GCSE trip to the Roman Baths

London F36

In December, the History department took the IGCSE and the Year 10 History classes on a trip to Bath to see the Roman bath complex and the museum.

Before the Roman invasion, the Celts built a shrine to the goddess Sulis at the site of the hot springs. The Romans, however, constructed a temple to the goddess around 60 to 70 AD and then the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years or so.

The site of the main outdoor bath is very impressive. The water is a striking shade of green and hot steam arises from the surface of the water. The water which you can see on a visit to Bath today fell on the Mendip hills hundreds of years ago. It seeps down through limestone aquifers and is heated to between 69 and 96 degrees Celsius. The springs pour out 1,170, 000 litres of water per day.

The museum about the Roman occupation and the baths is very informative and aims to give the visitor an insight into daily life in Roman Bath. The museum displays archaeological finds from the Roman period including a beautiful head of the goddess Sulis. There are fascinating videos showing how the Romans carved artefacts out of wood and how they made hollow bricks to build the domed ceiling of the baths. The Romans were excellent engineers and developed a system of underfloor heating which must have been especially welcome in the often cold and damp British weather. They did not think much of the British, however and one document refers to them as ‘Britunculi’ a diminutive form which means ‘wretched little Britons’.

There are many fascinating exhibits in the museum including coins from the Roman period and ‘curse tablets.’ These curse tablets were curses written on to small lead sheets and then thrown in to the water. The person who wrote them would ask the gods to punish whoever had wronged them and often helpfully listed a number of suspects.

The students particularly enjoyed talking to the characters who were in costume. These were based on real people who lived and worked at Aquae Sulis 2000 years ago and whose lives were reconstructed from the evidence found at the site. The evidence reveals a diverse and multi-cultural society with people from all over the empire.

The baths would have been a noisy, busy place 2000 years ago. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, describes the baths like this: ‘If you want to study, quiet is not nearly as necessary as you might think. Here I am, surrounded by all kinds of noise (my lodgings overlook a bath-house). Conjure up in your imagination all the sounds that make one hate one's ears. I hear the grunts of musclemen exercising and jerking those heavy weights around; they are working hard, or pretending to. I hear their sharp hissing when they release their pent breath. If there happens to be a lazy fellow content with a simple massage I hear the slap of hand on shoulder; you can tell whether it's hitting a flat or a hollow. If a ball-player comes up and starts calling out his score, I'm done for. Add to this the racket of a cocky bastard, a thief caught in the act, and a fellow who likes the sound of his own voice in the bath, plus those who plunge into the pool with a huge splash of water. Besides those who just have loud voices, imagine the skinny armpit-hair plucker whose cries are shrill so as to draw people's attention and never stop except when he's doing his job and making someone else shriek for him. Now add the mingled cries of the drink peddler and the sellers of sausages, pastries, and hot fare, each hawking his own wares with his own particular peal. ...'

All the students enjoyed the day and learned a lot about Roman history and society. 

Eileen Ryan

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