You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
(left) South Colonnade Entrance to the Baths on Stall Street by Thomas Baldwin (1789); (right) a view of the Great Bath with the Cathedral in the background and a modern statue of Julius Agricola in the foreground
I am surprised that Homer has made no mention of hot springs, when, on the other hand, he has so frequently introduced the mention of warm baths: a circumstance from which we may safely conclude that recourse was not had in his time to mineral waters for their medicinal properties, a thing so universally the case at the present day. Waters impregnated with sulphur are good for the sinews, and aluminous waters are useful for paralysis and similar relaxations of the system. Those, again, which are impregnated with bitumen or nitre, the waters of Cutilia, for example, are drunk as a purgative. Many persons quite pride themselves on enduring the heat of mineral waters for many hours together; a most pernicious practice, however, as they should be used but very little longer than the ordinary bath, after which the bather should be shampooed with cold water, and not leave the bath without being rubbed with oil. (..) There is another mistake, also, of a similar description, made by those who pride themselves upon drinking enormous quantities of these waters.
Pliny - Historia Naturalis - Book XXXI - Remedies derived from the aquatic production - Translation by John Bostock and H.T. Riley
The Great Bath, on the site of the "natatio" (low water swimming pool) of the Roman bath establishment. Another ancient pool is shown in the introductory page
The circumference of Britain is 4875 miles. In this space are many great rivers, and hot springs refined with opulent splendour for the use of mortal men. Minerva is the patroness of these springs. In her shrine, the perpetual fires never whiten into ashes. When they dwindle away, they change into stony globules.
Gaius Julius Solinus - De Mirabilis Mundi - Translation by Arwen Apps - 2011
Solinus wrote a book on the wonders of the world in the early IIIrd century. Actually it was a compilation from texts of other authors. The passage refers to the whole of Britain, but most likely it was based on a description of Aquae Sulis, where a temple to Minerva Sulis was erected at a hot spring.
Nennius, a IXth century Welsh monk, wrote in Historia Brittonum: The third wonder is the Hot Lake, where the Baths of Badon are. (..) It is surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes. If he wants, it will be a cold bath; and if he wants a hot bath, it will be hot.
The excerpt indicates that the hot spring of the baths was still used at Nennius' times. The King's Bath was built, using the lower walls of the Roman building as foundations, in the XIIth century. It provided niches for bathers to sit in, immersed up to their necks in water. In the XVIth century the Queen's Bath was added on the south side of the building.
The Great Bath
The whole Circuit of the way of drinking (is) comprehended, in the Solution of the following Questions, which I shall only here propound.
Question I. Whether the Bath-water ought to be drank Hot, or Cold?
Quest. II. Whether in a great or little Quantity?
Quest. III. Whether it may be drank at Meals?
Quest. IV. Whether Bathing and Drinking may be done on the same day?
Quest. V. Whether Drinking may be in the morning, and Bathing in the evening of the same day?
Quest. VI. Whether the Bath-water ought to be taken many days together, or else some days to Bathe, and others to Drink?
Quest. VII. Whether large Draughts may be taken, or more moderate; and what time is required should be between the Draughts?
Quest. VIII. How many days it is convenient the Bath-water should be drank?
Quest. IX. Whether any Medicines may be usefully taken with the Waters, to further their operation?
Quest. X. What times of the year are most proper to Drink it in?
Quest. XI. Whether the Bath-water may be taken in Winter?
Quest. XII. Whether the Leap-year hath any malign Influence on drinking the Waters?
Quest. XIII. Whether the Waters may be safely used in the Dog-days?
Quest. XIV. Which is first to be done, either Bathing, or Drinking?
Thomas Guidott - A discourse of Bathe, and the hot waters there - 1676
Guidott studied Chemistry and Physics in addition to Medicine. In 1668 he began practising as a doctor at Bath. His book was based on a scientific analysis of the mineral components of the hot springs and of their beneficial effects. Its publication led to the development of the town as a very popular health resort.
Sir Walter wanted to know whether the Crofts travelled with four horses, and whether they were likely to be situated in such a part of Bath as it might suit Miss Elliot and himself to visit in; but had little curiosity beyond.
"How is Mary?" said Elizabeth; and without waiting for an answer, "And pray what brings the Crofts to Bath?"
"They come on the Admiral's account. He is thought to be gouty."
"Gout and decrepitude!" said Sir Walter. "Poor old gentleman."
"Have they any acquaintance here?" asked Elizabeth.
"I do not know; but I can hardly suppose that, at Admiral Croft's time of life, and in his profession, he should not have many acquaintance in such a place as this."
"I suspect," said Sir Walter coolly, "that Admiral Croft will be best known in Bath as the renter of Kellynch Hall. Elizabeth, may we venture to present him and his wife in Laura Place?"
"Oh, no! I think not. Situated as we are with Lady Dalrymple, cousins, we ought to be very careful not to embarrass her with acquaintance she might not approve. If we were not related, it would not signify; but as cousins, she would feel scrupulous as to any proposal of ours. We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level. There are several odd-looking men walking about here, who, I am told, are sailors. The Crofts will associate with them."
Jane Austen - Persuasion - 1818
Gout was known as the disease of the rich because it was (partly) caused by excess drinking and eating, in particular a variety of meats and game including venison, beef, pork, goat, lamb, rabbit, hare, mutton, swans, herons and poultry. Thus Bath attracted rich people who could buy the elegant Georgian townhouses which were built on the hills surrounding the town. In December 1801 George Austen retired to Bath with his family; Jane Austen lived in the town until his father's death in 1805.
