Aquae Arnemetiae (Buxton)

Roman Spa Town and Romano-british Temple Or Shrine

Aquae Arnemetiae or the “The Spa-Town of the Sacred Groves” was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia. The settlement was based around its natural warm springs. Today it is the town of Buxton, Derbyshire in England.

The only classical reference to the Roman name for Buxton is in the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century. The entry Aquis Arnemeza (R&C#107), occurs between the other towns Navio (Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire) and Ardotalia (Melandra Castle, Derbyshire).

Fine Roman pottery, glass and precious coins have been discovered around the town. This suggests that Buxton was an important place for the Romans who treasured and exploited the area for its spring waters.

Although there is no record of the Romans building a bath house over the springs, in 1695 the accidental discovery by Cornelius White, of ‘sheets of lead spread upon great pieces of timber, about 4 yards square round about which had been a leaden cistern,’ suggests that the Romans did indeed build a bath house in Buxton. The Roman baths, Aqua Arnemetiae, were situated where the Old Hall Hotel is now.

The town has lots of Roman treasures to be proud of and in 1862 a Roman milestone was discovered in the Silverlands district of Buxton. The milestone and the other Roman items are on display in the Buxton Museum.

What does Aquae Arnemetiae mean?

The Latin name then, for Buxton was Aquae Arnemetiae, the prefix aquae literally means ‘of the waters’ or ‘Waters of Arnemetia, and was used by the Romans to denote natural spa’s or springs. The second part of the name is associated with the Welsh/Gaelic word Nemeton or “sacred grove”, which here seems to be used in the plural form.

Who was the Goddess Arnemetia?

We can readily assume from the origins of the Roman name for Buxton that the natural springs here represented a religious centre of some considerable importance, probably used by many generations of native Britons prior to the coming of Rome. Arnemetia was the Romano-British goddess of the sacred grove (the name Arnemetia was derived from the Celtic for beside the sacred grove).

RIB2243 - Fragmentary milestone

... with tribunician power, twice consul, father of his country, from Navio 11 miles.
[...] TRIB POT COS II
P P A NAVIONE
M P XI
See note on Navio under Brough-on-Noe.

The only evidence for a temple to this deity, who may be a pseudonym of Nemetona, is a solidly-built Podium of well-dressed stone with a packed clay infill which was investigated in 1787. This platform measured 22½ ft. wide by 46 ft. in length, and stood about 4 ft. in height. Iron nails and roofing tiles suggest that the superstructure was of timber. The suspected temple was oriented north-south and faced the Roman baths at St Anne’s Well about 80 ft. away.

The only other recognised Spa-town in Roman Britain is Aquae Sulis (Bath, Avon), which is also a known Nemeton grove.

References for Aqvae Arnemetiae

  • 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 Arnemetiae

NGRef: SK0573 OSMap: LR119

Roman Roads near Aqvae Arnemetiae

Aquae Arnemetiae was at the intersection of two main Roman roads: Batham Gate and The Street. Batham Gate (Old English for “road to the bath town”) is a Roman road from Templebrough Roman fort in South Yorkshire past Navio Roman Fort and onto Buxton.

NW (21) to Mamvcivm (Manchester, Greater Manchester) ENE (8) to Brovgh-on-noe (Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire) SE (30) to Littlechester (Littlechester, Derbyshire)