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 October 2013

How we Drew the Roman Baths

The Big Draw evening was a lot of fun.  There were lots of activities around the museum for visitors to enjoy. The group artwork was very popular, it was great to see so many people colouring it in and enjoying themselves. It’s almost tempting to re-paint the Great Bath with the new colour scheme. We didn’t quite get it all finished on the night, but considering how big it is we got a good way through it.

The colourful Group Art Work
 One of the most popular demonstrations of the night would have to have been Chris Evans, a textile design student from Bath Spa University and volunteer here at the Roman Baths. I don’t think there was anybody who came along on the night who didn’t stop by his table. He had a wonderful display of fabric dyes, from the slightly toxic indigo to the little insects of cochineal, pretty woad and many other raw dyes. He also had fabric samples and cloth which he’d woven himself. When there weren’t people at his table, which wasn’t often, he took the chance to continue his work on the replica Roman loom we have.  It’s amazing to see him work so quickly at something which looks so complicated. He did explain it all to me, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it.
Chris and the loom

Laurence Tindall, a stonemason, had a fantastic demonstration and activity on painted stone. Some people were even so enthralled by it that they happily stayed listening to him for most of their time in the museum. He was particularly popular with people who had visited the Roman Baths before and were excited to see something new, and hands on, to add to their museum experience. 

Children having a go at their own art with advice from Laurence.

Our ‘Drawing the Roman Baths 2100’ postcard competition got off to a great start. Some of the entries were just wonderful. It was lovely to see people taking the time to create the best postcard they could for the competition. Some children even liked their postcards so much that they took them home to keep rather than give to us.
Our postcard competition desk

It was great to see everything run so smoothly, and any chance to spend time by the Great Bath at night is fantastic. The Roman Baths are such a beautiful place.



Thursday, 24 October 2013

Religion in Roman Britain

It is notable that rather than an imposed religious system, Roman Britain experienced a unique and distinctly Romano-British phenomenon which came as the result of the merging of Roman and British cultures.

Because Roman belief in omnipotent gods was so strong, it is unsurprising that as the Empire expanded, the Romans were always wary of angering the deities of conquered lands. Consequently, unless a religion significantly threatened Roman rule, most indigenous cults were allowed to survive after adopting a Roman format.  

The emergence of a Romano-British religion, influenced by both Roman and Celtic traditions, also had political benefits as by encouraging the adoption of Roman cultural values, a deliberate policy of Romanization (cultural assimilation whereby indigenous peoples became more Roman) could be pursued without angering or alienating the Britons entirely. Romanization was important as it enabled a more peaceful conquest and reduced the risk of rebellion against Roman rule.

The name ‘Aquae Sulis’ (waters of Sul) suggests that the spring was a Celtic religious site prior to Roman arrival. Rather than replacing Celtic belief, Roman religion merged with the local cult of Sul to form something distinctly Romano-British.

Artist’s impression of the enclosed Roman Sacred Spring

Sulis Minerva, whose gilt bronze head was found in 1727, is an excellent example of this. Rather than being the product of one culture, she is distinctly Romano-British, a conflated deity composed the Celtic Sul and Roman Minerva, and therefore unique. The Romans had recognized in Sul several characteristics shared by their equivalent goddess Minerva who was one of the most important deities in the Roman world. By linking the two together, both Romans and Britons could worship at the spring and be united by religion. The temple remained as a major centre for worship in Roman Britain until the outlawing of paganism in the 4th century.

The gilded head from the cult statue of Sulis Minerva

A second example of uniquely Romano-British religion is figure from the temple pediment. Featured on alongside symbols of Minerva, the figure on the pediment is an intriguing mixture of both Roman and British religious symbolism.

Head from Temple Pediment

Initially the flowing hair was interpreted as the writhing snakes of the Gorgon, a mythical creature slain by Perseus with the assistance of Athena. Because Minerva is often equated with Athena, the presence of a gorgon on the pediment does not appear illogical. However, the Gorgon interpretation is undermined by the masculine nature of the face.

So who is the figure? Perhaps even the worshippers did not know. By remaining ambiguous and open to interpretation, the pediment remained relevant to both Celts and Romans, meaning everyone could worship together, and greater cultural assimilation could be achieved.

Bethan, Cardiff University placement

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Big Draw Coming soon to the Roman Baths!

On Tuesday October 29th, The Roman Baths will be hosting a Big Draw open evening. This will be the first time the Roman Baths has participated in the Big Draw, a national campaign designed to get people drawing in a variety of places. All ages and skill levels are encouraged to take part. I have, amazingly, been tasked with designing the event for my internship project. Coming up with drawing activities for the night has been a really interesting process.

The Big Draw theme of ‘Drawing the Future’ has certainly been a challenge. We have conquered it, we think, with two activities. The first is a competition: Drawing the Roman Baths in 2100. This challenges the idea that the Roman Baths always have and always will look the way they do now. The other is a display of postcards of the Roman Baths over time, some are just beautiful. Visitors will be able to draw their own postcards of the Roman Baths.
An early postcard of the Great Bath
One of the challenges we have set ourselves is to try to get visitors to look at the Roman Baths in a new way, particularly if they have visited us before. We are putting frames and footprints around the site to highlight our favourite views which some people may not have spotted before. My favourite activity is a group artwork. One of our volunteers was kind enough to draw an image of, what I consider to be, one of the best views of the Roman Baths, if not Bath itself. 

Our unfinished group artwork
Visitors will be able to colour in the drawing in watercolours, blending different people’s art together to create one collaborative piece. The reason I like this activity so much is because no matter what happens it will always look amazing. We had a trial run at work, with just coloured pencils, but I think we got a little overexcited. 

Our Trial Run
Minerva’s statue would have once been hidden away in the Temple, only seen by the priest. We are bringing her to the forefront by asking you to show us what you think her statue would have looked like in its full glory.

For those less thrilled by an evening of drawing there will be an image trail. You will be able to search out interesting details of the Roman Baths using line drawings as your clues. There will also be a range of presentations, from cloth dyeing, to archaeology; a stone mason and even an artist drawing live by the Great Bath.

The gilded head of Sulis Minerva

So whether you are a budding artist or just wanting to see the Roman Baths at night, it looks stunning with the torches lit, come along and have some fun with our drop in activities.

Rosemary – Intern from Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Glimpse into the Collection

For the last Wednesday Wonders table of the summer, I decided to have a table that represented the extensiveness of the collection of the Roman Baths.

In order to show the many fantastic artefacts that the Roman Baths’ collection houses, I chose a range of objects that covered many of the time periods that have been significant in Bath’s history. Although, some of the objects that I selected are just really cool and I thought they needed to be displayed.

For my table, I chose a copy of a Roman Curse Tablet, a Saxon Lead Disc, a Viking Sword, Medieval Tweezers, a Victorian Toothbrush, an unidentified glass object (which was most likely a pen holder), a decorated police truncheon commemorating the 1926 General Strike, and a 1971 print plate of the West Baths.

The objects that were the biggest hit were the Roman Curse Tablet, the Viking Sword, the Victorian Toothbrush and the police truncheon.

A Roman Curse Tablet is a binding curse that was written down by someone who wanted to curse another. They would write this person’s name on the tablet, and possibly write out everyone associated with that person whom they also wanted to curse. Then, they would bury the tablet in a grave or (in this case) put it in a sacred spring, where upon the curser would give the problem over to the gods and believe that in time this person would be punished by the gods for their wrongdoing. This curse tablet was found in the Sacred Spring in the Roman Baths and curses a man named Victory, and I must say, whomever cursed Victory really hated him because they cursed everyone associated with Victory including his slaves slave and the son of his slaves slave. Basically, they really hated his guts by the time they cursed him.

The Viking Sword was definitely a hit with visitors, even though I used the replica instead of the real one. The Roman Baths collection has a real Viking Sword because (our best guess is) that a Viking just dropped or lost his sword when walking in Bath near Upper Borough Walls. Honestly, we have no idea why the sword was in Bath…there are no records of Vikings pillaging or staying in Bath. The sword is really cool and has Runes (Viking and Scandinavian) writing on one side, so I decided that it definitely needed to be shown off. I also used the sword as the basis for the activity and visitors could write their own name in Runes on their own sword and take it home.

The Victorian Toothbrush was also a huge success. The toothbrush was found in a Victorian rubbish dump site near Bath. The toothbrush is made from animal bone, has an extremely large head compared with today’s toothbrushes, and the toothbrush still has some bristles on it and these bristles are made from pig hair. Yes, 100 years ago, they brushed their teeth with pig hair which is so cool and completely disgusting at the same time.

In May 1926, throughout the United Kingdom, there was a General Strike that was called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Its aim was to force the British government to outlaw low wages and bad work conditions. Most of the workers that participated in the strike were miners from coal and stone mines but this strike attracted workers from other industries over the 13 day strike. The Mayor of Bath presented elaborately decorated commemorative truncheons to the police officers who helped prevent violence and keep the strike under control in the Bath area. Visitors really loved this object because they were able to try to pick it up and feel the weight of truncheons.

Although I was nervous about having objects that didn’t have a surrounding theme other than being part of a fantastic collection, I think that ending the summer 2013 Wednesday Wonders tables with a Glimpse into the Collection worked out and was a complete hit. It was so much fun to do, and if I could show weird and wonderful objects from the Roman Baths collection again, I would definitely do it.

Amy, Leicester University MA placement