Thursday, 12 July 2012

Some recent Roman ramblings...

It feels like I've been travelling non-stop for the last couple of weeks, and during this trekking I've been able to see a few Roman sites, both in the north west and in the Cotswolds.  Some visits were to re-acquaint myself with old friends, others to expand my horizons and see another little slice of our heritage.

In the finest tradition of Letters from Li Dongni, I'd therefore like to share a few thoughts and photos, in no particular order.

Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport

The Senhouse Museum is one of those places that reminds you that fantastic archaeology isn't always found in picturesque locations.  With due apologies to the locals, the town of Maryport on the north west coast is far from a lovely place, but thankfully it is home to a museum with a very lovely Roman collection indeed - namely the Jupiter Optimus Maximus altars set up annually by the 1st Cohort of Spaniards.  These can claim to be the largest collection from any site in Britain, and their condition is almost perfect.  The museum has adopted as its emblem a boar (a symbol of the XX Legion), which it has sweetly named after the 1870 discoverer of a large haul of altars - Humphrey.

Of course, what Roman site worth its salt hasn't produced a few lucky phalluses?  Senhouse is thankfully up there with the best of them so here they are, just for you, including the famous 'snake stone'.

I always like to save the best until last, and without doubt my favourite object in the museum was this great little carving of a native 'horned deity'.

North Leigh Roman villa, Oxfordshire

This small but charming (and originally rather grand) villa was conveniently situated mere metres from the B&B we were staying in, but by odd coincidence I had been here before.  The star of the show is the tessellated pavement secured beneath a building for protection, which had been closed when I'd gone before.  By sheer lucky coincidence, on this occasion it was  being opened for the first time in almost a decade on the very day we visited. Aside from the nice mosaic survival, it also offered a very nice example of how the mosaic interacted with the walls of the room, particularly in the form of the tubuli (box flue tiles) which heated the walls and allowed the smoke from the hypocaust to be released.

Ravenglass Roman Bath house, Cumbria

The smallest of the sites I visited, and I dare say not the one that attracts the greatest hordes of tourists, though this might be because of the inadequate signage.  Still, despite this, the remains are what English Heritage describe as 'the tallest surviving in northern Roman Britain' (though their definition of 'northern' might differ from mine as I can think of a few sites with equally tall remains that are far from 'southern') and are nicely interpreted.

Birdoswald Roman fort, Hadrian's Wall

Birdoswald is one of the better known forts on Hadrian's Wall, and boasts one of the most complete sections of wall surviving nearby.  Although only around a quarter of the inside of the fort is exposed, the gates and walls give a good sense of scale, and the site museum is nicely executed, with a good balance between Roman history and the story of the discovery and investigation of the site over the last few hundred years.

Corinium Museum, Cirencester

Cirencester is a place that had been on my 'must visit' list for a while now, and the Corinium Museum was a major reason for that.  Having undergone a refurbishment a few years ago, I had been waiting to see how the new displays look and I'm very happy to say I wasn't disappointed.  The Roman collections are first rate, particularly the mosaics and the religious carvings, and the displays are thoughtful, clean and well laid out.

One particularly fine object is a bronze sculpture of Cupid, now sadly without wings.  Found in 1732 it is believed to have been part of a lamp.  Said to date from the mid 1st to mid 2nd Centuries, I still can't help thinking that the chubby face has more than a little of the 18th Century about it.

Cirencester Roman amphitheatre

Roman amphitheatres in Britain are fairly rare survivals - usually because they were of earth and timber construction and therefore easily destroyed in subsequent centuries.  Cirencester's fortunately survives, and is worth a stroll out from the town to visit.  Sadly, it seemed that when we visited, someone on two wheels had already been enjoying the arena's floor.


  1. Ray white (Chalky )13 July 2012 at 09:49

    Enjoyed your Roman enterprise. Very good. Just the right combination of pictures and background. More please.

  2. That's very kind of you to say. We're actually about to jet off to the sunny Orkneys very soon, so I daresay I'll be posting a similar update but with Neolithic and Viking heritage shortly after!