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, 22 April 2020

Ore-some Metalwork

The Roman Baths collection is full of amazing metalwork. In Roman and Iron Age Britain, lead, tin, copper and iron were mined and used for everything from tools to religious items.

Investigating an Iron Age coin at the Roman Baths

Imperial lead from the nearby Mendip Hills had several different uses at the Roman Baths. This malleable, waterproof metal was frequently used for plumbing — a word which actually comes from the Latin for lead: plumbum. Even now, the floor of the Great Bath is lined with Roman lead, which is still watertight after two thousand years!

The lead lining of the Great Bath

Lead could also be alloyed with tin (mined in Cornwall) to make pewter. Over 100 pewter curse tablets have been discovered at the Roman Baths, written and thrown into the Sacred Spring by victims of theft asking Sulis Minerva to punish the culprit. Pewter food and drink vessels were also tossed into the Spring as tribute for the goddess. Although these had a religious purpose, the Romans also stored wine in lead alloy vessels like these because it gave the wine a sweeter taste!

Roman pewter vessel discovered in the Spring

One of the curses is made from tin alone, and is an unusual circular shape. Perhaps it was once worn as a pendant before being thrown into the Spring, inscribed with a list of Celtic names.

Tin could also be alloyed with copper to make bronze. Copper was mined in Derbyshire and the Lake District. Since copper products are attractive and resistant to erosion, copper alloys were often used for delicate decorative items. My favourite example is the tiny bronze eagle figurine, once possibly attached to a vessel.

Copper alloy Roman eagle figurine 

Bronze and silver were used for coinage both before and after the Roman invasion of Britain. Iron Age coins were usually inscribed with pellets, crescents and lines, often making up the image of a head or triple-tailed horse. The Romans sometimes used orichalcum — an alloy of copper and zinc — in their coinage, too.

Iron Age coin showing stylised face on obverse and horse on reverse

Less attractive than copper, iron was used for more practical purposes. Iron ox shoes have been discovered in the farmlands north of Bath, and iron styluses were used for writing on wax tablets. Iron was mined in the wooded areas of the Forest of Dean and the Weald, where trees provided fuel for the charcoal smelting facilities.

Roman iron axe

Unfortunately, the acids and residues on our fingers cause metals to corrode, so they usually can’t be handled! However, we can still admire this ore-some metalwork from afar.

Collections Volunteer


  1. Thank you Ellie. A great post.

  2. AnonymousMay 10, 2020

    An interesting insight into the metallurgical resources of the local area and how our forebears were inspired to use them.