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, 20 November 2019

Curious Coins from Batheaston

Recently, visited Batheaston to display a range of incredible objects from the local area. Of course, I chose my favourite subject – coins! We had several lovely Roman coins on display, from Emperor Domitian (77AD) to Emperor Gratian (367AD), but my two favourite coins found during excavations at the Batheaston Bypass aren’t Roman at all…

Visitors to Batheaston Scout Hut find out about the archaeology of the area

The first is what I think is one of the most beautiful coins in the collection. It is a sceat (a small silver coin) from the eighth century AD - just before the Viking invasion. It might have been minted in Denmark, or Frisia (now part of the Netherlands or Northern Germany), but there is a lot of ongoing debate about when and where these coins were made.

On one side, there is the bearded face of the Ancient German sky god called “Wodan”, related to the Norse god Odin. On the other there is a mythical monster, possibly a dragon!

The Woden/Monster sceat from Batheaston

The second is a European copy of an English silver penny, originally minted for Edward I (1288-1299). At the time, these were nicknamed “crockards”, which is a term of uncertain origin. There is also a medieval Latin word crocardus which is translated as “bad money”, but this may have been derived from the English term and not the other way round.

At the time, the English silver penny was famous throughout Europe for its quality and purity. European merchants would trade their goods to the English for the coins. Then they would melt down the coins, mix the silver with some cheaper metal, and mint more coins for themselves. By making the coins look like the English pennies, they could then pretend that the coins were just as high in value as the originals.

However, the crockards weren’t considered “counterfeit”, because they were not identical to the English pennies. The names of the European moneyers were on the coins, and instead of the royal crown, Edward I is wearing a “chaplet of roses” – or a flower crown!

A 'crockard' from Batheaston - with Edward I in a flower crown!

Our coin was minted by John, Duke of Brabant (part of Belgium), who was Edward I’s son-in-law.  

At first, Edward tried to use crockards as currency, saying that they were worth half a penny instead of a full penny, but this was confusing, and soon he decided that all the crockards should be destroyed instead. This makes our coin very special!

Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

An Alphabet of Objects: B is for Bottles

When you visit the Roman Baths and walk through the Pump Room, you will come to a small room on the other side called the Sun Lounge. Here, our A-Z display has now changed from A…to B!

Installing the new Alphabet display

Created by our volunteer Zoë, the display showcases beautiful bottles through time. Over the summer, Michela did a lot of research into the marvellous Victorian bottles in the collection and found that every bottle has got a story to tell:

Glass Codd-neck bottle

This is known as a Codd-neck bottle because it was invented in 1872 by a British engineer called Hiram Codd. He designed and patented a bottle specifically invented for carbonated drinks. In fact, the Codd-neck bottle has a unique closing design based on a glass marble that is forced against the washer by the pressure of the gas contained in the beverage. 

To open a Codd-neck bottle it is necessary to push the marble down and let the gas spill out. These bottles also have a special chamber to prevent the marble from blocking the neck when pouring the drink. This clever bottle design is still used in Japan for carbonated beverages. This bottle was produced in Newport (South Wales) but the drink that was inside was product by a soda-lemonade factory called Brooke & Co. that was founded in Bath (5 Walcot Street) in 1846.

Glass 'torpedo' bottle

This ‘torpedo’ bottle was introduced in 1814 to preserve the pressure of the bottle. This shape does not allow you to keep the bottle standing up, only lying down! In this way, the liquid keeps the cork covered, preventing it from becoming dry and avoiding the loss of bottle pressure. This particular example contained a carbonate drink produced in Bath by a factory called R. B. Cater & Co. that had a phoenix as trade mark. Can you spot the phoenix on the side?

Medicine bottle containing 'Kay's Linseed Compound'

This medicine bottle contained a preparation of chloroform and morphine that was sold as remedy for coughs, colds, bronchitis, influenza and asthma. This medicine was produced in Stockport by a factory called Kay Brothers Ltd. that was probably founded in 1867. On the 5th of December 1908, The British Medical Journal examined the contents of Kay’s Linseed Compound (page 1698). Reading the contents, it’s not surprising that it isn’t found in pharmacies today!

