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, 28 September 2011

Roman Jewellery

Roman women were extremely over the top with their jewellery; so much so that a law was passed limiting the amount of gold one person could wear, as it was deemed ‘tacky’!


Compared to the Mayan civilisation for example, the Romans were not the flashiest of societies, preferring pearls to diamonds for their natural colouring – colour was a key element in Roman fashions, not how shiny or elaborate something was. Gem stones were often left in their natural state and were not polished or cut to catch the light.

Rings and bracelets were integral parts of accessorising in the Roman Empire; as well as wearing them as we do today, bracelets were pushed up to the upper arm and rings worn on the lower finger joint – hence their tiny sizes.

Small twisted finger ring

If a man was seen wearing any other form of jewellery that was not a signet ring, he would have been considered effeminate. The rings were used to determine the wearer’s status, position and as a means of sealing letters or identifying personal objects. The gemstone on the top was carved with the owner’s personal emblem, but often cheaper copies were made out of glass displaying cruder images of goddesses or emporers. Another type of ring that is frequently found is that of the betrothal band; these were placed on the ring finger (modern wedding ring finger) as Romans believed that this was directly connected to the heart via the nervous system.

Necklaces were most commonly worn short, similarly to modern day chokers, sitting just below the neckline. Materials varied from glass beads, metals and precious stones. One of the most common variations of necklace was the torc, believed to have originated from the Celtic inhabitants of Britain and Gaul as the symbol of the warrior. The Romans wore these to represent their status, and they were most commonly made from gold, although other materials, such as copper-alloy, were also used.

Contrary to popular belief, brooches were not primarily decorative items; they were mainly functional, working to hold Romans’ clothes together. There are many designs when it comes to brooches, from simple fibulas to more elaborate disc shaped ones. These variations suggest the status or wealth of the owner and let us know that everybody in society was wearing them.

Brooches from the Sacred Spring

Hair pins, as brooches, were practical items that held up a lady’s elaborate hair style, but they also added grandeur to her look. The longer pins were worn in larger, more complicated styles, whereas the shorter pins would have been used for simpler, lighter dos. Many were extremely detailed with carved goddesses and scenes at the tops, jewels were inlayed and the pins themselves made from silver or ivory. More commonly, the pin would have been made from wood or bone.

To have a look at some of the amazing, more elaborate pieces check out this website: http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/jewelry_history_ancient_roman.html


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Roman Tableware

The evening of the last Tuesday of August was a clear, calm one, a lovely atmosphere to set up the last Time Table of the summer season around the Great Bath. The topic I had chosen to explore was Roman tableware as it was something all Romans would have used and like many objects would have been an indication of a person’s power, wealth and status.

For the most grand of dining tables gold and silver vessels and platters would have been the material of choice but would these objects have been eaten off? Perhaps exquisitely decorated pieces of metal such as the Mildenhall Treasure were placed on display in Roman dining rooms to be admired. Bronze was also used to make tableware and metals were used to make spoons. Spoons were the main cutlery used by the Romans as they did not have forks and mainly ate with their fingers.

Pewter Ewer from the Sacred Spring

I was fascinated to learn of the popularity of pewter tableware as I had not associated the material with the Romans. However it was popular as it was cheaper than silver and not as breakable as pottery. A number of pewter objects have been found in the Sacred Spring presumably ending their lives as religious offerings. If you joined me at my Time Table I hope you enjoyed making a mini Pewter platter to take home.

Glass still appeals to us today as it did in Roman times. The Romans however seem to have been a lot more adventurous with the colour of their glass using yellow-browns, greens, dark blues and orange-red.

Samian Bowl

Before the Romans came to Britain very few people had fine pottery. That all changed though and soon the Romans were importing loads of pottery such as red samian ware from Gaul and British potteries were trying to copy Roman styles.

Next time you are looking in a museum case at pewter jugs, glass bottles or samian pottery have a think about their original setting. Try to visualise the dining room decorated with wall paintings and mosaics, think of the smells of hot food and wine and listen for the sound of conversation, laughter and music.

Emma Traherne – Volunteer at the Roman Baths and Assistant Curator at the Museum of Farnham (Surrey)

For more information on the Sacred Spring and the Pewter Finds


For more information on the Mildenhall Treasure


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Creating a Tuesday Times Table

My fellow interns and I were set the task of creating a themed table for the Roman Baths’ Tuesday Times Tables. We were given free range on everything from choosing the theme, picking out objects for handling and designing the information leaflets and posters.

I was first to pioneer the Times Tables and chose the theme of Roman jewellery.

Sophia at her Tuesday Timetable
Behinds the scenes, I spent a lot of my time researching pretty much everything I could find that related to Roman jewellery, and preparing myself for tricky questions that would be asked by the public. Books such as Roman Clothing and Fashion by A. T. Croom really gave me an idea of what to include on my table.

Fortunately our Learning Officer, Lindsey, who is in charge of all the educational events that take place at the Baths, already had a box of handling items that were perfect for my table – this saved me a lot of time looking through the archives for complete objects that would have been safe to be touched by the public. The box contained an original and a replica brooch, a replica chatelaine (toilet) set, original bracelets and rings, and a model necklace. One of the rings included was a signet ring with its gem stone missing (signet rings would have had a carved gemstone on the top to show the owner’s seal and status). In order to show what the gem would have looked like, I created some colouring sheets with a variety of engravings on, that children - or adults! - could take away with them. There were also photos of original gems and other pieces of jewellery.

When the table was set up, I was visited by numerous members of the public who were fascinated by the size of the rings – tiny! – or the detail on the bracelets.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Question of Soles

For my Tuesday Time Table, I explored Roman civilian shoes. I studied a collection of leather soles found on Walcot Street and used modern replicas to show usage and construction.

Finding well-preserved organic material, such as leather, is great because it often doesn’t survive, due to various geological factors, such as acidic soil. In the case of the Walcot Street pit, a clay layer allowed the leather to stay damp and preserved.

I have been looking at two main types of shoe: The ‘Carbatina’ and the ‘Calceus’. Both types of shoe would have been worn as outdoor shoes, covering most of the foot. The soles show evidence of hobnailing - providing protection for the soles against the damp ground.

The stereotypical image of a Roman wearing sandals and a toga is not a Romano-British one - would you wear sandals in the middle of a British winter?! In Rome, flip-flop like ‘Solea’ were worn as house shoes, although in Rome it was deemed uncivilised to wear sandals with a toga.

The collection of shoe pieces found at Walcot Street also contains evidence of Roman ‘Soccus’, a slipper-type shoe. It is also likely that Romano-British wore socks under their Calcei to keep their feet warm.
A Man wearing Soccus

It is believed that Walcot Street pit was situated near a cobbler’s shop and this would explain the large quantity of shoe soles and leather offcuts.

Hobnailed sole
Mystery Sole: This collection of soles lacks the evidence for house shoes, as most of the soles are hobnailed. This poses an important question: did the Romano-British buck the trend and go barefoot in the home?

I believe it more likely that they wore Soccus or cloth socks instead of Solea, which wouldn’t have kept the feet warm. The fragile nature of these cloth shoes would mean that they were less likely to have been preserved in the pit.

Make your own Carbitina!

Georgina - Roman Baths Volunteer