Verulamium

Verulamium was one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. It was established on the location of a late Iron Age settlement and a major centre of the Catuvellauni tribe. Its ruins now stand in the southwest of the modern city of St Albans in Hertfordshire, 33 km north west of London. The excavations have uncovered parts of the city walls, a hypocaust under a mosaic floor, but the most spectacular find was the Roman theatre. Since much of the modern city has been built upon the ancient town, a large portion of Verulamium remains unexcavated.

Coordinates: 51° 45′ 0″ N, 0° 21′ 14.04″ W

Verulamium was founded on the ancient Celtic site of Verlamion (meaning ‘settlement above the marsh’), a late Iron Age settlement and major center of the Catuvellauni tribe. After the Roman invasion of AD 43, the city was renamed Verulamium and became one of the largest and most prosperous towns in the province of Britannia. In around AD 50, Verulamium was granted the rank of municipium, meaning that its citizens had “Latin Rights”. It grew to a significant town, and as such, was a prime target during the revolt of Boudicca in AD 61. Verulamium was sacked and burnt to the ground on her orders, but the Romans crushed the rebellion and the town recovered quickly. In its heyday, Verulamium was the third largest city in Roman Britain.

By AD 140, the town had doubled in size, covering 100 acres, and featured a forum with a basilica, public baths, temples, many prosperous private townhouses and a theatre. Despite two fires, one in AD 155 and the other around AD 250, Verulamium continued to grow and remained a central Roman town for the next four hundred years until the end of the Roman occupation.

Today the site of Verulamium sits in a beautiful public park. Archaeological excavations were undertaken in the park during the 1930s during which the 1800-year-old hypocaust and its covering mosaic floor were discovered. Further large-scale excavations uncovered the theatre, a corner of the basilica nearby and some of the best-preserved wall paintings of Roman Britain. On the outskirts of the park is the Verulamium Museum which contains hundreds of archaeological objects relating to everyday Roman life.

PORTFOLIO

The Roman Theatre, built in about 140 AD, is unique. Although several towns in Britain are known to have had theatres, this is the only one visible today.
The theatre could accommodate several thousands spectators on simple wooden benches and had an almost circular orchestra in front of the stage where town magistrates and local dignitaries were seated. By AD 160-180, the theatre was radically altered with the stage enlarged.
The theatre was built close to the site of an earlier water shrine and was linked to two temples dedicated to Romano-British gods: one stood immediately behind the theatre and the other on the opposite side of the river a short distance outside the town. Today the remains of these temples lie buried.
The theatre was lined with shops with storage spaces behind the main shop area and even sleeping quarters. When the shops were excavated in the 1950’s, broken crucibles and waste metal showed that most of the shops had been occupied by blacksmiths and bronze workers.
Around AD 170, a large townhouse was built behind the shops part of which can still be seen. The house had a hypocaust and an underground shrine.
The Hypocaust and Mosaic. During the 1930s excavations, archaeologists uncovered a 1800 year old underfloor heating system, or hypocaust, which ran under an intricate mosaic floor. This floor is thought to have been part of the reception rooms of a large town house built around AD 180.
The mosaic is of great size and contains around 200,000 tesserae. The floor is composed of a central section with 16 square panels, each containing a circular roundel with a geometric design. The borders are bands of single and double interlaces and strips of wide and thin dark and light material.
The city walls were constructed around AD 270 and were over 3m thick at foundation level and over 2m high.
The walls were built as a complete circuit round Verulamium with a total length of 3.4 km (2.25 miles) and enclosing an area of 82 ha (203 acres).
The city walls of Verulamium.
The surviving foundations of the London Gate. Large gateways controlled the four main entrances to the town of Verulamium. The best preserved is the London Gate on the south side of the town.
Reconstruction drawing of the London Gate.
  • The Verulamium Museum

The Verulamium Museum in St Albans. Located in Verulamium park, the Verulamium Museum was established following the 1930s excavations carried out by Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa Wheeler.
The Mosaic Room.
The Oceanus Mosaic, AD 160-190. The figure could be the god Oceanus – or it might be Cerunnos the god of the woods.
The Shell Mosaic, dated to c. AD 15.
The Dahlia Mosaic with flower motif, AD 175-200.
The reconstructed painted plaster walls dating to about AD 180.
Wall painting with imitation columns and panelling, ca. AD.
Verulamium Museum.
The reconstructed dedicatory inscription from the Basilica inscription, dated to AD 79 or 81. The inscription is notable because it mentions Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman governor of Britain from AD 77-84, who is otherwise known from a biography written by his son-in-law Tacitus.
The Lion and Stag Mosaic.

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2 thoughts on “Verulamium

  1. First Roman City I visited with my school in the 1950’s. as I did not live far away, got me into Roman history which I have been an avid follower of ever since then having visited many Roman sites. Great photos and article. Lots more to learn there need more excavation there are still areas there that have not been touched and are not under the modern town. Lots of building materials from the Roman city incorporated in the St Albans Cathedral which can be clearly seen.

    Liked by 1 person

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