romano british

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Celtic Coin of the Dobunni King Corio

This is a ‘Tree Type’ gold stater of the Dobunni tribe. It was struck circa 20 BC  to AD 5 during the rule of Corio. On the obverse is the image of a tree-like emblem known as a Dobunnic Tree, with a pellet below. The reverse bears the name Co[rio] above a triple-tailed, stylized Celtic horse, with a wheel below and other symbols in the field.  The Dobunnic Tree’s meaning is unclear although corn, ferns and a form of a wreath have all been suggested as explanations.

The Dobunni were one of the Iron Age tribes living in the British Isles prior to the Roman invasion of Britain (43-84 AD). They lived in the southwestern part of Britain that roughly coincides with the English counties of Bristol, Gloucestershire and the north of Somerset, although at times their territory may have extended into parts of what are now Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. Their capital acquired the Roman name of Corinium Dobunnorum, which is today known as Cirencester. Unlike the Silures, their neighbors in what later became southeast Wales, the Dobunni were not a warlike people and submitted to the Romans before they even reached their lands. Afterwards they readily adopted the Romano-British lifestyle.

Corio was a 'king’ of the southwestern Dobunni. No one knows if 'king’ is the correct term for their leaders however, it is likely that this is what the Romans called them. The Dobunni rulers are only known from names found on their coinage and the exact order of each of their reigns has yet to be determined. Some of the other Dobunni kings’ names are Anted, Eisu, Aatti, Comux, Inham and Bodvoc.

Temple of Antenociticus, Benwell (Condercum) Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall. Broomridge Avenue, Newcastle upon Tyne.

This is the only temple found so far that was dedicated to Antenociticus, a native British deity or, perhaps, a syncretized Romano-British deity.* The temple site was professionally excavated by G. W. Rendell in 1862. The two altars shown to the right of the temple enclosure are replicas of those dedicated to Antenociticus by Roman officers. The original altars are now located in the Great North Museum:Hancock, at Newcastle upon Tyne, along with the head, forearm, and lower leg of the life-size cult statue of Antenociticus that was excavated here. The statue, probably carved locally, wears a Celtic torque.

Condercum Fort was built between 122-180 CE. The temple was located to the east of the fort, between the ramparts and vallum (rear ditch of Hadrian’s Wall). The Benwell vallum and causeway can be viewed at another small heritage site two streets to the west, on Dennhill Park. The fort was destroyed by fire in 196 CE. The northern third of Condercum fort was submerged in 1863-64 after the construction of a reservoir. The surrounding houses were built on the remains of the fort in the 1930s.

A carved stone head, which resembles the head of Antenociticus found on this site, was discovered during the summer of 2013 at Binchester (Vinovium) Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland, in County Durham, which is 55km/33 miles south of Benwell.

The Benwell Roman Temple site is open daily, 9-5.

If I lived near a place like this, I would stop by several times a week. I think it gives some food for thought to modern pagans and polytheists wishing to create a modern temple for public worship. The acquisition of a small plot of land, with a cement altar or two, purchased and dedicated by supporters of the project, wouldn’t be especially attractive to vandals, and could provide rental income to help support the eventual construction of a more ambitious temple. 


*Although the hairstyle of the statue resembles that of the Hellenistic god Antinous, there has been no scholarly support for the recent theory that “Antenociticus” is sycretization of Antinous with a local British god called Citicus, nor has any reference to a Celtic god called Citicus yet been reported.

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Yarnbury Castle, Wiltshire, England

Yarnbury Castle is a multiphase, multivallate Iron Age hillfort near Steeple Langford in Wiltshire. Excavations have revealed Iron Age and Romano-British pottery, Roman coins and burials of human remains. There is much evidence of prolonged and extensive settlement of the site including around 130 separate structures of various sizes, most probably representing a mix of round houses, pits, and other features. Stonehenge, Avebury stone circles and other ancient landmarks are also located in Wiltshire.

St. Patrick’s Bell and Its Shrine

A simple bell (encased in the pictured shrine) is reputed to have belonged to St. Patrick. It is made of two sheets of iron which are riveted together and coated with bronze. It is frequently mentioned in written sources as one of the principal relics of Ireland.

The inscription along the edge of the backplate of the bell’s ornate shrine records the name of the craftsman and his sons who made it, and Domhnall Ua Lochlainn, King of Ireland between AD 1094 and 1121, who commissioned the shrine; Cathalan Ua Maelchallain, the keeper of the bell, is also mentioned. Remarkably, the shrine remained in the possession of this family until the end of the 19th century.

St. Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the “Apostle of Ireland”, he is the primary patron saint of the island along with Saints Brigit and Columba.

When he was about 16, he was captured from his home in Great Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland. In later life, he served as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17th,  the date of his death c. 460 AD.

More about St. Patrick

Ragnar Loðbrok is very much a Scandinavian King Arthur. He varies between mythic and semi mythic, with some deeds being true and others being totally made up. Some deeds are committed by other Vikings who existed and who have been tied to this one figure. Furthermore, just like King Arthur, it’s unclear where he actually comes from. In Britain, King Arthur is claimed by multiple areas and as such he may be Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, Cornish or Breton (or Romano-British), while similarly, Ragnar Loðbrok may be Danish, Swedish or Norwegian.

