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This impressive site comprises some of the tallest Roman structures surviving in northern Britain: doorways and windows, as well as an elegant niche for a bust, can still be made out in the walls. Domestic use of the building in the Middle Ages is the reason why so much has survived.
Excavations in the late 19th century and survey work in the 1980s indicated that the bath house was a substantial structure extending beyond the present field boundary, as well as to either side of the existing structures.
At least two rooms contained under-floor hypocausts (heating systems).
The bath house provided relaxation for the Roman soldiers and for civilians who lived in the settlement outside the fort, which extended here over much of the present field beyond the fence.
The building offered facilities for exercise and sport, as well as for swimming and bathing it was also the obvious place in a Romanised community for people to meet socially.
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Public bathing continued to be popular across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire (C.476 AD). But, the early Christian Church quickly pulled the plug on the communal soak. As the Christian faith clamped down on sexual freedoms, attitudes to bathing in the nip changed considerably. Not only did public bathing involve nudity (gasp!), but heat was believed to inflame lustful senses. Many monks, hermits, and saints saw washing as a sign of vanity and sexual corruption filth was synonymous with piety and humility.
Early Christian militants emphasized spiritual cleanliness over physical cleanliness, even viewing the two as inversely proportional you could literally stink to high heaven. Saint Godric (1065-1170), for example, famously walked from England to Jerusalem without ever washing or changing his clothes. Ulrich, an abbot of Cluny, France and Regensburg, Germany (1029 – 1093) admitted the monks “only bath twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter.” Of course, just because a saintly squad of hard-core soap dodgers shunned the shower, does not mean that every medieval citizen felt the same but whatever the early medieval washing rota was, by the ninth century, the Roman bath infrastructure had fallen to rack and ruin throughout Christendom.
It was the crusaders that brought the art of the rub-a-dub-dub back to medieval Europe. Whilst the Christians were busy working up a stench that could be weaponised, cleanliness remained essential throughout the Muslim world. Medieval Arab doctors were far more advanced than the west and understood the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Medieval cities of Mecca, Marrakech, Cairo, and Istanbul all had their water and bathhouses supplied by well-maintained aqueducts.
The Kitab at-Tasrif (C.1000) by Al-Zahrawi is a medical encyclopaedia that devotes entire chapters to cosmetics and cleanliness Al-Zahrawi gives recipes for soap, deodorants, facial creams and hair dyes. Conversely, for all their ‘spiritual purity’, the crusaders stank. The medieval Arabian author of A Thousand and One Nights was one of many writers appalled at European hygiene “They never wash, for, at their birth, ugly men in black garments pour water over their heads, and this ablution, accompanied by strange gestures, frees them from the obligation of washing for the rest of their lives.” Happily, the Muslim habit of regular bathing seemed to rub off on the marauding crusaders, and along with the art of perfumery, public bathhouses began to become popular throughout medieval Europe once more.
If you had the money you could pay for servants to fill your own tub, but most folk used the communal baths. By the thirteenth-century there were thirty-two bathhouses in Paris and eighteen in London. The baths were very social spaces. Not only could you have a soak with your mates, but communal feasting in the baths was extremely popular by the fifteenth century. (The next time one of your friends suggests a spa day, do bring a few rounds of cheese sandwiches to hand out in the sauna it’s a shame we’ve let this custom die.) Far from stinking up the place, bathing was extremely popular in the later Middle Ages. Even the monks of Westminster Abby hired a bath attendant on the princely sum of £1 per year. However, there is no denying that the bath houses were also very sexually charged places.
The steamy truth about the Roman Bath
Billowing from the turquoise waters, clouds of bismuth, steam and sulphur fog up the warm West Country air and shroud everything in a hot, sticky mist. Peer more closely, however, and acres of plump, naked flesh glow pink in the half-light.
In one corner, a bored-looking prostitute straddles a drunken guard. In another, a dozen soldiers break into song, before plunging naked into the marble pool.
Men and women wrestle, writhe, fornicate and philosophise in the pool while, at the water's edge, a small army peddles sausages, oysters and roasted dormice.
This, according to historians, was a typical Roman scene in the genteel city of Bath. In their heyday, the hot springs at Aquae Sulis — where a million litres of hot spring water burst each day from red-stained holes in the stone walls — attracted hordes of visitors, including emperors, soldiers, housewives, prostitutes and children.
