You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Corinium Museum at Cirencester: (left) leaded bronze statue of a putto found in the centre of Roman Corinium in 1731 or 1732; (right) copper enamelled cockerel found in an infant burial in 2011
On Mon. 2, 1731, was found at Cirencester, in
Gloucestershire, an ancient Statue of solid Corinthian Brass, as 'tis expressed in the printed Bills, sixteen inches long, the right hand extended
half an inch above the head. It is of Apollo, as the Bills call it, though
I rather think it to be Cupid. One Cutler and Bolton carry it about for
a show. They both live at Cirencester. Bolton belongs to Mr. Masters (in whose garden the Statue was found) Parliament man for Cirencester,
but Cutler goes commonly about with coins, & turns a penny that way, & is always ready to shew abundance, that he never fails to say were found
at Cirencester. I take this Statue to be a cheat.
Thomas Hearne - Remarks and Collections - Vol. XI (1731-1735)
Hearne was a highly reputed antiquarian and he was right in associating the statue with Cupid (or rather a putto - see a similar statue at Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum). Other antiquarians however came to the conclusion that the statue was original; a drawing of the statue was published in 1785 in Archaeologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of London. The statue was acquired by the Bodleian Library and eventually by the Ashmolean Museum. In a way the finding nearly 300 years later of a small cockerel is a consequence of what occurred in 1731, because every time the citizens of Cirencester laid the foundations for a new building, they paid attention to see whether the excavated debris hid some other memories of the past. This explains why the the local museum has such an impressive collection of Roman antiquities.
The classical subject and the fine execution of the putto, most likely a table-lamp stand, suggest it was made outside Britain, possibly in Athens or another Mediterranean location from where these luxury objects were shipped to the other parts of the Empire. Wrecks carrying similar small bronze statues have been found at Mahdia in Tunisia and near Marseille.
Corinium Museum: Mosaic of the Four Seasons with a medallion portraying Silenus on a donkey
In August, last year, during the progress of making a sewer on the
north side of Dyer-street, a portion of a floor was exposed;
this, on being traced to its boundary walls, was found to be a nearly perfect
pavement of a room about fifteen feet square, running in an oblique direction
across the street.
James Buckman and Charles Newmarch - Remains of Roman Art in Ancient Cirencester - 1850
Following the discovery and lifting of the Four Seasons and Hunting Dogs (see below) mosaics in 1849 in Dyer Street at Cirencester, interest in the ancient past of the town reached such a peak that it was decided to build a museum to shelter these mosaics and other Roman items. Today the museum houses also some exhibits of the period after the Roman tenure of the town, e.g. some Saxon jewels.
Corinium Museum: fragments of a IIIrd century mosaic found in St Michael's Field in 1974; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of a geometric mosaic
Corinium-Cester was so important a station during the occupation of Britain by the Romans, that it is not surprising that many memorials of a people so advanced in Civilization should, from time to time, be found upon its site. Accordingly we find that scarcely an excavation takes place, within the limits of modern Cirencester, without disinterring some well-preserved relic, of interest in itself, and of value in enabling the antiquary to arrive at important conclusions concerning the history of a people whose protracted residence in our island has ever since exerted great influence even upon the manners and customs of the present inhabitants. Buckman and Newmarch
Site of the amphitheatre of Corinium
Having Romanized the settlement, the new settlers did the like with the
name, and Corin, with a latin termination, became Corinium, which is
called, by Ptolemeus, Corinium Dobunorum; he also says that Aquae
Calidae (Bath) lies to the south of Corinium. (..) In the vicinity of the Querns, is the Roman Amphitheatre,
which now goes by the name of the "Bull-ring"; its outline is exceedingly
well preserved, although but few vestiges remain of the seats or steps
(gradini) by which the spectators were usually accommodated. These were
doubtless much plainer in Rudder (*)'s time, as he remarks, "I am of opinion
that there were originally rows of seats, or steps, one below the other, from
top to bottom; but time has much defaced them." The mounds, for such
they are now, with their covering of turf, are twenty feet high, and enclose
a space of a broadly oval form, measuring 148 feet from east to west, and
134 feet from north to south; the entrances, which are on a level with the
floor of the interior, are 28 feet wide.
Buckman and Newmarch
(*) Samuel Rudder - The History and Antiquities of Cirencester - 1780
You may wish to see the amphitheatre of Isca Augusta (Caerleon, Wales, very near the border with Gloucestershire) to have an idea of the ancient aspect of that at Corinium.
Roman walls of Corinium
Much, however, as the wall had then suffered, it has fared still worse in
more recent times, as by far the greater part has been removed to form
parts of walls of a more modern date; but enough still remains to enable
us to make out that Corinium Castrum was fenced by a thick wall, having
faced stones without, whilst its inner courses were built of rough irregular
stones, firmly cemented together, and imbedded in a mass of concrete ("opus caementicium"). Buckman and Newmarch
Excavations in the mound which marks the site of the remaining Roman walls have shown evidence of small polygonal towers which most likely were built in the IIIrd century.
