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A Common Roman Past

Bath, UK

Ani Lecrivain

I arrived at the University of Bath at the end of June 2022 to spend a month in secondment as part of the program “The memory of the Disputed territories”.

Staying at Esther Parkin Residence, I noticed a cross that was just behind the residence, it bore the following inscription: "Heart+Mind prepared truth, equality, simplicity and peace" which gave a "spiritual and sentimental" nuance to my academic research.

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Anyway, it is very difficult not to think of spirituality when walking on the streets of Bath. Abbeys, churches and cathedrals echo the spirituality at every step, which is no surprise, as Bath has been an ecclesiastical centre since the Middle Ages. Lover of literature and history, I was served in Bath. The small, often pedestrian streets of the city centre give the impression of being out of time. Royal Crescent and the Circus places us directly in the film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, the typical Anglo-Saxon houses of the city rivalled those built in the Mediterranean style. In some neighbourhoods, you can feel like in Italy. The Hulborne Museum had an exhibition entitled 'Love Life' drawings of David Hockney and on July 9th, the city of Bath vibrated to the rhythm of carnival.

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The biggest discovery was made in the Roman Baths in Bath. A map, exposed at the beginning of the visit, caught my attention. Aquae Sulis (the ancient name of Bath) along with Britannia and Armenia was part of the Roman Empire at the same time. This is a nice introduction to the subject of disputed territories. But the most surprising was yet to come. More I advanced in my visit, more I became aware that this Roman past of Bath united it closely to Armenian city of Garni. Both sites house a temple and Roman Baths. And if the temple of Garni was built by the Armenian king Tiridates 1st for the god of the sun Mihr, the temple of Bath was erected for the goddess of water Sulis Minerva. Only a few stones remain of the Roman temple in Bath, indeed visitors can only see the steps. Garni’s temple is almost intact, albeit well restored after the earthquake of 1679.


On the other hand, the Roman baths of Bath are in an almost perfect state of preservation. It is possible to see all the rooms, the walls keep in places the colours of the Roman "decor". The discovery of the Roman baths next to the Garni’s temple is relatively recent and little restored. The thermal buildings were created thanks to the genius of the Roman engineers of the 3rd century: transported via the aqueducts, the water was stored in large tanks located in the basement of the thermal baths. The rooms of Garni’s Roman terms are identical to those of Bath and are composed of 5 spaces: apodyterium, a small room with benches and niches in which the visitor could deposit his belongings; the palestra where the Romans exercised in order to sweat and evacuate dirt from the body. For non-athletes, another alternative was offered: 60°C sweat room called sudatorium. After the effort comes comfort with the hot pool room (caldarium) where Romans benefited from hot baths, they scraped the dirt on their body using strigil and oils as a soap. A lukewarm bath (tepidarium) was offered to prepare the transition between hot and cold. And finally, the cold-water pool (frigidarium) with his firming action on the skin closed the “ceremony” of purification. The cleaning of the Baths made it possible to find a very large number of coins that visitors from all over the Roman Empire threw into the pools. I wanted to know if an Armenian currency could be found among these various currencies, but for lack of time, I could not find an answer to my question.


The American Museum of Bath, the only American museum outside the US offers to browse American history from the 14th to the 20th centuries in a single day with its remarkable collection of folk and decorative arts. Some rooms brought me back to the memory of the disputed territories, in particular New Orleans Bedroom situated in ground floor of the museum: the city of New Orleans founded by France in 1718, was ceded to Spain in 1762, returned to France in 1800, sold to the United States in 1803. Under the political domination of Great Britain from 1812 to 1815, New Orleans is liberated in 1815 and regained peace.

During my secondment in Bath, my inner peace has been shaken for 2 reasons: weather and gulls. It was hard for my mind and body to accept 11°C in the morning and 17°C in the day during the first week of July, when at the same moment the temperature in Armenia attempted 37 °C. The gulls put my nerves to the test. True campus dwellers with squirrels and ducks, gulls didn't let me sleep. In contrast, the meetings with colleagues from the University of Bath over coffee, lunch, a conference and a launch of a presentation of a book were very enriching and pleasant after 2 years of meetings on zoom.