The scene is very different today. While the Roman baths still remain as a historical exhibit, visitors are forbidden from taking to the waters. Instead, attention is focused on a new building across the road.
For ten years, an attempt has been under way to construct new baths, with real spa treatments for visitors, introducing them to some, if not all, of the Romans' favourite pastimes.
The plan has been beset by the sort of infighting, deceit and power struggles that would have made the Romans proud. There have been 12 missed opening dates, and costs have shot up from a predicted £13.5million — including an £8 million grant from the Millennium Commission — to £45 million, according to incensed Labour MP Dan Norris.
But on Monday, Bath's Roman spa will finally re-open for business. So can the spirit of reckless indulgence that attracted so many people in the past be revived?
Founded in AD 43, after the invasion of Britain by Emperor F Claudius, Aquae Sulis was dedicated to Minerva, the Roman goddess of war, wisdom and crafts. According to Peter Jones, a classics scholar and writer, it was open to anyone who could afford the negligible entrance fee.
'Baths were dirt cheap and the focus of social get-togethers both for the great and good and the poor and dissolute,' he says. 'They catered for almost everything: swimming, exercise, shopping, eating, reading, boozing, philosophy, beauty treatments and, most importantly, sex.
'Intercourse was commonplace — either with women, young boys or slaves. Sometimes it was in the water, but often the baths were a sort of foreplay or, often, a five or six play. They were a bit like naked leisure centres, with a sordid twist.'
Beauty treatments were also wildly popular and just as odd-sounding as those on offer today.
Men's armpits, backs, chests and genitals were stripped of hair by expert pluckers. Bodies were smothered in oil and scraped with strips of wood or bone, and massages were common, although the wealthy would usually bring their favourite slave to do the honours.
With their skin pink and crinkly from the water, and libidos sated, Romans would head to the gym, library, restaurants, shops, lounges, taverns, museums or theatres.
While Roman baths represented extreme hedonism (ancient graffiti on the walls in Latin read: 'Baths, drink and sex corrupt our bodies, but baths, drink and sex make life worth living'), they were also the summit of civil engineering.
Commissioned and paid for by emperors and benefactors, they had underfloor heating, saunas, steam rooms, hot and cold pools, and specially filtered water. They were built to exacting standards by skilled slaves on time and within budget.
Around AD 410, however, the Romans began to withdraw from Britain to concentrate on defending Rome against barbarians, and the baths fell into ruin.
When, two centuries later, Bath was conquered by the Saxons, the spa was swallowed by a swamp.
It was rediscovered only in 1790, during the great revival of the city, when foundations were dug for a new kind of healing spa. Visitors included everyone from Jane Austen to Napoleon.
This closed in the 1970s, due to a health scare when a woman contracted Legionnaires' disease after bathing in the hot spring water.
But as the tourists tailed off, many Bath residents continued to believe that the city's fortunes were linked to those of the baths. So it seemed a good idea, a decade ago, to revive them once more.
A building would be constructed 100yards from the original Roman spa. It would be a gleaming vision of glass, steel and honey-coloured stone, with sunken lighting, white Kashmir granite floors and Italian plate-glass windows.
Work began, supported by the Millennium Commission. But in April 1999, a pair of mallards laid six eggs on the site. Building work was delayed by 18 months.
The baths have since suffered a stream of expensive disasters. Contractors drilled the wrong bore hole to access the waters. A month was lost when cranes were damaged by high winds. Cobbles outside the spa were laid incorrectly and had to be pulled up.
And, last February, costs reportedly soared by another £700,000 when all 274 windows needed replacing, apparently due to vandalism and subsidence.
Meanwhile, the steam-room floor started leaking, the original water filtration system had to be replaced at a cost of £91,000 and the spa's pride and joy — a rippling, aquamarine, open-air rooftop pool, with stainless steel fixtures buffed to a gleaming shine with Johnson's Baby Oil — filled up with seagull excrement.
In August 2003, however, faces were at their reddest. Three days before Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo jetted in to open the baths, there was another catastrophe.
Peter Rollins, sales and marketing manager for Dutch operator the Thermae Development company, recalls: 'Everything was perfect.
'The baths were full, the waters were bubbling away, we had 60 staff trained and ready to go, the place looked wonderful and the Three Tenors were on their way. Then someone noticed the waterproof paint was flaking off,' he whispers. 'It was devastating, absolutely devastating.'