Extract from the British Medical Journal 1908

The A-Z display is free to see in the Sun Lounge during opening hours. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way through the alphabet!

Michela Amato
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Bones

"In nature, there is no separation between design, engineering, and fabrication; the bone does it all"
Neri Oxman 

Why bone? Bones are exciting as they connect us with the past, but also feel forbidden as they are not a part of everyday life. They can prove useful as they survive through time where other materials (e.g. wood) may not.

Visitors to the Roman Baths find out about bones in archaeology

Past societies used bone to create different objects. Although this may seem gross to us now, bone was a readily available material and therefore an obvious choice to build things from. Many artefacts were made from cow or sheep bones, probably because they were the most commonly butchered animals. But how did the people of the past actually use bone?

Roman gaming counter

Imagine a Roman beating their competitors with this gaming counter. Gaming is a forever concept; whereas today we play on the Playstation, Roman games were far more rudimentary but just as competitive. One inscription from a Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum game board in Rome read ‘Levate dalocu, ludere nescis, idiota recede’ (Jump up, push off, you don’t know how to play, get out stupid) evidencing how heated games could get!

Gaming was clearly important as a 24 year old man from Lullingstone villa was buried in AD300 with his gaming board and 30 gaming piece (15 red and 15 white) possibly so he could play eternally in the afterlife. I wonder if anyone has ever been buried with a Playstation?

Two Victorian toothbrushes made from bone and animal hair

Picture the Victorians using their bone bristle toothbrushes. It’s hard to believe that it was not until 1780 that the Europeans produced a bristle toothbrush. Before this, rags and salt or soot were rubbed on teeth to keep them clean.

Our dental saviour was William Addis who, whilst incarcerated, found a bone on the floor and connected this with animal hairs to create the bristle brush. This was perfectly timed as the toothbrush industry boomed with the increase in refined sugar travelling from the West Indies. Toothbrushes were used with toothpaste made from odd materials such as soot, chalk or even powdered cuttlefish! Would you try that?

Bone object handling table

We are incredibly lucky to have objects like this readily available, teaching us the importance of everyday ritual to the people of the past. They have truly all been worked to the bone!

Roman Society Collections Placement

Alcock, Joan. Life in Roman Britain. English Heritage (1996) pp. 54-5.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Building (part 2!)

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries"
Victor Hugo

Last week's blog introduced you to Roman ceramic building materials (CBM), so today let's discover the science behind the study!

How and why is Roman CBM studied by archaeologists?

Archaeologists use a range of traditional and cutting-edge analytical techniques to study bricks and tiles. These range from morphology-based examinations, that is looking at their shape and function, to fabric analyses, which basically look at the recipes of clay and temper (an extra material added to clay to change its working or firing properties) used to make the artefacts. 

The author using portable x-ray fluorescence to analyse Roman tile (with kind permission from the Culver Archaeological Project)

Expensive scientific compositional techniques such as portable x-ray fluorescence, which gives an elemental profile for the object, are also occasionally used. These analyses often aim to source the brick or tile, seeking to work out where the object was made and how far it was transported. This is done in order to understand the scale of production and infrastructure in place for building materials across the Roman world. 

What relevance does Roman CBM have to our society?

While Roman brick and tile might seem like a dry and dusty subject (which the objects quite literally are!), my own PhD research at Bournemouth University on the Roman Baths is hoping to ask questions that make these materials relevant to how we understand our world. 

Roman CBM - part of the vaulted roof that would have enclosed the Great Bath

CBM was introduced into Britain by the Romans around the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain in 43 AD. The native people never used it and never produced it, and subsequently Roman brick and tile industries and workers have been assumed to be entirely imported from the continent. My research is hoping to check this assumption, exploring if there is evidence for the incorporation of local potters or other individuals into these industries. In this way, I will be exploring the role that the production and use of CBM played in the development of Romano-British identities. I aim to contribute to our understanding of how people thought of themselves and how they identified, whether native, Roman or somewhere in between, in this important period of British history. 

