Aquae Sulis (Bath)
Roman Spa Town and Roman Temple Or Shrine
Aquae Sulis – The Spa Town of Sul [Minerva] Aquae Calidae – The Spa Town of the Hot Springs
The Roman city of Bath was (and still is) known throughout the civilized world, by virtue of it being endowed with an impressive and complex bath-house built around natural hot springs. The baths were dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva, and was one of the most sought-after retirement places in Roman Britain, being surrounded by a plethora of country villas and several temples. The spa town was a major focus in the Roman road system and was also served by the sea-port of Abona (Sea Mills) at the mouth of the River Avon.
Evidence from the Classical Geographies
In the early second century Ptolemy’s Geography attributed three towns to the Belgae tribe of Avon and Hampshire, one of which was named Aquae Calidae or ‘The Spa Town of the Thermal Springs’, which in Britain can be nowhere other than Bath. Aside from Bath, Ptolemy also mentions the cantonal capital Venta (Winchester, Hampshire) and the unknown town Iscalis.
The Antonine Itinerary of the late second century contains an entry in Iter XIV – “an Alternative Route from Caerleon to Silchester” – named Aquis Solis, which again may be undoubtedly equated with Bath. The entry is listed 6 miles from an unidentified station named Traiectus which lies somewhere near Willsbridge in Avon, also 15 miles from Verlucio (Sandy Lane, Wiltshire).
By far the most tentative link is contained in the difficult work, the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century, which, between the unknown towns Aranus and Melezo lists a town named Anicetis (R&C#35). This entry has been identified with Bath due to altarstone Rib 148, the text of which contains the name Anicetus and is shown below.
The name now commonly accepted for Roman Bath is that quoted in the Antonine Itinerary, Aquae Sulis ‘The Spa Town of the goddess Sul‘.
The Roman Military at Aquae Sulis
There are about half a dozen altarstones dedicated to various gods by men from nearly every Roman legion stationed in Britain, and almost an equal number of tombstones recording their earthly remains. There is, however, but a single inscription which mentions a Roman auxiliary regiment, on the tombstone of a retired cavalryman (RIB 159 infra). The presence of these military men here in a thriving Spa-town, where veteran soldiers and retired statesmen would often come to ‘take the waters’, cannot be taken as conclusive evidence that Bath was ever occupied by the Roman military.
The Sixth Legion is mentioned in three inscriptions on stone recovered from Bath, all of them altarstones; one to the Genio Loci or the Local Spirit, (vide RIB 139 infra), and two altars to Sulis herself (RIB 143 & 144) the texts of which are shown below. These latter two altars are very interesting as they were both dedicated to the goddess to ensure the health and well-being of a centurion of the Sixth named Marcus Aufidius Maximus, who bears the traditional three names indicative of Roman citizenship. In traditional usage a citizens last name or cognomen was the name by which he was recognised among his peers, in this instance the praenomen Maximus ‘The Best’, was probably earned during service in the legions and would certainly indicate that this particular centurion was very good at his job. Each stone is dedicated by a freedman of this centurion who keep with ancient Roman tradition by taking the praenomen and gens of their former master, Marcus Aufidius, and retaining their former slave-name as their new cognomen, thus indicating their new standing as Roman citizens by their triple-barrelled names. Under ancient Roman law the grandchildren of these men would be eligable to enter the senatorial class of Rome, the most powerful citizens in the empire, other than the emperor and his family of course.
PRO SALVTE ET
[...] MAR AVFID[...]
[...]AXIMI 𐆛 LEG
V S L M
RIB144 - Altar dedicated to Sulis
[...]RO SALVTE ET
𐆛 LEG VI VIC M
LIBERTVS V S L M
These stones present us with the inescapable scenario of a benevolent centurion who granted at least two of his slaves their freedom on the proviso that they would honour their patron goddess Sulis. They were compelled by their former master’s benevolence to take on his own name as demanded by tradition, which in turn, increased the veteran centurion’s own standing. The manumission of slaves was formally conducted before the decurions or ‘head-honchos’ of the local town council, but the slaves of Marcus Aufidius were treated to another more private ceremony, perhaps conducted within the temple/baths complex of the goddess Sulis herself.
RIB147 - Altar dedicated to Sulis
[...]B S[...] SẠC
[...]M[...]G[...]N LEG II
AVG Ḷ MANIVS
V S L M
RIB156 - Funerary inscription for Julius Vitalis
IS LEG XX V V
VM IX ANOR XX
IX NATIONE BE
LGA EX COLEGIO
S H S E
The Twentieth Legion is represented at Bath only on tombstones, of which there are three; that of a fabriciensis or engineer (RIB 156 supra), of a ‘centurion, horseman and soldier’ (RIB 158 infra), also one of an emeritus or veteran soldier (RIB 160 etiam infra).
RIB158 - Funerary inscription for Marcus Valerius Latinus
M VALERIVS M
FIL LATINVS C EQ
MIL LEG XX AN
XXXV STIPEN XX
H S E
RIB160 - Funerary inscription for Antigonus
NIC EMERITVS EX
LEG XX AN XLV
H S E
G TIBERINVS HERES
RIB157 - Funerary inscription for Gaius Murrius Modestus
G F ARNIENSIS
FORO IVLI MO
DESTVS MIL [...]
EG II AD P F
[.] IVLI SECVNDI
ANN XXV STIP [..]
H S [...]
The Second Legion Adiutrix is represented on a single tombstone, that of a miles or common soldier (RIB 157 supra).
