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, 27 July 2011

Qui Dignes Es!

Hair in Roman times, as it is today, was a woman’s crowning glory. With it, a lady could promote her social status, her identity and even her sexual availability.

Along with jewellery, hair was a woman’s way of expressing herself; from simple straight locks to elaborately shaped wigs and hair pieces, Roman vogue was heavily varied.

One of the most common techniques women, or their slaves, would have used to fashion the complicated styles was that of plaiting, or braiding. The plaits were often wrapped around or across the head to create textured and complex looks. (Have a look at our attempt….).

Along with the use of plaits, curling irons were frequently applied to hair to make voluptuous piles and layers, screaming wealth and status. The irons were also used to crimp the hair in order to bulk out certain parts of the design or add texture.

To hold stray hairs in place, animal fat was used much like a modern hair gel or spray. It must have been a nightmare to wash out!

As complicated as the styles sound already, the Romans took the next step up by attaching hair pieces and/or wigs to bulk up their already colossal dos; many of the styles depended on this. False hair (that is, not belonging to the wearer) was used as extra padding to heighten or bulk out styles.

'So important is the business of beautification; so numerous are the tiers and storeys piled one upon another on her head! In front you would take her for an Andromanche; she is so tall behind; you would not think it was the same person.'

- Satire 6, 501-504, trans. P. Green

Some conservative opinions suggest that the use of such wigs and adornments were worn as disguises to hide a woman’s identity. Others believe that the shaped hair styles represented the beholders social standing, such as with styles moulded to show regal headdresses, or the woman’s faith through hair resembling turbans, crests or crowns.

Bel and I (who are currently volunteers here at the Baths, from Durham University) had a go, much to our amusement, at creating some of the designs on each other. We concluded that the Romans definitely had the upper hand in hairdressing.

Fi – Collections placement
Qui dignes es translates to “Because you’re worthy!”

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Museum - A Brief History

The museum opened in 1897, following the discovery and excavation of the Roman bathing complex during the 1870s. In its infancy, the museum was more of an informal cabinet of Roman curiosities than a museum, with various pieces of stone from the excavations set up around the baths. The baths became a huge tourist attraction, charges were made for admission and guides gave tours of the site.

Great Bath 1885
 Visitor numbers steadily grew over the years and the collection was added to by further excavations and gifted objects from other institutions and individuals. By the early 1980s, the site was attracting over 1 million visitors a year, although this has since levelled off to a constant 900,000 + a year.

Excavation of the Temple Courtyard 1981-1983

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the museum was formalised and its management remodelled as part of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Heritage Services. For the first time, The Roman Baths Museum was curatorially led. In 1990, the museum became a registered museum and in 1999 the collection was designated by Resource (Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries) as having a collection of national significance. In 2004, registration became accreditation, serving to ensure that The Roman Baths Museum provides:

• opportunities to use, enjoy and learn from the collections
• an assurance that the collections, including donated items, are held in trust for society
• information about the museum, its collections and its services
• a commitment to consultation with users, to ensure that future developments and changes take account of their needs and interests
• appropriate visitor facilities or details about facilities nearby

There are five on-site stores housing stone, ceramic building material, mortars, bulk archaeological material and sensitive items, and there is one off-site store, housing our larger social history items.

• The oldest object in our collection is a Mammoth’s tooth (150,000yrs old)
• To date, the newest object within the collection is a site archive for High Street, Batheaston dated 2010
• The lastest objects to be catalogued are a collection of tile and mortar, collected during cleaning of the laconicum area on site, prior to archaeological survey in 2011
• The first catalogued object in the collection was found in 1727, in a drain along Stall Street and is the bronze head of Minerva
• The last aquision through the Treasure Act (1996) was in 2010 and comprised of 16 medieval coins from the Wellow area.

Stephen Clews, Roman Baths and Pump Room Manager, with the head of Minerva

Today, there are two members of staff dedicated to caring for, interpreting (including outreach) and catalouging the collection. There are two senior members of staff involved in its care and interpretation and one Learning and Programmes coordinator, resposible for creating teaching sessions and who is heavily involved in collection outreach events. The visitor services team are responsible for giving hourly guided tours of the Great Bath, school teaching sessions and are the first point of contact for many face-to-face visitor enquiries.

