Bath (Aquae Sulis)

Who You’ll Meet

It is thought that the Celts might have settled around Aquae Sulis anywhere from the fifth to first centuries BCE. The Romans came to Bath in around 44 CE. While Britain was heavily ruled by the Romans there would be very little, if any, military personnel in Bath. In fact, there were very few people at Bath that were not tourists. The staff of the bath and temple were all that were believed to live there. [1] After 577 CE Bath passed into the hands of the Saxons.

Fun Fact: Jeoffrey of Monmouth says that Bath was founded by King Bladud. The story goes that Bladud had contracted leprosy and while in hiding he found work as a swine herd and passed on the disease to the pigs. One day the pigs wandered off and when they returned they were covered in mud, but were cured of their leprosy. He then found the source of the mud and he too was cured. He later founded Bath so that others could benefit from the healing properties of the water.[2]

How You’ll Get There
When traveling from Rome, it can take anywhere from 26 days to 96 depending on the time of year. To get to Bath it takes all kinds of transportation, there is open seas, rivers and many roads to cross in order to make the journey.[3] Once in Britain there would be a road from London to Bath through the southern cities of Britain. Bath is at the junction of that eastern road and the Fosse Way that led Northeast across Britain.[4] Bath would have been used as a Market town to the nearby villas and was the center of the stone industry.

Why You’d Go There
Since the earliest days Bath has been a hot springs believed to have healing properties. Most people would go to Bath for this purpose. It is also believed to have been a way to contact the dieties of the underworld due to its hot temperature of over 120 degrees. There have been thousands of coins found in the spring at Aqua Sulis. This would have been similar to our modern wishing on a coin. Not only have coins been found, but also curse tablets. It was believed that if you wrote a curse and slid it into the waters that the curse would go into effect.[5]

The Gorgon head is unique to this classical temple.

What was Bath like?
In the first century CE Aquae Sulis received a temple to Sulis Minerva and the bath complex began. The temple at Sulis Minerva is one of the only classical style temples in Britain.[6] It had a raised podium with 4 corinthian columns and a decorated pediment. The Pediment is interesting because it has been labeled a Gorgon’s head, as an allusion to Athena (the Greek Minerva) helping Perseus defeat the gorgon Medusa. This “Gorgon” however is male. It is believed that this is a mixing of the Roman and Celtic beliefs, just as Sulis Minvera is.

The baths at Aquae Sulis were started most likely around the time of Agricola’s dominance over Britain in 77 CE. From that time the Baths had several different shapes. In the later years it housed a Great Bath, two tepidariums, two cold baths, a caldarium, and a natatio. No one was allowed to swim in the springs that provided water for the baths, so the water was pumped through lead pipes into the baths. After the fall of the western Roman empire and the withdrawl of military forces in Britain the temple of Sulis Minerva and the Baths of Aquae Sulis fell into disrepair.[7]

Sources
Cunliffe, Barry W. Roman Bath,. London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1969. Print.
Manco, Jean. “Bath Past.” The Mystery of Bladud. N.p., 22 Sept. 1999. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.
Scheidel, W. and Meeks, E. (May 2, 2012). ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Retrieved 28 Apr, 2013, from http://orbis.stanford.edu.
Vermaat, Robert. “Wansdyke West to East.” Wansdyke West to East. Wansdyke Project 21, 1999. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.
“Walkthrough of the Roman Baths.” Walkthrough of the Roman Baths. Bath and North East Somerset Council, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

[1] Cunliffe
[2] Manco
[3] Orbis
[4] Vermaat
[5] Cunliffe
[6] Walkthrough
[7] Cunliffe


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