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 August 2014

Designer at the Baths

 I’m Christopher, a recent Textile Design Graduate of Bath School of Art and Design, and Ancient Textile Researcher who is a regular volunteer. During the past two years here at the Roman Baths, the building and its collection has provided a wonderful wealth of inspiration for my work.
 I am a keen student of both history and design, constantly looking for ways to combine the two subjects coherently; with the help of the Roman Baths I have successfully discovered my niche as an Ancient Textile Researcher. During the final year of my degree, the ‘Developing Textile design’ module gave me the opportunity to produce a collection of woven textile samples inspired by Roman mosaics.
Woven sample based on Mosaics
 Using a variety of different mosaics, to explore the geometric patterns of Roman mosaics, to develop a series of ‘colour and weave’ patterns to weave cloth samples. The mosaics include two from the Roman Baths collection, the geometric mosaic floor from Weymouth House, Bath and the mosaic from the Keynsham Roman Villa.

Exploring Geometric patterns: the Weymouth House mosaic, now in store

Through a series of observational drawing I broke down the mosaics into re-occurring patterns, developing them into repeatable weave blocks to weave the samples.

Observational drawing of the mosaic
 Preparing for my Graduate Show, I returned to the Roman Baths again, this time taking a series of photographs of the exterior of the building, while there was scaffolding all over the building to do maintenance of the Pump Room roof. I used the juxtaposition of the scaffolding over the windows and columns of the building, to create a series of tartans and checks. This was done by breaking them down into blocks of colour and lines created by the overlaying features of the building.
Breaking down images into colour and lines
Alongside the module I experimented with natural dyes, to discover the effect of dyeing natural coloured wool on the depth of colour produced during the dye process. Trying to keep to similar colours to what would have been available to the Romans; therefore I used Madder (Rubia Tinctorum), Weld (Reseda Luteola) and Indigo (Indigofera Tintoria).
NB. Even the chalk used in the dye process, is from the Baths (used in conservation, as sacrificial mortaring in the pavement around the Great bath.)
Natural Dye Experiments
The module concluded with the presentation of my work in the Textile Design Degree Show at Bath School of Art and Design in June 2014, where I created a gallery space, that combined aspects of research and design.

Final Degree Show

Samples from Final Degree Show
To see more of my textile design work and/or my ancient textile research, you can find me on my blog: Christopherleedesigns.wordpress.com


Monday, 25 August 2014

Money Mondays: Septimius Severus coins

Beyond the most familiar use, can you imagine in which way can a coin be used? It can be used, for example, to illustrate history.

During the Roman Empire coins were a means of propaganda and celebration of dynasties as well. Roman Emperors had always used coins to promote themselves, representing their victories and their relatives also through symbolism.

For my Money Monday handling table I chose to use coins from the Beau Street Hoard to look at Lucius Septimius Severus  who achieved several victories during his reign. One of the most important ones was against the Parthian Empire, the archenemy of the Roman Empire for centuries. This achievement was so important for the Empire and for Severus' dynasty that, in order to celebrate this big happening, a monumental triumphal arch was built in the Roman Forum in Rome and several celebratory coins were minted all over the Empire. Some of these represented the Parthian victory and the greatness of Roman Empire containing some well-known symbols to deliver the message.

The Winged Victory

The Nike (the winged Victory) symbolized the good result in a war or campaign as well as some Goddesses such as Minerva which was the Goddess of Strategy.

Minerva, the Goddess of strategy

Severus was one of the Roman Emperors declared by the army. This element of his personal story is also present in the coinage of his age. The number of coins minted under his reign was increased because of some reforms to improve the military life. In fact, he promised to his loyal legions an increase in salary and a better quality of life. For this reason  a greater production of coins was needed. The symbolism related to the army was on several of these coins.

Eagle with open wings, symbol of Roman Army

Another key-element of coinage of Severus was his desire to make and promote his imperial dynasty as one of the most ancient ones. He celebrated his sons, Geta and Caracalla, and his second wife, Julia Domna.

