Roma – Mother of All Footprints

After more than thirty years since my last visit, I am returning to Roma (the mother foot?). Back then I knew so little about Roman history, but it was the sights I saw there that fuelled my desire to study ancient history.

In those days of film and photo developing, you couldn’t be quite as shutter happy as you can now with digital cameras. And you never really knew what photos would or wouldn’t turn out until you were long gone. I was in awe of the Pantheon yet I don’t have a picture of it. Was it because I didn’t take one or because it didn’t turn out? I don’t remember but I am looking forward to seeing it again.

The ancient statue of the Laocoon in the Vatican Museums caught my eye, despite not knowing at the time that it was ancient and a representation of a scene from the Trojan War. It was Laocoon who warned about Greeks bearing gifts. Unheeded he was rewarded with death by serpents for him and his sons.

 

Laocoon in the Vatican Museum

Laocoon in the Vatican Museum

I am excited to return to Rome with more knowledge of her history and culture. And it’s time to update the photo album.

Here are a few more old photos I took in Rome:

Interior of the Colisseum

Interior of the Colosseum

 

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Hadrian's Villa

Hadrian’s Villa

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Cheers! Ruining is Thirsty Work

Traveling in search of Roman sites sometimes takes me off the beaten track. But in Britain, no matter how far off the beaten track one gets, there is always a pub there.

Not only did I happen upon the spot where a bronze head of Emperor Claudius was found in Rendham, Suffolk but I also discovered the White Horse. I visited twice – once for a quick pint and back again for dinner a few weeks later. The food was great!

White Horse Pub in Rendham

White Horse Pub in Rendham

Also in Suffolk, I went to Bury St. Edmunds and had a pint in the smallest pub in Britain (in Guiness Book of Records), the Nutshell.

The Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds

The Nutshell in Bury St. Edmunds

Norfolk – Visiting the Roman forts of Burgh Castle and Caistor-on-Sea led me astray into the Norfolk Broads and to a delightful afternoon stop watching pleasure boats docking at the Ferry Inn in Stokesby.

Boats on the Norfolk Broads

Boats on the Norfolk Broads

Poking around London for evidence of Romans is best done in museums. After a visit to the British Museum, chock full of Roman artifacts, I nipped into the Museum Tavern across the street. And after a morning at the Museum of London and an afternoon discovering bits of Roman wall and finding the temple of Mithras (when it was still there to find), I had supper at the Old Bell Pub in Fleet Street.

Further west in Hampshire, lunch was needed after a visit to Silchester Roman Town and the Red Lion Pub in Mortimer West End supplied a venison and cranberry baguette along with some local ale.

Lunch at the Rose and Thistle in Rockbourne, near Rockbourne Roman villa, was a smoked salmon sandwich accompanied by a gin and tonic.

The Rose and Thistle, Rockbourne

The Rose and Thistle, Rockbourne

Over in the Cotswolds, I visited Chedworth Roman villa and the Corinium Museum in Cirencester. In the evening a trip along the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, took me to the Inn at Fossebridge.

Inn at Fossebridge, Cotswolds

Inn at Fossebridge, Cotswolds

The little Welsh town of Caerwent is surrounded by high Roman walls and interspersed among the modern houses are the remains of the Roman town of Venta Silurum. At the north gate is, naturally, the Northgate Inn where I stopped for a pint. Is it me, or does that Roman legionnaire look a little fuzzy?

Northgate Inn, Caerwent

Northgate Inn, Caerwent

 

 

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For Roman Men Only

A belated nod to International Men’s Day (November 19) and a salute to Movember — a post about the mystery cult of Mithras. Its rituals were conducted in man-caves, included wing-men and were for men only!

The cult of Mithras began in Persia and became popular among both soldiers and officers of the Roman army. According to legend Mithras was a sun god from heaven. Some traditions have him born from the living rock and others say he came from the Cosmic Egg.

Mithras in Cosmic Egg found at Housesteads, Great North Museum Newcastle

Mithras in Cosmic Egg found at Housesteads, Great North Museum Newcastle

Mithras is said to have slayed the first creature on earth, a bull, and from its blood all life flowed. His temples were designed to resemble caves with a statue or relief of the scene of Mithras killing the bull (the scene is called the tauroctony) at the far end of the temple behind the altars. His companions, Cautes and Catopautes, stood at the entrance of the inner sanctum of the temples.

