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, 27 February 2013

Roman board games at the Baths.

After writing about ball games enjoyed by Roman visitors to the baths, we looked at board games played while relaxing beside the various pools.

Counters and dice from the Roman baths at Caerleon, Wales

The Romans played many different gambling and board games using dice, counters and marked boards. Some of these objects have been found when archaeologists have investigated the drains, pools and buildings around their baths. Dice were usually made from bone or wood, while counters were made from bone, pottery, stone or glass. Gameboards were mostly wooden but could be marked onto stone blocks or clay tiles.

Gambling games included Tali (knucklebones) and Tesserae (dice), while board games included Ludus Latrunculi (little robbers), Calculorum (pebbles), Ludus Duodecima Scripta (twelve lines), Tabula (board), and Merels (nine men’s morris). While the Roman rules for these games are not well understood, versions of many of these games are still played today.

Roman tali made of glass and rock crystal. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Tali were originally the knucklebones of sheep or goats but were later made from other materials. They were tossed as a group of four, and each side had a value of 1, 3, 4 or 6.

Tesserae was played with three dice. The numbers on the dice were placed so that opposite sides added up to seven. Some dice have been found which have lead inserted in one side to unbalance them and make them fall to show a particular number.

Ludus Latrunculi was a game of military tactics played with coloured counters on a board marked with squares. Similar to chess, the goal was to surround and capture the other player’s counters.

Calculorum used the same board as Latrunculi but with many more counters. To win the game, a player had to make a row of five counters across, down or diagonally.

Board used for Ludus Latrunculi and Calculorum.

Image: St Albans Museum

Ludus Duodecima Scripta had two players each with fifteen counters. Players threw dice to move counters along marked rows, then off the board. Many counters could occupy the one space and single counters sent back to the start. Tabula was similar but used twelve columns.

A Merels board consisted of three squares joined by extra lines. Two players each placed nine counters in turn on the board and moved them along the lines to make rows of three. This allowed the removal of one of your opponent’s counters. The game was won when a player had taken all but two counters.

Stone carved with Merels game. Image: Creswell Heritage Trust

Nicola Pullan, intern from the University of Sydney

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cold Conservation and Consolidation

Winter conservation signage
It’s been a while now since I took on the challenge of resetting the secondary Roman paving on-site. Since starting the task I have managed to reset quite a few pieces around the Great Bath although things halted over the winter due to the cold climate. Did you know that it recommended that you only use a lime based mortar between the months of April to November otherwise it won’t set properly? The Romans did…..

‘Repairs to be carried out without interrupting the flow of water are primarily those involving the use of concrete, work with which should be done in appropriate seasons and the product should be of durable quality. The suitable time for working with concrete is from the 1st of April to the 1st of November; but it is best, nonetheless, to leave off temporarily during the hottest part of summer, because moderate weather is needed for adequate absorbency of moisture and for cohesive solidity (intense sunlight causes premature setting no less than does frost). No material requires closer attention than that which is required to withstand the action of water; a reliable quality must therefore be demanded in such work, in accord with the rule which all know but few observe.’

(Sextus Iulius Frontinus - On The Water Management of The City Of Rome 123)

If you want to learn more about conservation here on site why not take a look at some of our previous blogs on the topic (links listed below)







Helen Harman - Collection Assistant

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Games the Romans Played

Glass ball
 This week we are preparing for the February half-term family activity at the museum. We will be looking at Roman entertainment and leisure so I have been researching some interesting facts about the games which Romans played when they visited the baths.

For the Romans, visiting the baths was both an enjoyable social time and a way of getting clean. Visitors went to the baths to bathe, exercise, meet friends, chat, relax and play Ludus (board games). Use of the baths was not limited to only one group of people but included senators, soldiers, merchants, workers, families and slaves.

After bathing, visitors could relax in the alcoves to eat and drink, discuss business, and gamble or play board games. Romans were very keen on gambling and board games. Historians think that many of these were played while socialising at the baths. Entertainers such as musicians and jugglers may also have been walking around.

The half-term holiday activity will be looking at board games played at Roman baths, but we have also found out about the ball games which the Romans enjoyed.

Ball games were often played for exercise and, although we are unsure of the exact rules for many of these, it is obvious that at least one needed a lot of skill to play. This game was called Trigon and was a throwing, batting and catching game between three players. The most skilful players would bat or catch with their left hand, and sometimes the game was played with a ball made of glass.

Hand holding a glass ball
Historical texts tell us of a catching game, probably Trigon, which was played in the baths of Trajan by a man named Ursus who used a ball made of glass. An inscription tells us that the ‘people approved with greatest applause’.

Roman balls have names, such as trigon, pila, follis, paganica and harpastrum depending on their size and use. They were made of many different materials. Bouncing balls, like the follis, were made from pig’s bladder wrapped in leather or from animal sinew wound into a ball and covered with leather for protection.

Other balls were made from chopped sponges or linen and hair, then wrapped with string and cloth, and often covered with shaped and sewn pieces of cloth. These balls would not have bounced at all well and would possibly have been used for catching games.

Nicola Pullan is a visiting researcher from the University of Sydney.



Glass ball images
Fagan, Bathing in Public in the Roman World, 195–196. On the glass ball game and interpretations.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Not Treasure?

Mesolithic flints from the Sacred Spring
So you’ve read last week’s blog and you don’t have treasure. What is it then? Something you have found in your garden or whilst out walking and you want to know a bit more about it? Maybe the Portable Antiquities Scheme could help?

What is the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)?

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by the public in England and Wales.

What are the aims of the scheme?

1. To advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.

2. To raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.

3. To increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.

4. To encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders.

Am I legally obliged to report all my finds?

No. The Scheme is entirely voluntary. However, you must report material which constitutes Treasure, or which you believe may be Treasure (see next week’s blog).

Will the PAS take my finds from me?

No. They only want to record information about your finds.

What will I gain from reporting my finds?

Your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) will be able to offer you:

• finds identification (either personally, or after consulting a specialist) and recording

• advice on the Treasure Act 1996

• advice on conservation and storage

The FLO will also be able to inform you of the importance of your material for the understanding of our history.

What type of archaeological finds do they record?

They would like to know about everything that you have found - not just metal objects. They record all objects made before about 1700 and are selective in recording more modern finds.

I often find worked flints and pieces of pottery as well as metal objects. Would they like to see these as well?

Yes - because these finds also provide important archaeological information.

What type of information about my finds do they want?

They would like to record details of the objects that you have found, including a detailed description, its weight and measurements. They would also hope to record where and how they were found, and photograph or draw your finds.

How long will this take?

Generally the Finds Liaison Officers prefer to borrow the finds for a time, so they can research and record them properly. You will be issued with a receipt, whilst they are in their care.

Residents of Bath and North East Somerset Residents can contact Kurt on the details below, or please click on http://finds.org.uk/contacts  to contact the local Finds Liaison Officer for other areas.

Kurt Adams
Finds Liaison Officer - Gloucestershire & Avon
Bristol City Museum, Queens Road, Bristol Queens Road Bristol Gloucestershire BS8 1RL
Work T: 0117 922 2613
E: kurt.adams@bristol.gov.uk

For more information on the subject please click on the links below: