Tag Archive | Roman

Secrets of Roman London Part 1

A Free Heritage Walking Adventure

My Roman blogging has been pitiful of late. Let me rectify this a little. Here be part one of a (possibly very) short series on the Mystery parts of Roman London that can be seen by the willing tourists.

This post stems from an adventurous day I spent in London in July 2014, on a research trip to the Museum of London’s archaeological archive. Having several hours to fill before I could crash on my friends bedroom floor, I set off on an unplanned mission to see as much of Roman London as it was possible to see for Free! First stop was to the very useful tourist information post next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The wonderful guide was clearly used to off-beat historians asking him questions as was quite happy to help. Map in hand, I set off.

First stop was technically before I had left the tourist info, but I think artistic license will allow me to gloss over that. The Walls, The WALLS! Roman London has lovely walls. Fact. Many sections are quite visible and actually helped me orientate myself around a city I was only used to see via tube. Don’t use the tube, its hot and expensive and, most importantly, you don’t get to see all the heritage. Immediately adjacent to the Museum of London, next to a stonkingly dangerous dual carriageway, is a huge section of wall complete with interval towers and interpretion panels. It’s planted up and publicly accessible.

The wall next to Museum of London

The wall next to Museum of London

Second secret stop was the Amphitheatre. I had only discovered a week previously that the amphitheatre of Roman London is actually visible, as that it is free to do so. Fragments of a gateway and the arena are open to walk around beneath the Guildhall in the banking district. Everyone outside WILL be wearing a suit. Perhaps more impressive than the remains themselves is the huge black line drawn on the ground in the courtyard of the Guildhall, representing the arc of the wall of the amphitheatre. Get this on Google maps to appreciate it fully, its very, very cool.


The amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall


Glorious, glorious interpretation

After a Pret lunch (when in Rome, right?) I opted for the long walk to my next stop, east along the north Bank of the Thames to find a scrap of wooden post from the first century Bridge. This thing was, let me tell you, a nightmare to find! The post remains on open display, exposed to elements, but strapped onto a recess of the exterior of the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr Church. By all accounts it is not a beautiful thing, but a very rare thing displayed in a quirky manner. Any conservator who saw this stake would probably faint. This was a big tick off my Roman-orienteering experience.

Bridging the gap between science and religion

The cliffhanger I leave here, for Part 2 contains a curious church, a hairdressers and a surprise visitor.


Hadrianic Society Conference 2014

Details of the forthcoming Hadrianic Society conference 2014 can be found here.

——————–>Click Here for the Printable pdf Flyer<——————–

We run a dual meeting over 6 days; the first half is a ‘Reunion Weekend’ for members old and new, the Second half a conference proper titled THE ROMAN ARMY SCHOOL. The RAS has been running annually for over 30 years and the list of speakers includes top end academics like David Breeze and Val Maxfield, professional archaeologists such as Andrew Birley, non-professional (but by no means with anything less important to say) society members and invited recent post-graduates. We have it all!

The conference is a mix of Roman Army and Roman Frontier studies with additional content from the various Roman subjects of Art, Architecture, Economics and Epigraphy to name but a few. We are a heady blend of current archaeological discoveries and research, reinterpretation of past conceptions, new academic approaches to objects, applied archaeological sciences and holiday photos. Its a sociable place with copies amounts of coffee and wine-fueled chat about all things Roman. And sometimes just All Things.

Come join us.

31st October AD475

Happy Halloween folks, but lest we not forget that it was on this day in AD475 that ROMULUS AUGUSTUS, the last Roman Emperor of the West took his seat of power. Whilst dear Romulus led a turbulent life and may have been a somewhat reluctant Emperor, his life has been commemorated in a 1950 play ‘Romulus the Great’. by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Got to love Wikipedia. 


Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum 2013

Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum

Saturday October 19th 2013 9.45am – 4.30pm

At The Queen’s Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham


The Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum is an annual day-conference featuring talks for the general public about new discoveries and research in the Hadrian’s Wall frontier zone including the Cumbrian coast. This year’s programme features talks on excavation projects at Binchester, Maryport, and Vindolanda, research on the Clayton Archaeology Collection at Chesters and geophysical surveys at forts on part of the German frontier.
There will also be a range of publications on sale at reduced prices.
Price = £18.00 (includes tea/coffee mid-morning and mid-afternoon)

Enquiries and bookings:
The Queen’s Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham, NE46 3LS, Tel: 01434 652477
Email: boxoffice@queenshall.co.ukFor further information contact:
Dr David Mason, The Archaeology Section, Durham County Council, County Hall, Durham City DH1 5UQ.
Tel: 03000 267012 Email. david.mason@durham.gov.uk


We are running out of time to accept papers for the following. Get on it people!

An opportunity for 2 post-graduate students to present research at the Hadrianic Society’s Roman Army School, held in Durham city in Spring 2014 (dates tbc). For all students of Roman studies; see the following pdf for further details.


