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, 30 November 2011

Web of Deceit

When working on the “Gift’s for the Goddess” display table during Heritage Open Week, I came across a replica of an ancient Roman spindle whorl. Being who I am, I was intrigued to find out more about this strange little round item, especially how it worked. Learning how it twists the thread into long strands ready for weaving reminded me of a Roman myth of a weaving competition between Minerva and Arachne. The story goes as follows…

Arachne was considered the best weaver of textiles of all mortals. People across the lands would come watch her as she created the most beautiful textiles with such grace. One day, Arachne claimed to the public that she could out weave the goddess Minerva. Unfortunately, after Minerva heard this, she was not pleased and disguised herself as an old woman. The goddess went to visit Arachne and under her disguise she warned Arachne about the wrath of the gods and to not tempt the goddess Minerva. Arachne having heard the advice, refused to do so. Minerva took away her disguise and stood before Arachne and declared she would accept her challenge. Arachne surprised and bashfully agreed to do so.
Many gathered around the competitors as they took their stations and attached the webs to the beam. They watched in awe as they elegantly spread the slender shuttle in and out along the thread. Both of them worked with such skill and speed. Eventually the colourful images started to form on the textiles.

Weaving loom
Minerva displayed the story of her triumph over Neptune in claiming the city of Athens. Arachne wove stories of gods who failed or caused errors to mortal kind.

This outraged Minerva and she destroyed Arachne’s beautiful textile. The goddess then placed shame into Arachne’s heart for defying the gods.

The next day Arachne felt such guilt and shame that she tried to take her own life. Minerva, having heard this, felt pity on Arachne and went to visit her. While standing before Arachne she said “Live, guilty woman and that you preserve the memory of this lesson…” and promptly turned Arachne into a spider.

(Want to learn how to use a Roman Spindle Whorl?...keep reading there will be more on that later!)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Cast of Little People Take 2

When I drew up the list of characters for the model (see blog Wednesday, 11 May 2011) I didn't realise I'd be working with little Romans again in 2011.

When we started to think of a different way of showing what people did in the Baths and Spring, for the new development in the West Baths, we soon came up with the idea of a new model with moving figures and an overhead screen to show details of a day in the life of 7 people.

To get avatars of less than 10mm and moving images of the characters in the baths, I visited Audio Motion, motion-capture experts in Oxford. They have a huge studio with many cameras that create data which can be used to make digital people and objects. The studio has worked on some big productions requiring "mo-cap", including the films Gladiator, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, and Iron Man II, and the games Kill Zone3 and Kinect Sport

Lee and Sean were our patient actors who took everything in their stride, including strigilling themselves with paint rollers for "the detail can be added later digitally", as I kept on being told. They were kitted out in body suite, with many reflectors stuck on them which reflected the light from many lamps and gave 3D co-ordinates to a computer as they moved. The hardest activity they had to do was mime taking off a toga (which would have been 7m long and made of heavy woollen cloth, but we couldn't use a real one as it would block the signals to the sensors). Clyde, from the company, ISO, who we'd worked with before for a touch screen interactive, directed the proceedings with utmost patience and understanding. In the weeks that followed, his incredible team managed to transform the data into believable Roman characters.

Finished Projection Table
So now, projected down onto a plan of the baths, are many of the characters who appeared in the model, once again reminding visitors that it wasn't just fun and games at the Baths (well, we have got 2 men playing ball); there were people working there as well. We see young Belator puffing away, stoking the fires from (almost) dawn to dusk, Flavia bathing, having a massage, scolding her slave Apulia and, of course, chatting to friends, and Bellinus, one of the maintenance men carefully painting the walls.

What will these little Romans do next?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Preserving Skills

Great Bath looking north easterly towards Bath Abbey
We all love the Roman Baths; the thrill and excitement of seeing, touching and experiencing one of our most treasured national monuments. Now try to imagine a future where no one has cared for its preservation and it has crumbled to dust, or makeshift repairs have defaced any reference to its historical significance. This issue appears to underline the research carried out by the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) in 2008, not just for monuments such as the Roman Baths, but for all our historic buildings, great and small. The published report, funded by The Sector Skills Development Agency, Construction Skills and English Heritage, was created to highlight the growing gap between those older professionals with skills to conserve buildings using traditional materials and methods, and a lack of equally knowledgeable young people to continue the work.

The findings of the report and the reasons for the decline are numerous, although not always negative. They range from increased funding pressures and a reduction of the amount available for grants, to contractors having a limited knowledge of traditional building materials and methods. This has led to a culture where a greater level of commitment is given to new builds, with many training providers simply perceiving a lack of demand for specialist heritage training.

The report reveals three years of changes to the heritage sector and a greater emphasis has been placed on training, with new initiatives attempting to provide solutions to the problems. For example, the development of new training qualifications to entice younger people to the profession. These include a new Heritage Skills NVQ Level 3 and a Heritage Apprenticeship Programme. Furthermore, NHTG continues to work with English Heritage in establishing a Works and Training Contract Framework that can be used across the built heritage sector.

