The Romans in Britannia
Summer Quarter 2006
The Romans invaded and over took many lands during the rise of their empire. The goals when they conquered the lands was to gain more land and natural resources, although the lands they conquered were very different. It is important to note that although the Romans changed and altered societies in the lands they conquered they still allowed most of them to keep a certain amount of tradition.
The purpose of
this paper is to examine the development of Roman Baths in
Pre Roman Britannia
To understand what
advancements the Romans brought to
In 4000 BC, things started to change dramatically. People began to domesticate animals and grow crops. “The earliest features we see of this time are known as causewayed camp’s, so called because the ditches which surrounded them are not continuous but crossed by causeways” (Westwood 2). It is likely that immigrants from the continent initiated these changes. “One of the results of this change of lifestyle was that, although still hard, it did leave people with time to spare. Thus we begin to see monuments; burial barrows (see picture 1), hedge monuments and other ceremonial structures” (Westwood 4). The Bronze Age begins around 2000 BC. During this age, metal artifacts begun to be used. The Bronze Age and each following century brought continual social changes, rise in population, and changes in politics and religious practices. “The earliest known settlement in Dorset took place around Chesil Beach and it was from Chesil Beach that ancient Britons collected pebbles for ammunition to use against the invading Romans” (Westwood 3).
Roman Invasion of
At the time of the
Roman invasion, many different tribes inhabited Iron Age
attempted invasions by the Romans were in 55 AD and 54 AD, by Julius
Caesar. The night of
The next attempt
was in July of 54 AD, again Julius Caesar landed with 50,000 troops and 2,000
cavalry; however, this time they landed with no resistance. After some successful battles and being able
to cross the
Caesar’s time in
The Celts lived in well organized societies with strict laws. Most of the population lived in scattered, isolated farming communities with granaries, storage pits, workshops, and animal pens, their villages were surrounded by banks with wattle fencing and a ditch to keep out intruders and marauding wild animals. Their houses were made of wattle and daub with thatched roof or in the hills dry stone. The villages in the lowlands had earthworks for defensive surrounding while those in the highlands had stone walls. (Watney 2)
The Celts also had relatively advanced bronze and iron technology, and even had goldsmiths. “The women of the tribes spun, wove, and dyed wool to make clothing. Men and women wore jewelry and was very proud of their long hair” (Watney 3).
ordered the third invasion in 43 AD. The
invasion’s success led to 365 years of rule.
Aulus Plautius (see picture 2) was in charge of the invasion and landed
with four legions, numbering some 24,000 men and an equal number of auxiliary troops
in the natural harbor at Richborough on the east coast of
Romans were able to tackle the tribes and their hillforts one by one, without
fear of attack by their victims’ neighbors.
Maybe if the tribes would have fought together, they would have resisted
the Romans invasion, however the Romans did possess superior weapons, military
technology and strategy, and were undoubtedly better-trained (Westwood
18). “At the time of its invasion of
Britain, the Roman army was the most disciplined and efficient killing machine
that the ancient world had ever known, and would remain so for the best part of
400 years” (Watney 6). Even with this
superior army, “it would take another 90 years before the whole of
Once the Romans had conquered a province, the rapid construction of roads was vital to enable garrison troops to move quickly to deal with any uprising. Naturally, the roads were also of huge benefit to trade. Roman roads were cleverly designed but simple to execute. The roads were first surveyed to keep them straight. As shown in figure 1, roadbeds were dug three feet down and twenty-three feet across. The first layer laid down was large gravel and sand. Next, a layer of smaller gravel was placed down and leveled. The sides were lined with blocks and hand-carved stones. Stones were often pentagonal in shape and fitted together to make the top layer of the road. To ensure rainwater would not cover the road it was sloped from the center so rainwater would drain off into ditches at the sides of the roads. Even though the roads were dug twenty-three feet across, the carts (and therefore ruts) were only about eight feet across.
Figure 1 Cross section of a
Romans built towns and roads and local industries grew and flourished. […] In the Isle of Purbeck we see evidence of quarrying for stone, particularly the Portland Stone and Purbeck Marble. These were used for major building works and for decorative purposes. Hard shale at Kimmeridge was extracted, carved, and turned into decorative artifacts and jewelry. (Westwood 21)
Before the Romans
“Roman legions had two tasks: first, subdue conquered territories and then encourage the Romanization and urbanization of the tribal nobility by allowing them to run their own affairs and enjoy Roman standard of living” (Watney 10).