Application deadline for the Small finds session Call for Papers – TRAC 2014 (Which can be read in full here) is now set to 25th September. Share the love.

For TRAC – If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at Stefanie.Hoss@uni-koeln.de 

York Minster Undercroft – The New Gallery

On the 25th May 2013 York’s eponymous visitor attraction, the Minster, has reopened its undercroft – the archaeological museum displaying many of the in situ remains to be found beneath the building proper. Dangerous levels of weathering and structural stress nearly led to disaster 50 years ago, but a continued series of repairs and investment has ensured the preservation of this historic landmark. As part of a £20million redevelopment. titled the ‘York Minster Revealed’ project, most of the gallery space is redeveloped and the visitor experience generally is expanded.


The Minster itself sits directly atop the Principia of the legionary fortress. Whilst the physical remains of the Basilica SW wall are minimal in their survival, they constitute one of the very few remains visible at all from Roman York. The Legionary Bathhouse (now under a pub) and the Multangular Tower (the SW wall tower used continually from AD70 onwards and part of the City Wall).


The Basilica Wall

The Undercroft revealed is a beautiful little visitor attraction now (its predecessor was looking a little dated). The small finds are well displayed, nicely interpreted and have some intriguing touches. Using a moulded hand to hold the stylus on top of a tile graffito was a particular highlight. The displays are all representative of the time and money spent on this gallery – its worth it. To my mind, the rest of the Roman experience of York is really well developed; there is a slight obsession with the Basilica.The display obviously follows on into the Anglian, Norman and Medieval periods. A cinema at the end runs three short films – one of which is a very well produced piece lasting 3 minutes identifying the Rise of Constantine in York in terms of its Christian significance.


The Undercroft is free as part of an Adult entry ticket (£10, valid for a year) or entirely free if you are a York resident. Enjoy

TRAC Call for Papers

The following Call for Contributions for a session on Roman Small Finds and Ancient Social Practices at TRAC 2014 has been brought to our attention. HadSoc thinks this is right up our street… or should I say vallum?

 Session organizers: Alissa Whitmore & Stefanie Hoss

 While artifacts have always been a part of archaeology, over the past 20 years studies focusing on contextualized artifacts from a variety of classical spaces have allowed scholars to rewrite our understanding of the past. From the soldiers manning the turrets on Hadrian’s Wall caught unexpectedly sewing (Allason-Jones 1988) to women spinning and weaving in Roman forts (Allison 2006), Roman military archaeology has been taught a very interesting lesson on the integration of what we would deem civilian life into the Roman military. But this is just one example of many; other studies in material spatiality were able to throw light on different elements of the use of human space, be it domestic, productive, commercial, political, social, or religious space. Such studies reinforce the social importance of small finds, which can provide detailed evidence of ancient social practices, activities, and use of space, in addition to dates for a site.


This session will focus upon analyses and interpretations of small finds that shed new light on ancient behaviors and spaces. We are especially interested in papers and artifacts which offer novel evidence for previously unknown activities and social groups in a given space, or those which contradict existing ancient sources and scholarly beliefs, forcing us to confront opposing sets of evidence and rethink our understanding of a given space or practice. Papers dealing with all types of small finds, activities, and spaces (public, private, and those in-between) are welcome and encouraged.

 If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at Stefanie.Hoss@uni-koeln.de 

The Moving Story of the London Mithraem

This is a re-publication of an article written for the Hadrianic Society Newsletter in Autumn 2012 by contributor Rose Baillie.

Details of the Museum of London entry can be found here.

The London Blitz of World War 2 left numerous empty plots in the City of London, which far-sighted individuals realised were ripe for archaeology. Into the breach stepped the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council, which appointed Prof W F ‘Peter’ Grimes, Director of the London Museum, to superintend excavations.

In 1954 came Grimes’ greatest discovery, a Temple of Mithras, together with the highest quality assemblage of Roman sculpture yet found in Britain. The excavation aroused enormous public and press interest and was carried on in circumstances of resource, financial and developer pressure that foreshadowed the rescue archaeology of the 1970’s. After Cabinet debate, a two week extension and 100’s of yards of queuing visitors, the Temple was dismantled and rebuilt in 1962 on Queen Victoria Street some 90m from its original location, while the sculptures went to the Museum of London. So far, so familiar.

All things come to an end, including the life of Bucklersbury House, the post-war development on the site of the Mithraeum. A convoluted and complex series of negotiations since 2008 have led to Bucklersbury House and a neighbouring property being acquired by Bloomberg LP, to be redeveloped as their new European HQ. An added complication was that the reconstructed Temple of Mithras had in the interim become a ‘Listed Building’. This meant that Museum of London staff got to superintend its dismantlement and to explore for any possible remains of the original temple.

