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, 16 April 2014

Roman Cures and Concoctions!

The Romans adopted the majority of their medical teachings and practices from the Greeks. In fact, the most respected and sought after doctors that practiced in the Roman Empire were Greek - for example, Hippocrates and Galen.

Even so, the Roman's distrusted Greek Doctors! Roman writer, Pliny even wrote that he'd heard that all Greek doctors swore an oath to kill all foreigners - definitely a misunderstanding of the Hippocratic oath (a pledge still taken by today's Doctors and thought to have been written by Hippocrates).

Me with my Roman Medicine Table for NSEW 2014!
Speaking of Hippocrates, although commended though the ages and given the nickname 'father of western medicine', he did have a couple of strange practices including tasting his patient's urine and earwax to diagnose their illness.

Another way to find out what was wrong with you was to visit one of the temples dedicated to the God of Healing, Asclepius. These temples became popular around the year 300 BC  and involved patients spending the night sleeping on the temple floor with snakes crawling around between them. The snakes were meant to inspire dreams in the unwell which would reveal how they could be cured.

Statue of Asclepius, exhibited in the Museum of Epidaurus Theatre.
Once the patient had been diagnosed, if they had survived the terror of the snake pit or the embarrassment of seeing the doctor drink your wee, then came the treatment.

Galen believed in the curative power of opposites. So, if you had a fever, he'd give you a cucumber and if you had a cold he'd prescribe hot pepper! I personally think I'll stick to the antibiotics!

Other cures included...
  • Drinking gladiator's blood to cure epilepsy.
  • Eating goat dung soup if you had a headache.
  • Applying boiled liver to sore eyes.
Even though it may seem like the Romans' medical practices were crazy, some of their ideas were pretty advanced!

My own efforts in making a herb parcel! Romans dropped these in their baths and cooking pots!
They had a vast knowledge of herbs and their healing properties - for example they knew that fennel aided digestion and that mint had antiseptic properties. 

They were also aware of being able to catch diseases through drinking unclean water, Vitruvius, a Roman architect, wrote: 

"We must take great care in searching for springs and, in selecting them, keeping in mind the health of the people."

So, next time you're stuck in bed with a cold, be thankful you're not a Roman!


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Meet Beau the Hippo!

Beau the hippo is our mascot for our Heritage Lottery Funded Beau Street Hoard Project.  But why a hippo?

Beau the hippo announcing the latest news of the Beau Street Hoard

When we saw the first coins from the Beau Street hoard, they were all uncleaned and some of them were quite corroded. Sifting through them, we were delighted to see a hippo, albeit a rather miserable looking one, on one of the reverses.

one of  the hippos on the coins

We fell in love with him and realised that a hippo, which is happiest wallowing in the mud and water, was appropriate for a Bath coin, having been excavated in the mud, and from Bath famous for its spring water.

The coin that features the hippo was issued by the Emperor Philip I in 248 AD. This year was the 1000th anniversary of what the Romans considered to be the founding of Rome by Romulus.  As part of the anniversary celebrations many wild animals were transported to Rome to be killed in gladiatorial and wild beast hunts. Other animals represented on his coins include antelopes, wolves and lions. But the hippo coins actually have his wife, Otacilia’s head on the obverses; perhaps she liked the hippos best.

So with Beau we are remembering all the animals that died in the name of “entertainment”.

Beau dressed as a Roman soldier

Look out for Beau and some of his cousins at our Beau Street Hoard events over the next 15 months!  And if you meet a hippo be sure to take a photo and share it with us on Facebook!
A delft hippo giving scale to some of the coins from Bag 7 of the Hoard

To find out more about Beau and all our coin related events and activities follow us BeauStHoard on FlickrTwitter: and Facebook


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Latest Beau Street Hoard News

 Eureka! Finally our hard work has been rewarded. 

The good news from the Heritage Lottery Fund is that our Beau Street Hoard Project has been successful in attracting £372,500 of lottery funding. 

