What have the Romans ever done for us?
This question reminds me of a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”
Can you picture Romans, in their tunics and cloaks setting up shop in Somerset, England thousands of years ago and bringing with them all of the above? Well that is exactly what happened! They brought, with their knowledge of irrigation and engineering, exquisite spa baths to the city known as Bath today!
The Romans were expert at blending cultures, with a heavy serving of their own added to the ones they infiltrated. The mineral springs at Bath were known prior to the Roman invasion. It was said that a legendary Celtic King, Bladud was cured of leprosy in the 9thcentury BC by wading through the area’s warm mud. It wasn’t until the Romans arrived, though, that the baths gained true fame.
They developed the baths with Roman architecture and decorated them with Roman art, establishing a temple to Sulis Minerva there, a god they invented by merging the Celtic god Sulis with the Roman one, Minerva. The town was known as Aquae Sulis at the time and people came from far and wide to worship, bathe, exercise and gossip from 80 to 400 AD. When the Romans left, the site was abandoned.
Over time, other cultures built up over top of the town and it seemingly disappeared, until…in the 1700’s odd and interesting artefacts started popping up as sewers were being dug for the town above. In 1775, some workmen broke through a layer of rubble and discovered the spectacular Roman baths intact and in almost as good shape as they had been 1300 years ago!
I had the pleasure of digging for stories in Aquae Sulis myself. I am a lover of the strange and unusual, of mysteries and puzzles, particularly historic ones. On my journey to excavate story tidbits I came across a multitude of inspiring details.
Here are but a couple that were found in the drains of the pools of Aquae Sulis: Curse tablets and long lost gems.
Curse tablets were small messages engraved on lead or tin plates and then thrown by either the author or a priest into the waters at Sulis, to be taken care of by higher forces. Most were cursing people for stealing, and written with such vehemence, one would NOT want ot be on the receiving end of one.
The lost gems were interesting because they were so small, ornate and detailed. They most likely either came off the wearer’s jewellery in the hot water of the spa or were left as offerings. In these tiny gems, are insignias and carvings, so tiny they are hardly visible to the naked eye, but each means something.
I am sure I can find a place for a curse tablet or a long lost gem in a story somewhere. Can you? What would your character inscribe on a curse tablet? Who would they curse and why? What secret could be found in a long lost gem? What clue could it unlock? Tickle our imaginations by leaving your thoughts in the comment section! Happy writing!