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, 10 December 2014

Debasement and deception: The 3rd Century crisis and the Beau Street Hoard.


The Roman Empire has always been famous for the monuments of Rome and a prosperous Empire, spanning most of modern Europe and the Mediterranean. So it is surprising to know that, in the 3rd Century AD, a very serious financial crisis took place, caused by prolonged civil wars and invasions. The Beau Street Hoard contains coins from a long date range (32 BC - 275 AD) and so it tells the story of this crisis.

At the start of the Roman Empire the metal used to make coins was of very high quality. The silver coins issued by early Emperors (such as Augustus and Tiberius) contain around 98-100% silver. As time wore on however, the cost of maintaining a huge Empire put financial strain on the Emperors. Base metals, such as iron and copper, were added to the silver to make it less pure and cheaper to produce. This process is called debasement. By the start of the 3rd Century AD, only around 40% silver was being used to produce the main denomination of the period, known as the
radiate. 

Things only got worse as the 3rd Century progressed. The Romans faced threats from both the Northern and Eastern Frontiers. The Northern frontier provinces, Gaul and Britain, even formed a breakaway Empire. Severe financial strain, caused by the cost of wars on the frontiers, meant that the silver content of the radiate was reduced to less than 10%. Images of coins from the Beau Street Hoard show a timeline of debasement in the Roman Empire.

Timeline of debasement – left to right
50s A.D. Nero denarius90% silver
190s-200s A.D. Septimius Severus denarius65% silver
250s A.D. Trajan Decius radiate40% silver
260s A.D. Gallienus radiate20% silver
270s A.D. Tetricus I radiate: 1-2% silver


As well as debased coins, unofficial copies of the radiate are frequently found in Britain. These coins are known as barbarous radiates. The production of copies had always been a problem in the Roman Empire, but by the mid-3rd Century AD it had become endemic. Presumably, when official supplies ran low, coins were produced locally to meet demand.

There are examples of barbarous radiates from the Beau Street hoard and images taken by the Roman Baths U3A volunteers show just how different these copies were. As well as being smaller and thinner, barbarous radiates also have very poor quality images and inscriptions. It’s a wonder anyone was fooled at all!

An official coin of the Emperor Claudius II and an unofficial copy (right) from the Beau St Hoard. This particular coin was issued after the death of Claudius in 270 AD and the reverse shows an altar.


An official coin of the Emperor Quintillus (270 AD) and an unofficial copy (right) from the Beau St Hoard. The reverse of the coins shows Pax (Peace) holding a branch and caduceus.


Emma, Future Curator

Monday, 1 December 2014

Greek coinage at the Roman Baths


Ancient Greek coinage had been in use for around six centuries before Greece became part of the Roman Empire. Hand made in the same way Roman coins are (struck using a cast die), these coins had a variety of images and symbols which can be connected to Greek Heroes and Gods. This symbolism could be used to prove an individuals power and right to rule within the ancient world.

For my Money Monday handing session in the summer, I chose to focus on Greek coinage and connections that could be found to Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Son of Phillip II of Macedon and part of the Argead dynasty, Alexander became king at 20 years old and ruled one of the largest ancient empires by the age of 30. Covering an area of 2,000,000 sq mi, Alexanders empire included modern day Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and covered an area as far east as India. Greek influence  in these areas would last for 200-300 years after Alexanders death.


This map shows the extent of Alexanders empire before his death in 323 BC.


The Greek coins within the Roman Baths collection show a rich variety of connections to Alexander the Great and a number were selected to use during the handling session. Key themes included Alexander's connection to the hero Heracles; who the Argead dynasty claimed to be descended from, Alexander's connection to Zeus and his deification in Egypt and the spread of Hellenistic culture across his empire.

The coins often show  the image of Alexander wearing the skin of a lion, portraying himself in the image of Heracles after he slew the Nemean lion.  The lion is a recurring theme and can be seen on a number of the coins within the Roman Baths collection 


Hemistater of Macedon with lions head

The next coin that was used for the handling session shows Alexander as a God. Pronounced a son of Amun in Egypt by the oracle, Alexander referred to Zeus-Ammon as his true father. The ram horns seen on the first image are a symbol of his divinity. The writing on the reverse (second image) shows this was a coin of  King Lysimachus of Thrace who came to rule part of Alexander's Empire after his death. The use of the image of Alexander was used by Lysimachus to show his right to rule during the war of the  diadochi or successors.




When looking at the coinage of an individual, it can tell us a lot about their personality and what they see or think of themselves. This makes this type of coinage invaluable to our understanding of the period. 

Rachel

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Money Mondays: Commemorative Coinage


Beau the Hippo has become the emblem of the Beau Street Hoard, and we’ve learnt how a Hippo ended up on a Roman coin from an early blog post by Susan which you can read here.

