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.



Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tuesday Timetable – il potere espresso attraverso la moda


Grazie alla School of Museum Studies dell’Università di Leicester, ho avuto la fortuna di passare l’estate a Bath, lavorando con il Collections Management team del Museo delle Terme Romane. Un’esperienza unica, che mi sta permettendo non soltanto di crescere professionalmente in uno tra i più rinomati musei del Regno Unito, ma anche di scoprire, giorno dopo giorno, l’affiscinante storia di questo sito, direttamente attraverso le sue collezioni.

Uno dei momenti più interessanti è stato progettare il cosiddetto Tuesday Timetable, un’attività il cui scopo è di mostrare oggetti, appartenenti alla collezione museale, generalmente non accessibili al pubblico. L’idea è di sviluppare un tema e presentarlo ai visitatori in un tavolo, posto nella scenografica cornice dei Great Baths.

Il titolo del mio Tuesday Timetable è stato “Il potere espresso attraverso la moda”. Durante i miei studi in archeologia classica, mi sono appassionata di iconografia antica, cioè lo studio e l’interpretazione delle immagini e i loro attributi.

In antichità, monete e statue svolgevano la stessa funzione degli attuali mezzi di comunicazione di massa, diffondendo immagini e i loro significati simbolici ad ampio raggio. Grazie alla loro presenza costante nella vita di tutti i giorni - le monete erano il principale mezzo di scambio, così come le statue decoravano i principali luoghi pubblici delle città  - le immagini rappresentate erano facilmente riconoscibili anche dalla gente comune.
Nell’antica Grecia, i principali soggetti sulle monete ritraevano dei ed eroi, mentre i Romani col tempo li sostituirono con effigi degli imperatori e membri della loro famiglia. In tal senso, monete e statue erano i principali veicoli di propaganda politica del tempo.
L’influenza sociale e politica per i Romani si esprimeva attraverso la moda. Gli imperatori portavano corone radiate e d’alloro, erano raffigurati col volto rasato, o con una folta barba, mentre le loro mogli sfoggiavano acconciature destinate a fare tendenza, sia semplici che estremamente elaborate.
Busto femminile con acconciatura tipica del periodo Flavio (fine del I sec. d.C.). Roma, ©Musei Capitoliniusto 

Busto dell’imperatore Adriano (76-138 d.C.), che reintrodusse la moda della barba. Roma,, ©Musei Capitolini Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme 

Una lavagna mostrava ai visitatori immagini di scultura antica e i cambiamenti nello stile; sul tavolo, invece, era possibile ammirare e toccare monete di epoca greca e romana, e le repliche delle teste della famosa Sulis Minerva, e di Agrippina Maggiore, madre dell’imperatore Caligola, i cui originali sono esposti nel museo. Ma non è tutto! Nella ricca collezione museale, ho trovato alcune medaglie inglesi della metà del XVIII secolo, in cui i profili dei reali si ispiravano chiaramente a modelli Greco-romani, a conferma del profondo radicamento della cultura classica nella cultura occidentale.
Il mio Tuesday Timetable ai Great Bath

Il pubblico ha molto apprezzato poter vedere e toccare i reperti, commentando e comparando i cambiamenti di stile, gusti e moda passati, rispetto ai giorni nostri. Anche i più piccoli non si sono annoiati, impegnati a disegnare le loro monete personali!
Io e la mia compagna di corso Yahao… Da Leicester a Bath! 



Tuesday Timetable - Power through Fashion


Thanks to the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, I am fortunate enough to spend my summer in Bath, carrying out a placement with the Collections team of the Roman Baths. This experience is giving me the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge in museum studies, as well as to discover, day by day, the most interesting facts about the history of this inspiring site, directly from the objects belonging to its collection.

One of my favourite moments so far was to design a handling table for the so-called Tuesday Timetable evening event. The idea is to take out objects from the store and offer visitors a literally “hands-on” engagement, in the fascinating backdrop of the Great Baths.
The title of my Tuesday Timetable was “Power through Fashion”. As part of my background in Classical archaeology, I am very interested in ancient history of art, especially iconography, that is to say the study and interpretation of images and their symbols.
In the past, coins and statues served the role of today’s newspapers and mass media, spreading images and their symbolic meanings through space and time. Since coins were the main means of exchange, and statues decorated public places, people easily got used to the represented imagery.

