Aquae Sulis

For the Roman Baths complex at Aquae Sulis, see Roman Baths (Bath).

Aquae Sulis was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia. Today it is the English city of Bath, Somerset.

Roman Baths in Bath Spa, England - July 2006
The Great Bath. Everything above the level of the pillar bases is of a later date.


Baths and temple complex

Model of the Roman baths and temple complex

The Romans probably began building a formal temple complex at Aquae Sulis in the AD 60s. The Romans had probably arrived in the area shortly after their arrival in Britain in AD 43 and there is evidence that their military road, the Fosse Way, crossed the river Avon at Bath. An early Roman military presence has been found just to the North-East of the bath complex in the Walcot area of modern Bath.[1] Not far from the crossing point of their road, they would have been attracted by the large natural hot spring which had been a shrine of the Celtic Brythons, dedicated to their goddess Sulis. This spring is a natural mineral spring found in the valley of the Avon River in Southwest England, it is the only spring in Britain officially designated as hot. The name is Latin for "the waters of Sulis." The Romans identified the goddess with their goddess Minerva and encouraged her worship. The similarities between Minerva and Sulis helped the Celts adapt to Roman culture. The spring was built up into a major Roman Baths complex associated with an adjoining temple. About 130 messages to Sulis scratched onto lead curse tablets (defixiones) have been recovered from the Sacred Spring by archaeologists.[2] Most of them were written in Latin, although one discovered was in Brythonic, and usually laid curses upon those whom the writer felt had done them wrong. This collection is the most important found in Britain.

The Brythonic curse recovered on a metal pendant is the only sentence in the language that has been discovered.[3] It reads:

Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai or maybe Adixoui Deiana Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamiun ai

The affixed – Deuina, Deieda, Andagin, (and) Uindiorix – I have bound[4]

An alternative translation based on a much better knowledge of the Celtic languages is the following:

May I, Windiorix for/at Cuamena defeat (alt. summon to justice) the worthless woman, oh divine Deieda.[5]

(Alt. Divine Deiada, may I, Windiorix, bring to justice/defeat (in court) the woman at Cuamena.)

This is a superior, though still uncertain, translation in that it takes into account the nominal cases of the nouns:

Windiorix (alt. Windorix) - nominative masculine (subject), lit. "fair-headed" (windo) "king" (rix); Dewina Deieda - nominative/vocative feminine "divine Deieda" (deiada "goddess"); Andagin - accusative feminine "woman"; "Cuamenai - locative/dative feminine of Cuamena

Walled town

Roman Baths, Bath - Sea Horse Mosaic
Hippocamp, the main figure in a section of mosaic floor from the Roman Baths

It was the religious settlement, rather than the road junction further north, which was given defensive stone walls, probably in the 3rd century. The area within - of approximately 23 acres (9.3 ha)[6] - was largely open ground, but soon began to be filled in. There is some dispute as to whether these new buildings were private dwellings or were associated with servicing the pilgrims to the temple. There was also a ribbon development along the northern road outside the walls and cemeteries beyond.[7]


From the later 3rd century on, the Western Roman Empire and its urban life declined. However, while the great suite of baths fell into disrepair, some use of the hot springs continued. After the end of Roman rule in Britain around AD 410, some residents seem to have remained, but violence seems to have taken root for, in the 440s, a young girl's severed head was thrust into an oven in Abbeygate Street.[8] As far back as Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Arthurian Battle of Mons Badonicus (c. 500) has been suggested to have taken place near Aquae Sulis.[9]

Medieval legend

In medieval times, the Roman temple at Bath was incorporated into British legend. The thermal springs at Bath were said to have been dedicated to Minerva by the legendary King Bladud and the temple there endowed with an eternal flame.[10]

An 8th century poem in Old English, The Ruin, describing the ruinous changes that had overtaken a Roman hot-water spring, is assumed to be a reference to Aquae Sulis. The poem was copied in the Exeter Book for transmission to future generations.


Bath bains gorgone
The Gorgon at Roman Baths Museum

Rediscovered from the 18th century onward, the city's Roman remains have become one of the city's main attractions. They may be viewed almost exclusively at the Roman Baths Museum, which houses:

  • Artefacts recovered from the Baths and the Roman town. There is a fine collection of stone sculptures.
  • Excavated remains of the main temple courtyard.
  • The Roman Baths themselves, though some lie below 18th century stonework. Of particular note is the original Roman Great Bath still lead-lined and fed by the sacred spring through Roman lead pipes.
  • A hoard of 30,000 silver coins, one of the largest discovered in Britain, was unearthed in an archaeological dig in 2012. The coins, believed to date from the 3rd century, were found not far away from the Roman baths.[11]


  1. ^ Cunliffe, Barry (1986). The City of Bath. Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd. pp. 16–21. ISBN 0-86299-297-4.
  2. ^ Gager, John G., ed. (1999). Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. Oxford University Press USA. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-19-513482-7.
  3. ^ Tomlin, R.S.O. (1987). "Was ancient British Celtic ever a written language? Two texts from Roman Bath". Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies. 34: 18–25.
  4. ^ Mees, Bernard (2009). Celtic Curses. Boydell & Brewer. p. 35.
  5. ^ Sims-Williams, Patrick (2007). "Common Celtic, Gallo-Brittonic, and Insular Celtic" in Gauloise et celtique continental, P-Y Lambert, G-J Pinault, eds. Droz. p. 327.
  6. ^ Mayor of Bath Roman Bath
  7. ^ Burnham, Barry C; Wacher, John (1990). The Small Towns of Roman Britain. London: B T Batsford.
  8. ^ Britannia Articles: Nennius' Twenty-Eight British Cities
  9. ^ Mount Badon/Mons Badonicus
  10. ^ Geoffrey of Monmouth. Historia Regum Britanniae, II:10.
  11. ^ Hough, Andrew (22 March 2012). "Hoard of 30,000 silver Roman coins discovered in Bath". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 May 2015.

External links

Akeman Street

Akeman Street was a major Roman road in England that linked Watling Street with the Fosse Way. Its junction with Watling Street was just north of Verulamium (near modern St Albans) and that with the Fosse Way was at Corinium Dobunnorum (now Cirencester). Evidence suggests that the route may well have been an older track, metalled and reorganised by the Romans. Its course passes through towns and villages including Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Aylesbury, Alchester (outside modern Bicester), Chesterton, Kirtlington, Ramsden and Asthall. Parts of the A41 road between Berkhamsted and Bicester use the course of the former Roman road, as did the Sparrows Herne turnpike between Berkhamsted and Aylesbury. A minor road between Chesterton and Kirtlington also uses its course. Other parts are in use as public footpaths, including a 6-mile (9.7 km) stretch between Tackley and Stonesfield that is part of the Oxfordshire Way.

The origins of the road's name are uncertain but certainly date back to the Early Middle Ages. Some have suggested that "Akeman" derives from the Anglo-Saxon words for "oak-man". Others have suggested a connection with Bath, which the Anglo-Saxons called Acemannesceastre (Acemannes apparently being derived from the Roman name Aquae Sulis). It is unclear how this might have become associated with the road, but one possibility is that the name was originally used for the longer stretch of road from Bath.The name "Akeman Street" is also given to the Roman road that ran from Ermine Street near Wimpole Hall northeast to the settlement at Durolipons (Cambridge), where it crossed the Roman road known as the Via Devana. Within north Cambridge, the road followed the present-day Stretten Avenue, Carlton Way and Mere Way running northeast past Landbeach before joining the present A10 and on towards Ely and The Fens. It then reached Denver and the coast at Brancaster.

Battle of Deorham

The Battle of Deorham (or Dyrham) was a decisive military encounter between the West Saxons and the Britons of the West Country in 577. The battle, which was a major victory for the Wessex forces led by Ceawlin and his son, Cuthwine, resulted in the capture of the Brythonic cities of Glevum (Gloucester), Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) and Aquae Sulis (Bath). It also led to the permanent cultural and ethnic separation of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) from Wales.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the only source that mentions the Battle of Deorham. Although it gives few details, it describes the battle as a major engagement. It was fought at Hinton Hill near Dyrham in South Gloucestershire.

Beau Street Hoard

The Beau Street Hoard, found in Bath, Somerset, is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain and the largest ever discovered in a British Roman town. It consists of an estimated 17,500 silver Roman coins dating from between 32 BC and 274 AD. The hoard was found on Beau Street about 150 metres (490 ft) from the town's Roman Baths, built when Bath was a Roman colony known as Aquae Sulis.

Cambridge Latin Course

The Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) is a series of textbooks published by Cambridge University Press, used to teach Latin to secondary school students. First published in 1970, the series is now in its fifth edition, and has sold over 3.5 million copies. It has reached high status in the UK, being the most successful Latin course in the country and used by 85% of Latin-teaching schools.

Capitoline Triad

The Capitoline Triad was a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion in an elaborate temple on Rome's Capitoline Hill (Latin Capitolium). It comprised Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The triad held a central place in the public religion of Rome.

Celtic animism

According to classical sources, the ancient Celts were animists. They honoured the forces of nature, saw the world as inhabited by many spirits, and saw the Divine manifesting in aspects of the natural world.

Crick, Monmouthshire

Crick (Welsh: Crug) is a small village or hamlet in the Welsh county of Monmouthshire, United Kingdom. It is located on the A48 road 1 mile north of the town of Caldicot and 1 mile east of Caerwent.

Devil's Highway (Roman Britain)

The Devil's Highway was a Roman road in Britain connecting Londinium (London) to Pontes (Staines) and then Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester). The road was the principal route to the west of Britain during the Roman period but was replaced by other routes after the demise of Roman Britain. The bridges at Pontes probably crossed Church Island. At Calleva, the road split into three routes continuing west: the Port Way to Sorviodunum (Old Sarum), Ermin Way to Glevum (Gloucester), and the road to Aquae Sulis (Bath). Its name probably derives from later ignorance of its origin and history, having been replaced for travellers by other roads nearby such as Nine Mile Ride, which runs parallel to the Roman road about a mile away but at a lower height.


Dyrham is a village and parish in South Gloucestershire, England.

Feltham Urban District

Feltham was an urban district in the former county of Middlesex, England from 1904 to 1965.

It was the main civic body covering the overlapping civil (and almost identical ecclesiastical) parish of Feltham. The area had before 1904 been part of the Staines Rural District created in 1895 and, in turn, its sanitary district forebear. In 1930, the parent district was abolished so two similar-sized parishes: East Bedfont (including its tall-hat-shaped Hatton northern part) and Hanworth to the south-west were added.

Feltham U.D. was abolished under the London Government Act 1963, in 1965, to form part the south-west of the new London Borough of Hounslow in a new county for London.

Fosse Way

The Fosse Way was a Roman road in England that linked Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) in South West England to Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) in Lincolnshire, via Ilchester (Lindinis), Bath (Aquae Sulis), Cirencester (Corinium) and Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum).

It joined Akeman Street and Ermin Way at Cirencester, crossed Watling Street at Venonis (High Cross) south of Leicester, and joined Ermine Street at Lincoln.

The word Fosse is derived from the Latin fossa, meaning ditch. For the first few decades after the Roman invasion of Britain in CE 43, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain. It is possible that the road began as a defensive ditch that was later filled in and converted into a road, or possibly a defensive ditch ran alongside the road for at least some of its length.It is remarkable for its extremely direct route: from Lincoln to Ilchester in Somerset, a distance of 182 miles (293 km), it is never more than 6 miles (10 km) from a straight line.

Here Lies Arthur

Here Lies Arthur is a young-adult novel by Philip Reeve, published by Scholastic in 2007. Set in fifth or sixth century Britain and the Anglo-Saxon invasion, it features a girl who participates in the deliberate construction of legendary King Arthur during the man's lifetime, orchestrated by a bard. Reeve calls it a back-creation: not a genuine historical novel as it is not based on actual specific events; rather it is "back-created" from the legends, giving them a "realistic" origin.Reeve won the annual Carnegie Medal, recognising the year's best children's book published in the UKScholastic published the first US edition in November 2008.

Hippocampus (mythology)

The hippocampus or hippocamp, also hippokampoi (plural: hippocampi or hippocamps; Greek: ἱππόκαμπος, from ἵππος, "horse" and κάμπος, "sea monster"), often called a sea-horse in English, is a mythological creature shared by Phoenician, Etruscan, and Greek mythology, though its name has a Greek origin. The hippocampus has typically been depicted as having the upper body of a horse with the lower body of a fish.

Legio II Adiutrix

Legio secunda adiutrix ("Rescuer Second Legion"), was a legion of the Imperial Roman army founded in AD 70 by the emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79), originally composed of Roman navy marines of the classis Ravennatis. There are still records of II Adiutrix in the Rhine border in the beginning of the 4th century. The legion's symbols were a Capricorn and Pegasus.

Lucius Marcius Memor

Lucius Marcius Memor was a Roman haruspex who made a dedicatory offering at the shrine of Aquae Sulis, now Bath, England. Memor's altar can still be seen at the archaeological site of Bath. Its text reads "Deae Suli • Lucius Marcius Memor, Haruspex, D[ono] D[edit]" ("To the goddess Sulis, Lucius Marcius Memor, Haruspex, gave this as a gift"). Memor hailed from northern Italy.The historical Memor is used as the basis for a character in the Cambridge Latin Course published by Cambridge University Press.

Roman road from Silchester to Bath

The Roman road from Silchester to Bath connected Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) with Aquae Sulis (Bath) via Spinae (Speen), Cunetio and Verlucio (near Sandy Lane). Portions of the original road are extant, while in other places all apparent vestiges are absent from view. The road was a significant route for east-west travel and military logistics in southeast England during the 1st to 5th centuries. During the Middle Ages, the road was used by drovers, as well as by merchants and travelers.

The Skystone

The Skystone is a historical fiction novel written by Jack Whyte, which was first published in 1992. The story is told by a Roman Officer called Publius Varrus, who is an expert blacksmith as well as a soldier. In the early fifth century, amid the violent struggles between the people of Britain and the invading Saxons, Picts and Scots, he and his former General, Caius Britannicus, forge the government and military system that will become known as the Round Table, and initiate a chain of events that will lead to the coronation of the High King known as Arthur.

Viridia (gens)

The gens Viridia was an obscure plebeian family at ancient Rome. Members of this gens are known only from inscriptions, evidently dating to imperial times.


Yeovilton is a village and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Ilchester, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Yeovil, in the South Somerset district. The village has a population of 1,226.The parish includes the village of Podimore (also known as or Puddimore or Milton Podimore) and the hamlets of Speckington and Bridgehampton.

The village is home to the RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) and the associated Fleet Air Arm Museum.

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