Update on baths and Roman graffiti

Following on from yesterday’s post I have discovered, and been told, a few interesting things. 

First, London guide Dave tells me: “Minor correction – but excavations have found five Roman bath houses in the London area (more probably remain to be discovered) – the ones in Cheapside were relatively small, and perhaps reserved for use by the Roman Army. The main baths (at least in the early years of Roman London) were the ones found in the Huggin Hill excavations – they were really rather impressive. Two smaller baths (probably private ones) have been found in Pudding Lane and the nearby Billingsgate Roman House and Baths (hopefully open to the public again this year. The other big set of baths (official building – perhaps used by the Roman Governor) were in Southwark – under what is now the remains of Winchester Palace.

Huggin Hill, Pudding Lane and Billinsgate, incidentally, have all been or will be covered in this blog.

Second, I have found a discrepancy in my own notes, whereby the Roman tile decrying Austalis’s shenanigans is described as having been found both in a Roman bath in Cheapside and in Newgate Street. There are many references to the ‘Austalis tile’ in various learned tomes, but none say where it was found, other than that it was once in the Guildhall Museum (now part of the Museum of London).

This little snippet of Roman history has been translated in different ways in the various sources I have read; let’s give the last word to Robin George Collingwood who was an English philosopher, historian and archaeologist and, during his time, a leading authority on Roman Britain. In An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3, Roman London, originally published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1928, there is ‘Appendix 2: Inscriptions of Roman London By R. G. Collingwood’.

In this appendix, with an illustration of the tile, Collingwood says, “Tile with graffito (Plate 63 and Fig. 87), done with a stick when the clay was wet. From Warwick Lane, Newgate Street [Guildhall Museum Cat., p. 72; Ephem, Epigr., VII, 1141]. “Austalis (i.e., Augustalis) has been AVSTALIS going off by himself every day for these DIBVS XIII 13 days.” The Latin is unclassical, but VAGATVRSIB the sense is clear; a workman is calling COTIDIM attention of the continual absence of a fellow-workman.”

I wonder if the crisp packets and other discarded items that we found behind our bath panel when we had to remove it for a plumbing issue will be of interest to archaeologists in later years as an example of ancient workmen and their habits.


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