At a time where so many different British identities intersect, acknowledging and working to understand the complex role of identities in Britain’s past can also help us to understand our own contemporary society.

Thank you very much for reading, I hope this post has inspired you to look on humble brick and tile with a new light!

Owen Kearn
Bournemouth University PhD student

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Building

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries"
Victor Hugo

A couple of months ago I presented a handling table at the Roman Baths for the Words on Wednesday events.  This blog aims to give a general overview of the use of ceramic buildings materials (CBM), that is bricks and tiles, in Roman Britain, as well as how and why archaeologists continue to study these materials and what relevance they have to our modern society.

Owen manning the handling table at the Roman Baths

What are bricks and tiles?

Bricks and tiles are rectangular or flat blocks of red or white clay that have been shaped and fired at high temperatures to produce the hard and durable building blocks of homes and buildings across the world.

How were bricks and tiles used in Roman Britain?

While the Romans used bricks of a range of unfamiliar shapes, at least to our modern eyes, they employed a lot of their bricks and tiles in the same way that we do today. This includes in building walls and structures as well as in roofing. The Romans are also famous for the construction of heated floors, known as hypocausts, and channelling hot air through buildings using specialised hollow tiles. Examples of these can still be seen throughout the Roman Baths at Bath, so keep an eye out for them the next time you visit!

A hypocaust in the West Baths at the Roman Baths

Stay tuned for next week's blog, where we find out how and why Roman CBM is studied by archaeologists, and what relevance this has today.

Owen Kearn
Bournemouth University PhD student

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Home

"Home is where one starts from"
T.S. Elliot

My name is Qin Li and I am on a work placement with the Learning and Participation team as part of my MA study. During my placement, the most appealing and the most difficult work for me was my ‘Words on Wednesday’ handing table. For my table, I chose the topic of  'at home with a Roman Family', which is mainly about the day to day activities of the Romans at home. There were three themes on my table, women’s work at home - textile working, leisure activities - gaming (board games) and dinner.

My handling table

During my display, I used the timeline of the day to join these different themes. When Roman women were at home during the daytime, one of their main tasks was textile working. They were spinning and weaving yarn and making clothes for their families. Due to demand for clothing, the family workshop gradually developed into an industry and played an important role in the Roman economic system. In the Roman Baths collection, I found spindle whorls of various shapes and colours, they are my main objects in this section. Some loom weights and needles were also displayed on the table.

Spindle whorls made of pottery and shale

The second part of my display was about Roman leisure activities after work. When they were at home or in the bath house, they enjoyed some leisure time. Gaming is one of the things they did. They used counters, dice and other things to play the board games. In this section, I showed counters of different materials. The Romans used counters of different materials such as ceramic, shale, glass and bone. Visitors seemed to be attracted by the beautiful glass counters.

Gaming counters made of black and white glass and worked bone

After the end of work and leisure time, they had dinner time. I chose to show the pots and dishes which were used to serve on the table in this section. Ceramic pots of different colours and textures were chosen. One of my favourite objects is a piece of Samian ware pottery. The mould-made decoration on the Samian is very beautiful, which also attracted visitors’ attention. This piece of Samian is in a good condition and visitors were able to touch it.

Samian bowl rim

At my table there were some activities to engage with visitors. In the working section, a replica of the spindle was provided. I tried to learn the Roman spinning technique when I was researching my table. Visitors were very happy to see me show it! In the gaming part, a Roman board game was there for visitors to play. Merels, the Roman three-in-a-row game, attracted many people. Most of them chose to take a board game home with them when they left the table. I hope this little game will give all the visitors good memories of this handling table.

Visitors enjoying a game of Merels

Qin Li
Placement Student

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Beauty

‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’
John Keats

Health and beauty were considered important for Romans. They wanted to make themselves look as good as they could. From bathing in the public bathhouse to wearing glamorous jewellery, they put a lot of effort into maintaining their health and beauty.  I chose some interesting objects that are in the Roman Baths collection on the subject of hygiene and jewellery and set up a handling table for visitors by the Great Bath.

Handling Roman objects by the Great Bath

First of all, hygiene. The most popular object I had on the table was the pocket toilet set including ear-scoop, nail-cleaner and tweezers. Romans carried this toilet set on their belt or in a little bag to the bathhouse.

Left to Right: Tweezers, nail cleaner and ear scoop

We can’t talk about Roman beauty without mentioning hairstyles. Roman women had elaborate hairstyles. They copied complicated hairstyles from coins or statues of the empress or important people. Many hairstyles required some hair pins made of bone or metal to keep the hair in place. Some even added hair pieces, and others wore wigs made from real hair. Slaves had to curl and pin the hair of their mistress. On the handling table, there was a bone hair pin and a beautifully preserved wooden comb on our handling table. Visitors loved the 2000 years old comb which was found in the Sacred Spring on our site.

Left to right: bone hair pin and wooden comb

Last but not least is Roman jewellery. Finger-rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces were the most common items which completed their outfit. Brooches had a utilitarian function as clothes fasteners, however, we can assume that they also a decoration by looking at various designs of brooches. On our handling table, I had a copper alloy bow-brooch and its replica which helped to imagine what it might have looked like back in Roman times. Children enjoyed bow-brooch making activity using metallic card paper.

Left to right: Bow brooch and replica

Bow brooch craft activity

Although it was a replica, one of my favourite objects was a little ring-key. This key shaped ring was an actual key to lock caskets or strong boxes. Visitors were amazed by this clever solution for security.

Replica ring-key

There are more objects on display at the Roman Baths which I strongly recommend you come to see. I wonder if you can spot the little display of an intricate penannular brooch (circle shaped brooch) near the King’s Bath on your visit.

Placement Student

수요일의 한 줄: 로마시대의 아름다움

‘아름다움은 영원한 기쁨이다’-존 키츠의 시 엔디미온(Endymion)

건강과 아름다움을 유지하는 것은 로마인들에게 매우 중요했답니다. 그들은 할 수 있는 한 아름답게 자기자신을 가꾸려고 했어요. 대중 목욕탕에서 목욕을 하는 것부터 화려한 장신구를 착용하는 것까지 많은 노력을 기울였어요. 저는 로만 바스 박물관 컬렉션에서 로마시대의 아름다움과 관련된 유물들을 골라 수요일 저녁 Great Bath옆에 방문객들이 직접 만져볼 수 있는 핸들링 테이블을 마련했답니다. 물론 금속으로 된 것들이라 작은 상자 안에 각각 넣어두긴 했지만요.

핸들링 테이블

, 위생과 관련된 유물. 가장 인기가 많았던 유물은 귀이개, 손톱 클리너, 족집게였어요. 로마인들은 이것들을 고리에 연결하여 밸트에 달거나 작은 가방에 넣어 목욕탕에 가곤 했대요.

왼쪽부터 족집게손톱 클리너귀이개

로마시대의 아름다움에 대해 이야기할 때 빼놓을 수 없는 것이 헤어스타일이예요
. 로마시대 여성들은 굉장히 정교한 헤어스타일을 갖고 있었는데요, 동전이나 조각상에서 여제나 귀족 여성들의 헤어스타일이 유행을 선도했다고 해요. 복잡하게 땋고 틀어 올린 헤어스타일을 유지하기 위해서는 많은 헤어핀이 필요했는데, 헤어핀들은 주로 동물의 뼈나 금속으로 만들어졌어요. 아름다운 헤어스타일을 완성하기 위해서 어떤 사람들은 헤어 피스를 붙이기도 했고 가발을 착용하기도 했다고 해요. 부잣집 여주인들은 하녀들에게 자신의 머리카락을 곱슬곱슬하게 만들고 헤어핀을 이용해 스타일을 만들도록 했어요. 수요일의 핸들링 테이블에 우리는 뼈로 만들어진 헤어핀, 그리고 아름답게 보존된 나무 빗을 전시했어요. 방문객들은 여기 로만 바스의 Sacred Spring에서 발견된 2000년된 빗을 굉장히 좋아했답니다.