A  Hippo was just one of a number of animals depicted on coins by Philip I in 248AD to commemorate 1000 years since the founding of Rome. These animals were brought to Rome to be part of a series of games held for the anniversary in arenas, such as the Coliseum, around Rome. Other coins from the anniversary show the legend associated with the founding of Rome, of twins Romulus and Remus being nursed to health by a She-Wolf.

Taking this concept of coins commemorating specific events or occasions I decided to investigate what other coins there might be in the Roman Baths collection that are commemorative or celebrating key events for my Money Mondays display.

What I discovered while going through the collections database was a whole range of coins and medals that had been used to commemorate events, anniversaries or people.

As the Royal Mint are the body permitted to manufacture, or mint, the coins of the UK, commemorative souvenirs have been a popular way of marking Royal events such as Jubilees for the last three centuries. My display included a whole range of Royal events, from a coin celebrating the birth of James II in 1633 right up to a very shiny five pound coin for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, with a few coronations and deaths in between! Key moments in battles and important treaties can also be found on coins. Two examples I chose for display included the Treaty of Paris in 1814 and a striking medal of the Duke of Wellington for the Battle of Waterloo!

I even discovered some medals commemorating local events in Bath such as Queen Charlotte’s visit in 1817 which brought my research to the Records Office to read through some issues of the Bath Chronicle from the time.

The display generated a lot of interest on the night and I particularly enjoyed being able to display items from 248AD right up to 2012 which all connected! The variety of coins from different centuries and eras helped to contextualise the Beau Street Hoard coins in a new way too!




Holly Furlong, Leicester Placement Student


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Mint innit - How was money made?

One of the questions the Collections staff and volunteers are frequently asked during a Beau Street Hoard event is ‘how are coins made’? So when I was asked to put together one of the Money Monday handling sessions I thought it would be a good time to have a look in more detail at The Roman Baths collection of Roman and Medieval coins, how they were made, who made them and where this happened.

Texts from the Roman and Medieval period give little away when it comes to making coins and so archaeology has been used to help recreate some of the process. The first step was to produce a blank coin by pouring molten metal into a circular mould. Once the blank was cool enough, the design for the coin would be stamped onto the blank using dies (punches). The metal would be heated so that it was malleable and the coin placed in between two dies, which would then be struck with a hammer.

The Roman Baths have their very own coin die and blanks to strike coins.


So who made coins and where did this happen? Roman coins were initially produced in Rome by a set of three magistrates. As the Empire began to expand more mints were created and others were closed down. The collection at The Roman Baths comes from far and wide. There is even a coin that was made in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey).

A map showing where the Beau Street Hoard coins were made

Medieval coins were initially made across England and Wales by individuals known as moneyers. You may be able to see on the map that there was even a mint at Bath. The earliest coins known to have been struck at Bath were issued by Edward the Elder (AD899-924/5) and the mint remained in use until the late 12th Century.

A map showing mint towns during the period c.973-1158
© Martin Allen 2012
There were however, many changes made to the production of coins during the Medieval period. In the 13th Century mints were placed under the control of officials known as masters and wardens. There was also a radical reduction of mint towns during the 13th and 14th Century and, by the 15th Century, the only regularly functioning mint was in London.

Emma, Future Curator










Monday, 1 September 2014

Roman Society Museum Internship Bursary


During the end of final year at the University of Exeter I applied to the Roman Society, UK for their Museum Internship Bursary. The bursary is offered as part of a 3 - week placement which takes place at the available museums and covers travel expenses for the whole placement. The aim of the scheme is to give the successful applicant’s museum and collections experience.

My application was successful and I was selected as one of six out of 80 applications for the scheme. The Roman Baths Museum was my museum of choice and they selected me to work in their collections department; in order for me to expand my experience in post-excavation archaeological work because I already have a lot of experience working in the field on archaeological sites, both in the UK and abroad.

Through the internship I have been able to have a detailed insight into archaeological and museum systems outside excavations and have been able to experience a number of different parts of Museum work:
What it is like to catalogue and archive objects (such as the Beau Street Roman Coin Hoard which is currently being catalogued, archived and prepared for storage and display at the Roman Baths and being prepared for Road shows later this year);
Individually archive and catalogue an archaeological site which had come into the Roman Baths Museum from the local county;
Correctly organise and input all the data from the coin hoard into a central database;
Plan and run exhibitions/ events and see just how much time and planning needs to go into each; including running my own display event on Money Monday at the Baths;
Assist Museum staff and visitors on the pre-booked Tunnel Tours of the Roman Baths.

