romans in bath

The impact of the Romans in Bath

This text on the Romans in Bath was written by Arthur Leslie Salmon in 1900. The book was called “Bath and Wells” is in the public domain and can be found here

Bath can claim a high lineage, with much pomp and circumstance of event. It may even link itself with the fate of
old Troy; for Bladud, its mythical prince, was a descendant of the Trojan Brutus, who is supposed to have landed at Totnes, extirpated the West Country giants, and established his dynasty in the newly-named Britain. That Bladud was a leper who cured himself by imitating the pigs that he saw washing themselves in Bath waters, belongs to the fairy tales of history, things which we neither assert nor positively deny; but it is interesting to lay some stress on two very
modern features in his story — his cure by means of waters now stated to be radio-active, and his deathby an attempt at flying, more than two thousand years too early.

In English records it is usually thought sufficient to begin with the Romans; yet Bath was probably a place of some antiquity when the Romans came and discovered for themselves the value of its springs — a value, by the way, that is supposed to come from the eastern Mendips, whose drainage reaches the  spot by percolation through a depth at which the water becomes heated. Physically, the Romans were a very clean people, especially in the late years when they
were slowly losing their virility; and the luxurious elaboration of the bathing remains as a model or a warning.

It was in 1877 that excavations began which resulted in the revealing of these baths to their full extent. The chief or Great Bath is rectangular, 73 feet by 29J, the water being about seven feet in depth, surrounded with dressing-rooms and steps; its floor is coated with heavy sheets of lead, on concrete and masonry. The gallery with its piers has been restored,
not perhaps very happily, but the more ancient work can easily be recognized.

romans in bathArticles found among the ruins may be seen in the Pump room; other Roman remains are plentiful at the museum close by. Adjoining the larger bath is a fine circular bath; in addition to this and several others there were vapour and hotair chambers. It may almost be said that what the Romans did not know about bathing is not worth knowing, even if they were not our masters in this as in some other respects.

They reached Bath by important roads from Cirencester on the north, Silchester and Marlborough on the east, and Exeter on the southwest; and from Bath they had a road, apparently crossing the Severn at Aust, leading to Caerwent and
Caerleon. Some of these roads are probably pre Roman.

You can still find the legacy of the Romans in Bath

When we turn into the Abbey Churchyard to reach the Pump-room, it is interesting to remember that weare on the site of the old Roman forum, though the pavement of that space lay about twenty feet below the present surface. Bath has literally risen since those days. In the sixteenth century men had forgotten that the Romans used to drink the waters; it was supposed that they only bathed in them, and Dr. Jones, who in 1572 first recommended their internal use, may rightly be regarded as a discoverer.

From that time the waters gradually gained in repute; the room built for their drinkers proved soon too small, and in 1796 the existing Pump-room was erected, with its Pindaric motto. More recent is the fine concert hall with its marble columns and gilded capitals, opening on a gallery that overlooks the great Roman bath. It must be confessed that those responsible achieved a very successful blending of the new with the old; and it is satisfactory that much excellent music can be listened to amidst such surroundings. For those who come here suffering from various ailments there is every accommodation, every possible comfort that their purses
can afford to pay for; but many are attracted now who do not primarily come to “take the waters”, and
for these also there is ample welcome.

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