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, 19 August 2015

Roman Games of Chance and Skill

 Having just finished my dissertation on the topic of object handling in museums, I was thrilled when the Collections team asked me to design and deliver a Tuesday Times Table by the side of the Great Bath.

At the end of my first week here, I did a handling table for the Festival of Archaeology that involved a mix of touchable objects and objects in boxes. This worked well, but I was left wondering whether it was possible to have an entire group of related objects that were all touchable. As a result, I tried to pick a theme for which all of the items could be handled.

Gaming seemed like a good topic because all of its accoutrements were made of bone, stone, pottery, or robust glass, which made them perfect candidates for handling. However, these objects were not very interesting to look at, so I figured I needed to do something extra to encourage visitors to engage with them. I decided to experiment by allowing people to actually play with these Roman gaming counters. And, happily, Susan and Verity let me do it.
This meant that my handling table involved the usual sort of handling for several objects, such as Roman dice, knucklebones, and some decorative counters, while the experimental portion consisted of two laminated boards and twenty Roman gaming counters with which to play terni lapilli, which is essentially Roman Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe, if you’re American like me).
Gaming in Action

Thankfully, my experiment was successful! Visitors of all ages enjoyed playing terni lapilli and were consistently surprised by the similarities of Roman and modern games, which was a great outcome for the table. We often make the mistake of imagining ancient people as totally different from ourselves, so it was fun to highlight that, in fact, the Romans played games very similar to the ones we play today, including variations on checkers, backgammon, and noughts and crosses.

Games provide a fascinating glimpse into Roman life because they were played by everyone – soldiers, civilians, adults, and children – and in many different places – homes, pubs, soldiers’ barracks, and bathing complexes. At Tuesday’s Times Table, visitors played one of these games in the baths, just like Romans would have done almost 2,000 years ago! 

If you are interested in finding out more about Roman games, see our blog post called “Roman board games at the Baths” http://bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/nicola-002board-games.html, written by intern Nicola Pullan in 2013.

Tory Wooley, Collections Placement Student

Monday, 17 August 2015

Roman Food

Everyone loves to know what the Romans ate, but do people really know where the Romans’ food came from?  For my Tuesday Times Table, I decided to focus on Roman butchery and hunting practices therefore many of my handling objects were in fact the excess or ‘off cuts’ of Roman food products.

The table layout itself followed the basic process of Roman food production, from hunting depictions on samian pottery, through butchered bone and marine products and then concluded with Roman cookware.

The three pieces of samian were excavated during the Spa excavations (1998) and on all of them are images of hunting. The first dates to AD 80-110 and originates from Southern Gaul (modern day France), and features the rear of a boar. The second piece is from Central Gaul, and dates to AD 125-150, and depicts an image of a panther being attacked by a hunter. The third piece is also from Central Gaul and dates to AD 160-190, and has two deer running towards the right. The interesting thing about these pieces of samian is that two of them (the boar and the deer) depict images of species eaten by the Romans, but the panther sherd shows an animal not indigenous to the UK, especially Aquae Sulis (Roman Bath) and therefore shows  that hunting was a recreational sport, rather than a necessity to produce food.

The butchered animal bone was next on the table. It featured bone from cow (Bos), pig (Sus), sheep (Ovis) and rabbit (Lepus). The majority of the bone shown was from the Spa excavations, and then I also chose three cow bones, a cervical vertebra, a knuckle bone and a long bone, from the Hat and Feather site excavation Bath, of 1992. Almost all of the bone showed evidence of ‘chop’ marks on the distal and proximal ends of the bone, which take the form of a deep ‘V’ shape, suggesting that the bone was cut for butchery purposes with a cleaver or large knife, due to the location of the cut. However one piece of cow long bone and been ‘carved’ parallel to the bone, and this would suggest evidence for the consumption of bone marrow in Aquae Sulis.

The evidence of seafood at the Spa site was extremely high. A multitude of mussel and oyster shells were found, probably originating from the South-East coast of England, along with 257 remains of fish bone, both freshwater and marine. This interestingly suggests the evidence for trade, not only across England, but also across the Mediterranean. It is likely that these marine fish (mainly sea bass) were transported in large amphorae (a large jar with handles) from different areas of the Roman Empire.  Snail shells were also found in abundance from the site, and the combination of all of these food types suggests that Roman delicacies were not too different to those we eat today.

I also wanted to display evidence for Roman cookware to allow the public to gain a concept of the process of Roman food products. From the Spa site was found a white flagon sherd with a rimmed neck, that would have held wine; a strainer spout, that would have been used to strain either food or infused drinks and a sherd of mortarium (used for grinding and mixing herbs) in which all of its stone inclusions had been worn down, creating a smooth surface, clearly showing evidence of high usage in the period. I thought that it was also useful to display a replica samian ware bowl and replica mortarium in which people could try grinding and crushing rosemary and black pepper corns in the same way that it was required to for nearly every Roman meal.

This Tuesday Times Table allowed me to research a topic that I had not encountered previously, and also meant that I was able to give a flavour of Roman lifestyle and food preparation that is not commonly thought about by many.

Ellen Wood

Roman Society Placement and student at the University of Reading studying Archaeology and Ancient  History.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Romans in Radstock

Last year the Beau Street Hoard came to Radstock museum in the form of a Roadshow.  This event proved to be so successful that last month Radstock asked the Roman Baths collection team to bring the coins back, this time as a temporary display. It would be during the village’s ‘Radstock in Bloom,’ this year’s theme being ‘Romans in Radstock.’
Unbelievably, Susan and Verity asked me to put this display together. I was over the moon when asked if I wanted to do it, for display design is something I want to do in the future. Immediately I began brainstorming and researching different subjects and approaches for this exhibit. I had to consider what would catch the public’s interest, show them that this collection was not just ‘a bunch of old coins’ but something fascinating and historically important.

Eventually I settled upon focusing on the coin reverses and their connotations. This idea was spurred by my interest in the reverses for the Roman women on the coins. All of them (except for Otacilia and her hippo) were paired with a symbol or deity that promoted their character. I noticed this when cataloguing Herennia Etruscilla’s coins: On many is the image of Pudicitia, the female version of Roman Virtus. There are no English equivalents for either word, but in short Virtus was the ideal roman male while Pudicitia was the ideal roman female, staying out of trouble and remaining loyal to her husband. Looking at the other ladies, all their coins followed the same idea. Salonina’s coin depicted Juno, the Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage. Thus her character and status as Empress were upheld by associating herself with the world’s most loyal wife and most powerful goddess.
I then moved on to study the Emperors’ coins. Like the ladies their coins served to promote their image, but unlike the ladies they covered far more different stances. Elagabalus had the military standards and an eagle on his coins, showing him as a strong emperor who would continue Rome’s legacy of glory and conquest. Hostilian compared himself to the war god Mars, a strong favourite of Rome, embodying the perfect Roman soldier. Severus Alexander even had Annona, the representation of the grain supply to Rome, in an attempt to depict himself as a competent ruler who would sustain a prosperous Rome.
Before working on this display my knowledge about these coins was very limited. That is not to say I became a coin know-it-all overnight, but researching and having hands-on experience really gave me an in-depth chance at learning more about these ancient windows to the past.

Flora,   Collections Placement

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

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. 


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