Saturday 22 December 2012

More Staffordshire Hoard Artefacts Found

Three years after metal detector enthusiast Terry Herbert made the discovery of the largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold in 2009, a further 90 pieces have been discovered in the same field during ploughing of the field in Hammerwich, near Lichfield.

Following the original discovery of the Hoard the dig was closed down when archaeologists were confident they had retrieved everything that was recoverable. Last month, a team of archaeologists and experienced metal detectorists from Archaeology Warwickshire returned to the field when it was ploughed and recovered further material. These are currently being examined and x-rayed at a specialist archives laboratory.

More Staffordshire Gold - Photograph by Vivienne Bailey
Many of the 90 pieces from the new find of gold and silver weigh less than a gram and includes a probable helmet cheek piece, a cross-shaped mount and an eagle-shaped mount. Experts from Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage believe the pieces could be part of the original hoard. Archaeologists were convinced they had recovered all of the Hoard in 2009 and Dr Della Hooke, vice president of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, said "It's absolutely amazing. In the last search they used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan. They were absolutely certain there was nothing else down there.”

Dr Hooke added that the new find could also prove wrong some theories as to how the items got to the field, "Nobody really knows why the hoard is there. It could have either been a deliberate burial on a boundary perhaps after someone died or buried quickly by someone who had stolen it who was making an escape on Watling Street. ….....This new finding, if it is part of the hoard, could change everything. If they found the items in a different location it doesn't sound like it was stolen after all."

However, the new pieces appear remarkably similar to the items recovered from the same field in 2009, typical warrior regalia, or Anglo-Saxon "gangland bling" as historian David Starkey called it, the spoils of war recovered from the fallen at the battle site. Repeated ploughing is capable of scattering artefacts considerable distances from the original interment. It is unlikely we will ever know why the Hoard was buried in this field but it is significant that it is very close to the major route of the Roman road of Watling Street, the modern A5. We can only speculate if the Hoard was booty from one of Penda's many raids on Northumbria or the Welsh  attack on Caer Lwytgoed, Wall (Letocetum) near Lichfield,  recorded in Marwnad Cynddylan.

The Staffordshire Hoard artefacts found in 2009 include a bishop’s pectoral cross, a large folded cross, a helmet cheek piece, a filigree seahorse and many sword fittings including hilt plates and pommel caps. The bulk of the Hoard has been dated to the 7th century, although there is some debate among experts as to when the Hoard first entered the ground yet there seems little doubt that this is war booty buried in the Mercian heartland of Staffordshire.

The Staffordshire Hoard was declared treasure and valued at £3.3m by independent experts at the British Museum, the most valuable treasure discovery ever made. A huge fundraising campaign, led by The Art Fund, and featured a major donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, was launched to bring the treasure back to the West Midlands.

The new items were found in the same field where over 3,900 pieces of over 5kg of gold, 1.5kg of silver and thousands of small garnets and some copper alloy objects were found in 2009 but we will have to wait for an inquest on 4th January 2013 when South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh will rule if the metalwork pieces are part of the Anglo Saxon collection and should be declared treasure.

Coroner confirms new find is Staffordshire Hoard
After hearing evidence for around an hour, which included a presentation from Anglo-Saxon metalwork expert Dr Kevin Leahy who worked on the original discovery, Coroner Andrew Haigh ruled in Stafford today (Friday 04/01/2013) at South Staffordshire Coroner’s Court inquest, that a further 81 artefacts discovered in November 2012 in the same farmer’s field in south Staffordshire, including a helmet cheek piece and pectoral crosses similar to items from the original find in 2009, are part of the Staffordshire Hoard collection.

The coroner’s ruling means that the new artefacts are officially classed as treasure, and will now undergo a valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee at the British Museum at a hearing likely to take place at the end of March. The hearing will determine the amount of money the land owner and metal detectorist who originally discovered the Staffordshire Hoard can expect to receive for the newly found items.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent is currently displaying the largest exhibition of the Staffordshire Hoard to date. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery also has a permanent exhibition of the treasure.

'More Delights are Discovered' – Stafford Express & Star, 20 December 2012
Coroner Confirms New Staffordshire Hoard Find - Birmingham News Room 04 January 2013

** UPDATE APRIL 2014 **
Rethinking the Staffordshire Hoard
England's largest-known cache of Anglo-Saxon metalwork has been reunited for the first time since its excavation, allowing researchers to uncover a wealth of new information about its parts, provenance, and purpose.
It is now known that decorations were stripped from far more weapons than previously suspected. Could the hoard comprise the spoils of multiple battles?
Current Archaeology 290


Staffordshire Hoard at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
A new gallery uncovering the fascinating story of the Staffordshire Hoard is now open from 17 October 2014 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Hundreds of pieces from the Hoard are on show, along with hands-on displays exploring how these intriguing items were used, before they were buried some 1400 years ago.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Secrets of the Saxon Goldsmiths
All that glitters is not gold? According to the latest research on the Staffordshire Hoard, it certainly seems so. Ongoing investigations are revealing that sophisticated Saxon goldsmiths had developed a technique to make their gold appear to be rather more golden than it really was. How did they do it?
Current Archaeology 297 

The Staffordshire Hoard Symposium
Papers from the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium held at the British Museum in March 2010.

The Staffordshire Hoard website
Keep up to date with the latest news on the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found.

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Thursday 15 November 2012

The Bones of Richard Whiting

"Item, Certayn persons to be sent to the Towre for the further examenacyon of the Abbot, of Glaston . . . . Item. The Abbot, of Glaston to (be) tryed at Glaston and also executvd there with his complvcys. . . Item. Councillors to give evidence against the Abbot of Glaston, Rich. Pollard, Lewis Forstew, Thos. Moyle." - The Remembrances of Thomas Cromwell, October 1539.

Mystics and Madmen
From the memoirs of the King's henchman, Thomas Cromwell, is it is clear that the fate of the Last Abbot of Glastonbury had already been decided before he had left the Tower; Richard Whiting was guilty and should suffer before his own community the ultimate indignity, and destined for him the gruesome death of a traitor in the sight of his own Abbey; Cromwell decreed the Abbot was to be hung, drawn and quartered at Glastonbury.

Following what can only be described as a mock trial at the Bishop's Palace at Wells, the proceedings appear to have moved directly to the execution the next morning, 15th November 1539, when Abbot Whiting and the Abbey treasurers John Thorne and Roger James, were taken to Glastonbury.  On the outskirts of the town the frail old Abbot was spread-eagled across a sheep hurdle which was tethered to a horse, and then dragged through the streets of Glastonbury, past his beloved Abbey, now in ruins after wrecking by the Royal Commissioners, and up the Tor where the gallows had been erected by the side of St Michael's tower.

On 16th November, the day after the execution, Lord Russell, he who had assembled the jury at Wells, wrote to Cromwell:

" My Lord, - 'This shall be to ascertain that, on Thursday, the 14th day of this present month, the Abbot of Glastonbury was arraigned, and the next day put to execution, .... for the robbing of Glastonbury church, on the Torr Hill, next unto the town of Glaston : The said abbot's body being divided in four parts, and head stricken off; whereof one quarter standeth at Wells, another at Bath, and at Ilchester and Bridswater the rest, and his head upon the abbey gate at Glaston.

To the cities and towns here named, these fearful tokens of royal vengeance were duly despatched and at once placed on poles in prominent places, " according to law :" at Bridgwater, near the market-place ; at the borough of Ilchester, on the ancient octagonal tower of the parish church of Our Lady ; at Wells, over an old gateway, now wholly destroyed, which stood not far from the east end of the cathedral ; and at Bath, on a spot said to be covered by the handsome Roman Catholic church...' - J. Russell."

Just as Rusell had reported, Whiting's lifeless body was cut down, the head hacked off and his corpse divided into four parts. Before nightfall Whiting's head had been fixed over the gateway of his Abbey at Glastonbury, the four parts of his body dispersed to Bridgewater, Ilchester, Wells and at Bath.

The events of the downfall of Glastonbury Abbey and the execution of its Abbot and two treasurers can only be described as one of the most abhorrent episodes of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the 16th Century. Yet it is also perhaps the most enigmatic. Most of the information about Richard Whiting's arrest, trial, and crime are now 'missing'. The Letters of Lord Russell and Richard Pollard, the Royal Commissioner, seemingly the only surviving accounts of the execution.

