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.

Legio Sextae Victrix – The Sixth Victorious Legion

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.

RIB143 - Altar dedicated to Sulis

To the goddess Sulis for the welfare and safety of Marcus Aufidius Maximus, centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix, Aufidius Eutuches, his freedman, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
[...]EAE SVLI
PRO SALVTE ET
INCOLVMITA
[...] MAR AVFID[...]
[...]AXIMI 𐆛 LEG
VI VIC
[...]VFIDIVS EV
TVCHES LEB
V S L M
This is presumably subsequent to the transfer of legio VI to Britain about a.d. 122.

RIB144 - Altar dedicated to Sulis

To the goddess Sulis for the welfare and safety of Aufidius Maximus, centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix, Marcus Aufidius Lemnus, his freedman, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEAE SVLI
[...]RO SALVTE ET
[...]NCOLVMITATE
AVFIDI MAXIMI
𐆛 LEG VI VIC M
AVFIDIVS LEMNVS
LIBERTVS V S L M
For the cognomen Lemnus see CIL vi 8499 (ILS 1489), CIL vi 8450 (ILS 1490) Rome.

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

To the goddess Sulis on behalf of the welfare of Gaius Javolenus Saturnalis, ... imaginifer of the Second Legion Augusta, Lucius Manius Dionisias, his freedman, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEA[  .] SVLI
[...]B S[...] SC
G IAV[...]TVR[...]
[...]IS [...]
[...]M[...]G[...]N LEG II
AVG MANIVS
DIONISIAS LIBET
V S L M
A imaginifer was a bearer of a standard with the Emperor's portrait.

RIB156 - Funerary inscription for Julius Vitalis

Julius Vitalis, armourer of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, of 9 years' service, aged 29, a Belgic tribesman, with funeral at the cost of the Guild of Armourers he lies here.
IVLIVS VITA
LIS FABRICIES
IS LEG XX V V
STIPENDIOR
VM IX ANOR XX
IX NATIONE BE
LGA EX COLEGIO
FABRICE ELATV
S H S E
6, 7.  Belga is ambiguous. Mommsen (EE v p. 228) and Birley (oral information in 1955 to R.P.W.) consider that he was recruited from Gallia Belgica; see also Forni, Il Reclutamento delle Legioni da Augusto a Diocleziano (1953), 190. Birley formerly thought that he came from the British canton of the Belgae (Arch. Ael. 4th Ser. xii (1935) 214 n. 39, Roman Army (1953) 77 n. 40). It is unusual for a Briton to be recruited into a legion in the late first or early second century, to which Haverfield (VCH Som. i 275) dated the inscription R.P.W. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Mann, Legionary Recruitment and Veteran Settlement during the Principate (1983), 90, returns to Birley's earlier view that the British Belgae are meant, but considers the stone to be Severan or later. But the lettering, the absence of Dis Manibus, the use of stipendiorum unabbreviated, the use of H S E, all indicate a first-century date.

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

To the spirits of the departed Marcus Valerius Latinus, son of Marcus, citizen of Equestris, soldier of the Twentieth Legion, aged 35, of 20 years' service, lies buried here.
DIS MANIBVS
M VALERIVS M
FIL LATINVS C EQ
MIL LEG XX AN
XXXV STIPEN XX
H S E
Equester: from Noviodunum, Colonia Julia Equestris (now Nyon).

RIB160 - Funerary inscription for Antigonus

... Antigonus, of the Sergian voting-tribe, from Nicopolis, emeritus from the Twentieth Legion, aged 45, lies buried here Gaius Tiberinus, his heir, had this set up.
[...]
SER A[...]IGONVS
NIC EMERITVS EX
LEG XX AN XLV
H S E
G TIBERINVS HERES
F C
Actia Nicopolis, in Epirus, which belonged to the Sergian voting-tribe. A emeritus was a time-expired soldier, equivalent to veteranus.

