by Marie-Louise Jensen
Living in Bath as I do, I've trailed around the Roman Baths dozens of times with and without visitors. What is fascinating is that no matter how many times I visit, I always learn something new.
|The Great Bath as it looks today: Wikipedia
Before Christmas, I went for a wander around in order to be inspired for a story for 7-8 year olds. I hardly dare mention I'm writing a Roman story with resident History Girls' expert Caroline Lawrence on the blog! But I consider the Roman Baths at Bath practically home, so that will serve as my excuse to dip my toe in Roman waters.
On my last trip, they had a new innovation at the baths: actors dressed in Roman costumes who could tell you 'their' story. I had a long chat with the slave girl, maid to a grand Roman lady. I learned that the only way she had of making money was to grow and sell her hair. I also learned lots of fascinating information about Roman cosmetics and the fact that Romans disliked body hair.
As I'm in the process of writing the e-book now, I'm particularly interested in the goddess of the baths, Sulis Minerva. She was an amalgamation of the local Celtic deity Sul, goddess of healing and sacred waters, and the Roman deity Minerva, goddess of wisdom. The largest Roman baths in Britain, built to make use of our only hot springs, are dedicated to her. The city was named Aquae Sulis in her honour.
|Sulis Minerva: image courtesy of Wikipedia
There was a huge temple, which only the priests could enter, next to the baths complex, but the altar was outdoors in the temple precinct. Here sacrifices of food or animals were made by the priests.
But the public had their own way of communicating with the goddess. It was believed that the Sacred Spring was the point at which the human world touched the world of the deity and that here communication could take place. Prayers, wishes and above all curses were scratched onto thin sheets of lead or pewter and thrown into the spring. They seem to have been accompanied by a gift thrown into the spring: a wealth of jewellery and coins from the era have been recovered along with the prayers.
I love the idea that the deity could intervene in human affairs through the spring and so have had my young characters ask Sulis Minerva to bring down a plague of carbuncles upon a thief. That should serve him or her right. Let's just hope the goddess is listening.