Events of the last days of Glastonbury Abbey and it's Abbot generate an atmosphere of such strangeness it is difficult to argue with Geoffrey Ashe who describes the execution on the Tor as “the act of madmen or mystics …” [2] Cromwell clearly thought Whiting was hiding something and not just treasure. Theories abound that the Abbots of Glastonbury were guardians of the true Apostolic Succession of the British Church. If the King could have uncovered this it would have served him well in his fight for supremacy over the Church of Rome. Whatever it was, Whiting took the secret to the grave with him.

Consequently there are doubts about the record of the execution: there was almost certainly no trial at Wells; Cromwell had already decided the fate of the Glastonbury Three in London.

It has been suggested that the place of Abbot Whiting's martyrdom was not the Tor, but the smaller hill nearer the town, called Chalice Hill, arguing that Cromwell had ordered that "the Abbot of Glaston would' be taken to Glaston and executed by its ruins . . " [3] and that the Tor cannot be seen from the Abbey. But this is not correct - the Tower of St Michael can be clearly seen from the Abbey grounds and therefore the hangman's gibbet constructed by the side of the Tower would also be clearly visible. Indeed, my understanding is that the site of the executions were on the North side of the Tor facing the Abbey and the last thing that Whiting would have seen as he stood at the gallows was the wrecking of his beloved Abbey. The whole act of this execution of  a frail, harmless old man was cruel beyond reason.

The Abbot was executed on his own; the two monks are not reported as being strapped to hurdles along with Whiting. There is no record of the two monks John Thorne and Roger James being taken to the place of execution with him, but immediately afterwards and by another route.  Dr. F. G. Lee states “The refinement of cruelty which thus compelled an old man to bear his sufferings alone is manifest.” [4]

“From a MS. in the handwriting of the late Mr. Sharon Turner, it appears that in looking over certain transcripts of papers from the family collections of the house of Russell he found the draft of a letter from Sir John Russell to Cromwell, in which the former admits that the Abbot was intentionally executed alone, so as to prevent his receiving any sympathy or aid from his two spiritual sons in the Order—who were executed on the same day—and because of his stubbornness and obstinacy.[5]

The letter of Richard Pollard to Thomas Cromwell, November 16, 1539, tends to confirm this:

“Pleaseth it your Lordship to be advertised that..[On November 15] the late abbot of Glastonbury went from Wells to Glastonbury, and there was drawn through the town upon a hurdle to the hill called the Torre, where he was put to execution; at which time he asked God for mercy and the king for his great offences towards his highness…Afore his execution [he] was examined upon divers articles and interrogatories to him ministered by me, but he could accuse no man of himself of any offence against the king's highness, nor would he confess no more gold nor silver nor any other thing more than he did before your Lordship in the Tower…I suppose it will be near Christmas before I shall have surveyed the lands at Glastonbury, and take the audit there….[6]

Out of the Ruins
Following the Dissolution, the Abbey remained an abandoned ruin, albeit for a period in the 16th century when a colony of Protestant Dutch weavers were established on the site. In the 17th century even more stones were removed, so that by the turn of the 18th century the once illustrious Abbey was described as a ruin and remained in private ownership until the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1908 the Abbey ruins were purchased by the Bath and Wells Diocesan Trust and became the property of the Church of England. Shortly after Frederick Bligh Bond was appointed by the Church to direct an archaeological investigation. Bligh Bond had considerable expertise in church architecture and had quite rapid success in rediscovering a number of buildings that had once occupied the site. Before completing his archaeological work Bligh Bond was dismissed in 1921 by Bishop Armitage Robinson after he claimed in his book The Gates of Remembrance (1918) to have received information from the dead monks of the Abbey who guided his excavations in automatic writing sessions through the medium Captain John Allan Bartlett. These were the first recorded results by psychic archaeology and of course the Church would have none of it. Five years later Bligh Bond left for America where he worked as editor on the magazine, of the  American Society for Psychical Research.

Bligh Bond never actually claimed to have used spirits but said  that he had tapped into a memory bank of the monks who once occupied the Abbey, who he termed the 'Company of Avalon'. One of the discoveries Bligh Bond made at Glastonbury were some human bones interred near the site of the High Altar. Bligh Bond was convinced that these were the remains of Richard Whiting. An automatic writing session revealed that the Abbot's bones were recovered from the towns where they were displayed and at sometime must have been re-interred at the Abbey as Bligh Bond found them.

In the session Bligh Bond asked, "As to traces of an interment behind the reredos wall. Can you tell us anything of this ?[7]

The response: "Yee martyr was hee. They made a martyr's grave.  He was not coffined, for they were but bones got by ye faithful from Bathe and Tauntone, and brought in secret. He was yplaced under ye altare, and they who pulled yt downe when Elizabeth was Queene drew hym out. They knew not who hee was, our Abbot. Ye knowe. . . . Hee who swam in ayre when hee wold not. Whytynge. They knew not. Wee deemed the altare wold stande for alle tyme." [8]

The Company of Avalon seemed to confirm  that the bones that Bligh Bond removed from behind the reredos wall did indeed belong to Richard Whiting. In 1910 Dom Aelred Carlyle, Abbot of Caldey, an Anglican Benedictine community in South Wales, visited Glastonbury Abbey to meet with Frederick Bligh Bligh Bond. On his return to Caldey, Dom Aelred took with him ‘a casket of old bones’ that had been excavated at the Abbey a few years earlier. The casket contained a third of the bones found. Both Bligh Bond and Dom Aelred believed these bones were the remains of the Last Abbot of Glastonbury.  The bones, believed to be Whiting's, were placed in a reliquary at Caldey and “honoured at Vespers, Lauds and High Mass.” [9]

In 1913 Caldey changed allegiance from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism, and the relics were quietly removed from view. Eventually the monks, taking the bones with them, moved from Caldey to Prinknash Abbey, a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery in the Vale of Gloucester in the Diocese of Clifton, near the village of Cranham, Gloucestershire.

Today these relics are still preserved at Prinknash Abbey, and were shown in a television programme about the paranormal.

Evidence produced during the 2008 Channel 4 documentary presented by Tony Robinson have since  raised considerable doubts about the accuracy of the claims that the bones belonged to the martyred Abbot Richard Whiting. The relics, rolled in muslin and housed in a hand painted reliquary, were examined during the programme which found no evidence of the expected wounds that would have been inflicted by the brutal butchering of the Abbot's body on Glastonbury Tor. Two plastic bags containing what appeared to be powder was apparently the remains of Whiting's skull. Following analysis one of the bones was found to be non-human in origin, from a medium sized mammal. But although there is some doubt on one of the bones examined, others are human, and should be carefully considered in the context of whom they belonged to before disregarding the relics out of hand. [10]

The find seems to have raised more questions than answers: why was only a third of the remains found behind the reredos wall and passed onto Caldey Abbey? Where are the other two thirds? Is this all of the Abbot's remains that was recovered from Bath and Taunton as recalled by the Company of Avalon? Perhaps only the old monks knew the answers.

Today, there seems no way of substantiating the claim that the bones belong to Richard Whiting just as it is impossible to prove that Bligh Bond had breached the gateway to the memories of the monks of Glastonbury Abbey. Make of it what you will.


