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Gilt bronze head of the Goddess Sulis Minerva

Head of the goddess Sulis Minerva - www.joyofmuseums.com - Roman Baths (Bath)

Nearly 2,000 years ago, this gilt bronze head graced the “Temple Sulis Minerva” at Bath. This temple is one of the few genuinely classical Roman temples to have been discovered in Britain. In pre-Roman times, during the Celtic polytheism practised in Britain, the goddess Sulis was worshipped at the Bath thermal springs as a local deity. After the Roman invasion, the local goddess was worshipped by the Romano-British as Sulis Minerva. It is assumed that this is the head of the goddess Sulis Minerva.

The head is slightly larger than life-size and hidden in the hairline are several small holes which once held rivets that fixed her Corinthian helmet to her head. Discovery in 1727 it was an indication that the Roman site at Bath was not a typical settlement. Gilt bronze sculptures are rare finds from Roman Britain, and is assumed to be the head is the cult statue of the goddess which would have stood within the Temple beside the Sacred Spring. The gilt bronze cult statue of Sulis Minerva was damaged sometime in later Antiquity, perhaps by barbarian raiders or Christian zealots.

Sulis was the local goddess of the thermal springs that still feed the spa baths at Bath, which the Romans called Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”). Celtic deities often preserved their archaic localisation, and they remained associated with a specific place, usually a cleft in the earth, a spring, pool or well. The Greeks referred to the similarly local pre-Hellenic deities in the local epithets that they assigned, associated with the cult of their Olympian pantheon at certain places.

The first shrine at the site of the hot springs at Bath was built by Celts and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, leading to the town’s Roman name of Aquae Sulis “the waters of Sulis”. The temple was constructed in 60–70 AD and the bathing complex was gradually built up over the next 300 years.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Gilt bronze head of the Goddess Sulis Minerva
  • Medium:              Gilted bronze
  • Date:                     1st – 2nd Century AD
  • Museum:              Roman Baths Museum

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Photo Credit: By Joyofmuseums (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons