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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, 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……


  1. I think that this poem may be the oldest surviving British one in existence - nice to think that the Baths inspired it, and nice to read it again, thanks.

  2. Impressive in both its clarity & age. How did it find its way from Saxon England to us?

    1. The poem entitled 'The Ruin', has survived for us in the 'Exeter Book', one of four known anthologies of Saxon poetry, but it is incomplete - this and the anonymity of the writer adds to the sense of mystery. Although Bath is never mentioned by name, the very precise description and atmosphere contained in it cannot refer to anywhere else.... There have been several translations of the poem but the one above is the one from our previous guidebook.....