What is true is that his “sons” existed. Ivarr the Boneless, Ubba, Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd-snake-in-the-eye and Halfdan Ragnarrson have all been recorded in historical records by Anglo-Saxon, Irish and Frankish sources and have been attributed to being “sons of Ragnar Loðbrok”. Whether it is true, a boast of some of the men (a bit like saying you’re descended from the gods) or whether the sources were just being poetic, no one is sure. What is certain, however, is that the deeds of Bjorn, Ivarr, Ubba and others are definitely true, as they left their mark on the world and devastated the Christian kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, the Gaelic kingdoms of Ireland, the Carolingian Empire, the embattled Spanish defenders and the Ummayaad Caliphate and even the Italian peninsula.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be taking a look at this interesting “family” and bringing you their deeds. If you’re a fan of the show Vikings, I encourage you to have a look

Sulis (Sulis Minerva)

In localised Celtic polytheism practised in Britain, Sulis was a deity worshipped at the thermal spring of Bath (now in Somerset). She was worshipped by the Romano-British as Sulis Minerva, whose votive objects and inscribed lead tablets suggest that she was conceived of both as a nourishing, life-giving mother goddess and as an effective agent of curses wished by her votaries.

Sulis was the local goddess of the thermal springs that still feed the spa baths at Bath, which the Romans called Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”). Her name primarily appears on inscriptions discovered at Bath, with only a single instance outside of Britain at Alzey, Germany. This is not surprising, as Celtic deities often preserved their archaic localisation. They remained to the end associated with a specific place, often a cleft in the earth, a spring, pool or well. The Greeks referred to the similarly local pre-Hellenic deities in the local epithets that they assigned, associated with the cult of their Olympian pantheon at certain places (Zeus Molossos only at Dodona, for example). The Romans tended to lose sight of these specific locations, except in a few Etruscan cult inheritances and ideas like the genius loci, the guardian spirit of a place.

At Bath, the Roman temple is dedicated to Sulis Minerva, as the primary deity of the temple spa. Through the Roman Minerva syncresis, later mythographers have inferred that Sulis was also a goddess of wisdom and decisions.

Sulis was not the only goddess exhibiting syncretism with Minerva. Senua’s name appears on votive plaques bearing Minerva’s image, while Brigantia also shares many traits associated with Minerva. The identification of multiple Celtic gods with the same Roman god is not unusual (both Mars and Mercury were paired with a multiplicity of Celtic names). On the other hand, Celtic goddesses tended to resist syncretism; Sulis Minerva is one of the few attested pairings of a Celtic goddess with her Roman counterpart.

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Romano-British Sword, 1st Century AD

Found at Hod Hill in Dorset, England. Made of iron and copper alloy. In the past this sword has usually been identified as an Iron Age piece, dating from the years immediately before the Roman conquest but it is more likely to be a Roman sword to which Celtic fittings have been added.

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West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, England

via Amethinah on Flickr

“West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village is both an archaeological site and an open-air museum. Evidence for intermittent human habitation at the site stretches from the Mesolithic through the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British period, but it is best known for the small village that existed on the site between the mid-5th century and the early 7th century CE, during the early Anglo-Saxon period. During this time, around 70 sunken-featured buildings were constructed on the site.”

I truly enjoy learning about sites such as these. I find them to be a pleasant and eye-opening way to show how life was in some corner of our past. I particularly enjoy discovering about such a site because it truly gives a small window - although not a perfect one - on the ways of life from before our time.

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Badbury Rings, Dorset, England

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort in east Dorset, England. It was in the territory of the Durotriges. In the Roman era a temple was located immediately west of the fort, and there was a Romano-British town known as Vindocladia a short distance to the south-west.  Five Roman roads formed a complex junction on the north side of the fort.

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On this day in history… 

20 August 1486: Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, is born.

Arthur Tudor was the eldest child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Arthur’s birth was of special significance, for he embodied the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster that had ended the Wars of the Roses. Anxious to solidify his claim to the throne of England, Henry VII married the Yorkist heir and then looked for ways to bolster Tudor prestige. He had his lineage traced back to ancient British rulers, thus emphasizing his Welsh - or Romano-British - ancestry. To further assert these claims, Henry named his first-born son and heir Arthur, after the legendary British king. At his birth, Arthur was named Duke of Cornwall, and in 1489 he was appointed Princes of Wales as well as Earl of Chester. Although early historians later wrote that Arthur was a sickly boy, this is not confirmed in the primary sources. The prince was tall for his age and rather attractive - he had the same reddish hair and fair complexion as his younger brother, Henry, which they had both inherited from their mother. Unlike his brother, however, Arthur was well-schooled in kingship from a young age. He was created Lord Warden of the Marches, served as regent while the king traveled to France, and he administered the Council of Wales and the Marches. In 1501, he married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. After the wedding, Arthur and Catherine established a household at Ludlow Castle in Wales so that he could continue his duties there. A few months after their arrival, the young couple fell ill from “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air.” Catherine recovered, but Arthur died on 2 April 1502. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, upon hearing the news, both succumbed to tears of grief. Less than a year later, Elizabeth died in childbirth. The deaths of Arthur and Elizabeth deeply affected Henry VII. He lost a beloved wife and an eldest son, but he also lost the two individuals who most symbolized his strong claim to the throne. As a result of Arthur’s death, Prince Henry - the future Henry VIII - became the new heir.