AQVAE SVLIS / AQVAE CALIDAE

Romano-British Spa Town
Romano-British Temple Precinct

Bath, Avon

NGRef: ST7564
OSMap: LR172; Aquae Sulis.
Type: Roman Spa Town, Roman Temples.
Reconstructional View of 4th C. Bath
Reconstructional View of 4th C. Bath
(Picture Courtesy of the Roman Baths Museum)
Roads
Fosse Way: NE (9) to Nettleton (Wiltshire)
Iter XIV: WNW (6½) to TRAIECTVS (Bitton, nr, Willsbridge, Avon)
Iter XIV: E (15) to VERLVCIO (Sandy Lane, Wiltshire)
Fosse Way: SSW (8) to Camerton (Avon)
Probable road: SSE (18) to Cold Kitchen Hill (Wiltshire) via Combe Down

Modern View of the Roman Baths - Click to Enlarge
The Roman Baths of Aquae Sulis
(Picture Taken in November 2003)

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.

DEAE SVLI PRO SALVTE ET INCOLVMITATE MAR AVFIDI MAXIMI C LEG VI VIC AVFIDIVS EVTVCHES LEB VSLM DEAE SVLI PRO SALVTE ET INCOLVMITATE AVFIDI MAXIMI C LEG VI VIC M AVFIDIVS LEMNVS LIBERTVS VSLM
"To the goddess Sul, for the health and safety of Marcus Aufidius Maximus, centurion of the Sixth Victorious Legion, [Marcus] Aufidius Eutuches [his] freedman willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow." "To the goddess Sul, for the health and safety of [Marcus] Aufidius Maximus, centurion of the Sixth Victorious Legion, Marcus Aufidius Lemnus [his] freedman willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 143; altarstone) (RIB 144; altarstone)

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.

Legio Secundae Augusta - The Second Augustan Legion

DEAE SVLI OB SALVTEM SAC G IAVOLENI SATVRNALIS ... IMAGINN LEG II AVG L MANIVS DIONISIAS LIBET VSLM
"To the goddess Sul, an offering for the well-being of Gaius Javolenus Saturnalis [...] Imaginifer¹ of the Second Augustan Legion, Lucius Manius Dionisias, freedman, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 147; altarstone)

The Second Augustan Legion is represented on two altarstones from Bath; an altar dedicated to Sul Minerva and the 'Spirit of the Emperors' (RIB 146 infra), and another dedicated to Sulis alone (RIB 147 supra).

Legio Vicesimae Valeria Victrix - The Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious

IVLIVS VITA LIS FABRICIESIS LEG XX VV STIPENDIORVM IX ANOR XX IX NATIONE BELGA EX COLEGIOFABRICE ELATVS H S E
"Julius Vitalis, Engineer in the Twentieth Legion, Valiant and Victorious, with nine years service, twenty-nine years old, a citizen of the Belgae,¹ formerly of the Elatus² School of Craftsmen. He lies here."
(RIB 156; tombstone)
  1. Most likely from the native British Belgae of Avon and Hampshire, in whose canton the spa-town was situated, although possibly of the continental Belgae. See the Belgae.
  2. This name is most often associated with Greek men; one of the first Ephori of Sparta, the father of the Argonaut Polyphemus, a king in the army of Priam who was killed by Agamemnon, also one of Penelope's suitors killed by Eumenus. Although all these people bore the requisite name, it seems none are associated with manufacturing. It would appear, then, that our Julius Vitalis was a former apprentice at a Greek college run by an eminent engineer named Elatus, although the whereabouts of this school is as yet unknown. There is a Mount Elatus on the island of Zacynthos in the Ionian Sea.

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).

DIS MANIBVS M VALERIVS M FIL LATINVS C EQ MIL LEG XX AN XXXV STIPEN XX H S E
"To the spirits of the departed and Marcus Valerius Latinus, son of Marcus, centurion, horse-trooper and soldier¹ of the Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious, thirty-five years old with twenty years service. He lies here."
(RIB 158; tombstone)
  1. As is usual for a Roman curriculum vitae the position of highest importance is listed first. The wording centurio, eques [et] miles implies that this ex-soldier had spent all of his military life in Legio XX Valeria Victrix, starting as an ordinary soldier (miles), progressing into the legionary cavalry as a trooper (eques) - of which there were around one-hundred and twenty per legion - afterwards being promoted to the rank of centurion (centurio).
... SER ANTIGONVS NIC EMERITVS EX LEG XX AN XLV H S E G TIBERINVS HERES F C
"[...] Sergius Antigonus, prize-winning¹ veteran of the Twentieth Legion, forty-five years old. He lies here. Gaius Tiberinus his heir had this made."
(RIB 160; tombstone)
  1. The word NIC has been expanded to nicetor 'prize-winner', from niceter/ium 'prize' (originally from Greek νικητης neekeetees 'victor, winner', related to ΝΙΚΗ neekee or Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory). The word may equally be a miss-spelled abbreviation of nectus 'murdered', the past participle of the verb neco 'to kill' (related to nex, necis 'violent death, murder'), also possibly from niteo 'shine, glitter' or 'sleek and plump'. Sergius Antigonus therefore, either:
    1. was murdered in some manner too horrible to divulge
    2. won some undisclosed prize or honour
    3. had an affinity towards particularly flashy armour
    4. was a shining example of virility to his peers
    5. was simply an ex-centurion who ate too much
    or possibly even vi. 'all of the above'.

