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, 25 July 2012

Part I – Let the Games Begin!

Illustrations of the gladiator and gladiatorial combat by one of our volunteers, James.
The Olympic Games may have begun in Greece but they were very much affected by the rise of the Roman Empire, particularly as many Greek athletes were ‘adopted’ by Rome – which meant that sometimes there weren’t enough competitors to hold a full programme of events!

One sport of the ancient world which seems to fascinate us is the Roman gladiatorial contest, which, in its own time was not very controversial at all. This is hard for us to get our heads around because we’re not used to such brutality in the entertainment industry, but we’ll see in the second part of this blog next week that the Romans viewed these competitions very differently to us.

Gladiatorial games seem to have started around 264 BC when slaves fought at the funerals of noblemen for entertainment. Over time the fights began to be held for their own sake, and they became a useful way for Emperors to keep their people happy.

So who were these gladiators? Most obviously: slaves and criminals. Criminals could be condemned ‘to the sword’ (execution by a gladiator) or to train at a gladiatorial school, which at least gave them the opportunity to learn and develop the skills which could save them. Remarkably though, by the end of the Roman Republic half of all gladiators were voluntary free men, probably lured by the down payment.

The ludus magnus – the best-known training ground for gladiators.
Gladiators trained in schools, the most famous of which was the ludus magnus, set just beside the Colosseum. These schools usually pitted their own gladiators against each other, because being killed by a comrade was considered preferable to being killed by a stranger. Just like today, the contestants warmed up first - in their case fighting with blunted or wooden weapons. Fights lasted around fifteen minutes, and were usually between pairs of gladiators, though mass fights did sometimes take place.

There were many different types of gladiator, each with his own armour, weaponry and, above all, fighting style. Participants were usually paired up with a different gladiator type to make for a more interesting contest, given the varying advantages and disadvantages of each type. Though there were no points to be won, only victory, there were still strict rules and a referee to enforce them.

On the surface, the world of the gladiator seems poles apart from our sporting contests, but in the end the games were about winners and losers, as they will be in London come July.

Be sure to look out for part II, where we explore how the gladiator was perceived in his own city.




Gladiators and Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome, ed. Kohne, E., and Ewigleben, C., London 2000

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Festival of British Archaeology - Chew Magnified, the review

It was a rainy Saturday when the Roman Baths Collections Team came to town…

Lindsey (Learning and Programmes Officer) and Susan (Collections Manager B&NES Roman Baths) headed the team; Richard (Archaeological Officer for B&NES), Helen (Collections Assistant B&NES Roman Baths), Kathryn (Visitor Services B&NES Roman Baths) Angela (Marketing Office B&NES) Emma and Hannah (Collection Volunteers – Roman Baths) made up the squad. Armed with display boards, artefacts and activities we were looking forward to meeting the people of Chew Magna and beyond…

Building a miniture version of Chew Magna
We were really pleased to see Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society (BACAS) join us with their display of recent work carried out at Stanton Drew stone circle. Brian Wood came armed with an interesting display of family history and Sheila Walker was kind enough to loan some very interesting and popular photographs and information relating to the local area. Chew Valley School also chipped in with some fantastic artwork based on architecture found within the village. The day would not have run so smoothly without the help of Doris Davies and Suzanne Bloxham so a big thank you to them….

Bath and Camerton's display
The most popular event on the days itinerary had to be the Medieval music played by the band Waytes and Measures. It was great to hear the music of Medieval Britain played on replica authentic instruments (we all thought a hurdy gurdy was a creation of fantasy!). Most surprising was that our very own Richard Sermon (Archaeological Officer) was one of the band members… hidden talents eh!

Richard Sermon displaying his many talents
Despite the rain many people turned up to enjoy the days events and bravely ventured out on the self-guided walk around the village! By the time the event was winding up the sun had come out, which must have been a welcomed addition to the bed race that was taking place the same afternoon!

A big thank you to all who took part in this event and an even bigger thank you to all who came along to join in – we look forward to coming out into the community of Bath and North East Somerset next year as part of the Festival of British Archaeology and we just might be coming to visit you….

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Festival of British Archaeology - Chew Magna - Chew Magnified

Come and join us in the former School Room at Chew Magna
We have been busy, busy, busy bees in the office this week putting the final preparations together for our Festival of British Archaeology event. This year we our going out to the village of Chew Magna (Saturday July 14th 2012) where there will be a celebration all things archaeological and historical. The plan of events includes a self-guided walk around the village, medieval music, children’s activities and fascinating displays narrating local archaeology and history. Come and meet the Roman Baths Team and your local Archaeological Officer in this all-day event of all things archaeological.

So if you live locally, are in the area or simply just looking for something FREE and fun to do this Saturday come along and take part, we would love to see you… For more information please follow the links below….



If you can’t make this event but would still like to take part in the Festival of British Archaeology please follow this link…..


Blog update on this event to follow….

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Ruin

We are often asked - What happened to the site after the fall of Rome? Unfortunately there isn't the archaeological evidence to answer this question as most of it has been dug away as part of previous historic excavations, however there are some clues.....

This poem is called ‘The Ruin’ an eighth century poem probably written by a monk at the adjacent monastery, inspired by the deserted, crumbling remains of the Roman temple and baths. The poem is incomplete and the site is unnamed, but the references to hot water and many structural elements revealed by archaeology leave little doubt that the poet was in Bath.

Watercolour of the Great Bath
‘The Ruin’

Wondrous is this masonry, shattered by the fates.
The fortifications have given way,
the buildings raised by giants are crumbling.
The roofs have collapsed; the towers are in ruins….
there is rime on the mortar.
The walls are rent and broken away
and have fallen undermined by age.
The owners and builders are perished and gone
and have been held fast in the Earth’s embrace,
the ruthless clutch of the grave,
while a hundred generations of mankind have passed away..
Red of hue and hoary with lichen
this wall has outlasted kingdom after kingdom,
standing unmoved by storms.
The lofty arch has fallen…
resolute in spirit he marvellously clamped the foundations
of the walls with ties
there were splendid palaces and many halls with water
flowing through them
a wealth of gables towered aloft…
And so these courts lie desolate
and the framework of the dome with its red arches shed its tiles….
where of old many a warrior,
joyous hearted and radiant with gold,
shone resplendent in the harness of battle,
proud and flushed with wine.
He gazed upon the treasure, the silver, the precious stones,
upon wealth, riches and pearls,
upon this splendid citadel of a broad domain.
There stood courts of stone,
and a stream gushed forth in rippling floods of hot water.
The wall enfolded within its bright bosom
the whole place which contained the hot flood of the baths……