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, 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.