Legio Secundae Adiutrix Pia Fidelis - The Second 'Assistant' Legion, Loyal and Faithful

G MVRRIVS C F ARNIENSIS FORO IVLI MODESTVS MIL LEG II AD P F C IVLI SECVNDI ANN XXV STIP H S E
"Gaius Murrius Modestus, son of Gaius, of the Arniensis¹ voting tribe from Forum Julii,² soldier of the Second Legion Adiutrix, Loyal and Faithful, twenty-five years old [who died] in service. He lies here. Gaius Julius Secundus [made this]."
(RIB 157; tombstone)
  1. Named after the Arnus river of Etruria in north-west Italy, on which the Roman city of Pisae still stands.
  2. Possibly Forum Iulii Oxybiorum (Fréjus, between St. Tropez and Cannes on the Côte d'Azur) on the opposite coast of the Sinus Ligusticus from Pisa in nearby Gallia Narbonensis. However, there is another like-named town, Forum Iulii Italiae in the Alpes Iulii region of Venetia - old Gallia Transpadana - now Azzida north-east of Cividale in the Venezia district of north-eastern Italy.

The Second Legion Adiutrix is represented on a single tombstone, that of a miles or common soldier (RIB 157 supra).

Tombstone of Tancinus - RIB159
Tombstone of Tancinus
(Picture Courtesy of the Roman Baths Museum)

Ala Vettonum Civium Romanorum
The Vettonian Wing, Citizens of Rome

L VITELLIVS MANTAI F TANCINVS CIVES HISP CAVRIESIS EQ ALAE VETTONVM C R ANN XXXXVI STIP XXVI H S E
"Lucius Vitellius Tancinus, son of Mantai, a citizen of Spain, from Caurium,¹ a trooper of the Vettonian Wing, Citizens of Rome, forty-six years old with twenty-six years service. Here he lies."
(RIB 159; tombstone; pictured on right)
  1. Caurium was a town on the Tagus river in Lusitania, in the southern half of the territory of the Vettones, now known as Coria in the southern Sierra de Gata region of western Spain, close to the Portuguese border.

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

DEAE SVLI MINERVAE SVLINVS MATVRI FIL VSLM
"To the goddess Sul Minerva, Sulinus son of Maturus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 150; altarstone)

Apart from a dozen or so altars and other inscribed stones dedicated to the patron goddess Sul Minerva which are discussed below, there are five known altars to other pagan deities; an altar or statue base to Diana, the goddess of the hunt (RIB 138), an altar to the Genio Loci or Local Spirit (RIB 139) also one shared with Sul Minerva (RIB 146), an important altar to Loucetious Mars and Nemetona (RIB 140) and an altar repaired and rededicated to the Numen Augusti, the Living Spirit of the Emperor (RIB 152).

Base of Statue or Altar to Diana

DEA DIANAE SACRATISSIMA VOTVM SOLVIT VETTIVS BENIGNVS LIB
"To the goddess Diana the most holy, Vettius Benignus, freedman, fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 138; statue or altar base)

Altar to the Genio Loci

GENIO LOCI ..IA.N.P ... ... LEG VI VICTORIANVS V S L L M
"To the Spirit of this Place [...] of the Victorious Sixth Legion, gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 139; altarstone)

Altar to Mars Loucetius and Nemetona

PEREGRINVS SECVNDI FIL CIVIS TREVER LOVCETIO MARTI ET NEMETONA VSLM
"Peregrinus son of Secundus, a citizen of the Treviri,¹ to Loucetius Mars and Nemetona willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 140; altarstone)

Altar to the Numen Augusti

LOCVM RELIGIOSVM PER INSOLENTIAM ERVTVM VIRTVTI ET N AVGVSTI REPVRGATVM REDDIDIT G SEVERIVS EMERITVS C REG
"This sacred place, destroyed by the insolent, was cleaned and rededicated to the virtue and the Living Spirit of the Emperor, by Gaius Severius, a retired veteran centurion."
(RIB 152; altarstone)

Sul Minerva - Patron Goddess of Bath

DEAE SVLI L MARCIVS MEMOR HARVSP D D
"To the goddess Sul, Lucius Marcius, a grateful Haruspex,¹ donated out of his devotion."
(Burn 82)
  1. A Haruspex was a Roman soothsayer who drew omens by consulting the entrails of victims sacrificed to the gods.

The Sul-Minerva Classical Temple

Pediment of Sul/Minerva Temple
Centrepiece of Sul/Minerva Temple Pediment
(Picture Courtesy of the Roman Baths Museum)

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.

