The Roman Baths – Exploring History with Children
Bonus Boy recently had an INSET day when the others did not and we grabbed the opportunity to visit the Roman Baths. Bath is only a 20 minute drive from us and is a regular haunt so it’s a bit shameful that he hadn’t been before when the others had; my children are all fascinated by the past and this bit is right in our back garden!
The Roman Baths are set up well for children visiting with a special children’s audio tour included with your entrance ticket. BB was guided through history by Belator (a Celtic boy) and Apulia (a slave girl from Italy) and it was narrated by Michael Rosen. He loved finding the audio guide numbers on walls and displays as we went round and keying them in to his handset. If he felt he hadn’t got enough information out of Belator, Apulia or Michael he keyed in the numbers for the adult’s tour and listened to that too! He came home overflowing with Roman information and very, very happy!
Learning how the Romans lived, little snippets of their everyday lives, caught our imaginations as much as the magnificence of the Baths themselves.
We loved learning about Roman curses, the personal troubles of people from so long ago inscribed onto pieces of lead or pewter by a paid scribe. The Roman, who had had a cloak stolen, cursing the thief and voicing his suspicions to the Goddess Minerva by paying to have the crime, along with a list of possible culprits and his desired revenge upon them, inscribed onto a piece of lead. Once it was done it was folded or rolled up and cast into the spring where it was believed the spirit of the Goddess dwelt.
We gazed long and hard at this piece which is inscribed with the only known words in British Celtic to survive anywhere. It hasn’t been translated and we thought it would be fabulous if we could be the ones who managed it – we didn’t The letters are from the Latin alphabet but cannot be translated – I explained that if there isn’t enough of a language left written down it is very hard to decipher without a key.
We sat and gazed at this fearsome Gorgon’s head which would have glared down from a height of 15 metres at all who approached the Temple, this is a fascinating piece and you can read more about it here
BB was entranced and easily spotted the small owl tucked away on the pediment along with dolphins and Tritons – this was food for thought and has prompted further reading and investigation at home! Once we had passed by the glowering Gorgon we entered the Temple itself and came face to face with the Goddess. It was this find in 1727 which suggested that Bath might be more than just a settlement!
She is a gilt bronze sculpture which is very rare in Britain with only two other fragments being known. You can read more about her here.
Of course it wasn’t all Goddess and Gorgon, we also found out about Roman building techniques and how they had constructed such an incredible set of buildings without the aid of modern machinery. BB investigated pulleys and discovered how much easier it is to lift stone with a double pulley system as opposed to just one.
We also learned how bricks were made and we are planning to have a go at this at home, we just need to make a mould!
Underfloor heating is a regular topic of conversation at home (we own a wooden flooring company, we’re not just weird) so we were fascinated to see how the Romans did it. BB was particularly interested in the room where you had to wear sandals on your feet or get them burnt because the floor would’ve been so hot!
The Romans were clever but also had an army of slaves to ensure things were kept toasty for their toes. The heating system was called a hypocaust and saw floors raised up on piles of tiles so that warm air could move around underneath. Slaves made sure a fire was blazing all the time and the Romans up above could waft about in sandals and togas to their heart’s content.
Learning about military history is always fascinating for small people and the Roman Baths have a skeleton to boot – it made his day!
Finally, we couldn’t resist the pull of the pool full of coins and did what thousands before us have done, over 12 000 Roman coins have been found on the site!
I love the colour and sparkle here and he was very taken with the images of Romans going about their business which were projected onto the walls – bottoms are guaranteed to raise a giggle in a small boy
Once we’d passed out of the Baths and I had survived the shop (not too painful, one small owl!) we decided we ought to eat Italian and headed for Pizza Express, possibly not authentically Roman but it made us happy. Once fed and watered we nipped into Waterstone’s for a browse (yes, of course I bought him a book!) before wandering back along the river to find our car and heading home.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable day with both of us being entertained and interested throughout. I know from experience that the Roman Baths with very small children are hard work but for school age history lovers they are perfect!