At this point it was realised that something of a trick had been played on the public for last 50 years, as John Shepherd, former MoL Archive Manager and Grimes expert, told a meeting earlier this year. The fact is that the reconstructed Temple was little more than a ground plan in stone, with which Grimes was very disappointed.

The work was undertaken without proper planning, the stones from the Temple were unnumbered and moved haphazardly to two successive locations and many were lost. The reconstructed Temple had hard modern cement and crazy paving in the aisle. It was built on the street-side roof of an underground car park, on the wrong orientation, without character and context. The one part of the building that was undoubtedly in its correct location was the worn doorstep, with well preserved iron sockets on which the original doors hinged. However,for want of many other visible Roman remains, it became a familiar fixture on London heritage tours. This unsatisfactory structure has now been recorded, dismantled by expert masons and moved once more into storage, ahead of re-instatement as part of the new development.

Thanks to Grimes’ excellent work we know that the London Mithraeum was built around 240AD on an east/west alignment on the rather soggy bank of the Walbrook stream. It was built to simulate a dark cave for Mithraism’s esoteric rituals. It was rectangular, about 18m x 8m with a semi-circular apse at the western end that would have held the main cult statue. There was a sunken floor in the central nave and side aisles separated from the nave by seven columns. Undergoing various modifications, it remained in use as a Mithraeum until around 350 AD. By this time the structure was suffering from severe subsidence and the walls were creaking. It seems likely that the building was taken over by the followers of another pagan cult, probably Bacchus, who repaired it and used it until the end of the Roman period.

Possibly out of respect for the old religion, a group of sculptures were buried in a pit under the floor of the nave. These included heads of Mithras, Serapis and Minerva, the hand of Mithras, and a figure of Mercury. In fact the mostimportant sculpture from the Mithraeum had already been found nearby in 1889. This is the archetypal sculptural scene of Mithras slaying the cosmic bull, with the torch bearing Cautes and Cautopates, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, the sun, the moon and two wind gods, dedicated by Ulpius Silvanus, emeritus of Legio ll Augusta, from Orange.

One legacy of the discovery of the London Mithraeum was that it began the process by which archaeology eventually became incorporated into City planning and redevelopment. A surprising amount is still being found in the City of London, despite much of the built environment being replaced every 20-30 years. Over time many adjacent sites have been excavated, to build up a bigger picture, while the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) provides a home for finds and researchers.

It was always hoped that the new Walbrook Square would contain the reconstructed Mithraeum in a more historically accurate form, for which planning permission has been given. At the time of writing discussions are underway as to what form this will take. Early reports said the Mithraeum would be rebuilt at its original location.But there is a complication. In the archaeological re-evaluation of the site after demolition Ian Blair, of Museum of London Archaeology, had squeezed himself into a narrow trench and located the remains of Grimes’ excavation. He found a great deal more of the Temple’s original foundations still in situ than anyone dared hope. There were substantial parts of the narthex and aisle walls. And, yes, Grimes’ orientation and levels were spot on, but some reinterpretation may be needed, as some of the extant roman remains are from another building, not the Mithraeum.

You cannot put the reconstruction of a reconstruction on top of what is now a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’.So the plan is that there will be public access at street level very near the original location, into a lobby with a display about Mithraism, leading into a darkened, enclosed, lower level reconstruction of the Mithraeum made from the saved stones, which will evoke the cave-like atmosphere favoured by the cult. Nearby but not visible, will be the remains of the original Mithraeum, still resting in the silt of the now invisible Walbrook. It is hoped that the new assemmbage with open in 2016.

Archaeological Words #4

Latest in my random series of the bizarre, unusual and ridiculous words of the archaeological world is actually a whole series. The shapes of objects in profile, in section or in plan are often described using nouns and adjectives stolen from the more technical world of geometry. This ends up with us using the wonderful phrases of ‘concavo-convex’, ‘reniform’, and ‘oblanceolate’. The whole system seems to break down once we encounter shields – trying to described the shape of a shield without using the phrase ‘shield-shaped’ is far too difficult without coffee.

Development on Maryport

Maryport building

The heated debate over the prospective Maryport Deer Park site, covering some of the Roman remains on the site continues. The prospective area of development is identified in the google maps image above. The full article on the Times & Star website includes a letter signed by big names in Romano-British archaeology identifying why the work shouldn’t go ahead given the damage to archaeology and tourism in the area.

The T&S article identifies that the letter has been signed by Alan Biggins and David Taylor, directors of TimeScape, who discovered the Roman farm, David J Breeze, chairman of the Senhouse Roman Museum (and Hadrianic Society member), David Clarke, former senior curator of Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, Lindsay Allason-Jones, president of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, David Thackray, chairman of the World Heritage Committee, and professors of archaeology William Hanson, of the University of Glasgow, Richard Hingley, of the University of Durham, and Ian Haynes, of Newcastle University, who is the director of the current excavations at the Maryport site.

A discussion for residents had to be briefly adjourned (see here) because the debate raged…

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