In ancient Greece deities and mythical heroes were the most common subjects to be found on coins, but the Romans replaced them with actual portraits of emperors and members of the royal family, using coins and statues as tools for political propaganda. Romans expressed their individuality and power through fashion. Emperors’ wives showed several hairstyles, from simple to extremely elaborated ones, and rulers wore radiate crowns or laurel wreaths, having a beard or being shaved.

Bust of a woman showing a typical Flavian hairstyle (end of the 1st century CE).
copyright Capitoline Museums Rome

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE), who reintroduced the fashion of having a beard.
copyright National Roman Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome.


On my display, people could admire pictures of ancient sculptures and their style, and on the table Greek and Roman coins, and the replicas of the heads of Sulis Minerva and Agrippina the Elder, mother of the Emperor Caligula, were free to touch. But not only these ! Some ancient artistic models became emblems of the Western culture. In the rich Roman Baths' collection, I found and displayed some 19th century British medals, depicting the Royals as ancient gods.
My Tuesday Timetable by the Great Bath


Visitors enjoyed looking at and touching the objects, comparing past fashion, taste and lifestyles to our contemporary societies. Children were also happy to draw pictures of themselves as kings and queens on a coin, the activity I designed for the table.
Me and my classmate Yahao… From Leicester to Bath!


Chiara Marabelli

School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Friday, 19 August 2016

Rings fit for Kings...

We don’t venture onto the site unless necessary, and so it is that in my three years at The Roman Baths, I am still ticking off areas of the site I’ve been on! I came in recently to discover the Sacred Spring being cleaned (this is something that is done periodically to remove excess build-up of algae (and bird feathers!)), and having a valid excuse to venture through the door to the Spring, I went exploring…

We’re currently designing a new display to go in the King’s Lounge (overlooking the Sacred Spring), and one of the objects going in the case is a 17th century bathing ring. There are 25 of these, still in situ around the walls of what was the King’s Bath; but as there would also have been rings around the Queen’s Bath, I was eager to see if we could establish whether the ring came from the King’s Bath…it looks like it may be from the King’s Bath, there’s a pretty big hole it could have fitted!

Bathing ring from the King’s Bath

Currently in the King’s Lounge, we have the detail of some of the inscriptions on the bathing rings, and so whilst down there I took the opportunity to do a photographic survey of all the rings I could (safely) reach, wanting to see how many it was possible to still identify…


Well, so far I have managed six; the inscriptions on the rings have been worn over time, so I was working with varying levels of visible inscription.

Working with the illustration and comparing them to my photos, I was able to identify four of the rings.

Three of the inscribed rings, in situ

Further research led me to discover that in a book of 1883 ‘The Mineral Bath’s of Bath: The Bathes of Bathe’s Ayde in the Reign of Charles II’ by Charles E. Davis, there were inscriptions of 13 bathing rings around the King’s Bath. Using this information I was able to identify another ring that we had illustrated (though all you can see today is the inscription on the attachment, which wasn’t illustrated).

Bathing ring identified by inscription on attachment

One further ring, though not illustrated, had enough of its inscription remaining to be identifiable using the publication; reading ‘Sir William Whitmore, Barronnet, when Mr. Robert Chapman his Frind was 2nd the Mayor, 1677’.

Bathing ring identified through 1883 publication

Further rings bear hints of remaining inscription; maybe one day we’ll be able to get closer looks at them all and identify more.

Verity

Collections Assistant

Monday, 15 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Curses and the Sacred Spring

One of my favourite jobs during my internship at the The Roman Baths has been working on my Tuesday Times Table. I chose to show to the visitors the curse tablets and the other objects thrown into the Sacred Spring by the Romans. The curses are tablets made of lead and pewter, inscribed by hand and dedicated by people to the goddess Sulis Minerva (as well as Mars and Mercury), asking for revenge and justice for missing objects, probably stolen. Some of them were folded or rolled. Most of the curses are written in colloquial Latin, specifically the Vulgar Latin of the Romano-British population. The tablets contain religious prayers and Roman and Celtic names. Some of them are written in capital letters, others using the old or new Roman cursive and others are illiterate. In the Sacred Spring were found many other objects like coins, jewellery, vessels and wood and stone objects. They were all offerings to the goddess.

