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.

Links & references:

Hardknott Roman Fort

Hardknott Roman Fort is situated on the western side of the Hardknott Pass in the middle of the Lake District National Park in Cumbria. The fort was built during the reign of Hadrian high upon a rocky spur overlooking the River Esk at an altitude of 245 m above sea-level. It guarded the Roman road between Ambleside and Ravenglass from invasion by the Picts and the Brigantes. The remains include the fort’s defences and gateways, the headquarters building (principia), commandant’s house (praetorium), two granaries (horrea), and a bathhouse outside the fort’s southern defences. The fort is on land owned by the National Trust, part of the Trust’s Wasdale, Eskdale and Duddon property, and maintained by English Heritage.

Coordinates: 54° 24′ 10″ N, 3° 12′ 19″ W

Hardknott Fort was one of the most remote and dramatically sited Roman forts in Britain. Its construction was contemporaneous with the early phase of Hadrian’s Wall, and coin finds indicate that the fort was initially occupied only briefly from AD 120 to AD 138. It was subsequently evacuated under Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61) when the Antonine Wall was established before being re-occupied under Marcus Aurelius when the frontier returned south twenty years later. It was finally abandoned early in the 3rd century.

A fragmentary inscription (RIB 793a), discovered in 1994 near the south gate, records that fort was erected “for the emperor Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus” by the Fourth Cohort of Dalmatae (Cohors Quartae Delmatarum).

The Fourth Cohort was an auxiliary infantry regiment of 500 men recruited from the Dalmatian tribes who inhabited the areas bordering the eastern Adriatic coast in the modern countries of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The stone-built fort is square and covers 1.2 hectares. It is flanked by two ditches on the uphill side. It has four gates in the usual position and four rounded corners with internal guard towers. The fort is entered through its main (south) gate, which, like those in the eastern and western walls, had two carriageways; the north gate had just one. Internally, the principia occupies the centre of the facility which is flanked by the praetorium and two horrea. Timber framed barracks and workshops occupy the rest of the fort (no traces of these remain).

The bathhouse, lying east of the fort, consists of one circular building containing the furnace and another three rooms with hot, warm and cold baths.

An artificially levelled ground lying on a plateau about 200 metres to the east is believed to be a parade ground where the garrison exercised and practised drill manoeuvres. It has a large ramp of stones leading up to a command platform or tribunal.

In 2015, physics researcher Amelia Carolina Sparavigna found that the gates that led in and out of Hardknott Fort were aligned with the summer and winter solstices (read more here). Sparavigna also suggests that the construction of the fort was designed for the soldiers to engage in sun worshiping and to pay homage to solar deities Mithras or Sol Invictus.

PORTFOLIO

The Hardknott Roman Fort is located in the picturesque Hardknott Pass.
The Headquarters Building located in the centre of the fort.
The Headquarters Building comprised a courtyard flanked by narrow rooms, possibly used as armouries.
The Commanding Officer’s House was large and single storied, probably with rooms arranged around a central open courtyard.
One of the Angle Tower. A square tower was constructed in each of the corners of the fort.
The Granaries. These long buildings had thick outer walls which were heavily buttressed, presumably to support the weight of their superstructure and roof.
The North-West Gate.
The South-East Gate.
The remains of a tribunal, a platform from which the Commanding Officer would have given orders for the day and officiated over ceremonial and official occasions.
The west side of the Fort.
The South-West Gate.
The east side of the Fort.
The North-East Gate.
The South-West Gate.
Off the track from the road to the fort lie the remains of a stone bath house, which provided facilities for the soldiers’ relaxation.
Photo by James Stringer (Flickr-CC BY-NC 2.0)

Links: