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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

The Curse Tablets

The Curse Tablets - Roman Baths (Bath)

The Curse Tablets

The Roman Baths complex is a site of a well-preserved ancient Roman public with four main parts to the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the museum, holding finds from Roman Bath. Many objects were thrown into the Sacred Spring as offerings to the goddess, including  “Curse Tablets”. The Curse Tablets held messages inscribed on sheets of lead or pewter, which were then rolled up and thrown into the Spring where the spirit of the goddess dwelt. The Roman Baths have a collection of Roman curse tablets, which include Britain’s earliest prayers.

The picture above has a sample of three curses for the Goddess. From left to right the curses include:

  • Lovernisca complains to the Goddess that her cape has been stolen.
  • A complaint about the theft of Vilbia, probably a slave.
  • A complaint about the theft of a cloak and tunic.

A theft was always a risk in public baths if there was not a slave to watch over the clothes, which were valuable, as visiting the Baths was a social occasion and required one’s good clothes. When a culprit was unknown, a list of suspects was sometimes submitted to the Goddess, to help find the thief.

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.

Roman Public baths originated from a communal need for cleanliness and the health benefits of the hot springs at a time when most houses did not have access to private bathing facilities. In ancient times public bathing included saunas, massages and relaxation therapies. Public baths were restricted depending on social rank and wealth and became incorporated into the social system as meeting places.

The Curse Tablets

  • Title:               The Curse Tablets
  • Medium:         sheets of lead or pewter
  • Date:              76 AD
  • Museum:        Roman Baths Museum

Exploring the Roman Baths

  • Roman Baths Museum
    • The Roman Baths complex is a site of a well-preserved ancient Roman public bath and museum. The Roman Baths themselves are below the modern street level. There are four main parts to the complex: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and the museum, holding finds from Roman Bath. The buildings above street level date from the 19th century.
  • Earliest Inscription from the Roman Baths
    • This is the earliest Inscription from the Roman Baths and dates to 76AD. The inscription reads: “.. in the 7th consulship of Emperor Vespasian”. It was part of a small monument at the site, and the date is seven years after Vespasian became emperor of Rome.
  • The Temple Pediment of the Temple Sulis Minerva
    • This Temple Pediment was once on the front of the “Temple of the Temple Sulis Minerva” at Bath, England and is one of the few genuinely classical temples from Roman Britain to have been discovered. Nearly 2,000 years ago it housed that the statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva. The pediment carries the image of a fearsome head, carved in local Bath stone, which is thought to be the Gorgon’s Head, a potent symbol of the goddess Sulis Minerva.
  • Gilt bronze head of the goddess Sulis Minerva
    • Nearly 2,000 years ago, this golden bronze head graced the “Temple Sulis Minerva” at Bath. The Temple Sulis Minerva 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 praised by the Romano-British as Sulis Minerva. It is assumed that this is the head of the goddess Sulis Minerva.
  • Hypocaust of the Heated Room in the Roman Baths
    • The Hypocaust of the Heated Room in the Roman Baths was as a system of central heating in the baths that produces and circulates hot air below the floor of a room. This hypocaust pilae shows how their heating system would have worked. These pillars of tiles supported the floor of this room, and the room was heated with hot air drawn from fire and circulated around these tile posts.
  • The Sacred Spring Overflow
    • The Sacred Spring Overflow is where surplus mineral-rich water from the hot spring pours into the original Roman drain and flows on to the River Avon. The Roman plumbing and drainage system is still in place and demonstrates the ingenuity of the Roman engineers. Lead pipes were used to carry hot spa water around the site using gravity flow. The thermal waters contain sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate ions in high concentrations and the mineral deposits can be seen in the colourisation of the stones at this overflow point.
  • The Curse Tablets
    • Many objects were thrown into the Sacred Spring as offerings to the goddess, including  “Curse Tablets”. The Curse Tablets held messages inscribed on sheets of lead or pewter, which were then rolled up and thrown into the Spring where the spirit of the goddess dwelt. The Roman Baths have a collection of Roman curse tablets, which include Britain’s earliest prayers.
  • Gravestone of a Cavalryman
    • This Gravestone of a Cavalryman shows a cavalryman riding down an enemy. This was a traditional theme with gravestones pf cavalrymen in the 1st century AD. The first Romans to come to Bath were soldiers of the empire and there are many Roman inscribed tombstones and altars discovered around the Roman Baths.

Reflections

  • Are curses still a thing?

Explore London’s Museums and Heritage Sites

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“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Photo Credit: JOM

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