RIB157 - Funerary inscription for Gaius Murrius Modestus

Gaius Murrius Modestus, son of Gaius, of the Arniensian voting-tribe, from Forum Juli, soldier of the Second Legion Adjutrix Pia Fidelis, from the century of Julius Secundus, aged 25, of ... years' service, lies buried here.
G MVRRIVS
G F ARNIENSIS
FORO IVLI MO
DESTVS MIL [...]
EG II AD P F
[.] IVLI SECVNDI
ANN XXV STIP [..]
H S [...]
Legio II Adjutrix was quartered first at Lincoln, then from а.d. 71 to about 85 at Chester; this stone belongs presumably to that period. It seems likely that Forum Juli here mentioned was the well-known example at Fréjus; if so, Arniensis must be a mistake for Aniensis.

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

Lucius Vitellius Tancinus, son of Mantaius, a tribesman of Caurium in Spain, trooper of the Cavalry Regiment of Vettones, Roman citizens, aged 46, of 26 years' service, lies buried here.
L VITELLIVS MA
NTAI F TANCINVS
CIVES HISP CAVRIESIS
EQ ALAE VETTONVM C R
ANN XXXXVI STIP XXVI
H S E
Birley AC dates this inscription to the closing years of Claudius, or to the reign of Nero at the very latest.Caurium, in the territory of the Vettones, on a tributary of the River Tagus in Lusitania. Tancinus is a well-attested name in that region. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): A Flavian date is possible: Holder, Studies in the Auxilia of the Roman army from Augustus to Trajan (1980), 31.

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

To the goddess Sulis Minerva Sulinus, son of Maturus, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEAE
SVLI MI
NERVAE
SVLINVS
MATV
RI FIL
V S L M
No commentary.

RIB138 - Dedication to Diana

To the most hallowed goddess Diana Vettius Benignus, a freedman, fulfilled his vow.
DEA DIA
NA SACRATI
SSIMA VOTV
M SOLVIT VETTIVS B[...]
NIGNVS LIB
No commentary.

RIB139 - Altar dedicated to the Genius Loci

To the Genius of this place ... of the Sixth Legion Victrix, Forianus gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
GENIO LOCI
[..] IΛ [.] N P
[...]
[...]
[.] LEG VI [...]
FORIANVS
V S L L M
No commentary.

RIB140 - Altar dedicated to Loucetius Mars and Nemetona

Peregrinus, son of Secundus, a Treveran, to Loucetius Mars and Nemetona willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
PEREGRINVS
SECVNDI FIL
CIVIS TREVER
LOVCETIO
MARTI ET
NEMETONA
V S L M
Nemetona: Huebner explains the termination in -a as a barbarous dative. Dessau (ILS iii p. 842) suggests that it is an error by the mason.Mars Loucetius (or Leucetius) and Nemetona were Celtic deities worshipped sometimes together, e. g. CIL xiii 6131 (ILS 4586), on the west bank of the Rhine.

RIB152 - Altar dedicated to the Virtue and Divinity of the Emperor

This holy spot, wrecked by insolent hands and cleansed afresh, Gaius Severius Emeritus, centurion in charge of the region, has restored to the Virtue and Divinity of the Emperor.
LOCVM RELI
GIOSVM PER IN
SOLENTIAM E
RVTVM
VIRTVTI ET N
AVG REPVRGA
TVM REDDIDIT
G SEVERIVS
EMERITVS 𐆛
REG
For a regionarius see CIL xiii 2958 (Agedincum); AE 1944, 103, corrected by AE 1950, 105 (Brigetio), 𐆛 leg i adi reg.Mommsen, (Hermes xix (1884) 232 n. 3) took the view that n.avg stood for N(uminibus) Aug(ustorum), while observing certain British examples, (though not all, e.g. RIB 2040), in which the singular nvmini avg(vsti) is plainly meant. In an abbreviated form, however, the sole means of distinguishing between the Numina of two or more reigning Augusti and those of deceased emperors treated collectively would be to use for the former the normal avgg or avggg, and for the latter avg with the plural nvmina. aavvgg clearly refers to Severus and Caracalla on RIB 627 (Greetland) dated to A.D. 208; and the frequent examples of such plurals might suggest that when it was desired to dedicate to more than one reigning emperor care was taken to state this unambiguously, as Roman ritual practice would enjoin. This may explain the difference in treatment. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For a British example of a centurio regionarius see now Tab. Vindol.II, 250.8-9. In support of the expansion n(umini) Aug(usti), Fishwick has maintained against Mann (Brit. 2 (1971), 313) that only singular numen could be attributed to an Emperor, whereas numina (plural) requires either at least two living Emperors (avgg etc.) or a combination of the living Emperor and deified Emperors. See Fishwick, Brit. 25 (1994), 127-41, and Fishwick, Brit. 20 (1989), 231-4, and his earlier discussions cited therein; and for Mann's rejoinder see Mann, Brit. 22 (1991), 173-7. Translate numen here and elsewhere as 'Divinity' [not 'Deity'], since it is a quality possessed by deities as well as by Emperors.

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 - Façade of the Four Seasons

a
Claudius Ligur ... excessive age.
b-c
the guild in long sequence of years ... at his own cost had it repaired and repainted ..
d
Gaius Protacius ... of the goddess Sulis Minerva ..
seria: presumably a by-form for serie.

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

… CLAVDIVS LIGVR… … AE NIMIA VETVSTATE …: RIB 141a
OS National Grid Reference: RIB 141b/c
G PROTACIVS … DEAE SVLIS MINERVAE: RIB 141d

RIB146 - Altar dedicated to Sulis Minerva and the Divinities of the Emperors

To the goddess Sulis Minerva and to the Divinities of the (two) Emperors Gaius Curiatius Saturninus, centurion of the Second Legion Augusta, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow for himself and his kindred.
DEAE SV
LI MIN ET NV
MIN AVGG G
CVRIATIVS
SATVRNINVS
𐆛 LEG II AVG
PRO SE SV
ISQVE
V S L M
3.  The two emperors must be either Marcus Aurelius and Verus (A.D. 161-9), or a subsequent pair.

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).

  1. Lapidarius means ‘a worker of stone’.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

To the spirits of the departed Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, priest of the goddess Sulis, lived 75 years Calpurnia Trifosa, his freedwoman (and) wife, had this set up.
D M
G CALPVRNIVS
[...]ECEPTVS SACER
DOS DEAE SV
LIS VIX AN LXXV
CALPVRNIA TRIFO
SA L[...]BERT CONIVNX
F C
No commentary.

RIB161 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

... decurion of the colonia of Glevum ... lived 80 years ..
[...]
DEC COLONIAÍ¡E GLEV[...]
[...] VIXIÍ¡T AN LXXX VI[...]
Glevum: Gloucester.

RIB162 - Funerary inscription for Mercatilla

To the spirits of the departed Merc(...), freedwoman and foster-daughter of Magnus, lived 1 year, 6 months, 12 days.
D M
MERC MAGNI L
ALVMNA VIXIT AN I
M VI D XII
No commentary.

RIB163 - Funerary inscription for Rusonia Aventina

... to Rusonia Aventina, a tribeswoman of the Mediomatrici, aged 58 she lies here Lucius Ulpius Sestius, her heir, had this erected.
[...]
RVSONIAE AVENT[...]
NAE C MEDIOMATR[...]
ANNOR LVIII H S E L VLPIVS SESTIVS
H F C
The canton of the Mediomatrici lay around what is now Metz.

RIB164 - Funerary inscription for Successa Petronia

To the spirits of the departed (and) to Successa Petronia, (who) lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days. Vettius Romulus and Victoria Sabina set this up to their dearest daughter.
D M
SVCC PETRONIAE VIX
ANN III M IIII D IX VE OMVLVS ET VICT SAINA
FIL KAR FEC
No commentary.

RIB165 - Funerary inscription for Vibia Jucunda

Vibia Jucunda, aged 30, lies buried here.
VIBIA
IVCVN
DA
AN XXX
HIC SEPVL
TA EST
No commentary.

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