Too late and too sheepish to cancel, organisers hastily changed the event from 'an opening' to a 'revival' of the spa and as soon as the tenors had dipped their chubby toes in the water, pulled the plug.
The unexpected costs have left the council, which has guaranteed the project, with a nearly £40million bill. No wonder Norris calls it 'the Daddy of all overspends — a glorified swimming pool that most can't afford to visit'.
At full capacity, the complex will hold just 250 visitors, each of whom will have to pay £19 for two hours and £45 for a full day to enjoy the main complex. Treatments — ranging from £38 for an alarming-sounding Alpine hay bath to £135 for a caviar-and-pearl facial — are extra.
Even the £6 discount for residents to the tiny Cross Bath is unlikely to soothe ruffled feathers. 'It is incompetence on a magnificent scale,' rages Norris. 'Put it this way — if you buy a Mini and it ends up costing a million, it's never going to be good value, however hard you flog it.'
I'm not so sure. The New Royal Bath is an exceptionally beautiful building in a stunning setting. The waters shimmer invitingly and the marriage between Georgian, Roman and 21st-century architecture is a great success.
The Romans would doubtless have been appalled at the costly mess. Yet, as Rollins puts it: 'I'm sure there were hiccups back then, but it would have been a lot easier.
'After all, if the slaves got things wrong, their masters could just lop a few heads off. If only things had been as simple in Bath today.'
Ribchester’s Roman Bath House
The Roman bath house at Ribchester was built around 100 AD. Today, there are quite substantial remains of the foundations, allowing you to walk around and view its different rooms and features. It is of the simple ‘row-type bath suite’, similar to the ones found at the Roman forts at Hardknott (Cumbria) and Corbridge (Northumberland).
Furnace room with tepidarium in the distance
The bath house at Ribchester consisted of a number of rooms each with a different function. These included an apodyterium (changing room) and frigidarium (an unheated room with a cold plunge pool). A furnace room provided warmth to three rooms that would have had needed under floor heating. These were the caldarium (hot and moist room, with a hot bath), the laconium or sudatorium (a circular, hot and dry room like a sauna), and tepidarium (a warm room, just to sit and relax in).
Furnace room and flue
Perhaps a typical bathing experience would be something like this:
After leaving the changing room (apodyterium) the bather would enter the cold room (frigidarium) to have oil put on the body. They would then move into the warm room (tepidarium) where the heat lets the oil soak into their skin and produce a light sweat. Once the body was aclimatised to the heat, the bather would visit the hot sauna (laconium) next. After this they would proceed to the hot room (caldarium), where first the oil is scrapped off and then they would enter a hot bath. Following this they would dry themselves off and go back out through the warm room to the cold plunge pool of the frigidarium. A luxurious, unhurried experience!
Circular sauna (called the laconium or sudatorium)
Excavations have shown that the baths had two phases of construction, the second being a major rebuild. One piece of evidence for this is the differing styles of pilae (the supporting pillars that hold up the heated floors). One set was built by stacking up square tiles (similar to the hypocaust at Wigan) and the other set was made of single large rectangular pieces of stone (similar to the method used at Lancaster Roman baths). The bath house would have had painted plaster walls and barrel vaulted ceilings. Small translucent glass windows would have given some illumination. Finds from the site indicate that it was used by both men and women.
Stone drain from the apodyterium
After 225 AD the baths were no longer in use. Why this was and what happened to them subsequently is not clear. Their remains were first discovered in 1837 when a Mr. Patchett was digging a hot-bed. He discovered flags which were coated in the Roman waterproof cement, probably the floor of a heated room. Forty cartloads of stone were removed from the site, and who knows what archaeological finds were lost forever. Around the same time, a large lead trough was discovered, described as ‘ one foot wide, one yard long, weighing 70 pounds’. This could have been used to boil water in the bath house.
In 1978 an extensive archaeological excavation took place. Amongst the finds were gaming counters, brooches, beads, stones from rings, bronze pins and 25,000 pottery sherds. Coins discovered came from the times of the Emperors Trajan and Antonius Pius. The finds indicate trading with elsewhere in south Lancashire, and as far away as Gaul. No doubt many of the goods were coming from the nearby Roman military production and distribution hub at Walton-le-Dale.
Visitors to the site can get a good sense of how it was from the two interpretation boards. The visible remains include the foundations of the furnace room and flues, the circular sauna, the warm room, parts of the flagged floor and an impressive stone drain running from the changing room down towards the river. Today the site is in some need of consolidation and conservation, and there has been an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to do this. The site is well worth a visit, and it is to be hoped that it will be further improved in the near future.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2014
Opening Times: The site is open from April to October, but is kept locked the rest of the year. It is free to visit. It can be reached either by the river footpath (which can be very muddy, even in summer) or by going via Greenside road and following the short lane just off it.
Just moments away, on foot
The Romans at Ribchester: Discovery and Excavation, David Shotter (2000), Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster
Roman North West England: Hinterland or ‘Indian Country’ ? Tom Saunders (Editor),(2011), Council for British Archaeology North West
Roman Woman, Lindsay Allason-Jones (2000), Michael O’Mara Books Limited
Traveling west from Hardknott Pass (and the Roman Fort I recently blogged about) down to the coast of the Irish Sea is the modern village of Ravenglass – the Roman Port of Glannaventa. Almost two millenia ago, this was a key port in Roman Britain. Glannaventa connected the border fortresses with the maritime supply lines essential for supporting the garrisons with food, supplies, and reinforcements. These forts protected the northern border of the empire before Hadrian’s Wall was constructed. The port was also necessary for the export of silver and lead mined in the Lake District to mainland Europe and the greater Roman Empire. As is often the case with important centres of trade, the port thrived and grew alongside the military encampments, eventually leisure facilities were constructed.
Column and archway of the Ravenglass Bath House. This area connects from an area where the Hypocaust was discovered (the underfloor plumbing system that provided heating). © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.
On the outskirts of the Roman town stood a sprawling bath house or Thermae in Latin, which is remarkably still standing and carefully preserved. Brick walls 13 feet (4 meters) high remain, with curved arches over doorways. Under the earth are additional foundations, visible now only under the raised ground, but clearly showing the impressive size of the bath house. The Thermae stood next to a large fort, which is now buried in the Cumbrian landscape – some of the village, roads, and a railway all cross the archeological site. However, the initial excavations from 1881 have been expanded in recent years and it now appears the extent of the Roman encampment is greater than once believed. Just south of the bath house, along a public foot path which crosses the rail line, work is being conducted on the foundations of barracks which once housed the garrison of Glannaventa.
Part of the Ravenglass Bath House. The two doorways pictured lead from the area archeologists have identified as the changing area to the bathing rooms. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.
Of note, a mile’s walk from the Bath House is Muncaster Castle, home of the Pennington Family and the Barons Muncaster. The beautiful castle, occupied by the Pennington family for over 800 years, is built on an elevated wall which is now believed to have been a Roman fortification – the ruins of which were used as the foundations of the castle.
Muncaster Castle, a mile east of the Ravenglass Roman Bath House. The foundations of Muncaster were built upon Roman Ruins 800 years ago. © cambridgemilitaryhistory.com, 2015.
The Ravenglass Roman Bath House is maintained by English Heritage, there is free access and free parking. Muncaster Castle is a beautiful and historic Grade I property which is certainly worth a full day’s visit to enjoy the house and gardens: http://www.muncaster.co.uk.
After much traveling, I plan on returning to Cambridgeshire soon… Brandon.
The Roman Baths and Solar Heating
Anybody interested in this website will also be interested in John Perlin's new book Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy. The book is an impressive work and a rewarding read. Among the many interesting topics that Perlin surveys in the book, one section that caught my attention concerns the ancient Romans' use of solar heating in the monumental bath structures (p.27-33).
Perlin wrote: "the Romans usually glazed the whole south wall of their bathhouses."
Baths of Caracalla model (Rome, 212-216 CE), showing large, southwest-facing window glass.
Perlin also noted: "Seneca wrote that these giant windows trapped so much solar heat that by the late afternoon, bathers would 'broil' inside the baths." Here is where Seneca writes about the baths:
To show the Romans' facility for solar heating, Perlin points to a 1996 study, "Windows, baths, and solar energy in the Roman empire," by physicist James W. Ring (American Journal of Archaeology). I tracked down and read the original article.
Ring concluded: "the Romans deserve high praise for their use of solar energy." His numbers showed, however, that at noon on the winter solstice, a typical 'solar room' in a Roman bath would lose slightly more heat than it would gain---not very good. He made a low assumption of a 30˚F outdoor temperature and a high assumption of 100˚F inside. We may infer that at more moderate temps, or on days with stronger sun, the windows would likely offer enough solar gains to outweigh the losses.