In Durnovaria the
usual trapping of Roman affluence have been found there such as mosaics,
hypocaust (central heating) systems, bath houses and roads. North of Dorchester at Poundbury we can see
the remains of a Roman aqueduct that once brought fresh water nine miles to the
people of Durnovaria. At near by
Maumbury an amphitheater was built capable of searing around 10, 000
people. No doubt, the gladiatorial
spectacles proved popular here just as they did with the citizens of
all other Romano-British towns,
60 AD and the following year, a devastating rebellion broke out in the southern
Construction of the Baths
“Around the Sacred Spring the Romans developed a religious sanctuary and spa, dedicated to Sulis Minerva which was to become famous throughout the Empire. The settlement which grew out of this unification would be called Aquae Sulis: the Waters of Sul” (Green 17). “What remains today is a remarkable sequence of ancient, medieval and later structures that give testimony to the continuous use of hot water here over nearly 2,000 years” (Cunliffe 1).
The nucleus of the
baths and the
The Sacred Spring
The construction of the Roman Baths began around 65 AD with the taming of the great spring. First, the surrounding marshland was drained and the spring enclosed within a watertight lead-lined reservoir wall. Thus harnessed, the hot waters were channeled into a suite of baths, which formed the central attraction of an immense leisure complex. Picture 4 shows the Romans working on building the wall around the Sacred Spring.
The Sacred Spring lies at the very heart of the ancient
monument. “Water rises here at the rate
of over a million litres a day and at a temperature of 460C” (The
Roman Baths). The spring rises within
the courtyard of the
“Isolated from the hustle and bustle of the bathing establishments crowd, the spring would have retrieved its primeval quietude, broken only by the echoes of the bubbling waters and hushed voices of pilgrims come to seek an audience with the goddess Sulis Minerva” (Green 19 ).
The spring was the point at which our world could communicate with the god. Most people who went asking for guidance or intervention by the goddess and after their prayers would be answered; they would leave money or tokens of appreciation to the goddess. Since excavation has begun about 12,000 Roman coins spanning the entire periods 1- 114th Century AD have been found. Women also gave combs, jewelry, brooches, bracelets, and other trinkets. Picture 5 is of the Sacred Spring taken August of this year.
“More fascinating, for what they reveal about everyday life in Roman Baths, are small scrolls of pewter and lead on which were inscribed messages to the goddess, many of them asking her to avenge some grievance or intercede in a family dispute” (Green 19). Some examples of these curses are “may he who carried off Vilbia from me become liquid as the water, May she who so obscenely devoured her become dumb […]. [Another one found read] Dodimedis has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and eyes in the temple where she appoint” (Green 19). So far, there has been 130 found written in Celtic, Latin, and cursive. The person placing the curse did not always know who exactly did them wrong, but they were able to provide a list of suspects. It was thought that if the culprit were named, the goddess would know and could then complete the curse (Cunliffe 20).
The temple became
the centre of a cult to Minerva with its own priest, the only such one in
As seen in picture 6 the
This room would have been dimly lit without windows, with the only light coming through the doorway and from the eternal flame. The eternal flame was attended to by priests and continuously burned before the statue of Minerva.
In the late second
century, the Sacred Spring was roofed over to create a far more mysterious
atmosphere – much like stepping into a vast, steaming cavern, its walls
suffused with a rippling greenish light (Green 18-19). At about the same time the
paved colonnaded courtyard surrounding the temple contained many other
religious and ceremonial buildings commemorating a pantheon of gods. Below the temple stood a sacrificial alter
bearing carvings of traditional Roman gods such as Bacchus, Jupiter and Apollo,
at either side of which were shrines dedicated to Sol, god of the sun, and to
Luna, the moon goddess (Green 21).
Picture 7 is an example of how the courtyard could have looked on any
given day the large sacrificial altar can be seen in front of the entrance to
modern religious ceremonies, Roman religious ceremonies usually took place
outside, around the large sacrificial altar in front of the
The Great Bath was the centrepiece of the Roman-bathing establishment. It was fed with hot water directly from the Sacred Spring and provided an opportunity to enjoy a luxurious warm swim. “The bath is lined with 45 thick sheets of lead and is 1.6 metres deep. Access is by four steep steps that surround the bath” (The Roman Baths).
