Aquae Sulis – Roman Bath

Aquae Sulis, meaning “the waters of Sulis” was a Roman town in the province of Britannia, located in the modern-day city of Bath in England.

The site was first occupied by the Iron Age Dobunni, who worshipped the Goddess Sulis at a sacred hot spring. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae”, he fancifully described that the sacred springs were discovered by Kind Bladud who founded the first ancient baths and the city in situ.

- Advertisement -

The spring is heated by geothermal activity that causes mineral-rich water to rise to the surface through fissures and faults in the limestone rock at a temperature of 45° C. The whole water cycle takes 10,000 years, starting as rain on the Mendip Hills, but more recent findings suggest that the rainwater enters through the carboniferous limestone near Bath and the Avon Valley.

The water then percolates through aquifers to a depth of 2,700 and 4,300 metres where it is heated to a temperature between 69 and 96 °C and rises to feed three hot springs in the centre of the City.

Image Credit : Markus Milligan

After the Roman conquest across Britannia in AD43, a formal temple complex was constructed at Aquae Sulis around AD60 and was adapted to the worship of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy.

Over the centuries, a substantial Roman bathing complex developed with a caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (lukewarm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath) that was associated with the adjoining temple.

- Advertisement -
Image Credit : Markus Milligan

Aquae Sulis was situated near to a strategic crossing point of the River Avon and the intersection of four major Roman roads located at Walcot, a suburb of modern-day Bath where the main site of Roman habitation has been identified.

The bathing and temple complex was surrounded with a stone wall, constructed during the 3rd Century AD that encircled an area of 23 acres, although whether this was defensive is debated.

The Roman town has created a perplexing debate amongst academics, as the ribbon of habitation along Walcot appears to be the main population centre, whilst the buildings constructed within the town walls may have been to service, or were associated with the temple and bathing complex (still debated).

Many internal civic buildings have been suggested, such as a praetorium, fabrica armorum, forum, basilica and several temples, but no inscriptions mention municipal life at Bath, and no structural remains are indicative of a forum or basilica.

Image Credit : Markus Milligan

By AD 370-420, Aquae Sulis was in decline due to the economic collapse of the period, evident by the decline in maintenance of the Temple of Sulis Minerva in the late fourth century and the conversion of many public buildings for other uses. By AD 500, Aquae Sulis was in disrepair and was supposedly destroyed in the 6th century according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The baths have been modified on several occasions, including the 12th century, when John of Tours built a curative bath over the King’s Spring reservoir, and the 16th century, when the city corporation built a new bath (Queen’s Bath) to the south of the spring. The spring is now housed in 18th-century buildings, designed by architects John Wood, the Elder and John Wood, the Younger, father and son.

Header Image Credit : Diego Delso

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists uncover crypts of the Primates of Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered two crypts in the collegiate church in Łowicz containing the Primates of Poland.

Giant prehistoric rock engravings could be territorial markers

Giant rock engravings along the Upper and Middle Orinoco River in South America could be territorial markers according to a new study.