Today, 15th November, we remember the Glastonbury martyrs; the deaths of Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury and his companions John Thorne and Roger James. But it was also at this time that the last Abbots of Colchester, Thomas Marshall (John Beche), and Reading, Hugh Cook Faringdon, were cruelly executed outside their Abbey gates as traitors. We should remember them also and all those that lost their lives during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early days of the English Reformation. These five men were included in a list of sixty-three martyrs recognised by the Catholic Church for dying for their faith between the years 1534-1560 and formally beautified by Pope Leo XIII between 1886 and 1895.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Notes & References:
1.  Dr. F. G. Lee, Historical Sketches of the Reformation, P.217.
2.  Geoffrey Ashe, King Arthur's Avalon.
3.  Francis Aidan Gasquet, Last Abbot of Glastonbury and Other Essays.
4.  Dr. F. G. Lee, op.cit. fn p.212.
5.  Ibid.. Appendix V, p.419.
6. T. Wright, ed. Letters Relating to the Suppression of Monasteries, (London: Camden Society, 1843), pp. 255-56, 261-262, Reprinted in Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges, eds. Readings in European History, (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 241-42.
7.  A 'reredos' is an altarpiece, or screen behind the altar in a church, usually depicting religious iconography or images. Holy men were typically interred under the altar of their own religious house.
8.  Frederick Bligh Bond. The Gate Of Remembrance : The Story Of The Psychological Experiment Which Resulted In The Discovery Of The Edgar Chapel At Glastonbury. p.65.
9.  Jon Cousins, The Glastonbury Documents I: Re-Membering Richard Whiting. Cousins describes the execution of the Glastonbury Three as an act designed to break the spirit of the Somerset town. Something is missing that can only be restored by the the return of Whiting's remains to the Abbey.
10. Tony Robinson and the Ghosts of Glastonbury -Tony Robinson and Becky McCall investigate antiquarian Frederick Bligh Bond, who claimed his excavations at Glastonbury were guided by communications from dead monks. First shown 30 December, 2008, Channel 4.

* * *

Sunday 9 September 2012

Iron Age Army found in Danish Mass Grave

Bog Bodies
Naturally preserved human corpses are not an uncommon find in the wetland peat bogs of Northern Europe. Preserved in the saturated sphagnum moss, optimal conditions for preservation, examples of  'Bog bodies' include the Osterby Head from Germany, Tollund Man from Denmark, Old Croghan Man from County Offaly in Ireland, Lindow Man from Cheshire, England, Grauballe Man in Jutland, Denmark, and the Windeby Girl from Northern Germany.

These well preserved bog bodies have proved to to be a treasure trove for archaeologists, opening  a window on the ancient North European peoples. In 1891 the Gundestrup cauldron was found in a bog at Himmerland, Denmark. Between 1946 and 1948, in the nearby Borremose peat bog three bog bodies were found, dating to the Nordic Bronze Age. The practice is indeed ancient, the oldest known bog body is Koelbjerg Woman, found in Denmark, dated to c.8,000 BC.

The vast majority of bog bodies discovered date from the Iron Age, and many display evidence of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, or a combination of all these methods, the classic Celtic triple death of sacrificial offerings to the gods. Yet, others argue, citing the accounts of Tacitus as supporting evidence, that rather than religious sacrifices the bog bodies were criminals and outlaws who were executed before being unceremoniously dumped in the peat bogs.

The Mass Grave at Alken Enge
Excavations commenced in a peat bog near the village of Alken on Denmark's Jutland peninsula in 2009 revealed the Danish bog has been harbouring a sinsiter secret for thousands of years. To date the remains of around 240 Iron Age warriors had been found preserved  in the bog. At the time of the massacre the bog was a small basin by Lake Mossø, created by a tongue of land jutting into the lake. Many of the remains, aged between 13 and 45, exhibited cuts and slashes on the skeletons, typical of of slaughtered soldiers, suggesting they had died violently, yet, nothing certain is known about the identity of the victims or their slayers.

A skull found at the site
(Photo: Skanderborg Museum)
Danish archaeologists re-opened the mass grave in July this year to find new clues about their fate and the bloody practices of Germanic tribes 2,000 years ago at the edge of the Roman Empire. Archaeologists were confident they would end up with a scale much larger than the 240 that they had previously found as they had only touched upon a very small part of the bog. What they discovered was unique in Denmark and quite extraordinary in a European perspective.

In their further excavations the archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of an entire army in an ancient mass grave at Alken Enge wetlands near Lake Mossø on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark. The remains of the Alken warriors were surprisingly well preserved and considered to be evidence of a sacrifice to the gods, confirming descriptions from Roman sources of atrocious war practices and shocking Teutonic massacres. Further, when the Teutons were victorious, they tended to kill all the surviving enemies.

Archaeologists have spent all summer excavating a small sample of what has turned out to be a mass grave estimated to contain the skeletal remains from more than 1,000 warriors, who were killed around 2,000 years ago. Test pitting at different places in the 40 hectare Alken Enge wetlands area continually revealed new finds, expected to be so massive that the archaeologists do not expect to be able to excavate all of it. They have so far only excavated an area of 80-90 square metres that contained bone fragments from around 240 men. The finds did not include complete skeletons but damaged human bones, including a fractured skull and a thigh bone hacked in half, along with the tools of war, axes, spears, clubs and shields, confirming that the bog at Alken Enge was the keeper of the remains from a sinsiter, violent event.

It is conjectured that the army beneath the bog may had been defeated and killed at a battlefield located some distance from the Alken Wetlands, as many of the archaeological finds in the area appear to come from afar. However, although unable to positively identify the battle site, the researchers are confident that the sacrifice occurred some time after the battle, as some of the the bones have bite marks on them and evidence of gnawing  indicating they were exposed to predators after death. Some time later, the remains of the fallen warriors remains were collected from the battle site, transported and sacrificially deposited into the waters of the lake that has since dried into a bog, thus preserving the remains.

Bog Warfare
The discovery of the remains of an entire army in an ancient mass grave is being portrayed as evidence of reports from written sources reporting macabre Teutonic practices and massacres. The researchers have compared the find at Alken to Tacitus' description of the aftermath of Rome's famous defeat in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, Northern Germania, in 9 AD when an alliance of tribes led by Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed and effectively destroyed three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus:

“In the middle of the plain, bones lay either spread out or heaped, depending on whether they had fled or resisted. Next to the bones lay bits of spears and horse limbs, and there were also human heads nailed to trees. In the nearby groves were barbarian altars in which they had sacrificed tribunes and centurions of the first rank,” - Tacitus, Annals, Book I (The War in Germany).

Although groups of survivors reached the Lippe valley, the Roman army that had been permanently under attack since it had passed through the Kalkriese narrows, now effectively no longer existed. Tacitus writes that captured officers were sacrificed to Germanic gods.

Retrieving the bodies of the victims of battle some time later is not unusual. Tacitus says that there was a tomb for soldiers of the legions of Varus, the usual interpretation is that a tomb was later built on the main battlefield. The Roman general Germanicus marched to the Teutoburg Forest, where he buried the dead. The burial took place at the Kalkriese, where five pits were found that contained the remains of many adult males. The skeletons seem to have been exposed for a few years before they were finally buried.

Germanicus ordered Aulus Caecina Severus to retreat from the Teutoburg Forest with four legions (I Germanica, V Alaudae, XX Valeria Victrix, and XXI Rapax) by way of the pontes longi (literally "long bridges" in Latin, an expression to describe wooden roads built across bogs). These trackways were the only way through the peat bogs but left the Roman army very vulnerable in narrow columns. Groups of Germanic warriors under Arminius attacked the withdrawing Legions, but the Romans were able to force their way across the bog and finally reached the safety of the Roman legionary base at Castra Vetera (Xanten) on the Lower Rhine. Tacitus describes this hill as steep and adds that it was only approachable from one side.

Tacitus describes the pontes longi, as "a narrow causeway between vast marshes," a well-known type of trackway that has been identified across the bogs of north eastern Europe, the oldest dating back to the Neolithic, such as the Sweet Track in Somerset. Not all of the many trackways running across these bogs have been dated dendrochronologically, but the construction of Roman roads in the Osnabrückerland has been determined for the year 5 AD, such as at Dievenmoor, "the thief's bog,” region in southwest Lower Saxony in Germany, which extends into the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the region dominated by the Teutoburg Forest.

The Bones of a Vanquished Army?
The discovery of human skeletal remains at Alken Enge should really be of no surprise. Several well-known sacrificial locations of differing context have been identified in the river valley of Illerup Ådal, known as the "Holy Valley", near Skanderborg. This area appears to have been a focal point for the wider community as a place to regularly conduct sacrificial rituals during the Iron Age; the Alken Wetlands is considered a very complex sacrificial location.

Yet we are left with the tantalising question of who were these slain warriors deposited into the dark waters of the lake at Alken Enge 2,000 years ago.