Tauroctony Relief from Housesteads, Great North Museum Newcastle

Tauroctony Relief from Housesteads, Great North Museum Newcastle

On this vivid relief, notice the snake and the dog lapping up the bull’s blood, and hidden behind the cosmic egg, a scorpion pinches the bull’s testicles. Strange and mysterious imagery.

With many soldiers from around the Roman Empire posted to Britannia from AD 43 to AD 410, several temples have been found along Hadrian’s Wall. One at Housesteads (Vercovicium), one at Rudchester (Vindobala) and one at Carrawburgh (Procolita). The last is the best preserved and open for viewing.

Carrawburgh Mithras Temple

Carrawburgh Mithras Temple

I also visited remains of a Mithraeum in London in 2011. It has since been moved and is not on display at present.

Temple of Mithras, London

Temple of Mithras, London

 

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Fusion Temples for Fusion Gods

When Romans invaded they brought their gods with them but these rarely displaced the local gods.

What happened was people would equate local gods with Roman gods. It might have gone something like “oh, Maponus has the same attributes and sphere of influence as Apollo so they must be the same god but with different names.” Dedications have been found to Apollo-Maponus in northern Britain and Gaul, as well as to Mars-Cocidius near Hadrian’s Wall, to Sulis-Minerva at Bath and other similar hybrids.

In Britain, temple remains found are often those of little Romano-Celtic structures. They were fusion temples for fusion gods.

Romano-Celtic Temple at Caerwent, Wales

Romano-Celtic Temple at Caerwent, Wales

The temple foundations at Caerwent include a little apse on one end, a common feature of Romano-Celtic temples. A dedication to the god Mars-Ocelus was found here.

Maiden Castle Roman Temple

Maiden Castle Roman Temple

Romano-Celtic temples were often built in the groves and on the hilltops sacred to Iron Age Celts. They could be square, rectangular or circular with a main room or cella, and surrounded by a covered ambulatory or walkway. This is true of the Roman-era temple atop Maiden Castle Iron Age hillfort in Dorset built in the late 4th century. A bronze plaque with Minerva depicted on it was found here.

Jordan Hill Roman Temple

Jordan Hill Roman Temple

All that remains of the 4th century temple at Jordan Hill near Weymouth, Dorset is the square outline of the stone foundation walls. What can’t be seen at the site is a 13-foot deep shaft in the centre of the temple that archaeologists found. It held sixteen layers of ash and charcoal alternated with roof slabs and the bones of a bird and a small coin in each layer. At the bottom was a stone cistern with two urns, a sword and a spearhead. This type of feature is believed to have been common to prehistoric Celtic religious sites.

Benwell Roman Temple

Benwell Roman Temple

Benwell Roman Temple near Newcastle is dedicated to Atenociticus who is thought to have been a local god. Two cement copies of altars that were found during excavation of the temple bear these inscriptions:

To the god Antenociticus and to the Deities of the emperors, Aelius Vibius, centurion of the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

To the Antenociticus, Tineius Longus (set this up) having, while prefect of cavalry, been adorned with the (senatorial) broad strip and designated quaestor by the decrees of our best and greatest Emperors, under Ulpius Marcellus, consular governor.

In Roman religion people entered into a contract with a god – “if you do this for me, then I will do this for you”. The altars and dedications found at the temples are fulfillments of this type of vow.

Classical Roman temples were known in Britain but little of these has survived. One, the temple of Claudius in Colchester destroyed by Boudica in the 1st century, was massive by all accounts. Its foundations were used as a platform for the largest Norman Keep in Britain.

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle built over the Temple of Claudius

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The Cockheaded Man

There are probably one or two jokes I could make about this title, but I will leave you to your own imaginations instead. I am sure that women might have a different take on it than men. Interpretations are in the eye of the beholder.

The Cock-headed Man

The Cockheaded Man

So who or what was this cockheaded man on a mosaic in Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight? There are no other images quite like it in extant Roman mosaics, so no one really knows quite to make of it.

