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, 26 September 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Stone Tools: What Are They?

In prehistory stone tools were very important for everyday life; they were used for hunting, cooking, agriculture and warfare. The raw material flint is used to produce stone tools. Flint knapping is a very skilful craft which involves flaking off thin sections of flint (flakes) from a flint core to create a tool. In Bath small flint pebbles were found locally in the river, but larger pieces would have been imported to the area.

Common Tools

Barbed and Tang Arrow Head
Projectile Points – leaf shaped flints ranging from simple triangular points to complicated shapes e.g. the famous ‘Barbed and Tang’ arrow head. Points range in size and are hafted to wooden arrow or spear shafts to make weapons.
Hand Axe

Hand Axe – axes vary considerably between periods from earlier Palaeolithic flaked axes to later Neolithic polished axes. Uses include tree/wood cutting, butchery and digging.
Knives – knives are long, broad flakes, which are worked into a sharp edge and retouched if they become blunt. Sometimes knives are hafted to a wooden handle.

Scrapers - made by working one edge of a flake to sharpen it and produced in a range of sizes. Scrapers are the most commonly found implement and they were used as simple hand tools for working hide, wood, bone or food.


Awl – flint flake worked into a point at one end and used to pierce holes into material e.g. animal hide to make items of clothing.

Blade – long and thin flake which can be used in butchery/meat cutting.


Microliths – a common find from the Mesolithic period. These small blades have a multi-functional use and were often imbedded into different wooden or bone tools to make harpoons and sickles.

Amesbury Archer

The Amesbury Archer’s Bronze Age grave has an excellent example of a prehistoric hunting tool kit. The Amesbury Archer was aged 35-45 years old and originated from the European alpine region. He was buried in the Beaker burial tradition, near Stonehenge. This was an unusual grave with around 100 grave goods which indicate the man’s occupation as a hunter and a metal smith.

Hunting tool kit;

-16 Barbed and tang arrowheads.

-2 blank, ready to finish arrow head.

-2 Sandstone wrist guards, to protect the man’s wrist while using a bow.

-Flint knapping debris.

-Flint scrappers, used for skinning animals.

-Flint knife, used for butchery.

-Fire lighting kit.

-Boars tusks; a prestige item kept by those hunters skilled enough to hunt a wild boar and possible sharpened for use as awls to pierce leather.

-Red deer antler possibly used for flintknapping to finely retouch tools.

In addition to the above hunting kit other flint knapping tools would often feature in a prehistoric hunter’s kit such as a hammerstone, core and flakes. These would have been used to replace or reshape tools which are broken during hunting.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Coins

A few weeks ago, I set up my first Tuesday Times Table. For those of you not in the know, this is an opportunity for us volunteers and interns to meet and interact with visitors to the Baths using various historical items from the collection.

The subject of my table was ‘Roman Money’. I chose this topic for a few reasons. First, I’m extremely interested in Roman coins themselves and wanted the chance to nerd around with them; second, because money is such a humdrum everyday item to us - I wanted to show people its fascinating ancient roots. The Baths, with upwards of 12,000 Roman coins salvaged from the Sacred Spring in their collection, seemed the ideal place to do this!

Mock up of Tuesday Time Table

Centre-stage on my table was a large map of the Roman Empire (drawn by yours truly) with the location of just some of the major mints (places where coins were manufactured) marked upon it. It came as a surprise to many people that the Empire had dozens and dozens of mints, since most of our modern countries mint all of our money at one central location. In a world where travel and communication was hampered by a lack of fast transportation, it paid (literally) for the Romans to site mints all over their empire - from Egypt to London. The Roman Empire was, for the most part, a single-currency zone where a coin minted in Antioch (Syria) was just as valid in Britain or France. In order to imagine how large an area this actually was, I asked people to picture the size of the modern Eurozone, and roughly double it. Only then do you get an idea of how massive was the area served by Rome’s coins.

The Sacred Spring coins offered me the perfect chance to emphasise this point to everybody. As you can (sort of) see in the picture, each mint is marked out by an example of a coin that it produced. I encouraged visitors to search for the ‘mintmarks’ on the tails sides of the coins - the Romans placed these on their coins so that, at a glance, you could tell where in the empire a coin came from. This was a really important part of my display, because it showed people how astoundingly far some of the coins had to travel before being deposited as offerings into the Sacred Spring. This was one of my favorite parts of my table, and people really enjoyed being able to pick up a coin that (for example) was minted in hot Egypt and travelled the length of the empire before ending up at the bottom of a sacred spring in far-off Britannia. I was especially impressed with the really intelligent questions asked by some of the children who came to handle the coins.

Coin denominations
Also on my table was some more general information on Roman coins. I was keen to introduce people to what Roman coins looked and felt like, their denominations, what they were used for, and how they informed the ‘look and feel’ of our money today. Just like us, the Romans had many denominations of coin that were used to pay for different kinds of stuff. After reading the information I prepared on how to identify these different coins, I set people the challenge of identifying the genuine set of six coins in their protective box. The results were varied! The coins in this box, though, had the ‘wow’ factor, since they were especially well preserved - people loved looking at them!