The sacrificed army was discovered in an area which has turned out to be brimming with archaeological treasures, where archaeologists have found around 15,000 objects, thought to be mainly weapons sacrifices from the Iron Age, but carbon 14 analysis has revealed that none of these could have belonged to the sacrificed army. Alken Enge appears to have been used a sacrificial site for some time.

Further, the archaeologists have not yet been able to determine the ethnicity of the slain warriors because they have found very few remains of weapons associated with them in the grave: a few arrowheads, the remains of a shield and a very well preserved axe, complete with a shaft, a very rare find. 

Ejvind Hertz, curator at Skanderborg Museum said “The bones have been sacrificed months or even years after the warriors were killed. We won’t know until the bones have been carefully analysed.” He added, "The bones are completely fresh. Some DNA has been preserved, so we can get a good profile of what Iron Age man looked like."

Detailed analyses of the remains of the slaughtered warriors will endeavour to answer questions about who they were, where they came from and reveal the story of an entire army's apparent sacrifice.

The excavation project is a cooperation between Skanderborg Museum, Moesgård Museum and Aarhus University, supported by a DKK 1.5m grant from the Carlsberg Foundation.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

An entire army sacrificed in a bog - Science Nordic 22 August 2012



Ritual Destruction of Iron Age Warriors
In 2012 archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose defeated warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland, Denmark. Continuing work has revealed a wooden stick bearing the pelvic bones of four different men. In addition the study team from Aarhus University, Skanderborg Museum and Moesgaard Museum has unearthed bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls suggesting a violent sequel took place after the fallen warriors had lain on the battlefield for around six months.
It appears the remains of the fallen were gathered together, the flesh was cleaned from the bones, which were then sorted and brutally desecrated before being cast into the lake.

Source: Past Horizons 29 July 2014

* * *

Thursday 30 August 2012

Britons and Anglo-Saxons - Lincolnshire AD 400-650

A new book by Thomas Green, due publication in September, argues that British political control in the Lincoln region survived into the sixth century.

Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400 - 650
Thomas Green

No 3 in Studies in the History of Lincolnshire Series
Published by the History of Lincolnshire Committee, 18 September 2012

Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0902668242
ISBN-13: 978-0902668249

Paperback: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0902668250
ISBN-13: 978-0902668256

Offering an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Dark Age Lincolnshire during the period between c. 400 and 650 AD, reviewing not only the archaeological evidence, but also the availabe historical, literary and linguistic information for the period. Green argues that by using all of this material together, significant advances can be made in our understanding of events during this period, particularly Anglian-British interaction. When taken together, this evidence suggests that a British polity named *Lindēs was based at Lincoln into the sixth century, going on to have an intimate connection to the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindsey (Old English Lindissi).

A British Polity in the Lincoln Region
The main focus of Britons and Anglo-Saxons is on the post-Roman period, and specifically tackles the question of Anglian-British interaction in eastern Britain. Green argues that there is now a significant body of evidence to suggest that the former Late Roman provincial capital of Lincoln retained its centrality into the post-Roman period, becoming the focus of a British polity known as *Lindēs which probably survived up to the fifth century and at least into the sixth. A large quantity of British high-status metalwork is known from fifth- to sixth-century Lincolnshire and during the same period the old Roman forum at Lincoln appears to have been used by the British as a Christian church. Significantly, this fifth- to sixth-century British polity appears to have been able to control the Anglo-Saxon immigrants arriving in its territory, up until the early sixth century and eventually succumbing to Anglo-Saxon control, the region became the seventh-century kingdom of Lindissi (the name derived from *Lindēs).

The Origins of Lindisfarne and the Kingdom of Bernicia
Britons and Anglo-Saxons claims to provide a detailed analysis of the nature of the Anglo-Saxon population-groups that were present in the Lincoln region from the mid-fifth century onwards, including those of *Lindēs-Lindissi and also groups further south, such as the Spalde/Spaldingas. Arguing that the emerging picture of Anglian-British interaction, if repeated throughout the Anglo-Saxon regions would have a significant bearing on the origins of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the nature and extent in the core areas of Anglo-Saxon immigration, and the conquest and settlement of Northumbria.

Green presents the case for the island of Lindisfarne being originally settled by Anglo-Saxon migrants from Lincolnshire, which he argues provides the most credible interpretation of the etymology for the name of the Northumbrian island as the Lindisfaran were a major Anglo-Saxon population-group based in the Lincoln region. Further, he suggest that that the arrival of the Lindisfaran could be identical with the arrival of the founders of the kingdom of Bernicia.

Table of Contents:
Foreword: Dr Kevin Leahy (The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey, 2008) acknowledges Green's latest monograph as breaking new ground, presenting a new approach to the history of the Lincoln region in the post-Roman period.
Introduction:  Previous Approaches, Sources and Methodology
Chapter 1  The Context of Post-Roman Lincolnshire
Chapter 2  The British Country of *Lindēs
Chapter 3  Anglian-British Interaction and the End of the ‘Country of *Lindēs’
Chapter 4  Lindissi and the Legacy of *Lindēs
Chapter 5  The Population-Groups of Early Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire
Chapter 6  Lindisfarne, the Lindisfaran, and the Origins of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Conclusion  The Significance of *Lindēs and Lindissi

Britons and Anglo-Saxons is due to be published on 18 September 2012 in both hardback and paperback (336 pages, ISBNs 978-0-902668-24-9 and 978-0-902668-25-6). The book can now be pre-ordered from the publishers at a discount of 25% off the cover price available through a link on the author's website Thomas Green Arthuriana - a saving of 25% on the published prices of £29.95 hbk and £17.95 pbk. Orders must be received before the launch date of 18 September 2012.

"This volume breaks new ground. It offers an interdisciplinary approach to the history of the Lincoln region in the post-Roman period, drawing together a wide range of sources. In particular, it indicates that a British polity named Lindes was based at Lincoln into the sixth century, and that the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindsey had an intimate connection to this British political unit." - Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology

Dr Thomas Green lives in Lincolnshire and is currently undertaking research at the University of Oxford, where he recently completed his doctoral thesis. He maintains the Arthuriana website specialising in studies in early Medieval history and legend. Much of the Arthurian material from the website is available as Arthuriana: Early Arthurian Tradition and the Origins of the Legend as a print-on-demand book or a PDF download. Much of this material formed the basis of his book Concepts of Arthur: the Nature of the Early Arthurian Legend (Tempus, 2008), both essential reading for students of  the early Arthurian legend.

See: ‘The British Kingdom of Lindsey’ by Thomas Green, a detailed study of the historical, archaeological, literary and linguistic evidence for a post-Roman British kingdom in the Lincoln region. [A version of the paper that originally appeared in Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), pp.1–43]

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Saturday 25 August 2012

Glastonbury and the Grail

Next month sees the publication of a new book on Glastonbury and the Grail, Justin E. Griffin's third book in his investigations of the Grail legend:

Glastonbury and the Grail
Did Joseph of Arimathea Bring the Sacred Relic to Britain?

Justin E Griffin
ISBN: 978-0-7864-6582-8
Paperback, photos, bibliography, index
McFarland, due publication1st September 2012

From the publisher: “Glastonbury, a small town in Somerset, England, stands at the epicentre of a longstanding tradition placing the Holy Grail in Britain. Legend holds that Joseph of Arimathea travelled to Britain, bringing with him both a gathering of followers and the cup that Jesus used at the last supper. He is said to have buried the Grail at Glastonbury, where some claim he founded the first church in England. This volume chronicles one man’s personal quest to find historical evidence supporting the traditional beliefs surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail in southern England. Bolstered by an abundance of evidence supporting the presence of Joseph in 1st Century Britain, he separates his findings from the fantasy of the Grail Romances, answering questions about the Grail and the origins and progressions of its legend.”

Griffin's first two books, The Holy Grail (McFarland 2001) and The Grail Procession (McFarland, 2004) received mixed reviews, with Griffin, who professes to quest for the 'Historical Grail', accused of stretching possibility and conjecture, representing it as fact. Griffin appears to accept that all written sources provide historically factual evidence, and ultimately he combines the grail texts with the history of the Pelagian heresy in Britain which he argues is a factual retelling of the legend of the Fisher King, claiming it is the actual life of Pelagius on whom King Pelles of the Grail Legend is based.

