Giving Tuesday: Give Like A Roman | The Roman Baths

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Giving Tuesday: Give Like A Roman

5 May 2020


At the moment, many of us are doing what we can to help others. That might be looking after a loved-one, volunteering in the local community, or donating to charitable causes under pressure from COVID-19. This behaviour isn’t new; people in Roman life were just as keen on giving their time, talent and money as we are today.

They gave cash and in-kind donations. This ranged from gifts of land; building materials such as lead and timber to create bath houses; donations to build public spaces; donations to maintain the upkeep of bath houses; to smaller gifts of oil to be used in baths. They also gave their time. Those with an honorific position on the town council were also expected to put their hands in their purses.

Like modern-day giving, donation levels were varied. There are examples of gifts ranging from 150 denarii to 2,500 denarii for maintenance of bathing complexes. A denarius was about a day’s wage for a labourer when the Roman baths were built.  Donors were often thanked in similar ways to donors of today, with an inscription acknowledging their gift in a public space.

At the Roman Baths, we can see evidence of this first-hand. A fragmented inscription tells us that Claudius Ligur ‘at his own cost’ had a large building with a façade known as the four seasons ‘repaired and repainted’.

The Façade of the Four Seasons is an unusual building known from various sculptured stones found in the excavations that took place for the building of the Pump Room in 1790. A facade with carvings of the four seasons was surmounted by a decorated pediment containing an image of the goddess Luna. You can see the tip of her whip which she used to guide her two-horsed chariot across the night sky. The purpose of the building is not clear, but it may have been a place where worshippers might spend the night in the sacred courtyard next to the Temple of the goddess. Here they might have visions in their dreams.

Today, the Roman Baths continues the Roman traditions of giving with our charitable foundation – The Roman Baths Foundation. Set up in 2015, the Foundation (Charity No. 1163044) helps keep the Roman Baths special. We know there are charities and causes more deserving than ours at the current time.  However, the Roman Baths normally relies on income from visitors, which is not possible with the doors closed. You can help keep the Roman Baths special for everyone by donating to the Foundation. Less than 1% of the Foundation’s income is spent on its running costs, meaning your donation has a greater impact. You can donate and find out more about The Roman Baths Foundation here.