The Royal Crescent, a complex of townhouses forming a crescent. It was built in 1767-1774 by John Wood the Younger; the design of the interior of the townhouses was left to the buyers, thus the rear side is not uniform
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which every body discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.
Jane Austen - Northanger Abbey - 1803, but published in 1818
If the stranger should emerge from the Circus in a western direction, the grandest amphitheatre of palaces, the Royal Crescent will suddenly appear before him arranged upon the slope of a hill, and commanding the most extensive view of the city with one of the finest public parks in England immediately at its feet. (..) The practice of associating the two sexes during the operation of public bathing, which prevailed in England as well as in foreign countries down to a very late period, has been a subject of never ending animadversion, until, as in the case of Bath, and I may say almost everywhere else, at present, regulations have been wrung from the authorities to put a stop to it. At the time of my visit the hours and days in the week for the bathing of the one sex were arranged so as not to interfere with that of the other by allotting alternate days to each.
A. B. Granville - The Spas of England and Principal Sea-bathing Places - 1841
"Hypocaust" (heating system) in the Western Baths
Granville gave a detailed description of the facilities available to the patients, but he never mentioned the existence of remains of the Roman baths, which had been already identified when he wrote the book. Today these have become the main attraction for the crowds who visit the town.
The great natatio was placed between two small bath establishments which had hot and cold rooms; they can be seen in the basement of the XVIIIth century building which has been turned into the Roman Baths Museum. The Great Pump Room where the patients used to take the waters is now a coffeeshop where lunches and afternoon teas are served.
We learn from Solinus that the Romans had not only formed the hot springs into elegant baths for general utility and accommodation, but likewise that they had erected a temple near the spot in honour of the goddess Minerva whom they considered as the presiding deity over the springs and on whose altar as in the temple of Vesta at Rome a fire was perpetually burning. (..) Among the antiquities however still preserved in Bath are various remnants sculptural and otherwise which were indubitably connected with the fame of that goddess. The Gorgon shield that embellished the portico of her temple is for the most part remaining together with different fragments of the entablature and other parts.
John Britton - The History and Antiquities of Bath Abbey Church - 1825
Gilt bronze head of Sulis Minerva; it was found in 1727; tiny holes in the hair indicate it was completed by the traditional helmet of the goddess, perhaps a marble one
There is also the head of a female in bronze which John Whitaker (1735-1808 historian) with much probability conceives to be that of Minerva herself and to have belonged to her statue within the temple on an altar to Sulinis Minerva that is the Solar Minerva or Minerva Medica. Britton
This bronze head is believed to have been made by a local sculptor, rather than being imported from other parts of the Empire.
Reliefs from the "Fašade of the Four Seasons", thus named because it is decorated with Cupids holding symbols of the Seasons: (left) architectural details with inscription mentioning "Deae Sulis"; (right) the Moon
The most remarkable and interesting circumstance attending the four inscriptions (..) is that the name of the deity to whom they relate is different from any one hitherto discovered elsewhere. It is clearly DEAE. SVLIS.
Samuel Lysons - Reliquiae Britannico-Romanae - 1813-1817. Lysons wrote also a detailed account of the Roman Villa of Bignor.
Two buildings faced each other in the courtyard of the Temple to Minerva. One of them retains a relief portraying the Moon. It might have been a temple for the treatment of special diseases (see a page on the Asklepion of Pergamum where patients bathed in sacred pools). It was uncovered in the excavations that took place for the construction of the new bath establishment in 1790. The fragments of an inscription indicate that it was built by a guild.
Roman Baths Museum: (left) Tombstone of Julius Vitalis from Belgium of Legio XX Valeria Victrix; (centre) tombstone of Vitellius Tancinus from Caurium, near Caceres in Spain; (right) a boar, a symbol of Legio XX
Aquae Sulis was not a military town, but it retains some tombstones of legionaries. Legio XX Valeria Victrix was one of the four legions with which Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in 43 AD (see the tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis of this legion at Camulodunum (Colchester) and an inscription which shows that the legion was moved to Cumbria in the early IInd century) . Vitellius Tancinus was a cavalryman of Ala Vettonum, an auxiliary regiment which was recruited in Spain. It took part in the conquest of Britain and it was stationed in Southern Wales.
Roman Baths Museum: coins from the Beau Street Hoard; (insets) coin of Emperor Postumus (emperor in Gaul and Britain in 259-274) and reverse of a coin depicting "Fides Militum" (Loyalty of the Soldiers)
But the greatest Argument of Antiquity the Place affords, I suppose to be the Roman Coins found in or near it. Guidott
On removing the rubbish to get at the head of the spring were found many Roman coins of the upper empire, from Nero to the Antonines, chiefly of middle brass. Lysons
In 2008 the collection of Roman coins at the Museum was greatly increased by the finding of a hoard of more than 17,000 silver pieces which were minted over a period of 300 years (ca 30 BC - 270 AD), thus even before the Roman conquest of Britain. Beau Street is only 150 meters from the Roman Baths.
Roman Baths Museum: (above) pewter and silver wares; (below) pewter moulds
The image used as background for this page shows the head of a Roman matron of the late Ist century at the Roman Baths Museum.
Plan of this section:
Aquae Sulis (Bath Spa)
Isca Augusta (Caerleon)
Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester) and nearby Fishbourne Palace
Portus Adurni (Portchester)
Venta Belgarum (Winchester)
Verulamium (St. Albans)
Roman Villas on Vectis (Isle of Wight)
Roman Villa of Lullingstone
Roman Villa of Bignor
Roman Villas in Dorset/Somerset