Ring also wrote: "The sun alone on sunny days could provide most of the energy to maintain the 100˚F temperatures. Indeed, even with fires reduced on sunny days, there would probably be some thermal energy [from the sun] stored in the doors and walls that would maintain the temperature as the sun [went] down. On days where the sun [was] obscured by clouds, the hypocaust with reduced fire, or turned on only part of the time, could by itself easily maintain the temperature [100˚F inside] even with the temperature at 30˚F [outside]."
I find the Ring study to be well-done and informative. The paper's calculations are good and the assumptions are sound, although he did not take into account thermal mass lagtime effects apart from the comment above, and he did not discuss daily or yearly totals of gains & losses. He also did not discuss one of the biggest problems that modern solar architects discovered, as I emphasize in my book, the potential for summer overheating. (A curious point is that Ring gave a lot of attention to the question of whether solar heating would have worked in the baths with unglazed openings---obviously not!)
In the Roman baths, the solar heat assisted the hypocaust system of 'mechanical' heating. The technology of the hypocaust is fascinating. The baths included boiling rooms with tanks where hot and warm water was produced by burning wood. The heated rooms within the baths had raised floors and hollow walls, so that hot water and hot air were circulated in these cavities to create radiant heating in the rooms. This is conceptually the same as today's technology of radiant floor heating, which of course works well in combination with passive solar. (Interestingly, a 1956 scholar quoted in Ring's paper said of the Roman baths: "the principles of radiant heating . made the open rooms possible and, to date, we have not matched them in a modern building.")
And if you're thinking 'they must have burned a LOT of wood', you're right. In fact, the Romans probably turned to solar heat out of economic necessity---they were running out of wood, and prices rose steeply. (Which of course brings to mind the famous quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.") A link below has more on the importance of wood, and the scarcity of it, in ancient Rome. And Perlin, in another book (A Forest Journey: Wood and Civilization), said that heating the caldarium of one bath consumed 114 tons of wood per year.
I like words, so all of this prompted me to look up the etymology of the word hypocaust, which is usually translated as "heat from below." The Ancient Greek hypo- means "under," although in medicine it connotes "deficient" and in chemistry it means low-in-oxygen. And caust- means "burnt," as in caustic.
Also to note: the large divided arch windows seen above are known as "Diocletian Windows". Ring noted that Romans made window frames from both wood and metal.
Finally, I'll mention that a quick look at Google Earth shows that the two most 'important' Roman baths, those of Caracalla and Diocletian, were not oriented orthogonally to the cardinal directions. Instead, they were built so that the major glass walls face southwest. (Which brings to mind the fact that Villa Rotonda and Chiswick house were later oriented diagonally, as was Villa Savoye.)
Secret history: Exeter’s Roman Baths, by Jamie Ransom
Sometimes the most amazing historical parts of our home city of Exeter are right in front of you, and you can’t even see them. You can, and you probably do, pass them every day, and they are not visible to you at all. For example if you walk onto Cathedral Green, position yourself on the steps by the Devon War Memorial and face the Cathedral’s amazing West Façade you will be looking at a 1000-year-old historical wonderment, BUT you’ll actually be standing on a 2000-year-old one – Exeter’s sensational Roman Baths!
OK, so technically you won’t be standing directly on the Roman Bath House, but if you went just a few feet down you would find a fantastic array of Roman architecture, technology and beautiful craftsmanship. Now we all know of Exeter’s great Roman History. We are very fortunate to have other surviving and visible Roman elements to the city. But, can you imagine being one of the people working one day to build foundations for new development and discovering a Roman site of “Major significance” and “International interest”? – AMAZING!
A large-scale archaeological excavation was carried out in the early 1970’s. It revealed a building that would have been truly monumental, and of a scale and complexity that made it a significant addition to Isca Dumnoniorum. The Roman Bath House is said to have been built around AD60 and shows excellent quality. It includes hot air underfloor heating, a hypocaust and tiled flooring set throughout a range of rooms with varying purposes – “cutting edge” for its time!
At the time a building such as this would have been built to cater for the residents of Isca for rest and recuperation – mainly military – and well provided for they indeed were! Investigations by archaeologists revealed that the sections of the Bath House and Basilica offered relaxing hot baths heated by a large furnace house, a warm room, an exercise yard and other facilities.