외쪽부터 뼈 헤어핀나무 빗

마지막으로는 로마인들이 사랑했던 장신구입니다
. 반지, 팔찌, 귀걸이 그리고 목걸이는 그 시대 사람들의 패션을 완성시켜주었던 가장 흔한 장신구예요. 브로치는 굉장히 느슨한 옷을 입었던 로마인들의 옷을 고정시켜주는 실용적인 기능을 갖고 있었지만, 화려하고 다양한 디자인의 브로치가 있었던 것을 보면 장식적인 역할도 했음을 짐작할 수 있어요. 우리의 핸들링 테이블에는 구리 합금으로 된 활모양의 브로치가 있었어요. 오랜 시간이 지난 금속 브로치라 변색이 되었지만, 우리가 갖고 있는 복제품은 당시에 얼마나 아름답고 반짝이는 브로치였는지 상상할 수 있게 해주었답니다. 어린이 방문객들은 우리가 준비한 활 모양 브로치 만들기 활동을 하며 즐거워했어요.

활 모양 브로치와 복제품
활 모양 브로치 만들기 활동

복제품이기는 하지만
, 제가 가장 좋아했던 유물은 열쇠 반지였어요. 열쇠 모양으로 된 이 작은 반지는 실제로 로마인들이 작은 장식함이나 금고를 잠그는 열쇠로 쓰였다고 해요. 우리 테이블을 찾아준 많은 방문객들이 로마인들이 보안을 위해 만든 이 영리한 열쇠 반지를 보고 놀라워했답니다.

열쇠 반지 (복제품)

로만 바스 박물관에는 로마시대의 화려한 문화 유산을 느껴볼 수 있는 많은 유물들이 전시되어 있어요
. 바스에 오실 일이 있다면 꼭 한 번 방문하길 추천합니다. 로만 바스에 오시면 Kings Bath 근처 작은 디스플레이 케이스에 아주 정교하고 아름다운 원형의 브로치가 있는데요, 한 번 찾아보시는 건 어떨까요?

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Numismatics

“Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money”

As part of my numismatic placement at the Roman Baths, I put together a handling table exploring different forms of money over time; this included coinage, bank notes, currency tokens and jettons. I began with the Iron Age and then went on to explore money in the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods, and the 17-19th century. I hoped to illustrate that money has never had a single form; for thousands of years, the label ‘money’ could be ascribed to any object or material with tradable value!

Visitors to the handling table investigate Iron Age coins

One of the most popular items on my handling table was a copper alloy dupondius, issued by Nero in 64-67 AD, which was found in the Sacred Spring at the Baths. The front, or obverse, of the coin depicts the head of Emperor Nero, and his head is surrounded by text which names his many titles. If we compare this coin to an English pound coin we can see that although the names and values of coinage have changed, what is depicted on coins is not too different.

Roman dupondius issued by Nero

To represent the 19th century, I chose to display 19th century bank notes. Like our modern bank notes, this note from 1841 has the statement, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £5”, meaning that the person who held this note could take it into the bank which issued the note and exchange it for the equivalent price in gold coin. This £5 note would be equivalent to around £300 in today’s currency!

£5 bank note issued by Bath Old Bank

Tokens were produced throughout the 17-19th century in times of coin shortages where they acted as substitutes for pennies, farthings and shillings. They were used in both a commercial setting, such as in a shop or a warehouse, and in some cases they were used as gambling tokens! Tokens were in frequent use, and the Roman Baths collection holds examples that were used locally in Sydney Gardens, the Pump Room, and even the Crystal Palace Inn around the corner from the museum!

Bath Token from 1811

I really enjoyed talking to visitors about this forgotten form of money, especially when it had such a big impact on our economy. It was an excellent way to exhibit objects that are not permanently on display!

British Numismatic Society Student Placement

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Delicious Cakes

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience”

James Beard

In last week's blog I described cooking in the Roman period, but to provide the full experience at my handling table, I also did some Roman cooking!

Putting the finishing touches on my Roman cakes; a sprinkle of nuts and a drizzle of honey

From the bookshelf I pulled ‘The Roman Cookery of Apicius’ (De Re Coquinaria), translated by John Edwards.