RIB159 - Funerary inscription for Lucius Vitellius Tancinus
NTAI F TANCINVS
CIVES HISP CAVRIESIS
EQ ALAE VETTONVM C R
ANN XXXXVI STIP XXVI
H S E
The only evidence uncovered from Bath which mentions the Roman auxiliary forces is a single tombstone of a trooper from the Ala Vettonum (vide RIB 159 supra). This unit was a five-hundred strong regiment of auxiliary cavalry recruited from among the Vettones tribe who lived on the plain between the rivers Tagus and Durius in central Hispania. Their chief town was Salmantica now known as Salamanca in the southern Castilla y Leon district of central Spain, called Salmatis by Polyaenus.
Religion in Roman Bath
RIB150 - Altar dedicated to Sulis Minerva
V S L M
RIB138 - Dedication to Diana
M SOLVIT VETTIVS B[...]
RIB139 - Altar dedicated to the Genius Loci
[..] IΛ [.] N P
[.] LEG VI [...]
V S L L M
RIB140 - Altar dedicated to Loucetius Mars and Nemetona
V S L M
RIB152 - Altar dedicated to the Virtue and Divinity of the Emperor
GIOSVM PER IN
VIRTVTI ET N
The Sul-Minerva Classical Temple
The podium of the Sul-Minerva temple measured about 4 ft. 2 ins. tall, 30 ft. wide and was approximately 50 ft. long (1.27 x 9.14 x 15.2 m). Set upon this base at the front of the temple there were four columns (tetrastyle) spaced roughly 9 ft. apart and reached by a flight of 7 steps. These columns were about 2 ft. 8 ins. in diameter which points to a column height of about 25 ft. The columns around the side of the temple were ‘engaged’, that is, they were set in contact with the walls of the building. The columns would have supported an achitrave and frieze, but, as none of this architecture has survived the actual height of the feature may only be guessed. Above this, at the front of the temple was a triangular pediment, about 26 ft. wide across the base and 8 ft. tall at the apex, decorated in the centre with the famous “head of medusa” emblem which has survived. the total height of the temple from its base to the apex of the roof is estimated to have been somewhere in the region of 41 ft.
RIB141 - FaÃ§ade of the Four Seasons
The most impressive inscriptions from Roman Bath which form the so-called ‘Sul Minerva Frieze’ (RIB 141a-e infra). This consists of five separate stone panels surrounding the Great Bath, two of which contain identical texts and one of which is completely obliterated. This dual goddess also has two altarstones dedicated to her divinity; separately on one (RIB 150 supra) and shared on another with the Genius Loci or Local Spirit (RIB 146 infra).
… CLAVDIVS LIGVR… … AE NIMIA VETVSTATE …:
“[…] Claudius Ligurius […] the temple for a very long duration […]”
OS National Grid Reference:
“[…] the guild for a long succession of years […] he has administrated the rebuilding and replacement of her property […]”
G PROTACIVS … DEAE SVLIS MINERVAE:
“Gaius Protacius […] to the goddess Sul Minerva“
RIB146 - Altar dedicated to Sulis Minerva and the Divinities of the Emperors
LI MIN ET NV
MIN AVGG G
𐆛 LEG II AVG
PRO SE SV
V S L M
Sulis is celebrated separately (i.e. without association with Minerva) on six altarstones (RIB 143, 144, 145, 147, 149 vide supra et infra), including one dedicated by a Haruspex (RIB 178a supra), presumably of her own cult. There is in addition, another altarstone shared with the god Anicetus (RIB 148 infra) and one more dedicated to the goddess in her triple-form Sulevis (RIB 151 infra).
- Lapidarius means ‘a worker of stone’.
- A son of Hercules by Hebe, also the name of a notorious freedman advisor of the emperor Nero. In this instance it is possible that Anicetus is the last name or cognomen of the Roman dedicator, but see above.
- The name probably refers to the goddess Sul in her triple-form.
Civilian life in a Roman Spa Town
Ironically perhaps, the best concrete indicators of civilian life in many Roman towns are the tombstones of its citizens. The degree of quality and fineness undertaken in the execution of the tombstone obviously has a direct relation to the wealth of the individual, also the stones themselves often bear inscriptions telling of the social situation of the deceased. A selection of the better civilian tombstone inscriptions from Bath listed in the R.I.B. are shown below.
RIB155 - Funerary inscription for Gaius Calpurnius Receptus
DOS DEAE SV
LIS VIX AN LXXV
SA L[...]BERT CONIVNX
RIB161 - Fragmentary funerary inscription
DEC COLONIAÍ¡E GLEV[...]
[...] VIXIÍ¡T AN LXXX ❦ VI[...]
RIB162 - Funerary inscription for Mercatilla
MERC MAGNI L
ALVMNA VIXIT AN I
M VI D XII
RIB163 - Funerary inscription for Rusonia Aventina
NAE C MEDIOMATR[...]
ANNOR LVIII H S E L VLPIVS SESTIVS
H F C
RIB164 - Funerary inscription for Successa Petronia
SVCC PETRONIAE VIX
ANN III M IIII D IX VEṬ ṚOMVLVS ET VICT SAḄINA
FIL KAR FEC
RIB165 - Funerary inscription for Vibia Jucunda
References for Aqvae Svlis / Aqvae Calidae
- The Romans in Britain – An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
- Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
Map References for Aqvae Svlis / Aqvae Calidae
NGRef: ST7564 OSMap: LR172;
Roman Roads near Aqvae Svlis / Aqvae Calidae
Fosse Way: NE (9) to Nettleton (West Kington, Wiltshire) Iter XIV: WNW (6.5) to Traiectvs (Bitton nr. Willsbridge, Avon) E (15) to Verlvcio (Sandy Lane, Wiltshire) Fosse Way: SSW (8) to Camerton SSE (18) to Cold Kitchen Hill Probable road: SW (20) to Charterhovse SSE (1.5) to Combe Down