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, 21 August 2013

Roman Jewellery

Ever wonder how many interesting stories and facts are hidden within jewellery from the past?

The idea of putting together a handling table last Wednesday was supposed to bring objects out of the stores and to give a closer look at Roman jewellery, and the purposes they served during these times.

Roman jewellery was quite simply designed. Wealthier people preferred jewellery made of gold but the most common jewellery in this period was made of cheaper metals such as bronze, iron or animal bone. Precious stones, enamel and glass usually decorated them.

The objects I chose were mostly copper alloyed jewellery such as brooches, bracelets, some rings and interesting beads, which were widely used as attachments to jewellery.

Among them I decided to use some replicas of Roman brooches found in Britain since they could represent better the real colours, the techniques and the shapes of the brooches used during the Roman period and can be handled.

Brooches are one of the most common discoveries at Roman sites in Britain. The Latin word for a brooch is fibula and this is a common term used in archaeology. Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae were not only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten clothing, such as cloaks. They come in many different types, shapes and decoration. Roman brooches were mostly made in animal, trumpet, and pennanular shapes.

Rings were worn by men and women from all levels of the society. For men they were regarded as a privilege and awarded as a military distinction. Apart from ornamental rings some rings were engraved and used as seals to sign important documents while some others had keys attached for important boxes such as strongboxes.

Roman gemstones were used in all sorts of jewellery and some of them were thought to have medical properties. Among the most common semi-precious stones during Roman times were jet and carnelian. The Romans also wore other jet jewellery such as hair pins, and pendants. Carnelian beads were commonly attached by wires to jewellery while they were also widely used for making engraved gems for signet or seal rings.

Even though the exhibits did not have the shine of precious metals and stones people seemed to enjoy this time travel to Roman times through jewellery, and showed special interest in hearing additional information concerning ancient metallurgy and the functional use of jewellery.
Antri, Leicester University MA placement

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Myth v Reality: Roman Animals

When I was tasked with coming up with an idea for one of the Wednesday Wonders Handling Table I was initially anxious. Public speaking is not a strength of mine, but after coming up with the theme – ‘Myth vs. Reality Animals in Rome’ everything else just seemed to fall into place.

Animals were everywhere in Rome. Whether it was a household pet like a dog, or an animal mostly mentioned in myth like a Dolphin, animals were a part of most aspects of Roman life. I took this idea and found objects like a replica dog brooch and coins depicting animals in myth like Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf.

Finding objects was the most interesting, though at times, also the most frustrating part of organising my handling table. From navigating the stores to trying to find coins that could be recognizable gathering objects for the handling table was a miniature adventure. However at the end, I had an exciting range of 16 objects to show the public.

The handling table on Wednesday was even more of an unexpected experience. However, the end result was a table that I hope people enjoyed. Certainly many people stopped to hear about the myths, like Jupiter and Europa, or to handle the many different coins.

Some people were interested in the myths; more were interested in everyday Roman life. Though relating the fact that Hannibal of Carthage brought elephants to Italy to fight in the Second Punic War was a fact that almost everyone found interesting. And still other people were only interested in handling ‘real Roman coins’.

But hopefully, no matter the reason people had for stopping at the table, they left knowing something they hadn’t before.

Jessica: Leicester University MA placement

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

What can we Learn from the Curses?

The Romans were highly religious and truly believed in omnipotent Gods who had the power to influence everything in both the natural and human world.
The lack of popular welfare and the high levels of warfare in the Roman Empire made prayer and religion an everyday element of Roman life.

Although the Romans had designated guardian deities for most walks of life. It is notable that Gods were not restricted to acting as merciful guardians. The many curse tablets found here at the Roman Baths show that the Gods were also to be feared as vengeful bringers of justice and as omnipotent and often violent powers.

Curse tablets are interesting artefacts which can tell us a lot about religion and literacy in the Roman world. They were usually pieces of sheet lead which were inscribed with ‘curses’ in which the writer (often through a scribe) would appeal to a deity, in this case Sulis Minerva, to exact revenge on a person who had acted against them. They were then folded up and thrown into the spring for Sulis Minerva to read and act upon.

One of the unfolded curses

That curse tablets are found in both rural and urban areas shows that they were not exclusive to the military or elites. Although some people would have used scribes, the tablets also show that literacy was pervasive in Britain and that it was not only the elites who could read and write.
The language of the tablets firstly shows that a British dialect of Latin had emerged, and secondly, the presence of Celtic loanwords on the tablets shows that it was not only the Roman immigrants writing the tablets. This shows that native Britons were beginning to adopt Roman cultural practices and that cultural assimilation was taking place.

The Vilbia Curse

The tablets also reveal much about peoples’ relationships with the gods.
The tablets were written by victims of crime and were essentially appeals for justice. Most give detail about what happened but others just name lists of suspects and must have been accompanied by oral dedications.
In theory Roman or local law ought to have dealt with these complaints depending on status, but in an under policed society deities may have been most people’s only hope. That the tablets go so far as to suggest suspects and penalties suggest that deities were revered as a parallel to the judicial or legal system which could be appealed to directly by Roman citizens. It also suggests that gods were perceived to be just, and also protective of their worshippers.

Bethan,  Cardiff University

Friday, 2 August 2013

Festival of Archaeology 2013

Last Saturday, 27 July 2013, as part of the Festival of Archaeology we took over the National Trust's lovely Prior Park for a day of fun and learning for all ages. There were 8 activities held throughout the park, all focusing on different aspects of archaeology.

Ralph Allen made his fortune reforming the British postal system in the early 1700s and is famous for his transformation of mining in the Bath area. Allen invested in the stone quarries of the Combe Down Stone Mines in the Bath area. Using stone mined in his quarries, Allen built Prior Park for his residence in 1742. His vision for Prior Park was to showcase the beauty of the limestone house overlooking Bath with extensive gardens housing numerous unique buildings. Allen hired renowned architect John Wood, the Elder, to create the plans for the house, and landscape gardener and poet, Alexander Pope to design the gardens.

The Grotto
The Grotto was the first place to explore for the festival; here you could see the reconstructed grotto, built for Mrs Allen, which became her favourite place in the grounds to read and relax. The Grotto was constructed to show off rocks and designs on the ground made from bones and fossils.

Fun fact: The Grotto is the resting place of the family’s beloved dog, ‘Miss Bounce.’

Gothic Temple
The second stop was the Gothic Temple was built in 1742 in the wilderness part of the park. Here, Allen would provide light refreshments for his friends while they were visiting the park.

Fun fact: In 1921, the Gothic Temple was purchased and moved to Rainbow Wood House, just two miles from Prior Park.

Serpentine Lake
Allen designed the Serpentine Lake to snake through the wilderness part of the park, culminating in a cascading waterfall, which Allen would release for visitor’s delight in the Cabinet before beginning the evening’s festivities. At this third stop, visitors could view before and after photographs of the excavation with a local archaeologist.
Fun fact: The Serpentine Lake was excavated between 2006-2007 by local archaeologist, Marek Lewcun, and his team.

The Summerhouse was reconstructed in 2004 by a volunteer team to its original 1912 design. It was copied from the photograph that was donated. Here, visitors could watch local stonemason, Laurence Tindall carve Bath stone.

For the festival, the staff room was opened to the public to show a short film about the Combe Down Stones Mines excavation and stabilization. There were also objects from the archaeological dig at the mine for visitors to handle.

Fun fact: To save the graffiti in the mines before they were filled in, archaeologists developed techniques that removed the graffiti and then they were mounted on slabs to save them.

Natural Play Area
Down by the lake, visitors were able to be an archaeologist, identifying pottery, clay pipes, coins and look at objects through history.

Fun fact: The lakes surrounding the Palladian Bridge were designed to appear as an optical allusion that made the three lakes look like one from the house.

Thatched Cottage
Allen constructed the Thatched Cottage and Ice House on the park grounds in the mid-eighteenth century. Ice from the Ice House was transported to the house on the railway used by Allen for the mines. Visitors were able to discover how archaeologist surveys the land with Richard Sermon.

Fun fact: The Ice House was used as an ammunition bunker in the Second World War.

Palladian Bridge
The Palladian Bridge was built by Allen, and is only one of four Palladian bridges remaining. Visitors were able to learn about the history of the architecture of the bridges, have a go at a Palladian bridge puzzle, learn about the graffiti on the bridge and how it relates to the graffiti in the Combe Down Stone Mines, and try making their own graffiti in a craft activity.

Fun fact: The Palladian Bridge is on the cover of the death metal band Opeth’s album, Morningrise.

Overall, even with the threat of rain, the Festival of Archaeology proved to be a fun day out for visitors of all ages learning about archaeology.  We thank the great Prior Park team for all their help and hospitality.   Amy - Leicester University MA placement