In the six years since the original report, there have been clear improvements with notably better recruitment practices and more effective careers and qualifications in marketing. However, the skills gap remains, with only one third of the workforce using traditional building materials and many still requiring retraining. Nonetheless, there is a concerted effort within the heritage sector to reset the balance and provide and maintain a workforce that has the skills and knowledge to authentically preserve our historical buildings, not just for us but for future generations.




Matthew Hulm - Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

To Coin a Phrase

A Royal Imperial gold aureus of the emperor Allectus, on display at the Roman Baths Museum. This is a good example of a coin in excellent condition.
The Roman Baths Museum has an enormous collection of Roman coinage, primarily recovered from the Sacred Spring. Visitors in Roman times threw coins into the water as offerings to the Goddess, just as we today throw pennies into wells for luck.

As with modern coins, there were denominations of Roman coins, which were worth different amounts and made out of different materials. These are shown here in decreasing value:

Metal: Coin: Value:

Gold Aureus 25 denarii

Gold Quinarius 12 ½ denarii

Silver Denarius 16 asses

Silver Quinarius 8 asses

Orichalcum Sestertius 4 asses

Orichalcum Dupondius 2 asses

Copper As 4 quadrantes

Orichalcum Semis 2 quadrantes

Copper Quadrans ¼ as

The nature of the metal is also important for identification. The silver content of a denarius or quinarius can help with dating - the first silver coins were often 95% pure! This standard was dropped, raised, and then dropped again until in 270 it contained a mere 1% silver. The coins made from orichalcum are what we know today as brass, being made from a particular alloy of zinc and copper. This helped to distinguish similar coins through a difference in colour. The dupondius and as were about the same size, but could be told apart because orichalcum is very yellow in colour, and copper is obviously red.

Size, weight and thickness are three other factors that are very useful when identifying Roman coins. In general, the size of Roman coins decreased over time, from the hefty bronze examples of over 25mm across and more than 3mm in thickness, through to the tiny nondescript issues from the period between 260 and 402. This can provide an indication of the coin’s date at a glance, particularly when confronted by a large selection of unidentified coins.

Inscriptions and images are essential in identifying coins. Roman coins were decorated on both sides, usually with the emperor on the front (obverse). The reverse types are varied, but commonly show depictions of various deities, victories, architecture, animals, or representations of the emperor’s family. The front of the coin will generally bear an inscription showing the emperor’s titles and dignitaries, whereas the reverse is dependant on what is depicted, with the inscription being relevant to the goddess shown, for example. The reverse of the coin sometimes bears inscriptions with information about the coin itself. This includes the letters S.C., found on the backs of copper and orichalcum coins after 23 B.C. This stands for ‘Senatus Consulto’ to show that the coin has been issued by the Senate. When mint-marks appear, they are also usually imprinted on the reverse. These were introduced in order to control and standardise the activities of mints.

When coins are very worn or damaged they can be impossible to identify. This coin shows the state in which the majority of coins are found, although this one is a particularly extreme example.

Richard Reece & Simon James 1986. Identifying Roman Coins. London, Seaby Ltd.

David R. Sear 1974. Roman Coins and their Values 2nd edn. London, Seaby Ltd.

Zosha - Roman Baths Intern

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow.......

The mountains of Caradhras from "the Lord of the Rings", Narnia, Christmas Town from "the Nightmare before Christmas"; what do they have in common? They are all miracle places and environments of snow and winter but with one common fault; they're all only fictitious.

A snowy scene - Keynsham
But the world we see around us can be a winter wonderland too if you know the right places to look. And no, I don't mean you should travel all the way to Antarctica. Many places such as woods, parks, even towns can make a dramatic transformation with a little help from the snow. When the snow began to fall around Bath, I was eager to see what attractions such as the Great Bath would look like in snowy weather. Unfortunately, being a bath full of hot water and steam, a first-ever photograph of the Baths in the snow was a futile wish; thank you very much laws of nature. At least the Roman Emperor and Governors statues around the Great Bath terrace were willing to play along with my latest photographic experiment.

Snow on the statues around the Great Bath
But that wouldn't stop me from finding some other snowy area to capture in pictures. Last year, in November, when I went to see the Don McCullin: Shaped by War exhibit at the Victorian Art Gallery and got the chance to look at some of his work with black and white winter photographs; it inspired me, the following month, to take a few snaps around the parks and fields of my hometown; Keynsham. And as you can see by the included photos, the results were quite successful.

The banks of the River Avon in the snow
A lot of people may look on this season and weather as a traffic disruption and a slippery risk. But what a snowy winter lacks in travel convenience, it makes up for in giving photographers opportunities like this. They say "an artist must suffer for their work"; and after falling over at least seven time's whist taking these photos, I think I've done the suffering part. And it's been worth it.

A winter wonderland