During my display by the Great Bath many people seemed to be interested in my project. I had a table on which I could show the objects, in particular the curses with a display board with some further details. People were invited to handle every object (well in their boxes!) and this is the very good thing about the Tuesday Times Tables, because usually people can’t handle objects in museums, but thanks to this project they could personally discover the finds, and they were very surprised by this, and sometimes hesitant!

My handling table by the Great Bath

At my table there was an activity for children too. They could try to write their names using the ancient cursive Roman alphabet. This activity became very popular with adults too, many people tried to write their names or other words with the alphabet and they realised that it is very different from the English alphabet and that there are missing letters!


Stefania Ballocco
Universita’ degli studi di Cagliari (Italy)

Erasmus intern with the Collections team

Friday, 12 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: Art and Design in Roman Britain

Choosing the theme of ‘Art and Design in Roman Britain’ was easy for my handling table, due to the wealth of art within the collections in the Roman Baths. I focused on pottery, glass, wall painting, mosaics and jewellery as they were perfect examples of art in Britain, and within Bath as all my objects were local finds. Having only ever studied Roman art within Rome and the surrounding empire, it was a challenge learning new things about art within Roman Britain, especially the cultural overlapping with the Celtic tribes within Britain at the time of the Roman conquest.

Overlap between the Celtic and Roman styles was mainly seen within the jewellery on my handling table. The brooches and bracelets were perfect examples of a Celtic influence, due to the swirling designs which are identifiable as Celtic. I had beautiful twisted bronze and copper bracelets, with a tiny child’s bracelet which was a personal favourite. I also had a number of replica brooches, pins and torcs on display as examples of how varied and colourful Roman jewellery was and how the styles had changed.

Child's Copper Alloy Bracelet

Mosaics are always important examples of art within the Roman world, let alone in Roman Britain where fewer have survived. I used tesserae (the square stones in a mosaic) as an example of the scale on which each tiny tessera was placed, and was amazed how durable they are considering their age. Accompanying my tesserae was a piece of mosaic from Weymouth House School in Bath, found in 1897.  The mosaic was popular with those who had never seen or had contact with a Roman mosaic before.


Mosaic piece from Weymouth House School

Using Samian pottery as examples was perfect due to its vibrant ochre colouring and beautiful designs of birds, and a sun among other motifs on the sherds of the pottery, I also had a replica Samian bowl with a Barbotine design around the top to show how Samian ware might have looked when complete.

Samian Bowl Sherd

The most popular and impressive item was a small bronze eagle, which was an ornamental fitting for an object. I was amazed how well preserved the eagle was with the perfect incision of feathers on the wings outstretched, and on the face of the beak. Although small it made a big impact on my handling table due its beauty, and for its symbolism of the Ancient Roman world and its presence which is still here today.

Roman Bronze Eagle Figurine

Megan 
Roman Society Intern

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Timsbury Hoard

I have spent the majority of my volunteering time over the last 2 years working on the Beau St Hoard, and during that time, I discovered a whole new love of Roman coins. So, when the Beau St project was finished, and I got the chance to do a handling table for the Tuesday Times Tables, I wanted to choose a different group of coins to show off. As the Collections team were going to Timsbury for the Festival of Archaeology, what better choice than the Timsbury Hoard?

The Beau St Hoard has 17,577 coins (or thereabouts!), so in comparison, the Timsbury Hoard, with only 20 silver coins, is very tiny. However, the coins themselves are just as interesting.

 The Whole Hoard

The coins were found in 2011 in the village of Timsbury, about 7.5 miles south west of Bath. They were discovered separately by a metal detectorist who was detecting in a field. As they were found in a small area, even though they weren’t together in a pot or box, they are still considered a hoard.