My time at the Roman Baths and the experience I’ve gained here will be extremely valuable to both myself as an individual and my appreciation of museum work as well as providing me with further opportunities in Archaeology and Museum worlds.


Me, Katy and Emma showing off the Beau Street Hoard staff t-shirts at a Conservation Evening
Matthew Batchelor



































Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Designer at the Baths

 I’m Christopher, a recent Textile Design Graduate of Bath School of Art and Design, and Ancient Textile Researcher who is a regular volunteer. During the past two years here at the Roman Baths, the building and its collection has provided a wonderful wealth of inspiration for my work.
 I am a keen student of both history and design, constantly looking for ways to combine the two subjects coherently; with the help of the Roman Baths I have successfully discovered my niche as an Ancient Textile Researcher. During the final year of my degree, the ‘Developing Textile design’ module gave me the opportunity to produce a collection of woven textile samples inspired by Roman mosaics.
 
Woven sample based on Mosaics
 Using a variety of different mosaics, to explore the geometric patterns of Roman mosaics, to develop a series of ‘colour and weave’ patterns to weave cloth samples. The mosaics include two from the Roman Baths collection, the geometric mosaic floor from Weymouth House, Bath and the mosaic from the Keynsham Roman Villa.

Exploring Geometric patterns: the Weymouth House mosaic, now in store

Through a series of observational drawing I broke down the mosaics into re-occurring patterns, developing them into repeatable weave blocks to weave the samples.


Observational drawing of the mosaic
 Preparing for my Graduate Show, I returned to the Roman Baths again, this time taking a series of photographs of the exterior of the building, while there was scaffolding all over the building to do maintenance of the Pump Room roof. I used the juxtaposition of the scaffolding over the windows and columns of the building, to create a series of tartans and checks. This was done by breaking them down into blocks of colour and lines created by the overlaying features of the building.
 
Breaking down images into colour and lines
Alongside the module I experimented with natural dyes, to discover the effect of dyeing natural coloured wool on the depth of colour produced during the dye process. Trying to keep to similar colours to what would have been available to the Romans; therefore I used Madder (Rubia Tinctorum), Weld (Reseda Luteola) and Indigo (Indigofera Tintoria).
NB. Even the chalk used in the dye process, is from the Baths (used in conservation, as sacrificial mortaring in the pavement around the Great bath.)
 
Natural Dye Experiments
The module concluded with the presentation of my work in the Textile Design Degree Show at Bath School of Art and Design in June 2014, where I created a gallery space, that combined aspects of research and design.

Final Degree Show

Samples from Final Degree Show
To see more of my textile design work and/or my ancient textile research, you can find me on my blog: Christopherleedesigns.wordpress.com




I

Monday, 25 August 2014

Money Mondays: Septimius Severus coins

Beyond the most familiar use, can you imagine in which way can a coin be used? It can be used, for example, to illustrate history.

During the Roman Empire coins were a means of propaganda and celebration of dynasties as well. Roman Emperors had always used coins to promote themselves, representing their victories and their relatives also through symbolism.

For my Money Monday handling table I chose to use coins from the Beau Street Hoard to look at Lucius Septimius Severus  who achieved several victories during his reign. One of the most important ones was against the Parthian Empire, the archenemy of the Roman Empire for centuries. This achievement was so important for the Empire and for Severus' dynasty that, in order to celebrate this big happening, a monumental triumphal arch was built in the Roman Forum in Rome and several celebratory coins were minted all over the Empire. Some of these represented the Parthian victory and the greatness of Roman Empire containing some well-known symbols to deliver the message.


The Winged Victory

The Nike (the winged Victory) symbolized the good result in a war or campaign as well as some Goddesses such as Minerva which was the Goddess of Strategy.



Minerva, the Goddess of strategy


Severus was one of the Roman Emperors declared by the army. This element of his personal story is also present in the coinage of his age. The number of coins minted under his reign was increased because of some reforms to improve the military life. In fact, he promised to his loyal legions an increase in salary and a better quality of life. For this reason  a greater production of coins was needed. The symbolism related to the army was on several of these coins.



Eagle with open wings, symbol of Roman Army

Another key-element of coinage of Severus was his desire to make and promote his imperial dynasty as one of the most ancient ones. He celebrated his sons, Geta and Caracalla, and his second wife, Julia Domna.

Julia Domna, as a Roman woman and an Emperor’s wife, was represented as Roman Goddesses such as Venus, Juno, and Diana, but also as Pietas and Pudicitia, the deifications of important values such as chastity and respect for gods, nation and family.


Julia Domna as Pudicitia

Coins can be read as a book focusing on someone’s life, where the obverse is the title and the reverse is the chapter, condensed in one meaningful and allegoric image.

 Eufemia Iannetti (MA Leicester)