Julia Domna, as a Roman woman and an Emperor’s wife, was represented as Roman Goddesses such as Venus, Juno, and Diana, but also as Pietas and Pudicitia, the deifications of important values such as chastity and respect for gods, nation and family.

Julia Domna as Pudicitia

Coins can be read as a book focusing on someone’s life, where the obverse is the title and the reverse is the chapter, condensed in one meaningful and allegoric image.

 Eufemia Iannetti (MA Leicester)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Beau Street Hoard & The U3A: The Story So Far…

One of the activities in the Heritage Lottery funded Beau Street Hoard Project is photography of the hoard, by members of local U3A groups.

In order that the coins can be identified, they are first being accessioned in to the Roman Baths Museum collection. This includes individually packing each coin identified by the British Museum, and assigning it a unique number. As every one of the 17,577 coins in the hoard need an individual number, this is a somewhat daunting task, currently being carried out by a wide range of our collections volunteers (all 13 of them) and placements.

 All 775 coins from Bag 5 individually numbered and stored

Once individually packed and numbered, the next stage in the process is the photography and weighing of the coins. It is for this stage of work, which we have enlisted the help of U3A volunteers.

 U3A volunteers photographing and weighing the coins
In teams of three, they are photographing the coins; including the accession number, for identification purposes, the obverse (heads) side, and the reverse (tails) side. Along the way they are having, to get used to identifying the images on either side of the coin, so that each photograph accurately displays the coin.

Three images are taken for every coin

Once photographed, they are also weighing the coins, the recording of this information being crucial to identifying coins.

To date, 3229 coins have been photographed and weighed. This includes the entirety of Bags 5, 6, 7 and 8. The contents of these four bags are a good representation of coins from the hoard, denarii, radiates and debased radiates.

Bags 5 and 6 are the best examples of silver coins from the hoard, so they were nice coins to get the U3A started on, however, it wasn’t long before they had to move on to doing the considerably less shiny coins from Bags 7 and 8, and they are doing a sterling job in photography what are some rather nasty coins.

Some rather nasty coins from Bag 7

The rate at which the coins are being photographed and the speed at which the U3A volunteers are learning to recognise the reverses of coins has been unprecedented, and so work on Bag 2 has already started while we have other volunteers working through getting the rest of it numbered.

 Bag 2 all bagged up and waiting to be numbered

With work soon to recommence on getting the rest of the hoard identified at the British Museum, it hopefully won’t be long until we are working our way through the rest of the hoard too!


Monday, 18 August 2014

Matt’s Money Monday

Before the Event:

Money Mondays is one of many regular events that occur at the Roman Baths and are included in the wider Roman Baths Museum. This event particularly focuses on a different aspect of money each Monday.  

For my individual display, I chose to focus my attention to the Gods, Goddesses and Heroes who are depicted on Roman coinage. I realised I would be able to intertwine with The Beau Street Coin Hoard which the Roman Baths are currently cleaning (with the British Museum), recording, cataloguing, storing and displaying.

I wanted to exhibit selected deities found on a small number of the coins. This was done through an informative display and pairing activity. There was also opportunity to observe the coins through a magnifying glass.  

The display involved a lot of background preparation:

1.The selection of visually appropriate coins from the hoard.   
2.Creation of the correct display packaging for each coin.
3.Extensive background research, making sure all the information was relevant and accessible.
4. Writing the information displays in such a way that they had enough detailed information to educate people who were interested but they were easy to read for both English and Non-English speaking people.
5. The display had to be prepared in such a way as to be aesthetically pleasing as well as being informative and easy to understand.
6. Ensuring all the correct materials and equipment were at the right place at the right time in accordance with the event times.  
Discussing the detail on the coins

After the Event

The event was very successful, even though it was a fairly quiet evening, nearing 100 people came up to the display between 6pm - 8pm and actively engaged in conversation about the display and about the coin hoard and its current story.