“The Great Bath once stood in an enormous barrel-vaulted hall that rose to a height of 40 metres. For many Roman visitors this may have been the largest building they had ever entered in their life” (The Roman Baths). Niches around the baths would have held benches for bathers and possibly small tables for drinks or snacks.
Day at the Baths
Although families visited the baths, they could not bathe together. “Roman men and women did not take baths together, not even husbands and wives. Women usually went to the baths in the mornings, while most men were at work. Men went to the baths in the afternoon” (Macdonald 25). During a normal day, the baths would have been a:
noisy, exuberant place with: the richly frescoed walls of the Great Bath echoing to the sounds of diving and splashing; the slapping and pummeling of masseurs at work in the adjacent massage rooms; the puffing and grunting of weight-lifters showing off their physical form and prowess in exercise rooms; the exhilarated cries of patrons emerging from the intense heat of sauna into the cold plunge bath. In corridors and passageways, there would have been joke-telling and laughter; the hushed tones of some slanderous gossip shared; perhaps the occasional groan of the ageing legionary slowly lowering immersing himself in the warm bath in hope of easing the discomfort of rheumatism. There were quieter rooms too, for the conducting of business transactions and playing board games, and rooms for the essential rituals of daily bathing which were such vital part of the Roman way of life. (Green 20)
Even though the baths were a place for
cleanliness and relaxation there, was more to them then just jumping into the
water and washing up. In fact, there
were five separate stages to taking a bath Roman-style. “After changing, bathers went into a very hot
room, which was full of steam where they sat for a while. Then they went into a hot, dry room, where a
slave removed all the sweat and dirt from their skin, using a metal scraper and
olive oil. To cool off, they went for a
swim in a tepid pool. Finally, they
jumped into a bracing cold pool” (Macdonald 25). Picture 10 is an aerial view of what the
bathing complex at
Where did the water come from?
So far, we have
The water we are
watching now was rain falling on the Mendips.
It percolated down through the carboniferous limestone deep into the
earth where, between 2700-4300 m, natural heat raised the temperature to 64-96
[degree] C. The heated water then rose
along fissures and faults through the limestone to the surface but lay trapped
beneath impermeable layers of Lias clay until a fault could give access to the
surface. The fault lies beneath
Analysis of the water’s mineral content has revealed the different kinds of rock through which it has passed. “There are forty-three minerals in the water; calcium and sulphate are the main dissolved ions; with sodium and chloride also important. The water is low in dissolved metals except for iron which causes the orange staining” (Cunliffe 2).
Figure 2 shows the rain falling on the Mendips hills, then soaking into the carboniferous lime stones, then traveling underground toward the fault lines and then finally resurfacing near the River Avon, which runs through the city of Bath. Although it is a small diagram, it does show the distance and rocks the water traveled through during its very long journey.
First case of healing
Now that we know
where the water came from it is important to understand the reason the Romans
and Celts thought the water from the springs had healing power. The first documented story of the healing
power of the springs in
The young Prince Bladud [shown in picture 11] having contracted leprosy on his return journey from a period of study in Athens was confined to a room within the palace of his father, King Hudibras, lest the disease should spread throughout the Royal Court. But the headstrong prince, wearying of his enforced quarantine, escaped and fled the kingdom, taking up employment as a lowly pig farmer. But, after a time the pigs also became infected. So one day he approached the River Avon, herding his pigs down to the bottom of a steep, wooden valley to forage for acorns. As he waited, he noticed a few of them wallowing in a steaming alder swamp not far from the river bank. He was amazed to see that when the pigs emerged from the muddy waters their sores had been healed. Bladud followed their example and found that he too had been healed of his leprosy. The prince was thus able to return to his father’s court. (Green 15)
Although the story has undergone countless revisions and embellishments throughout the many hundreds of years of its existence. The above story is the basic of them all.
As we can see, religion and paying
tribute to their gods was very important to the Romans. We took a brief look at the history of
Clark, John. “The mystery of Bladud.” Bath Past.
Barry. The Roman Baths at
Fiona. 100 things you should know
J. “Prehistory.” Welcome from Dot to
Rush, Ian. “History 260: History of
Baths. Nov. 2002.
Watney, John. Roman