The signs at Brading suggest the mosaic might have been a satire of the mid-third century emperor, Trebonianus Gallus, gallus being Latin for cockerel. The image is rather cartoon-like and Gallus was unpopular and apparently skewed outcomes of arena games to lead to more deaths than usual. In the mosaic he is dressed up as a gladiator trainer or animal hunter from the arena.

Taking a more serious approach, Martin Henig, in Religion in Roman Britain, identifies the cockheaded man as the god, Iao/Abraxis, and the scene as depicting an allegory on taking a straight and narrow path to heaven.

My own inclination is to go with the satirical interpretation. Yes, Iao was represented in iconography as having a chicken head but he also had snaky legs, which this man does not. This video shows a discussion about the mosaic by experts from the UK Open University who came to the same conclusion.

 

Serious god or political satire? What is your interpretation?

Find out more about Brading Roman Villa – Quick Facts

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No Chunnel for Bold Men

When you think of Roman legions you imagine fearless. You don’t imagine that they had to be bullied into boats to cross the English Channel to invade Britain in AD 43. But apparently the four legions under the command of Aulus Plautius did. Really, Romans were not keen on boats or being at sea.

Emperor Claudius crossed the channel a couple of weeks later with elephants. I wonder if they were easier to get into the boats than the soldiers? I’m not sure exactly how they were used in battle but I like to think of elephants as the ancient equivalent of tanks.

It is commonly thought that they sailed from Gesioracum in Gaul (Boulogne, France) to Rutupiae (Richborough, Kent).

Kent is rich with Roman history and Roman remains, including a third century fort at Richborough and another at Reculver.

Bastion of Fort at Richborough

Bastion of Fort at Richborough

The Roman fleet was stationed at Dubris (Dover) and there is a lighthouse in Dover Castle and in the town remains of an official hotel with excellent wall paintings.

English Channel and Roman Lighthouse beside Church in Dover

English Channel and Roman Lighthouse beside Church in Dover

Remains of two villas are open to the public at Lullingstone and Crofton, and there is a Roman Museum in Durovernum Cantiacorum, (Canterbury).

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Lost and Found – A Head of Its Time

On an evening jaunt around the back roads of Suffolk, not far from Saxmundham, I happened upon the hamlet of Rendham where a local boy, years before, had discovered the head of the Roman Emperor Claudius. That autumn night I wasn’t searching for Roman history but stumbled upon it nonetheless, as one does in a country oozing history from its pores.

It was my first visit to the area and I was just getting to know rural East Anglia, where  England’s famed green and pleasant land is alive and well. Here the scenery consists of mounds of harvested sugar beets awaiting processing; fields of pigs wallowing amongst their semi-circular metal shelters scattered like so many mini porcine Quonset huts; and a rolling landscape of green hedgerows and large oaks standing out on the horizon. The aroma of freshly dug soil and spread manure hangs lightly in the air.

Image 020 piles of sugar beet

Sugarbeets in Suffolk

Winding along the country roads, I slowed down for Rendham on the B1119 that runs east from Framlingham, and noticed a standard with a colourful coat of arms. I stopped. The coat of arms, set up in AD 2000, was divided into three tableaus. The parish church tower was in the top left and the four farm animals of Suffolk (cow, pig, horse and Suffolk black-face sheep) were in the top right. In the lower middle was the bridge that crosses the River Alde and below, sitting atop the river, was a severed bronze head, looking suspiciously Roman.

Rendham Coat of Arms

Rendham Coat of Arms

Rendham is a collection of houses, farms, the Church of St. Michael and the White Horse pub. Here the River Alde, which reaches the North Sea to the east at Orford, is little more than a stream this far inland.

It was inside the White Horse Pub where I discovered the identity of the Roman on the coat of arms. Once stopped, of course the pub was the obvious next step. The landlord directed me to a book which said that Claudius’ head was found in the river by a local boy in 1907, more than 1800 years after Claudius invaded Britannia in AD 43. The original bronze head is now in the British Museum, with copies in the Ipswich and Colchester Museums.

But how did Claudius’ head get here so many years ago? There is no known large Roman settlement in the area of Rendham so it had to have come from a Roman town further away. Historians think that the bronze statue head was deposited in the river by the rampaging Iceni and Trinovantes tribes led by Boudica during the AD 60/61 rebellion, and came from Camulodunum (modern Colchester) thirty miles to the south.

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