It was a massive learning curve for me to see how displays and exhibitions are put together from the very beginning and just how much time and effort needs to go into them in order to make people engage and provide opportunities for them.

There were defiantly areas for improvement on the display, which were only realized once the display was setup (such as font/paragraph size and the grouping of texts and images). 

Examining the Roman Coin with Jupiter on the obverse.

Matthew Batchelor, Roman Society intern

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Money Mondays: From Rome to the Tudors and back again

Working with the Beau Street Hoard means that Roman coins are never at a shortage. So when I was asked to put together a display and activity for Money Mondays I decided to expand the time range up to the time of Elizabeth I, the last in the Tudor dynasty.

Of course coins from the Beau St Hoard still made an appearance and alongside the coins of Hadrian, Severus Alexander and Gordian III were coins of Henry I, Henry II, Henry VIII and as mentioned, Elizabeth I. I have always had an interest in Middle Age and Tudor history and this was the perfect opportunity for me to find out more about its coinage, mints and moneyers.

In regards to the activity I chose to do a matching exercise, matching the coin to a description of its ruling Emperor, King or Queen, such as facts and clues to their appearance, character or details of coin production at the time.

I provided a label for each coin, describing its obverse and reverse along with its legend and production date if applicable. As a final activity I collected images of each of the 7 leaders, with the idea to match the coin to its leader using the coin labels and descriptions.
Money Monday table with the coins and their labels

The display did prove quite popular; a good few people took a keen interest to the coins, picking them up and examining then intently and listening while we fed them information about the hoard as well. I was assisted by Katie who was able to answer the questions I couldn’t and both of us put together were able to talk our way around it in the end! It was a great fun to put together and host, and I gained new knowledge in doing so and hope that those who took an interest did to.  I don’t think there could have been a better place to have done it either - the Great Bath of an evening provides the best backdrop!

Myself and Katie alongside the Great Bath



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Emma's Placement at the Romans Baths!

May drew to a close, and with that my placement here at the Roman Baths also did. I honestly can’t believe that it’s been 9 months since I began working here with the collections team. I’ve had so many experiences and learning curbs and memories that will remain with me. I can’t list them all in this post so I’m going to list my top four.

Toga Party – one of the volunteers on the collections team hosted her birthday at the roman baths in the form of a toga party. The experience was beyond surreal, walking around the site dressed in full roman garb whilst dancing to 70s disco in the ticket hall that had been transformed into a club complete with flashing lights with the ticket station acting as a bar for the evening! We danced to night away, with me even having to remove my authentic Roman lady’s veil or palla to keep cool.

Me and Caroline dressed as Romans with the water organ
Museums at night –  On the night of Party in the City the Roman Baths opened up to the public till late and had several musical acts such as a swing band around the Great Bath, a lyre player by the temple pediment and our own personal pride -  a replica of a roman water organ built by the wonderful Richard Ellam. A few of us dressed up as Romans and helped with the playing of the organ and talking to the public about it. The event was so much fun and it felt really good to have followed the creation of the organ through from the conception of the idea to the construction and then its premiere to the public.

Me Looking at the collection
Handling collection – Throughout this placement, the fact that I’ve had the chance to see many objects from the Roman Baths collection not on display and be able view them up close is a privilege not lost on me. I can’t believe how lucky I am! To name one particular piece: A real Viking sword!!

Just a few of the lovely people I worked with!
People – Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz saying that she’ll miss Scarecrow most of all, the thing I’ll miss most about my time here will be the people I’ve worked with who were all so welcoming when I began and really came be good friends now I’m leaving. But it’s not goodbye but more of a “see you later”!

With that I’ll wrap this up! Thank you to anyone who read any of my blog posts! I’ve loved writing them!

Sorry for late posting Emma! our excuse is more of our computers refusing to work with our blog!Verity & Susan