In his first book, The Holy Grail: the Legend, the History, the Evidence, Griffin examines the legitimacy of the claims of several modern day claimants with chapters on The Spear of Destiny, The Historical Grail Candidates, The Santo Caliz of Valencia, The Nanteos cup,  and comes up with a theory of multiple grails.

In Griffin's second book, The Grail Procession: The Legend, the Artifacts, and the Possible Sources of the Story, in addition to the sacred artefacts tied to the Passion of Christ, the Holy Grail, the Holy Lance, that pierced Christ’s side, the sword that was used to behead John the Baptist, and the dish from the Last Supper, he examines the forgotten relics of the Grail Procession using material omitted from his first book. Griffin comes to the conclusion that the Grail Hallows did exist as archaeological relics and the legends surrounding the Grail Hallows are reputed to uphold the theory that the blood of Christ was taken west by Joseph of Arimathea following the crucifixion.

Now, in his third outing, Glastonbury and the Grail: Did Joseph of Arimathea Bring the Sacred Relic to Britain? Griffin follows the trail of Joseph of Arimathea to Britain, Griffin inevitably arrives at the Mysteries of Glastonbury, the enigmatic Somerset town, site of the Abbey and King Arthur's grave. There was certainly a cult of St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, instigated by Abbot Chinnock, in the late fourteenth century. But it wasn't until Abbot Bere constructed the crypt, known as St. Joseph's Chapel, beneath the Lady Chapel, c.1500 AD, that the cult became a major attraction.

Traditionally, the twelve Hides of Land of the Church of Glastonbury, descend from an original grant given to Joseph of Arimathaea, by King Arviragus (10 -74 AD). The Glastonbury tradition claims that, after arriving in Britain in 63 AD, Joseph pushed his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill and this grew into the Glastonbury Thorn, flowering every Christmas.

Hopefully Griffin will delve into the Prophecy of Melkin the bard which appears for the first time in John of Glastonbury's fourteenth century "Chronicle". According to the prophecy, Joseph of Armimathea established the first Christian church at Glastonbury and carried with him 2 cruets of Christ's blood and sweat which are buried with him at Glastonbury, “linea bifurcata”; yet the jury is still out as to whether this is a reference to a linen shirt or a forked line.

The early thirteenth century Perlesvaus, or The High History of the Holy Grail, puts the Grail firmly at Glastonbury. Katherine Maltwood, commissioned to illustrate Perlesvaus,  became convinced that the adventures of the knights of the Round Table corresponded to places in the Vale of Avalon. A fragment of the Perlesvaus manuscript found at Wells cathedral lends support to the claims that it was written at Glastonbury Abbey.

But the Glastonbury tradition of Joseph of Arimathea really starts when Robert de Boron, wrote his "Joseph d'Arimathie", in the late twelfth century, thus Christianising Chretien's pagan "graal" and transforming it into the vessel of the Last Supper, a theme continued in the Vulgate's "Estoire del Saint Graal,” that produced "The Holy Grail" for the first time.

 Robert is the first author to give the Holy Grail myth an explicitly Christian dimension. According to him, Joseph of Arimathea used the vessel of the Last Supper vessel to catch the blood from Jesus's body as he hung on the cross. Joseph is imprisoned by angry Jews and sustained for forty years solely by the Grail.  Following his release he leaves for foreign lands in the west, presumed to be Britain, with a party of Christians. Eventually the party arrive at vaus d'Avaron, the valleys of Avaron (Avalon?) although Joseph is not recorded as travelling on this last part of the journey, where the Grail is entrusted to a succession of keepers. And a legend was born.

However, we must bear in mind that the Grail texts cannot be considered historical accounts. For this we are limited to the letter of  St. Augustine (d. 604 AD) to Pope Gregory which states that there was a church in the west of Britain that was divinely constructed for the salvation of His people. This has been interpreted as evidence that Christ himself built the first church at Glastonbury, inevitably accompanied by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea.  Added to which we have the statement from Gildas that Britain “received the beams of light, that is, the holy precepts of Christ, the true Sun” during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, (Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD). It should be interesting reading.

This is the book of thy descent, here begins the book of the Holy Grail,
here begin the terrors, here begin the marvels.

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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Eastern Mystery Cults in Roman London

"Say all these things with fire and spirit, until completing the first utterance; then, similarly, begin the second, until you complete the seven immortal gods of the world. When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm; and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: "Silence!" (the prayer) Then open your eyes and you will see the doors open and the world of the gods which is within the doors, so that from the pleasure and joy of the sight your spirit runs ahead and ascends." [1]

The Sacred Valley of the Walbrook
The legendary history of Geoffrey of Monmouth [2] claims that Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, founded London, his New Troy (Trinovantum), when he came to the shore of the Thames. After leaving Greece, Brutus came to the island of Loegecia where he experienced a vision at the Temple of Diana, the goddess of the woods, where a statue gave answers to those who consulted her. He was foretold to travel to an island in the west and build a second Troy. [3] If Brutus brought a religion with him it seems likely that it would have been a cult from the east.

According to Geoffrey, when Lud, brother of Cassibellaun, king of the Britons who made war against Julius Caesar, (Geoffrey's version of the historical British chieftain Cassivellaunus) obtained the government of the kingdom, he surrounded the city with walls and towers, and having abolished the name Troy, renamed it KaerLud, the city of Lud. He commanded the citizens to build houses and all kinds of structures within it so that no foreign country could show more beautiful palaces. [4] However, we know that the London Wall was built by the Romans during the Severan period, toward the end of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries, around the 'square mile' of the City of London. If Geoffrey's early temple to an eastern goddess of the woods exists at all, it must be within the Walls of the first city.

Running through the centre of the early Roman settlement of Londinium was the Walbrook river, probably named as such as it ran through the Wall, at the site of All-Hallows-on-the-Wall Church, Broad Street, which possibly started as a water shrine on the Wall. Feeding into the Thames at Dowgate, the Walbrook provided a source of clean water for the first inhabitants of the settlement, although now no longer visible the watercourse continues to exist beneath the city. Excavations in the 19th century by General Pitt Rivers uncovered 'many dozen skulls' reported from the bed of the Walbrook between Finsbury Circus and the south side of the London Wall.
Walbrook skulls

These skulls have been interpreted as evidence of of Geoffrey's account of a mass beheading on the banks of the Walbrook. Geoffrey has Asclepiodotus, Duke of Cornwall, march against the usurper Allectus at London. According to Geoffrey, after Allectus had been killed,  Asclepiodotus besieged Gallus and the rest of the Romans in the city.  Asclepiodotus is supported by Dimetians, Venedotians, Deirans, Albanians and all others of the British race who breached the walls and made a violent assault on the city. Witnessing the onslaught Gallus and his troops surrendered to Asclepiodotus, but a body of Venedotians rushed them and beheaded them upon a brook in the city, from which the name of the British commander was afterwards called, Nautgallim in the British tongue and in the Saxon Gallembourne[5] Geoffrey seems to have invented Gallus simply to provide the translation for the Walbrook (Gallobroc).

Perhaps there is the faintest glimmer of a true account within Geoffrey's story as the Celts were renown head hunters with classical historians recording the Celt's habit of displaying the heads of their enemies on walls or hanging them from their horse's necks on the battlefield. Is this evidence of a Celtic attack on the city as Geoffrey writes it? Perhaps, understandably some historians have interpreted the Walbrook skulls as evidence of the Boudiccan rebellion of 60 AD. [6] Tacitus tells us that 70,000 perished in the three cities of Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium during the Boudiccan revolt. [7] Of these, as many as 30,000 were from an estimated population of 45,000 in London. The Walbrook skulls may have been so plentiful that they were manifest in the 12th century when Geoffrey wrote. Since the 19th century over one hundred skulls have been found in the upper Walbrook valley.

There was so much material deposited in the Walbrook, including metalwork, broken or bent miniature weapons, mutilated figures of deities, that it was at one time thought to have been a municipal rubbish dump. Excavations along the Walbrook in London during the 1920s produced several wooden and lead tablets, but these older discoveries have been largely ignored by scholars.  However, ritual deposition is now recognised as the source of this material and a lead curse tablet from the Walbrook stream has been identified at Princes Street, which had been fixed by a single nail bearing the same inscription scratched on both sides cursing two men.