People never failed to pick up on the immediate similarities between the Romans’ coins and our own: the head of the emperor (or queen, king, president...) in profile, the presence of Latin, the circular shape (yes, the shape: many cultures contemporary to the Romans had coins that were square or were holed), the nationalistic designs on the tails side, etc. It was pleasing that people were able to appreciate how much our coins owe to Roman ones, but I enjoyed telling people about the differences just as much! That Roman coins were ‘politically incorrect’ by modern standard shouldn’t have come as a surprise to people but it did. I mean, how often on the backs of Dollars or Pounds do we see an image of the President or Queen stamping on the heads of defeated people, as Roman emperors did on their coins? The differences are often as enlightening as the similarities!

Me in action!

It’s one thing to look at Roman coins in a little box, but it’s another entirely to handle them. In the little Roman style bowls I placed some real (though more worn down) examples of the more common day-to-day small change of the Empire. It was important that I did this, because people then got the chance to experience the ‘feel’ of holding several large coins. The overall message of this little set-up - and one that people never failed to pick up on - was: ‘gosh, aren’t they heavy?!’. Only by picking up the coins both in the bowls and the bag of replicas could people find out how cumbersome carrying money around was in the days before paper notes!

I hope everyone who came to the table enjoyed learning about Bath’s Roman coins as much as I enjoyed telling them!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tuesday Time Tables - Egyptian life.....

One of the increasingly rare warm summer days heralded the beginning of our Tuesday Time Table series. This year I was first up with our Egyptian collection.

But hold on, this is the Roman Baths isn’t it? Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re only allowed to keep Roman items does it? Actually the collection here includes a whole variety of non-Roman material - the Egyptian collection was donated to us by a  local collector, so that’s why it’s here.

The collection consists of a series of shabti, a scarab which may have been part of a necklace, three exquisitely carved amulets, a string of beads and two figurines of Osiris all of which were on display.

Personally, my absolute favourite piece was an alabaster jar which may have been used as a perfume bottle or for holding hair oil, certainly for some type of cosmetic. For me, a piece like this really highlights the everyday lives of the ancient Egyptians which is really what I wanted to examine with my table.

Me with the Alabaster ointment jar.
Mostly I wanted to challenge the misconception that the Egyptians were all about death and burial; they weren’t, and, news flash, slaves didn’t build the pyramids either.

Having said that it’s easy to see how the misconception arises. As my professor once said ‘Most of what we have from ancient Egypt is comprised of tombs, temples and trash’. Based on the worthless nature of one and the religious nature of the other two it’s easy to reconstruct their society as overly religious or death obsessed.

But that isn’t necessarily correct.

And I’m sure several people are now wondering who did build the pyramids. Well, it wasn’t slaves, that’s for certain. The building of the kings’ tomb was an important and prestigious job, far too important to entrust to the likes of slaves and in fact, when compared to Greek and Roman societies there were hardly any slaves in Egypt at all.

The pyramids were probably built by the foremost builders of the day, supplemented by the common folk (for heavy lifting purposes) during lulls in agricultural work. Just to be clear this wasn’t slavery. All agricultural work leaves a natural lull while the fields recover and for the ancient Egyptians this went hand in hand with a down turn in profit. So why not use the time to get paid to build the kings tomb? That way you could still afford to buy expensive perfume to place in your alabaster ointment jar which sat on your vanity table.

Me and my table.
Emma P.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why you shouldn’t lie!

For me, one of the most interesting groups of finds from the sacred spring has to be the curse tablets. Unlike many texts remaining from the Roman period, these hold the words of ordinary citizens, and are a fascinating insight into the beliefs and superstitions of the local people.

Currently on display in the new cases in the King’s Bath corridor are several of these tablets, included one named ‘Sanction against perjury”. This is an almost-whole example, no more than 7.5cm by 5.5cm, inscribed with a text from a practiced hand.....

Sanction against perjury - BATRM1983.13.b.12

'Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son ans Docilina, Decentius his brother, Alogiosa: the names of those who have sworn at the spring of the goddess Sulis on the 12th April. Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.'

The majority of curses found in the spring concern theft, or similar loss. They range from a list of possible suspects with a call on the goddess to reveal the culprit, to bitter accusations against one person, and a desire for bloodthirsty punishment.

However, as the title suggests, this is a text of a different nature. Instead of detailing a past crime, it is a record of an oath sworn to prevent a future one. Witnessed by “Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son and Docilina, Decentinus his brother, Algiosa”, it states, “Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood.”

Perjury is the crime of lying under oath; this and the fact that it is close relations who are listed means that the tablet probably concerned a family matter, most likely the division of inherited property. The language used is fairly formal, hinting at a legal-document style. These people believed in the goddess so much that they were willing to put legal matters at her feet, and their faith meant that they wouldn’t go against their word, for the imagined punishment would be severe. After all, who wants to “pay for it…in his own blood”?

Livi Dunlop - work experience placement in the Collections Department.