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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, 13 September 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: Sulis has a Spring in her Step

Having toured the Baths for the first time in a number of years it struck me that although the Baths might have been a place to relax and socialise, religion had an enormous presence in the cultural understanding and use of the site. In order to study and interpret the religious aspects and traditions of the Baths, I sourced some artefacts that had been found in the Sacred Spring, thrown into the waters to win the favour of the residing goddess, Sulis Minerva.

Izzy with her Tuesday Times Table
The complexity of the goddess can be seen in the variety of objects found in the spring:  curse tablets, intended for revenge, a souvenir pan from Hadrian’s Wall, perhaps dedicated as a precious object for the eventuality of good health, and silver feathers from a helmet, for success in a military campaign.

As a mixture of long-term taboos and superstition, religion came to play a huge role in Roman culture with pietas (religious duty) becoming a principle that any Roman would fear to reject in light of the wrath of the gods. Sacrifice, prayer and worship were activities carried out by the devout for personal and collective gain in divine appeasement. Animals would be chosen for their sex, age, fertility and colour (depending on the god/goddess being sacrificed to), slaughtered and its vital organs burnt so that queries might be answered or divine support obtained.

Finds from the Spring. Top: A bronze patera dedicated to Sulis Minerva Bottom: A curse tablet describing the theft of six silver coins

Another prevalent aspect to a religious Roman society was priesthoods. These had a dual purpose to Roman culture both in religion and the state, as did the emperor as head of Rome and its religion (as pontifex maximus). Priestesses were also a vital part of the religious system and contrary to the religious appeal that women should carry out acts of worship in private, the Regina Sacrorum and the Flaminica Dialis had similar privileges to their male counterparts – an interesting attribute to a traditionalist system.

The proximity of the temple complex and tholos to the baths acts as a physical reminder of the purpose of the baths and what these buildings represented to their people. Religion in Bath seemed to play a large part in its society, with the idea of unification through commonality in myth being evident. Through the hybridisation of Sulis and Minerva, a community of Celts and Romans arose and with the further expansion of their empire, the Romans continued to achieve harmony with compromise.


What would you throw into the Spring and dedicate to Sulis Minerva?

Izzy
Volunteer

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