Excavations in the Walbrook Valley in 1989 by the Museum of London at a tributary channel of the Walbrook was filled with waterlain deposits and a number of  human  skulls. Cut  into the  channel deposits were a number of pits found to contain scrap leather from Roman sandal manufacture. These pits, and contemporary drainage channels, also contained human skulls.

Today it is thought more likely that the Walbrook skulls reflect votive practices over a long period. Carbon dating of the skulls returned a date range from The Bronze Age and the Late Iron Age to the Roman period. Further, the skulls were mainly from young males, 25 -35 years at the time of death. Study of the skulls indicates that they had been deliberately deposited without their lower jaws and that the discolouration of the bone suggested that they had been exposed for some time after death, perhaps as curated relics. [8]

The practice of skull deposition appears to have its basis in a pre-Roman cult of the head that continued into the Roman period. The deposition of human skulls in watery contexts is an ancient custom that can be traced back to the late Bronze Age. The cult of the head is attested in Celtic written sources, such as the head of Bran from the Mabinogion.

We find the largest accumulation of deposits along the stretch of the Walbrook between Cannon Street and the Bank of England, considered with the presence of shrines along on the banks of the stream here. A votive tin plaque of three Celtic mother-goddesses and a mother-goddess figurine found in the Walbrook valley indicates this was an area of deep religious significance to the Romano-British inhabitants of Londinium. Further, at Budge Row, running east-west and once part of the Roman road of Watling Street, a marble plinth was found with an inscription stating that the district restored the shrine to a mother-goddess that stood nearby on the bank of the Walbrook. This was clearly a religious quarter.
Roman facepot (Potteries Museum)

The remains of over 100 ceramic face pots, one of the largest groups in the country, have been found in the Upper Walbrook valley reflecting the concentration human skulls in this area. Most of the complete face pots from London, mainly manufactured in the Verulamium (St Albans) area, have been found in the Walbrook valley and from local shrines as ritual deposits. It would appear they have nothing to do with food storage, but are connected to funerary activity as some have been found in cemeteries and with cremation burials. Some face pots from Italy have been interpreted as bearing the face of Charon, guide to the shades. Originating in the Rhineland these distinctive vessels can be found in most cultures all over the Roman empire, following in the footsteps of the army. However, their usage seems to have continued amongst the civilian population even after the military had left the area. The face pots appear to have been introduced to Britain by the Roman army who based in Londinium at the fort at Cripplegate, on the west bank of the Walbrook.

The Temple of Mithras
The Romans were a superstitious people and very conscious of indigenous religions. They brought much of their religion with them to Britain but debate goes on as to the depth they replaced the Celtic religious practices. Some scholars see a total replacements while others see continuation of Celtic beliefs and practices. However, the Romans were certainly responsible for bringing the Eastern Mystery Cults to London, yet only one temple of a mystery cult has been positively identified in London.

A Mithraeum had long been suspected in Londinium when a Tauroctony, a marble relief of Mithras sacrificing a bull, was found in Walbrook in 1889.  Excavations by W F Grimes in 1954 on the east bank of the Walbrook, revealed a basilican temple, built c.240 AD, architecturally very similar to an early christian church with central nave and side aisles, divided from the nave on each side by a row of seven columns with was a raised sanctuary within a rounded apse at the western end. The 1954 excavations also revealed a group of fine marble sculptures of pagan deities confirming it was anything but a Christian church. The high quality sculptures of Mithras, wearing his Phrygian cap, Minerva, Serapis and Mercury were all made from Carrara marble, carved in Italy and shipped to Britannia by civilian merchants. The sculptures had all been carefully buried within the floor of the temple that was in use in the early 4th century.
Walbrook Tauroctony
The Tauroctony found in Walbrook in 1889, is thought to have been carefully buried at the same time as the sculptures probably due to the threat of the advancing tide of Christianity in the later 4th century. An axe cut on the side of the neck of the Mithras sculpture and damage to the principal sculptures in London and the damage to the tauroctony at the Carrawburgh Mithraeum on Hadrian's Wall is suggestive of a violent end to this eastern mystery cult in Britain. [9] The Walbrook temple appears to have continued in use, although there is no evidence that it converted to a Christian church. Indeed, a marble sculpture of Bacchus, the wine god, combined with a satyr, a maenad, a panther and a serpent, lying on the temple's latest floor suggest its continued use as a pagan temple.

Roman Mithraism, a mystery religion that involved the subterranean worship of the ancient Persian god Mithras, the Indo-European god of heavenly light, through seven stages of initiation, was practised widely in the Roman Empire, from  the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, being particularly popular amongst the Roman military, officials and merchants.  It seems likely the London Mithraeum had a strong military contingent drawn from the nearby fort at Cripplegate.

Chillingly similar and Christianity's strongest rival in the Roman world: the sacrifice of the great bull, the scene depicted on the Tauroctony, with the shedding of the eternal blood hinting at a belief system not so far removed from the Christian concept of Judgement, Salvation and Pedition. Little of the liturgy has survived but at the Santa Prisca Mithraeum some painted texts have survived on the walls making reference to the 'eternal blood' and 'the blood which grants eternity.' [10]
Mithras, Walbrook

Perhaps the most enigmatic find at the Walbrook Mithraeum was a silver box found stashed in a secret hiding place within the temple. The scenes depicted on the outside of the box have been interpreted as depicting the dramatic ceremonies that were performed symbolising life and death, associated in some way in these initiation ceremonies with the initiate passing through death to resurrection in a new life must undergo a temporary burial. A coffin-like pit was found at the  Carrawburgh Mithraeum thought to be for this purpose. The concept is suggested on the lid of the silver box, where a man emerges from a coffin-like chest. The sculptures of both Serapis, Egyptian God of the Underworld, and the Roman god Mercury, guide to the souls of the dead, are associated with life after death and lend further support to this view. Within the box was a strainer or infuser, thought to have been used to strain the sacramental wine. The Walbrook strainer may have been used in this way but is unusually deep and may have been used to infuse a concoction of herbs, perhaps of a hallucinogenic trait. [11]

These temples were designed to imitate the cave in which the god Mithras slayed a mythical bull, being invariably low buildings often subterranean in part at least, with little natural light but sometimes with an aperture to admit the rays of the sun at an important sequence in the solar calendar; a ceiling in the vault of the mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, has an aperture that admits light onto an off-centred scuttle which throws sunlight onto the altar at midday at the summer solstice. [12]

Following the 1954 excavation, the Walbrook Mithareum was uprooted and moved down the road to Temple Court where the temple outline was recreated in Roman building materials in Queen Victoria Street. The Mithraeum is now due to be moved back to its original location with remains of the temple now been dismantled and in controlled storage ready to be showcased inside a new building. Ironically, it cannot be relocated in exactly in its original position because some of the foundations of the original Roman temple are still there, consequently the reconstruction will be moved to the original Roman level of the temple on the correct N-S position but shifted a few metres to the west to avoid the original foundations.

Isis at Southwark
Mithraism was not the only eastern mystery religion to be imported to Britain by the Romans. The discovery of a 1st century flagon found in Tooley Street, Southwark, bearing graffito LONDINI AD FANVM ISIDIS or "From London at the temple of Isis" indicating that a temple to the great Egyptian goddess Isis may have once stood on the south bank of the Thames opposite the Londinium settlement.

Numerous finds of small artefacts hinted at the presence of the worship of Isis in Roman London but it was not until the mid-1970's when two altars, bearing 3rd century inscriptions celebrating the restoration of the temple of Isis, were found amongst the building material of the riverside wall at Blackfriars that its existence was finally confirmed.

In 1996 excavations at a cemetery site parallel to the Watling Street Roman road in Great Dover Street in the Borough of Southwark revealed  three lamps in an unusual cremation burial which depicted the jackal headed Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld, closely associated with Isis. Maybe not Brutus's temple but evidence that the worship of eastern deities had spread from Asia and Egypt to the far western Empire.

Since the 19th century a mausoleum associated with a large Roman building is known to  have existed on part of the  site of Southwark Cathedral but it wasn't until excavations carried out in the  crypt in 1977 revealed traces of 1st century buildings and a square timber-lined well of probable late Roman date. The well contained an important group of  Roman funerary sculptures, perhaps the furnishings from the mausoleum. The sculpture had been broken in half and dumped into the well  with a large quantity of  building rubble that showed signs of  burning and damage, perhaps signifying a violent end for pagan worship at this temple.

The major sculpture is a free-standing limestone group of an eastern deity, usually identified as either Attis (Atys) or Mithras, flanked by a seated hound and a small hoofed beast, probably a stag. The god has a bow in his left hand, and a quiver on his back, and wears the Phrygian cap characteristic of  both deities. Attis was a Phrygian vegetation god and consort of Cybele, the Mother goddess.

Hunter god, Southwark
Alternatively, this deity may simply be a representation of a hunter god. Permitting this identification then the sculpture of the deity found in the well at Southwark Cathedral is a good parallel for the Romano-British deity known as Apollo Cunomaglos, attested by an altarstone at Nettleton Shrub, Wiltshire. 'Cunomaglos,' meaning 'hound lord' portraying associations with hunting, a native deity who the Romans equated with Apollo, one of the most important deities in ancient Greek and Roman religion. The son of Zeus and Leto, Apollo was the twin brother of the hunter goddess Artemis. To the Romans she was known as Diana, the goddess of the hunt.

In addition to the hunter god found at Southwark, figures wearing Phrygian caps and carrying hunting equipment have been found at Goldsmiths’ Hall, near Ludgate Hill, and in the east of the city at Bevis Marks, near Aldgate, on the line of the Roman Wall; evidence of a Hunter god cult in Roman London?

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Notes & References
1. The Mithras Liturgy from the Paris Codex, Edited and Translated by Marvin W. Meyer.
2. "Historia Regum Britanniae" (History of the Kings of Britain) , Book I, Chp 17.
3.  Ibid. Book I, Chp 10.
4.  Ibid. Book III, Chp 20.
5.  Ibid. Book 5, Chp 4.
6. John Morris, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, BCA, 1982, following Mortimer Wheeler.
7.  Tacitus, The Annals, Book XIV, 109 AD.
8.  R.Bradley and K.Gordon, Human skulls from the River Thames, their dating and significance, Antiquity, 1988.
9.  Martin Henig, Religion in Roman Britain, Batsford 1995.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12.  Roger B Beck, Beck on Mithraism, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.

The Museum of London website is an invaluable resource for Roman London.


Mystery of 39 skulls found at London Wall is solved after 25 years
Skulls discovered within the boundaries of ancient London a quarter of a century ago are now believed to be those of gladiators, brutally killed for the amusement of Roman audiences.

The haul of 39 skulls, discovered beneath the site of the Guildhall in the City of London, were discovered in 1988 and were believed to have originated from human remains washed out of burial sites by the Walbrook, one of the area’s lost rivers. But now after 25 years in storage, the remains have been re-examined by an historian from the Museum of London, who believes they are the first evidence of gladiators in London.

Decapitated heads were 'gladiators' - Mail Online 15 January 2014
Gladiator Heads? Mystery of Trove of British Skulls Solved - Live Science 07 February 2014 (from Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 43)


60 years since the discovery of the Roman Temple of Mithras
In the summer of 1954, archaeologist WF Grimes and his team excavated the site in the City of London ahead of the construction on Bucklersbury House, Legenland. The archaeologists had no evidence for the function of the building until on the last day of the planned excavation, the 18th September, the head of the god Mithras was found by a workman.

In 1962 the Temple of Mithras was relocated approximately 100 metres from its original location.
The reconstruction was carefully dismantled again in 2011 ahead of construction of the current site owners, Bloomberg,  new European headquarters. The Mathraeum will be reinstated  back, where it originally sat, at the correct Roman ground level seven metres below current ground level, following Grimes’s original record drawings, in 2017.

Past Horizons 23 September 2014

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Wednesday 25 July 2012

In Search of London's Ancient Temples

In The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae, c.1136), Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us of two temples that existed in pre-Roman London; the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Apollo, but provides no clues as to their location. He also writes that Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of Britain, vowed to build a temple to the goddess Diana somewhere in his New Troy on the banks of the Thames.

Lud's Walls
The story of Brutus (Britto) was in existence in the 9th century (Historia Brittonum), he is the grandson, or great grandson, of Aeneas a hero of the Trojan War, one of the most important events in Greek mythology, documented in Homer's epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, scribed in the 8th century. We cannot accuse Geoffrey of inventing the tale of Brutus, but he certainly seems guilty of stretching the yarn. According to Geoffrey, King Lud later refortified the city walls and subsequently renamed the settlement as KaerLud. But, not for the first timeGeoffrey confuses his chronology, as these defences were not built until the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD with much of it surviving as late as the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Romans built the Wall around Londinium between 190 and 225 AD, some considerable time after the construction of the fort at Cripplegate. This was during the period of Severan's re-fortifications, which included Hadrian's Wall in the north. The landward wall must have been considered adequate for the defence for London with the river itself thought to be a suitable barrier on the southern front. During the late 3rd and the 4th centuries, the eastern and western ends of the landward wall were joined by a new wall that ran along the riverfront approximately on the line of modern Upper and Lower Thames Street.
London Wall, Tower Hill
In 1975 over 50 massive blocks of limestone, including a group of monumental sculptures, were found amongst the building material of the newly discovered 4th century riverside wall just to the east of Blackfriars. Most of these blocks had ornaments and figures in relief carving, some 45 had come from two large, richly decorated monuments, that has been reconstructed as a 25ft wide arch and a 20ft wide screen. Both of these monuments contained figures of deities with the arch having at least four full length figures including Minerva and Hercules. The screen had at least six full length figures including Vulcan, Minerva and Diana. The London Arch has been tentatively identified as the work of Romano-British masons and also dated to the Severan period, with the Screen dated more loosely to the 2nd or 3rd centuries. The arch is thought to have been a monumental entrance to religious precinct in the south western end of the city.

Massive sculptured blocks have also been observed in a stretch of wall during sewer excavations at the foot of Lambeth Hill in 1841. These huge stones contained within the building material of the wall included sculptured and ornamental mouldings portraying their use at some previous time in friezes and entablatures. Other decorative stone work has been found amongst the building material of the riverside wall, but significantly only in the western part at Blackfriars, which did not belong to the arch, screen or friezes, and undoubtedly came from temples and shrines, such as a relief of group of four mother-goddesses and two altars, each with a 3rd century inscription relating to the rebuilding of a temple, probably of Isis. 

In 1981 the massive foundation stones of an east-west and a north-south wall were found at Peter's Hill, now a notable pedestrian route leading from Upper Thames Street to St Paul's Cathedral since the construction of the Millennium Bridge, conjectured to be the foundations of a large temple. The implication of these finds is that a large area in the south-west of the walled city, south of the site of the modern St Paul's Cathedral, was a religious precinct, entered through the London Arch. A lack of domestic refuse in the archaeological record suggests the area was kept 'clean'. At sometime the priority changed and it was demolished with parts of the arches, screens and temples used as building material in the riverside wall at Blackfriars.

A Bronze Age Burial Ground
To the ancient Greeks the Trojan War was a historical event that had taken place in the 12th century BC putting the events firmly in the Bronze Age. Yet evidence for a pre-Roman settlement on the site of the City of London is slight, if at all; there was certainly Bronze Age activity within the area of the original Roman settlement of Londinium with evidence of votive offerings gathered from the river Thames and its tributaries revealing that this was once a sacred area, perhaps purposefully kept 'clean' and unsettled.

We find some Bronze Age barrows situated on the higher ground surrounding the site of Londinium. Barrows are situated south of the river at Wimbledon Common and at Richmond Park were the highest ground is called King Henry VIII's Mound, and thought to have been the site of an ancient burial. The Mound has a protected vista to St Paul's cathedral, ten miles distant at Ludgate Hill. At Greenwich Park overlooking the Thames is a Bronze Age barrow cemetery, re-used by the Saxons in the 6th century. Opposite Richmond Park, across the west bank of the Thames, a Bronze Age barrow was known at Teddington, which was excavated in 1854, the finds, including a fine Bronze Age dagger, now sadly lost.

