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 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