They cover roughly 100 years of Roman Imperial history, from 141AD to 249AD. The earliest coin depicts Faustina the Elder (wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius), and the latest shows Emperor Philip I. When Faustina’s coin was minted, the Empire was in safe hands. By the time Philip’s coins were issued, the Empire was in turmoil, with almost all the Emperors murdered by the army or their successors.

I chose 5 of the 20 coins from the hoard as handling objects for my table. These included the earliest coin, one of the latest coins, and my favourite coin from the hoard. I don’t think many people believed me that we would let them handle real Roman coins that were over 1700 years old!


 My favourite coin!

My favourite coin from the hoard is a denarius from Emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193-211AD. He was the first African emperor of Rome. He also renovated Hadrian’s Wall, invaded Caledonia (Scotland), and died in York. On the back, or reverse, of the coin, is a picture of an ancient African goddess known in Rome as Dea Caelestis (Goddess of the Sky). She is riding a lion, which is jumping over a spring. It’s a complicated picture, but it shows how detailed and interesting the coins could be!

Can you imagine if modern coins had such exciting pictures on them?


Emily
Volunteer

Monday, 4 July 2016

Greek Vase

          This week I had been tasked with researching the Greek vase, pictured, at the Roman Baths. With most of the work on it having been lost or never fully completed, and with original documentation on the vase being brief, it is safe to say I appreciated the challenge!
            The vase is Attic (i.e. from Attica, the principality surrounding Athens) and its shape suggests that it was a small container for oil, or more likely a funeral gift or grave offering – it is called a lekythos (λήκυθος). It was made between the late 6th century BC and early 5th century BC, and the painter has used the black-figure technique, where details are painted in black paint onto a red surface, and later highlighted (incised) using the nib of a sharp tool (this is called incision). Potters and painters could become very well-renowned in ancient Greece, and painting of this kind was considered a form of high art.
            It depicts a four-horse chariot (quadriga) and four figures around it: two are riding the chariot, whilst two others flank it. This lekythos is unusual insofar as it features a red-coloured background, when we would usually expect a white-coloured background for a lekythos from this period and location. Increasingly, white-ground lekythoi were used as grave offerings and commonly featured scenes of death or ‘final farewells’.
            You can just about make out one figure playing the lyre (cithara). Sadly, much of the design is worn and therefore many details are lost. However, the horse and figures are clearly visible. Traces of purple paint are visible on the neck, and there is a geometric pattern just below the mouth of the vase, where the handle has also been lost.
            The figure playing the lyre has formerly been identified as Orpheus. However, I think that they are probably better identified as Apollo, who, as a god of death and music (an unlikely pairing!), would better suit a vase which was probably dedicated as a funerary gift—music might have been played at the funerary procession.

Chris Gallacher
Placement
University College, London

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Science Week Success


The Roman Baths were part of British Science Week again this year by hosting and participating in several events during the week, the first of which was Science Busking. This involved having five tables of information regarding the science behind different aspects of Roman life and buildings such as; where the thermal water came from, how hypocausts heated rooms, coin manufacture, health and bones. This garnered the attention of around 55 visitors throughout the three hour event. A model aqueduct and water organ attracted more children and families who, with the help of volunteers from the Explorium and staff members learned about how they worked.

Throughout the week a table set up on site was used to inform visitors of the science behind a variety of objects and engineering feats found in the Roman world. These tables ranged from information about skeletons, coins, aqueducts, hypocausts and glass with objects being available for the public to hold and discuss with a volunteer. Each day held interest for the visitors with between 40 and 70 people taking in or questioning the material available. However, Wednesday was the most popular day with over a hundred playing with and learning about the aqueduct.
My handling table on the science of glass

The last event was Bath Taps into Science at Victoria Park, to which the Roman Baths took an aqueduct and arch model. These proved to be very popular with the children, who enjoyed learning about how and why the engineering feats worked whilst playing with them themselves. The constant stream of families meant there was no way of verifying the numbers of visitors, though all seemed to enjoy it. All in all, Science Week appeared to be a success as a popular event for children, families and the general public alike.

Kirsty Luckcuck
Bradford University intern