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Roman Baths Museum, Bath

Updated Tuesday 1st August 2006

One of the best sites to appreciate the impact of the Roman occupation in Britain is the Roman baths at Bath, or Aquae Sulis, as the Romans called it.

Roman baths at Bath Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Although much of what you see at the baths here is in fact Victorian - they chose to reconstruct the pillars and colonnades around the Great Bath - there is still an enormous amount of original Roman material to be seen.

When the Romans arrived at Bath they found a muddy field, with a hot spring bubbling up in the middle. The locals venerated the site, and the Romans quickly saw its potential for healing and religious purposes. They brought their engineering and technological brilliance to bear, and quickly developed the site into a spectacular baths and religious complex, something that would not have been out of place in Italy. Seeing the Baths today, one can only imagine how impressed the local people must have been by the new buildings. And tombstones offer evidence to the popularity of the shrine to visitors from throughout the Roman Empire, some of whom came from Chartres, Metz and Trier in Germany to "take the waters".

AQVAE SULIS, as it was known to the Romans, got its name from the Celtic deity Sulis, who had been worshipped at the spring. As conquerors, the Romans didn't subsume local gods into their own religion, but allowed them to be worshipped in tandem. In this case Minerva was the Roman goddess closest to the local god, so the shrine to Sulis became a shrine to Sulis-Minerva. A huge image of a Gorgon's head was prominently placed on the pediment inside the temple. The image of the Gorgon appears on the shield of Minerva - but in this case it is a Gorgon with a difference: distinctly Celtic in appearance, she has become a he, complete with moustache.

Celtic god Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

The Gorgon's head, and a bronze head of Minerva, together with tombstones, and many other items can be found in the Roman Baths Museum.

More information is available from the Roman Baths Museum website.

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