Apicius was a Roman man who wrote a recipe book during the first century BC. It is not what we would call a recipe book today, with his recipes giving little to no indication of quantities or cooking time. We can assume his book was meant for the experienced cook who could use their own judgement.

Flicking through the book, many of the recipes didn’t seem so bad, pleasant even; pears cooked with cinnamon and wine, lentil soup, marinated pork chops. But there were some recipes that I wasn’t too keen to try; apples and calf’s brain casserole, liver, chicken and onion hors d’oeuvres.

I settled on the recipe for aliter dulcia (sweets), a rich sweet honey cake topped with nuts. YUM! John Edwards’ book provided a modern adapted recipe which I used to make the cakes. Wine and honey replace the sugars we use to sweeten our cakes and cinnamon and rosemary fill the cake with a burst of flavour.

Rich sweet Roman cakes, fresh from the oven!

Apicius recipe:

Mix pepper, nuts, honey, rue and raisin wine. Cook in milk and pastry. Thicken with a little egg and bake. Pour honey on top, sprinkle with nuts and serve.

Adapted Recipe: 

Rich Sweet Cakes

2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup almonds (chopped)
½ tsp ground rosemary (rue)
2 cups pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ cup sweet raisin wine
1 egg
4 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
¾ cup milk

In a mixing bowl, put cinnamon, chopped almonds and rosemary (rue). Add flour, baking powder and mix. Next, combine sweet wine, well beaten egg, honey and milk. Blend and stir into the dry ingredients. Bake in 375°F (190°C) oven in a greased 9 inch round pan, for 30 minutes. Pour a little honey on top of the finished cake, garnish with nuts and serve.

From De Re Coquinaria (Roman Cookery of Apicius), translated by John Edwards.

Why not have a go at making them yourself?

Imogen Westcott
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Delicious

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” 
James Beard

Food is part of our everyday life, sometimes we even plan our days around food, eating it or cooking it! It’s not a surprise that the Romans did too.

My own love of food and cooking was the inspiration for my handling table. I wanted to learn about Roman cooking tools and methods, maybe even try a bit of cooking myself. When I began looking at the objects within the museum’s collection, I was stunned to find that much of the methods and utensils of cooking weren’t too dissimilar to those used today.

Getting up close and personal with the collection, visitors are encouraged to hold objects

The Romans increased the availability and variety of food in Britain, introducing new and exotic ingredients, especially for the wealthier classes. Food scraps found by archaeologists today, such as bones and shells, are evidence of food eaten by the Romans. Fish varieties were eaten widely and used to make garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a salty seasoning in cooking.

Butchery marks on animal bone tell us that people were eating and probably selling meat. The scratches and cuts in the bone require a closer look. A bone will splinter or shatter if broken; we know these marks are butchers marks because of the clean cuts into the bone, which can only be caused by a sharp blade.

Handling animal bone with obvious signs of butchery

Pottery was used throughout the kitchen for cooking, storage and serving. Large ceramic pots were used to cook stews and soups and could also be used to store food. Lighter, smaller cooking vessels, such as pewter or bronze pans were popular with soldiers but could also be used in the home.

Bronze patera found during excavations of the Sacred Spring, on display at the Roman Baths

My favourite object was the mortarium, a bowl-shaped vessel with grit embedded surface used as a grinding and mixing bowl. This ancient mortar and pestle was one of the most important tools in the Roman kitchen. The Romans liked food that was heavily spiced, possibly to hide the taste of old meat, and needed a tool to grind all these spices to a useable powder or paste.

Left: North Gaulish mortarium rim, Right: close up of maker's stamp

This particular mortarium is special because of the maker’s stamp near the spout (see image above). This stamp belongs to Quintus Valerius Veranius, with a date range of 65-100 A.D. His stamps have been found on mortaria in Northern France, western Belgium and Britain. This helps us trace the movement of the maker and their wares from workshop to country, which in turn helps us create a bigger picture of Roman life in Britain.