After cracking open the ginger beer (should have been ‘mulsum’, an alcoholic Roman tipple, but we were officially at work!), we had to get down to the serious business of buying the hoard. Stephen Clews, Manager of The Roman Baths and the project mastermind, quickly got on the phone to The Treasure Valuation Committee to get a receipt for the purchase of the coins to present to our grant giving bodies – The Heritage Lottery Fund, The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Purchase Fund and The Headley Trust. This enabled us to draw down our grants to buy the hoard.

Some of the coins from the hoard

After the coins had been purchased, we publicised the good news, far and wide. Our Communications and Media Officer issued a press release and the phone went red hot with requests for interviews, sound-bites and photo shoots. As the coins were discovered in central Bath, the story has elicited a lot of interest locally, but the story also captured the imagination of national and international press and media. Luckily, Stephen is a very eloquent and enthusiastic speaker, also not at all fazed by the paparazzi’s flashing bulbs and requests to ‘look this way please, Mr Clews’!

This application is the culmination of over a year’s worth of activity, with input from many people including colleagues, partners, consultees, volunteers and funders. Now we’ve been awarded the grant we will embark on our exciting community engagement activities, working with many local groups including The Girl Guide Association, the U3A (University of the Third Age), local school children, their parents and teachers, students and staff from Bath Spa University and Wiltshire College, Bath Festivals, The Genesis Trust, The Natural Theatre Company and others.

This month marks the official launch of the Beau Street Hoard community engagement programme which will run until July 2015, with many opportunities to get involved with exciting, coin-related events, including hands-on coin activities, designed to encourage people’s understanding and interest in archaeology and local heritage, drop-in workshops, mobile roadshows in locations across Bath and North East Somerset and beyond, new educational resources for young visitors, long-term projects with community partners and a range of public talks, presentations and symposia. There is something to interest everyone, from the casual visitor to the coin expert. One of the first events is ‘Curious Coins’, the first of many drop-in events at The Roman Baths, on 14 April (10am-1pm & 2pm-4pm) where visitors can investigate Roman coins and children can create a coin to take home.

For up to date details of all Beau Street Hoard events visit the Roman Baths website  or follow us on Twitter  flickr and Facebook

Saira – Beau Street Hoard Project Officer

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Science Week 2014: Amazing Arches!

Roman arches don’t seem like they should be particularly scientific. Stacking blocks into an arch isn’t something that most people think of as “Roman science”. In truth, building Roman arches required some serious physics!
The first thing to know about Roman arch science is that the Romans built two different of arches; voussoir and corbel. Voussoir arches are made up of lots of individual blocks of stone, the voussoirs, specifically shaped to be widest at the top. These are arranged into a semicircle, with some sort of solid support at either end, to make the well-known “Roman arch” shape seen in many places around the Baths. 

A voussior arch.
 A corbel arch is much simpler; it’s just two pieces of stone, one resting on the other, positioned into a triangular arch. 

A corbel arch.
But how did arches work, and why were they important to the Romans? The reasons are to do with how the blocks interact with each other, and how that made them important architectural supports. In a voussoir arch, each voussoir shares force with its neighbours. If force is put on the arch, each voussoir leans into the next voussoir down the arch. Therefore, each voussoir is supporting its neighbour on one side, and being supported by its neighbour on the other. This means that as long as the voussoirs are mortared to prevent them falling out of the arch and there is support independent of the arch at each end, the arch will hold much more weight than its size would suggest.   

The physics of a voussoir arch.
In a corbel arch, the force is also divided, but a corbel arch holds because it is not divided equally. The supporting piece takes most of the force, preventing the part that makes the actual arch from being overburdened. Therefore, as long as the supporting part is strong enough, the arch holds. 

The physics of a corbel arch.
However, the more force you want on a corbel arch, the larger a supporting part you need, and the taller the arch is. This makes it more space-efficient to use voussoir arches, and as a result they are more common in Roman architecture.

All of this shows that Roman arches were very scientific constructions, despite appearing very simple!