The Sul Minerva Frieze in the Great Bath

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 ... ... COLEGIO LONGA SERIA ANNORVM ... ... SVA PECVNIA REFICI ET REPINGI CVRAVIT ... G PROTACIVS ... DEAE SVLIS MINERVAE
"[...] Claudius Ligurius [...] the temple for a very long duration [...]" "[...] the guild for a long succession of years [...] he has administrated the rebuilding and replacement of her property [...]" "Gaius Protacius [...] to the goddess Sul Minerva"
RIB 141a RIB 141b/c RIB 141d

Altar to Sul Minerva and the Numinis Augusti

DEAE SVLI MIN ET NVMIN AVG G CVRIATIVS SATVRNINVS C LEG II AVG PRO SE SVISQVE VSLM
"To the goddess Sul Minerva and the Spirit of the Emperor, Gaius Curiatius Saturninus, centurion of the Second Augustan Legion, for himself and his [family], willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 146; altarstone)

Other Sulis Texts

Head of Sul/Minerva
Head of Sul/Minerva Statue from the Baths
(Picture Courtesy of the Roman Baths Museum)

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 Celtic triple-form Sulevis (RIB 151 infra).

InscriptionTogo-TranslationRIB
PRISCVS TOVTI F LAPIDARIVS CIVES CARNVTENVS SVLI DEAE VSLM"Priscus son of Toutus, stonecutter¹ of the Carnutes tribe, to the goddess Sul, willingly and deservedly fulfils his vow."149
Q POMPEIVS ANICETVS SVLI"Quintus Pompeius to Sul [and] Anicetus.²"148
SVLEVIS SVLINVS SCVLTOR BRVCETI F SACRVM F L M"To the Sulevi,³ Sulinus Scultor, son of Brucetus, willingly and deservedly made this sacred offering."151
(base)
  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 Celtic 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.

Tombstone of a Sacerdos of Sulis

D M G CALPVRNIVS RECEPTVS SACERDOS DEAE SVLIS VIXIT AN LXXV CALPVRNIA TRIFOSA LIBERTA CONIVNX F C
"To the spirits of the departed and Gaius Calpurnius Receptus, Sacerdos¹ of the goddess Sulis who lived for seventy-five years, Calpurnia Trifosa his freedwoman and wife, had this made."
(RIB 155; tombstone)
  1. A Sacerdos was a Roman priest devoted to the worship of a specific deity. In theory, these men came under the direct control of the emperor, who himself held the title Pontifex Maximus or Chief Priest.

Memorial Plinth of a Decurion from Gloucester

... DEC COLONIAE GLEV ... VIXIT AN LXXX VI ...
"[...] Decurion¹ of Colonia Glevensis,² [...] who lived for eighty-six years [...]"
(RIB 161; plinth)
  1. A member of the governing council of a Roman town or city.
  2. Gloucester, also known as Glevum, which became a Roman colony for retired veteran soldiers c.AD97.

Tombstone of a Toddler Aged 1½

D M MERC... MAGNI L ALVMNA VIXIT AN I M VI D XII
"To the spirits of the departed and Merc[urius]? the foster child of Lucius Magnus, who lived one year six months and twelve days."
(RIB 162; tombstone)

Tombstone of a Fifty-eight-year-old Midwife

RVSONIA AVENTINAE C MEDIOMATRIC ANNOR LVIII H S E L VLPIVS SESTIVS H F C
"To Rusonia Aventina from the School of Midwives,¹ who lived for fifty-eight years. Here she lies. Lucius Ulpius Sestius her heir had this made."
(RIB 163; tombstone)
  1. Collegium Mediomatrices. The Latin name for this - definitely the oldest - profession may be literally translated 'middle-mother'.

Tombstone of a Three-year-old Girl

D M SVCC PETRONIAE VIX ANN III M IIII D IX VET ROMVLVS ET VICT SABINA FIL KAR FEC
"To the spirit of the departed Succa Petronia, who lived for three years four months and nine days, the veteran Romulus¹ and Victoria Sabina, had this made for their most affectionate little daughter.²"
(RIB 164; tombstone)
  1. I have trouble with this name. The usual word used for an ex-soldier was emeritus which implied one discharged on a military pension after a full term of service, not Veteranus which was used to indicate former service, but not necessarily in the military. The girls father does not have the three names indicative of Roman citizenship, indeed, he apparently possessed only one, and a very pretentious one at that. The name Romulus is perhaps a stage name, and in view of this I am given to believe that he may have been a retired gladiator or perhaps an actor.
  2. The letters FIL KAR have been expanded to filiola carissima or 'dearest/sweetest little daughter', purely in view of her age.

Tombstone of a Thirty-year-old Woman

VIBIA IVCVNDA AN XXX HIC SEPVLTA EST
"Vibia Jucunda, thirty years old, lies buried here."
(RIB 165; tombstone)

Click here for the RBO Temples and Shrines Index

See: 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).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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