To the north of the river at Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath in Greater London, we find a significant mound thought to be a Bronze Age bowl barrow known as "Boudicca's Grave" which local legend claims is where the great Queen was buried after her Iceni warriors were defeated at Battle Bridge, an ancient crossing of the River Fleet. Just north of Regent's Park is Primrose Hill, a conical hill, over two hundred feet high, formerly known as Barrow Hill, and claimed to be an ancient burial site.  At Westminster on a bend in the Horseferry Road, we find Tothill Mound, the name denoting an old beacon hill or artificial mound, the highest spot on the flat, marshy region of Thorney Island, near the site of the modern Abbey.

Within the Square Mile of the City Walls evidence for Bronze Age barrows all but disappears, perhaps destroyed by 1st century Roman constructions. The higher ground of Cornhill and Ludgate Hill became the site of great Christian churches; St Peter's, the first Christian church in London, and St Paul's, respectively. Yet at Tower Hill we find the survival of one ancient tradition. Bryn Gwyn, the White Mound, the site of the Tower of London, is said to have been the burial site of Bran's Head.

However, the oldest structure yet found in London is a group of wooden posts, originally about the size of telegraph poles, found further upstream sticking out of the Thames mud near Vauxhall Bridge, visible in front of the MI6 building but only at low tide. These posts were found to be over 6,000 years old. Their usage unknown, the posts were promptly given a ritual interpretation with suggestions that they were part of a cult site, something like native North American totem poles. Perhaps the posts simply marked an ancient quayside. The Thames was the gateway into ancient Britain, and situated opposite the mouth of the Rhine, the gateway into Europe, an obvious trade route. It would appear that these sites along the Thames provided meeting places for trade and religious ceremonies, the occurrence indelibly marked on the landscape by a pit or a post. But nothing that could be considered a major settlement. Indeed, the area surrounding the City is somewhat reminiscent of the sacred landscape on Salisbury Plain, with the Stonehenge monument at the centre, surrounded by numerous barrows on the skyline which must have been an impressive sight in fresh white chalk. The only difference being the centre of the sacred London landscape was a major river deity instead of a stone monument.

Identification of Geoffrey's ancient temples has so far proved elusive; yet until the trowel of the archaeologist turns up some new evidence, continuity (Roman temples and shrines were built on existing indigenous sacred sites), and the Roman habit of religious syncretism, are perhaps our best hope of identifying these ancient places of worship.

London's First Temple?
London’s first civic centre was built by the Romans c.70 AD on the high ground to the east of the river Walbrook on a gravel ridge running across Cornhill. This replaced an earlier wooden structure, probably part of the very first Roman settlement built c.50 AD. This earlier wooden building may simply have been a store as burnt grain was found here, perhaps evidence of Boudicca's attack in 60 AD.

The stone building formed an enclosure, a Forum and Basilica complex. The basilica formed the north side and was where the local senate would have met, effectively Londinium's first town hall and law court. On the other three sides was The forum, or business centre, and contained a central market place. The first forum and basilica occupied a site of about 100m x 50m. Twenty years later in response to the demands of an expanding Londinium, the complex was to grow fourfold in a building project over the next thirty years. The new basilica was three storeys high, the largest north of the Alps. The western end stretching across Cornhill with the eastern portion now lying under the Victorian Leadenhall Market. Beneath the south-west corner are traces of a small rectangular building, part of the first forum and basilica complex, measuring around 18m x 10m, with a squarish apse at its northern end. This was thought to be small temple or shrine, possibly London's first. Was this religious building, dedicated to an unknown deity, erected on top of one of Geoffrey's pre-Roman temples?

Temple of Apollo
Geoffrey recalls the legend of King Bladud who attempted to fly but fell upon the Temple of Apollo in the city of Trinovantum. So Geoffrey's story goes that Baldud was an ingenious man, who taught necromancy (a form of magic involving communication with the deceased), but was killed “in pursuing his magical operations attempted to fly to the upper region of the air with wings which he had prepared and fell upon on the temple of Apollo in the city of Trinovantum, where he was dashed to pieces."

The site of  the modern Westminster Abbey at Thorney Island has long been suspected of being the site of  the Temple of Apollo, but there is absolutely no justification for this whatsoever. However, this has long been sacred ground with the present Abbey being built on the site of an earlier Late Saxon church which in turn replaced an earlier church which legend claims was consecrated by St Peter. But this is far too late to be one of Geoffrey's pre-Roman temples. However, there had certainly been a post-Roman episcopal see in London. Bede records a tradition that the first Saxon cathedral was built by bishop Mellitus in 604 AD in 'Lundenwic'. But this is too late and being a mile to the west of the old Roman city of Londinium is in the wrong place for Brutus's temple. Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere.

In his Historia Geoffrey describes how Bladud built Kaerbadus (modern Bath), and made the hot baths dedicated to the goddess Minerva, in whose temple the fires never went out nor consumed ashes. Minerva, the Roman goddess of healing and wisdom of great antiquity, sharing many attributes with the Greek Goddess Athena, her cult developed under Etruscan influence with Minerva joining Jupiter and Juno as part of the Capitoline triad. Geoffrey confuses his chronology again here, and not for the last time, as Minerva was unknown in Britain until the arrival of the Romans and her popularity with the military is attested by inscriptions from Segontium (Caernarfon, Gwynedd) to Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria) on Hadrian's Wall.

The Celts built the first shrine at the site of the hot springs which was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, a local goddess, virtually unknown outside of Bath, although she is identified with the Suleviae, a group of Celtic goddesses attested by over forty inscriptions in the ancient Celtic lands of Gaul, Britain and Galicia. The Romans identified Sulis with Minerva, which was consequently reflected in the name of the Roman temple there, constructed in 60-70 AD, which they called Aquae Sulis ("the waters of Sulis").

 Aquae Sulis Roman baths
Cursing in the Temple
Around 130 curse tablets (Defixiones) have been found at the temple of Aquae Sulis, at Bath, most concerned with theft. The curses, found throughout the Graeco-Roman world, were usually inscribed on lead tablets and occasionally other materials such as wooden writing tablets, papyri and stone, in which someone would ask the gods to do harm to others. The curses were typically scratched on very thin sheets of lead in small letters, rolled or folded, then either buried in the ground or included in graves or tombs, often they were thrown into wells or pools or nailed to the walls of temples.

In addition to Aquae Sulis, curse tablets have been found at many Romano-British temples, particularly in the west of the country: two from Somerset, Brean Down and Pagans Hill; Lydney and notably West Hill at Uley, both from Gloucestershire. The possible presence of a Neolithic ceremonial site at Uley may extend its history as a sacred place back into the third millennium BC.

Further afield, a curse tablet was found in debris of the northern half of the arena during excavations of the amphitheatre, south-west of the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Isca), Gwent by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1926. The lead tablet approximately 10 cm square, was pierced with two nail holes for attachment. The inscription reads: 'Lady Nemesis, I give thee a cloak and a pair of boots; let him who took them not redeem them [unless] with his own blood.'

This particular curse has been interpreted as being made by a gladiator or soldier, requesting the goddess arrange for the death or injury of the thief in return for the stolen possessions. The rectangular enclosure just outside the main entrance to the amphitheatre contained a shrine to Nemesis which perhaps would have been a more fitting place for the curse tablet, unless the thief was a gladiator who was to get his comeuppance in the arena. As the goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis was feared and revered. Along with Dike and Themis, goddesses associated with Justice, Nemesis was one of the assistants of Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods who was regarded as the founder of law and order.

Further dedications to Minerva appear at the site of Mithraeum at Segontium and at Camboglanna, the latter reading, "For the God Belatucader [in the] shrine of Minerva" found alongside altarstones to Mithras. Perhaps coincidence, or indications of a divine relationship, endorsed when the buried white marble heads of Minerva were found during excavations of the site of a temple in the valley of the Walbrook in 1954.

Copyright © 2012 Edward Watson

Next: The Temple of Mithras

Notes & References
Ralph Merrifield, London: City of the Romans, Batsford, 1983.
Martin Henig, Religion in Roman Britain, Routledge, 1995.
Lewis Thorpe, ed and trans.,The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Penguin 1973.

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