Third Roman temple in Silchester may have been part of Nero’s vanity project

Date:

Share post:

A Roman temple uncovered in a Hampshire farmyard by University of Reading archaeologists may be the first building of its kind in Britain to be dated back to the reign of Emperor Nero.

Third Roman temple in Silchester may have been part of Nero's vanity project
Aerial view of the temple site in Silchester [Credit: Dr Kevin White, University of Reading]

The temple remains were found within the grounds of the Old Manor House in the Roman town at Silchester, along with rare tiles stamped with the name of the emperor, who ruled AD54-68.

The temple joined two others to make a group of three when it was investigated in Silchester in autumn 2017, and is the first to be identified in the town for more than 100 years. The three temples are located in a walled sanctuary, numbered Insula XXX by Victorian archaeologists. It would have been a striking gateway to the city for travellers from London.

Four fragments of tiles stamped in Nero’s name were found in a ritual pit within the temple site – the largest concentration ever found in the town – along with another three at the kiln site which made the tiles in nearby Little London. These provide further evidence that the temples could all have been part of a Nero-sponsored building project in Silchester.

Professor Mike Fulford at the University of Reading, who is leading the Silchester archaeology team, said: “These findings are a crucial piece of the jigsaw as we look to solve the mystery of Nero’s links to Silchester. This is something that has puzzled archaeologists for more than a century.

“Only a handful of Nero-stamped tiles have ever been found in the UK, so to unearth this many was very exciting. It adds to the evidence that Nero saw Silchester as a pet project where he could construct extravagant buildings like those seen in Rome, to inspire awe among his subjects in the UK.”

Third Roman temple in Silchester may have been part of Nero's vanity project
Tiles bearing Nero’s name being unearthed at the kiln site [Credit: Dr Kevin White, University of Reading]

The three temples are the earliest known masonry constructions in Silchester, the city of Calleva in Roman times. They would therefore have been the most prominent buildings in the city, being erected decades before others, like the great complex of the forum basilica in the centre of the town, were rebuilt in masonry. They were aligned north to south at the eastern end of the Roman town.

The remains of the first two temples on the Insula XXX site were first found during grave-digging in St Mary’s churchyard in 1890, with evidence of the third building unearthed in 1902. However, its identity as another temple was overlooked until now.

Ground-penetrating radar, and a follow-up excavation this autumn, have confirmed three temples once stood on the site. They had a typical ‘double-square’ plan – a central cella (shrine) surrounded by a walkway. This design originated in the late Iron Age, and is rare in Britain but more common in France and Germany.

The foundations suggest the temples could have been up to 15m high. The dimensions of the third temple, 15m by 17.5m, are similar to those of the southernmost Insula XXX temple but smaller than the central one, which still remains the largest known of its type in Roman Britain.

Although the religious purpose of the temples remains a mystery, evidence uncovered at the latest temple site suggests it was built in the 50s or 60s of the first century AD – within Nero’s short reign. Similarities in the layout within the three temples suggest all three were conceived and built at a similar time, although further excavations by the team will test this theory.

Nero’s reign is associated with brutality and extravagance. He was known for the persecution of Christians as well as his grand building plans, some of which were constructed after Rome’s great fire, before his suicide. Nero’s buildings were made in high-quality stone, as well as ceramic brick and tile, but only the tiles found at Silchester are stamped in his name.

The existence of one of his buildings in Roman Britain, as well as evidence he might have visited, has always remained elusive. However, the find of the seven tiles, adding to only 14 previously found in the UK, only at Silchester and Little London, validates the theory that Nero was keen to sponsor a building project in Silchester.

Another Nero tile found close to the public baths in Insula XXXIIIA in the south-east of the Roman town suggests the baths were built early in the town’s development. Excavation to test this will take place in the summer of 2018.

Source: University of Reading [November 23, 2017]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Remains of 5,000 year old logboat discovered in Irish river close to Newgrange

Scientific dating has confirmed that the remains of a logboat found in the River Boyne close to the...

Temple remains found at ancient Egyptian quarry

Remains of a lost 3,300-year-old temple, most likely founded by the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose II, have been...

Islamist rebels torch library of historic manuscripts at Timbukltu

Islamist fighters fleeing Mali's ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu as French and Malian troops closed in set fire...

165 ancient tombs found in east China

Archaeologists have found a total of 165 ancient tombs at a single ancient site in east China's Shandong...

Subsurface structures discovered at prehistoric archaeological site

A team of undergraduate researchers from Ithaca College traveled to Las Vegas to scan for subsurface cultural features...

Byzantine-era pottery kilns revealed during works in northern Greece

Two well-preserved kilns of the Byzantine era were discovered in the area Gratsani in Kozani, northern Greece, during...

3-D printing is helping museums in repatriation and decolonization efforts

Manchester Museum recently returned items taken from Australia more than 100 years ago to Aboriginal leaders, the latest...

Warring States period tombs discovered in SW China

Archaeologists discovered four tombs dating back more than 2,000 years in Southwest China's Sichuan province, according to the...