Temple Pediment Projected 2010

The museum has recently benifited from a 5 year redevelopment, which has included many new museum displays and an upgrade to visitor areas and there is more to come in the next 5 year phase…. We are still collecting and we are the English Heritage recommended repository for all archaeological archives in Bath and North East Somerset. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the site and/or the collection, why not come along on one of our Tunnel or Store Tours (info page link below)


Helen Harman - Collection Assistant

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Light Bite

Vegetable and Lentil Soup

You will need:

1 cup of chick peas

1 cup of lentils

1 cup of green peas

½ cup of barley (pre-soaked)

10 cups of water

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 heads of leeks finely chopped

½ teaspoon of coriander

A pinch of aniseed

A pinch of fennel

½ beets, diced

4 grape (or mallow) leaves, chopped

½ cup of cabbage leave, chopped

½ teaspoon of oregano

Another pinch of fennel

A pinch of celery seed (or lovage)

½ teaspoon of honey

¼ cup of cabbage leaves, chopped

Soak barley for 24 hours in water, then rinse. Into a pot, put chick-peas, lentils, and peas. Add drained barley to the legumes, together with water and olive oil. To this, add heads of leeks, coriander, aniseed, fennel, beets, grape (or mallow) leaves, and cabbage leaves. Cook gently over a low heat for at least 3 hours. One half hour before the soup is cooked, grind together oregano, fennel and celery seed (or lovage), and add to the soup. Stir. Simmer ½ hour and serve with a garnish of chopped raw cabbage leaves.

Courtesy of Apicius. Book IV – All kinds of dishes.

As translated by John Edwards 1984

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Crisis in Store?

It was a beautiful sunny Friday in York and over 100 people had gathered for the Federation of Archaeological Managers & Employers (FAME) forum, entitled ‘Trouble in Store: Facing up to the Archaeological Archives Crisis’. The forum had been organised in association with The Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA).

The location of the event was the splendid and historic 17th Century Merchant Taylor’s Hall.

Merchant Taylors Hall
The first speaker of the day was Roland Smith – Regional Manager for Cotswold Archaeology. He introduced the topic and went into the reasons the forum had been convened. The primary reason being the lack of storage for many archaeological archives, based on a number of varying factors, but the predominant one being storage space. Both archaeological units and museum stores are being overwhelmed by the backlog in number and cost incurred in the up keep/storage of archaeological archives.

The next two speakers, Catherine Hardman – Archaeological Data Service (ADS) and Stuart Campbell – Treasure Trove, brought the issue of digital archiving and the situation in Scotland to the table. David Allen – Keeper of Archaeology for Hampshire County Museums and Chair of the SMA was next up with a history of the problem and how the issues are not new to the archaeological world.

The first speaker after the lunch break was Quinton Carroll – Historic Environment Team Manager for Cambridgeshire County Council and Chair of the Archaeological Archives Forum. He talked about the success of the Archaeological Resource Centre in Cambridgeshire and the role that the Historic Environment Resource (HER) has to play in the management of archaeological archives. He introduced interesting legalities surrounding the planning process that might be used to safeguard the post-excavation process and deposition condition.

Duncan Brown – Head of Archaeological Archives for English Heritage, rounded up the day’s discussions by focusing on the next step forward. He summarised a lot of what had gone before, such as the need to gather qualitative data. He talked about English Heritage’s archaeological regional stores map and the plan to update it and the potential of future projects to evaluate the situation. He was clear in his message that we need to unite and begin to work towards a strategy to combat an infinite problem.

A personal perspective:
Working in a museum, as a museum archaeologist, I see a clear need for evaluation of the current process from pre-planning to post deposition. I would like to see regional working parties created to collect the data needed to start making the case for change and investment based on qualitative data and to raise general awareness of the issues involved. I really hope that this is the beginning of change to the way archaeological material is obtained, researched, displayed and stored, and that we can unite as disciplines to ensure the best provision, access and information is achieved. What are your thoughts?

For more information on the venue:


For background and relevant organisations:

http://www.famearchaeology.co.uk/2011/06/fame-forum-2011-speaker-summaries/ http://www.socmusarch.org.uk/

For relevant accompanying information:


Helen Harman – Collections Assistant