Imogen Westcott
Collections Placement

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Invisible

“The Roman remains were what they sought: medieval Bath was invisible”
Peter Davenport
Medieval Bath Uncovered

As a part of my week of work experience here at the Roman Baths, I was given the opportunity to organise a handling table for the Words on Wednesdays weekly summer event. I have always found medieval England interesting, so I decided to take advantage of the thousands of amazing artefacts here at the Roman Baths and take a closer look into medieval life.

Words on Wednesdays Medieval Handling Table

The focus of my table was the different elements of the home; I incorporated building materials such as floor tiles and window glass, as well as objects which would be found inside the home like pottery and cosmetic items. While the objects I used are more likely to have been found in the possession of someone of a higher status, and the tiles and glass in a cathedral, I wanted to create an idea of what life may have looked like in the medieval period.

A favourite object of mine, and of the visitors to my table, was the King John short cross halfpenny from 1205. The coin is a part of the Wellow Hoard, a group of 16 coins produced in the period 1180-1247. This is a great example to show how halfpennies were created 800 years ago, by simply cutting whole pennies in half!

Cut halfpenny of King John. Left: Obverse, Right: Reverse

Another group of objects that attracted a lot of attention were the 14th century cathedral floor tiles. These were found in the 1974 excavation of Orange Grove and have detailed designs including a griffin, 3 lions and an abbey. One of the designs particularly I liked was the griffin which symbolised the bravery of a lion combined with the intelligence of an eagle, and would have been a great addition to the floor of a cathedral.

Medieval floor tile. Left: Floor tile, Right: Reconstruction drawing

I greatly enjoyed putting together my table and getting to look at all the wonderful artefacts that the Roman Baths has to offer that aren’t Roman, and cast a light on a much forgotten era of Bath’s history.

Work Experience Student

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Festival of Archaeology: Roman Death and Burial

As part of the Festival of Archaeology the Roman Baths Collections team were in Sydney Gardens exploring the theme of Roman death and burial.

Burials are a major source of information that helps us to understand life in Roman Britain. Burials provide evidence about physique, disease, social organisations and religious beliefs and rituals.

Emily preparing the Death and Burial display at Sydney Gardens

So how can we tell a burial is Roman?

In Roman Britain you were typically buried in one of two ways, either cremation or inhumation. A cremation burial is the burial of cremated remains in an urn or pot and inhumation is the burial of body in a grave or tomb.  

Cremation with grave goods became more widespread following the Roman invasion in 43 AD, but later gave way to inhumation with fewer grave goods, possibly as other religions, such as Christianity and Mithraism grew in popularity.

Roman coarseware jar containing cremated remains, on display at the Roman Baths museum

What is a grave good? 

An object buried with the body, mostly of inorganic material such as pottery, jewellery, weapons and toys. Organic items would have been deposited with the body, but have since decayed. Grave goods can help us date a burial as well as provide insight into the life of the individual. Grave goods often reflected the wealth or status of the individual, or their family.

They were also ritual objects, with pottery at a burial site often being a sign of ritual feasting. Feasts were held as the deceased was buried, or sometimes days after. Food was also left as an offering for the deceased. These practices explain why we find food and beverage vessels at different levels at a burial site. 

Selection of grave goods: Clockwise from top left to right; flagon rim, samian sherd, jar base, rim sherd, iron brooch, commemorative bronze coin of Septimus Severus with funerary pyre depicted on the reverse, selection of hobnails

What would they be buried in?

The first materials to decompose are organic such as wood, food, and clothing. This leaves us without much knowledge of what clothing a person was buried in. Items such as pins, brooches and hobnails are the only remaining clues for a person’s clothing. Pins and brooches were used to hold together a shroud or toga.

Hobnails are common remaining fragments of a Roman shoe. This tells us the individual could have been clothed when they were buried or that the shoes were placed as a symbolic grave good in or outside the coffin. The nails would have been screwed into the sole of the shoe, similar to a modern football boot.
Female skeleton excavated at Batheaston with hobnails found in situ at the soles of the feet

What do you think would survive in a burial today that could tell us about life in 2019?

Imogen Westcott