The discovery was completely unexpected, and the journey to finding it also revealed a historical timeline for Exeter through both Saxon and Medieval layers.
Isn’t amazing what is right beneath your feet?
Although the excavations were extensive and photographic evidence was taken using the grainy cameras of the day, the Roman remains have not seen the light of day since the 1970’s. Funding became an issue and parties involved at the time were uncertain of what to do, so the decision was made to cover the Roman Bath House back over.
The excitement didn’t end there. In 2014/2015, grand plans were being presented by Exeter Cathedral – supported by experts, local authorities and the residents of Exeter – to uncover the Roman Bath House once again and allow the world to see them as an attraction. Giving a much-needed insight into Exeter’s history, and furthermore, Roman history as a whole. An application for funding to support the project was made, but unfortunately was rejected, so for the time being, the project remains buried also.
I don’t know about you, but I think the proposals made were fantastic. Perhaps one day, with rejuvenated interest, we might see this great plan come to fruition. I, for one, would be standing alongside the 100000+ extra visitors a year to our great city that the Roman Baths project would attract. What are we waiting for?
I can already tell you are hungry to see a part of this fantastic discovery for yourself and guess what? You can! No, you don’t need to get your shovel out of the shed and start “redesigning” the landscape outside of the Cathedral. However, to get a look at some of the interesting Roman artefacts from the excavations you can instead visit yet another wonderful Exeter venue of history and learning – The Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Here they showcase a collection from the Roman Bath-House that includes floor mosaic, window glass, tiles and wall painting fragments!
So until the Roman Bath House is once again basking in the daylight – as one of Exeter’s best historical attractions – take a look at the site, visit the museum and enjoy a great piece of our “hidden” past.
Photograph credits: BBC, Exeter Cathedral, International Business Times
About the author
Jamie Ransom is Exeter born and bred, with a Devon family that spans generations. He loves all things property, history and heritage, especially in his hometown Exeter “I love Exeter for its amazing growth, but also how it has remained so relaxed with great access to the coast and rugged moors. I am an avid lifetime Titanic enthusiast and researcher” … He also runs his own Exeter based Devon property management company Ransoms Residential . Jamie is our very own history buff and will be uncovering the fascinating history of places around the city for Exploring Exeter.
Who made these tiles and who built the baths?
Whoever invented the new heating system was plainly operating within the Roman technological mileu of bath-building and tile making, but there are also some indications of both indigenous and Gallic roots. Some of the Westhampnett voussoirs have graffiti on the unpatterned top side. Two are built into a church wall at Westhampnett : one has been deciphered as CALVI ('of Calvus'), indicting the maker had a typical Latin name, while the other is interpreted as T F P, probably the initials of a tria nomina (triple name) with T F suggesting T(itus) F(lavius), a person who had recently become a citizen under a Flavian emperor or who belonged to a recently enfranchised family. Three other Westhampnett voussoirs with identical graffiti, found re-used in a 4 th century bath at Elsted near Chichester, have the letters BIIL. The two vertical marks after the B are a form of E that remained common in Gaul after it had gone out of common use in Italy. The graffito would then read BEL as the abbreviation of the maker's name, given that it occurs on three different voussoirs found together. The prefix Bel- is common in many Celtic names in Britain and Gaul - Belinatepus, Bellatorix, Bellognatus and Bellicus - but it is much rarer in Latin names. The evidence from the name would suggest Celtic roots, whether a local Briton of a Gallic immigrant. If from Gaul, he could represent one of the many craftsmen who migrated to Britain in the wake of the invasion, arriving with expertise in terracotta production techniques.
Ultimately, we do not know the precise origins of those who built this unique group of bath-buildings. What seems clear is that skilled and confident terracotta craftsmen dared to make the hefty flue tiles a structural component of the building. They were also confident heating engineers, not following a prescribed way of building baths imported from elsewhere. Initially they were hired by elite civilian patrons, probably of the Regni tribe. Thus they are unlikely to have been military experts. The little that can be gleaned from the graffiti and the roller dies suggests a Celtic background, possibly a mix of local Britons and Gallic immigrants, who saw an opportunity in the receptive lands of the Regni to fulfil a growing desire on the part of the elite to live the Roman lifestyle in their newly constructed villas.
Professor Lynne C. Lancaster
Department of Classics and World Religions
Extracts from an article to be published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology