the empire before ending up at the bottom of a sacred spring in far-off Britannia. I was especially impressed with the really intelligent questions asked by some of the children who came to handle the coins.

Coin denominations
Also on my table was some more general information on Roman coins. I was keen to introduce people to what Roman coins looked and felt like, their denominations, what they were used for, and how they informed the ‘look and feel’ of our money today. Just like us, the Romans had many denominations of coin that were used to pay for different kinds of stuff. After reading the information I prepared on how to identify these different coins, I set people the challenge of identifying the genuine set of six coins in their protective box. The results were varied! The coins in this box, though, had the ‘wow’ factor, since they were especially well preserved - people loved looking at them!

People never failed to pick up on the immediate similarities between the Romans’ coins and our own: the head of the emperor (or queen, king, president...) in profile, the presence of Latin, the circular shape (yes, the shape: many cultures contemporary to the Romans had coins that were square or were holed), the nationalistic designs on the tails side, etc. It was pleasing that people were able to appreciate how much our coins owe to Roman ones, but I enjoyed telling people about the differences just as much! That Roman coins were ‘politically incorrect’ by modern standard shouldn’t have come as a surprise to people but it did. I mean, how often on the backs of Dollars or Pounds do we see an image of the President or Queen stamping on the heads of defeated people, as Roman emperors did on their coins? The differences are often as enlightening as the similarities!

Me in action!

It’s one thing to look at Roman coins in a little box, but it’s another entirely to handle them. In the little Roman style bowls I placed some real (though more worn down) examples of the more common day-to-day small change of the Empire. It was important that I did this, because people then got the chance to experience the ‘feel’ of holding several large coins. The overall message of this little set-up - and one that people never failed to pick up on - was: ‘gosh, aren’t they heavy?!’. Only by picking up the coins both in the bowls and the bag of replicas could people find out how cumbersome carrying money around was in the days before paper notes!

I hope everyone who came to the table enjoyed learning about Bath’s Roman coins as much as I enjoyed telling them!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tuesday Time Tables - Egyptian life.....

One of the increasingly rare warm summer days heralded the beginning of our Tuesday Time Table series. This year I was first up with our Egyptian collection.

But hold on, this is the Roman Baths isn’t it? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re only allowed to keep Roman items does it? Actually the collection here includes a whole variety of non-Roman material - the Egyptian collection was donated to us by a  local collector, so that’s why it’s here.

The collection consists of a series of shabti, a scarab which may have been part of a necklace, three exquisitely carved amulets, a string of beads and two figurines of Osiris all of which were on display.

Personally, my absolute favourite piece was an alabaster jar which may have been used as a perfume bottle or for holding hair oil, certainly for some type of cosmetic. For me, a piece like this really highlights the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians which is really what I wanted to examine with my table.

Me with the Alabaster ointment jar.
Mostly I wanted to challenge the misconception that the Egyptians were all about death and burial; they weren’t, and, news flash, slaves didn’t build the pyramids either.

Having said that it’s easy to see how the misconception arises. As my professor once said ‘Most of what we have from ancient Egypt is comprised of tombs, temples and trash’. Based on the worthless nature of one and the religious nature of the other two it’s easy to reconstruct their society as overly religious or death obsessed.

But that isn’t necessarily correct.

And I’m sure several people are now wondering who did build the pyramids. Well, it wasn’t slaves, that’s for certain. The building of the kings’ tomb was an important and prestigious job, far too important to entrust to the likes of slaves and in fact, when compared to Greek and Roman societies there were hardly any slaves in Egypt at all.

The pyramids were probably built by the foremost builders of the day, supplemented by the common folk (for heavy lifting purposes) during lulls in agricultural work. Just to be clear this wasn’t slavery. All agricultural work leaves a natural lull while the fields recover and for the ancient Egyptians this went hand in hand with a down turn in profit. So why not use the time to get paid to build the kings tomb? That way you could still afford to buy expensive perfume to place in your alabaster ointment jar which sat on your vanity table.

Me and my table.
Emma P.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why you shouldn’t lie!

For me, one of the most interesting groups of finds from the sacred spring has to be the curse tablets. Unlike many texts remaining from the Roman period, these hold the words of ordinary citizens, and are a fascinating insight into the beliefs and superstitions of the local people.

Currently on display in the new cases in the King’s Bath corridor are several of these tablets, included one named ‘Sanction against perjury”. This is an almost-whole example, no more than 7.5cm by 5.5cm, inscribed with a text from a practiced hand.....

Sanction against perjury - BATRM1983.13.b.12

'Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son ans Docilina, Decentius his brother, Alogiosa: the names of those who have sworn at the spring of the goddess Sulis on the 12th April. Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.'

The majority of curses found in the spring concern theft, or similar loss. They range from a list of possible suspects with a call on the goddess to reveal the culprit, to bitter accusations against one person, and a desire for bloodthirsty punishment.

However, as the title suggests, this is a text of a different nature. Instead of detailing a past crime, it is a record of an oath sworn to prevent a future one. Witnessed by “Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son and Docilina, Decentinus his brother, Algiosa”, it states, “Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.”

Perjury is the crime of lying under oath; this and the fact that it is close relations who are listed means that the tablet probably concerned a family matter, most likely the division of inherited property. The language used is fairly formal, hinting at a legal-document style. These people believed in the goddess so much that they were willing to put legal matters at her feet, and their faith meant that they wouldn’t go against their word, for the imagined punishment would be severe. After all, who wants to “pay for it…in his own blood”?

Livi Dunlop - work experience placement in the Collections Department.

Friday, 31 August 2012

關於…X光 (It's all about.... X-rays)

國家科學與工程週 (National Science and Engineering week)讓我們有機會看到一些在考古學中比較獨特的話題,其中一個就是X光攝影。對我而言,它是一個不可思議的東西。我們都聽說過X光 -大多數人由於醫療原因曾經使用X光掃描過身體某些部分 - 但事實上,對於考古學家來說它們也是一項非常有用的分析技術。

X光攝影(X-radiography)是一種電磁波,它使我們能夠創建圖像來展示一些肉眼看不見的面貌特徵和細節。 用X光掃描金屬物品來製造影像紀錄是很重要的,比如說了解一件文物的製造工藝,以及它的形狀和狀態。 X光還可以幫助識別被藏在腐蝕或凝固層的文物,這是一種不會影響或破壞出土文物的優秀科學檢驗方法。


盡管X光在一些非常大的樣本或鉛合金上沒那麼有效,但一般而言,幾乎所有的金屬物件都應該接受X光掃描。 這是一項很有用的技術,它既可以顯示存留在腐蝕層的小工具,也可以顯現那些原本已失去表面細節的硬幣的識別標誌。易碎或是複合的文物通常會連帶土壤被整塊挖出,然後在實驗室通過X光掃描,找出文物的精確位置,以便進行更加小心的挖掘。由於X光圖像會顯現出分組或分層,用X光掃描能夠讓我們了解到一些有用的訊息。例如,用X光掃描一塊有硬幣貯藏箱的土壤塊,我們便可以知道以前的人是如何貯存硬幣的。

裝飾性表面的細節如鑲嵌物或搪瓷也可以被X光穿透,由於金屬之間的密度差異,非金屬塗層會變得顯而易見。 英國文化遺產 (English Heritage) 在考古金屬製品X光攝影的指引裡有很多美麗(漂亮)的例子可以證明 X光掃描下的金屬文物是多麼的有價值,它們甚至包括了一些鑲嵌細節和硬幣識別的圖像。(http://www.helm.org.uk/upload/pdf/X_Radiography.pdf?1331775979)就算只是對那些迷人的照片感到好奇,我也建議各位去瀏覽一下!

Source text: http://bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/its-all-about-x-rays.html

Translated by Ruby Chung - Cardiff University MA Translation Student