Like any modern city, Bath is under continual re-development. And as with any 2,000 year old city, any excavations taking place in the city center gets watched by archaeologists. Last year digging for the foundations of the new Gainsborough Hotel uncovered what appeared to be a collection of Roman coins. Examination by the British Museum revealed that there were 17,577 separate coins, which had originally been buried in a number of leather bags. The coins dated from 32 BCE to 274 CE, and have been valued at £12,000.
Normally archaeological finds become the property of the local museum authorities, which in this case would have been the Roman Baths. However, because this find contained a substantial amount of precious metal (many of the coins are silver) it falls under separate legislation to do with treasure. The owner of the site where the treasure was found is required to sell the hoard to the nation, but is entitled to half the value in return. This means that the museum needs to raise £60,000 to acquire the coins.
The plan is to do this via the Heritage Lottery Fund, but simply buying the coins is not the sort of project that the HLF would fund. There has to be some community involvement as well. And that is how I, and my friend Robert Howes, as representatives of Out Stories Bristol, ended up at the Baths today being given a tour and a look at some of the coins. OSB, and many other community groups, are being polled on what we would like to see done with the coins when they go on display. The HLF grant, when it happens, will cover both the purchase of the coins and the community projects associated with the display.
I should note that one of the things that the Baths are asking for money for is improving accessibility. Their site is cramped and on multiple levels, and they badly need improved wheelchair access. For those of you who have visited recently, part of the money will go to installing an elevator that goes down past the Temple Pediment into the Aquae Sulis Gallery.
From OSB’s point of view, of course, what we’d like the Baths to do is highlight the existence of QUILTBAG people in Roman Britain. Robert brought up the subject of Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend, Antinous. From my point of view I was delighted that the Baths manager, Stephen Clews, knew who Emperor Elagabalus was and why I wanted him mentioned.
I did have some other ideas as to what they might propose to the HLF, but that’s much more blue sky stuff so I won’t say any more about it yet.