In the history of Bath and indeed Britain, there are few texts surviving that provide a contemporary account of the ‘look and feel’ of a place during the Anglo-Saxon period.
The Exeter Codex (Exeter Book) is one of the best works of Anglo Saxon Britain, compiled some time in the late 10th century . It is a mix of riddles and poems, many existing for centuries in spoken form, before being written down.
The Exeter Book contain a poem that describes Bath during this period. It is called “The Ruin” or “The Ruined City” and is thought to be a description of Bath by an early Anglo-Saxon Christian. The writer may well have been a post Battle of Dyrham Saxon “invader”, seeing Bath for the first time. The poem references the red Roman curved roof tiles that are now displayed in the Roman Baths.
Here are two translations, the first by Chauncey B. Tinker and the second by Jack Watson.
‘Wondrously wrought and fair its wall of stone,
Shattered by Fate! The castles rent asunder,
The work of giants moldered away!
Its roofs are breaking and falling; its towers crumble
In ruin. Plundered those walls with grated doors —
Their mortar white with frost. Its battered ramparts
are shorn away and ruined, all undermined
By eating age. The mighty men that built it,
Departed hence, undone by death, are held
Fast in the earthâs embrace. Tight is the clutch
Of the grave, while overhead of living men
A hundred generations pass away.
Long this red wall, now mossy gray, withstood,
While kingdom followed kingdom in the land,
Unshaken âneath the storms of heaven — yet now
Its towering gate hath fallen. . . .
Radiant the mead-halls in that city bright,
Yea, many were its baths. High rose its wealth
Of hornèd pinnacles, while loud within
Was heard the joyous revelry of men —
Till mighty Fate came with her sudden change!
Wide-wasting was the battle where they fell.
Plague-laden days upon the city came;
Death snatched away that mighty host of men. . . .
There in the olden time full many a thane,
Shining with gold, all gloriously adorned,
Haughty in heart, rejoiced when hot with wine;
Upon him gleamed his armor, and he gazed
On gold and silver and all precious gems;
On riches and on wealth and treasured jewels,
A radiant city in a kingdom wide.
There stood the courts of stone. Hot within,
The stream flowed with its mighty surge. The wall
Surrounded all with its bright bosom; there
The baths stood, hot within its heart. . . . ‘
This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down
fiercely sharpened________ _________
______________ she shone_________
_____________g skill ancient work_________
_____________g of crusts of mud turned away
spirit mo________yne put together keen-counselled
a quick design in rings, a most intelligent one bound
the wall with wire brace wondrously together.
Bright were the castle buildings, many the bathing-halls,
high the abundance of gables, great the noise of the multitude,
many a meadhall full of festivity,
until Fate the mighty changed that.
Far and wide the slain perished, days of pestilence came,
death took all the brave men away;
their places of war became deserted places,
the city decayed. The rebuilders perished,
the armies to earth. And so these buildings grow desolate,
and this red-curved roof parts from its tiles
of the ceiling-vault. The ruin has fallen to the ground
broken into mounds, where at one time many a warrior,
joyous and ornamented with gold-bright splendour,
proud and flushed with wine shone in war-trappings;
looked at treasure, at silver, at precious stones,
at wealth, at prosperity, at jewellery,
at this bright castle of a broad kingdom.
The stone buildings stood, a stream threw up heat
in wide surge; the wall enclosed all
in its bright bosom, where the baths were,
hot in the heart. That was convenient.
Then they let pour_______________
hot streams over grey stone.
until the ringed sea (circular pool?) hot
_____________where the baths were.
__________re, that is a noble thing,
to the house__________ castle_______