Columns and capitals in the Corinium Museum and one in the city centre
Corinium reached the peak of its development in the IVth century; the locations of its Forum and of its Basilica/Tribunal have been identified, but nothing survives above ground of them. It had temples and porticoes. The columns and capitals which were unearthed at Corinium are many more than those found in other important Roman settlements in Britain, e.g. Camulodunum (Colchester); they testify to the wealth of the town, which probably became the capital of Britannia Prima, a province which was created by Emperor Diocletian's administrative reform of the Empire at the end of the IIIrd century.
Corinium Museum: capital of the Jupiter Column (late IInd or early IIIrd century): sides showing Bacchus (left) and Silenus (right-above); (right-below) inscription celebrating the restoration of a Jupiter column by Lucius Septimius; it reads as follows: "To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, His Perfection, Lucius Septimius ... governor of Britannia Prima, restored (this monument), being a citizen of Rheims"
The capital (..) represents the busts of four figures. (..) it testifies that
this part of the Castrum must have possessed at least one building, not only
of some magnitude, but with its ornamental details executed in accordance
with the highest taste of the period of its erection. Buckman and Newmarch
The capital was found in 1838 and for a long time it was thought to have belonged to a monumental building. An inscription stating a restoration of a Column to Jupiter which was found in 1910 gave archaeologists a clue for suggesting that this very unique capital was the top of an isolated column. Similar columns have been found in many Roman towns of Germany with a strong military presence and also at Durocortorum (Rheims), the town of Lucius Septimius. The statue of Jupiter (portrayed as a Roman commander defeating a monster) which should have stood on top of the capital has not been found.
Corinium Museum: capital of the Jupiter Column: sides showing (left) Ambrosia and (right) Lycurgus
These carvings seem all to represent Bacchic personages. (..) A well carved head, with stiffly curled hair, enclosed in a thin head
covering, with grapes hanging against each temple; the tunic is fastened
by a fibula on either shoulder, and against the left arm rests a portion of a
flat circular object, probably a musical instrument. (..) It is a well-wrought figure of a Bacchante, the carving against
the left arm being no doubt intended either for a tambourine or the cymbals (..) A bold masculine head, with long flowing hair, crisply curled
moustache, and beard, having the throat and shoulders (..) quite bare and presenting finely wrought
muscular development. Over the right shoulder rises a double faced axe
(the Bipennis), whilst the elevated left hand holds a branch of the vine
with a bunch of grapes upon it. (..) It is intended for the Indian or Bearded
Bacchus, and is a fine carving in bold relief, full of expression.
Buckman and Newmarch
Today the above described personages have been identified as Ambrosia, a nymph who was metamorphosed into a fruiting grapevine and King Lycurgus, an enemy of Bacchus, who slew her with an axe. The couple was often depicted in mosaics e.g. at Vienne in France, Djemila in Algeria and at Herculaneum in Italy.
Corinium Museum: Mosaic of the Four Seasons: (left) Actaeon, the hunter who was turned into a stag by Diana and then torn apart by his own hounds (read Ovid's account of his agony); (right) Autumn
This floor (..) was partially exposed by making
an experimental shaft; (..) the result was sufficient to induce us to
continue our operations. (..) The result was the exposure of the greater part of a floor of a room,
twenty-five feet square, and with what remained of its decorations exceedingly beautiful and well preserved, though it is much to be regretted that
several of the medallions were either wholly or partially injured by the
foundations of Mr. Smith's house. (..) This Pavement, in its perfect form, consisted of nine medallions. (..) The great artistic skill displayed in the drawing of the figures which
enter into the composition of this, the best of the Corinium Pavements,
shows that the designs from which they were executed must have presented
many of the highest attributes of art. Buckman and Newmarch
As suggested in the passage it is likely that this mosaic was made with the help of cartoons depicting its subjects. The many similarities which have been identified among mosaics made in very distant parts of the Roman Empire indicate the circulation of "catalogues" of figures and decorative patterns. It is possible that one of the missing medallions depicted Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, a subject which was often depicted in mosaics, e.g. at Volubilis in Morocco and Philippopolis in Syria. See the two scenes together in a Renaissance fresco at Villa della Farnesina in Rome and in two fountains at the Royal Palace of Caserta.
Corinium Museum: (left) Mosaic of the Hunting Dogs; (right-above) detail showing the peculiar way in which shadows were depicted in many mosaics, e.g. at Villa del Casale in Sicily; (right-below) a sea monster which calls to mind mosaics at Fishbourne Palace and at Camulodunum
Also this fine mosaic was found under Dyer Street in 1849. The two mosaics are dated IInd century AD and they suggest the existence of a local officina (workshop) with skilled craftsmen and in contact with other workshops in Gaul and Germany. The wealthy landlords who commissioned these brightly coloured mosaics most likely did not come from Rome, unlike those of Fishbourne Palace where the Roman fashion for black and white mosaics prevailed.
Corinium Museum: Mosaic of Orpheus (IVth century): details (see the whole mosaic in the introductory page)
The Barton pavement was exposed in 1825, and is found to form the floor of a room,
twenty-one feet square. (..) It consists of a central circle,
which is occupied by Orpheus, who is habited in a Phrygian cap. (..)
Around the central medallion is a circle devoted to birds: here the duck,
goose, hen, peacock, the common and silver pheasant are all represented,
walking around the circle with rapid strides, the birds being well brought
out by some scrubby trees, with dark olive green foliage (similar to those in a mosaic of the same period in Dorset), which occupy
the fore and back ground of this scene. Then follows another and larger circle, separated from the former by
an elegantly formed wreath of bay leaves; this larger circle was occupied by pictures of animals, in
which the lion, panther, leopard, and tiger are spiritedly portrayed. (..) The evidence of the higher attributes of art afforded by this pavement is
striking, the drawings of the beasts in some instances being exceedingly
fine; the idea of savage nature only in a state of subjection, is given by the
stealthy look of the beasts of prey; and while examining them we conclude
that the only source of the power exercised over them, is in the divine
strains of the great musician. Buckman and Newmarch
The configuration of this mosaic is similar to one found at Volubilis where Orpheus is first surrounded by birds and then by large animals and even more to one found at Merida where a circle separates Orpheus and the birds from the other animals. A small mosaic portraying Orpheus in the same posture as at Corinium was found at the Roman Villa of Brading.
Corinium Museum: (left) Mosaic of the Hare; (right-above) detail; (right-below) Mosaic of the Meander/Swastika (or Greek key pattern)
The excellent quality of the Mosaic of Orpheus was evidence of the wealth of Corinium in the IVth century. In 1971 the discovery of a Roman house with two fine mosaics of that century confirmed this opinion. The geometric pattern based on an octagonal star can be seen in other mosaics in Britain, e.g. at Chichester. Hares were not often depicted and when this occurred it was mainly in hunting scenes. The care and the affection with which this hare is portrayed suggests that maybe it was a pet.
Corinium Museum: (left) Mosaic of Venus; (right) fresco portraying Mars, Venus and Cupid
Excavations carried out in the 1970s at Kingscote, 18 km WSW of Cirencester, led to the identification of a settlement of the IInd century. In the early IVth century a large house was built above previous structures. It had several rooms one of which was decorated with a mosaic portraying Venus inside an octagonal star which is almost identical to that of the Mosaic of the Hare also in the choice of the colours. Tiny fragments of wall plaster in that room were reconstructed and they too portrayed Venus, but this time with Mars and Cupid. The love between Mars and Venus was briefly mentioned in Ovid's Metamorphoses, but its popularity among the Romans (see a fresco at Pompeii) was due to the role of the two gods in the history of their city. Venus was the mother of Aeneas and Mars the father of Romulus and a statue found at Ostia portrayed an emperor and his wife as Mars and Venus.
The Sepulchral Monuments and Inscriptions discovered at Cirencester
have formed the theme for many interesting Archaeological papers; among
others, two equestrian Monuments, found at Watermoor in 1835. Buckman and Newmarch
Both tombstones depict a horseman brandishing his spear over a fallen enemy and provide interesting information on the mix of people who made up the Roman legions which conquered Britain. Valerius Genialis was enrolled in a turma of Thracian cavalrymen (see the tombstone of another Thracian cavalryman at Colchester), but he belonged to the tribe of the Frisii, who lived at the mouth of the River Rhine. Both Thracians and Frisii bravely fought against the Romans; once they were subdued their best men were offered a military career in a turma or ala, auxiliary regiments of the Roman legions. Dannicus, another cavalryman, came from Augusta Raurica, a Roman town near Basel which was named after the local tribe. Many other tombstones with references to auxiliary regiments were found in Germany.
There is rare evidence of the use of expensive marble sarcophagi in Roman Britain, but a number of highly decorated lead coffins have been found, including one at St. Albans which has a decorative pattern similar to that shown above (see other lead coffins at Tournai in Belgium and in faraway Lebanon).
Corinium Museum: reliefs: (left) Three Mother Goddesses (see a similar relief in London); (right) Three Hooded Spirits and a Mother Goddess
In 1964 a number of votive reliefs portraying the Three Mother Goddesses were found together in what most likely was a shrine devoted to them. The worship of these deities was widespread in Britain, Gaul and Germany. They were symbols of fertility also in terms of food abundance as in the relief shown above. The religious significance of the three hooded spirits is not clear, but they too were most likely associated with fertility. A cucullus (hooded cape) was typical of the Gauls/Celts, also of the upper classes as shown in a relief at Mainz. The Celts gave a particular significance to number three which led to some unusual sculptures, e.g. those of a god with three heads and a bull with three horns.
This very fine relief was found in 1899 and it portrays the Three Mother Goddesses in a very different manner. The three figures are not aloof symbols of fertility, but real mothers dealing with their children who are portrayed in a naturalistic manner, similar to children attending a religious procession at Ara Pacis Augustae in Rome. The relief shows that Corinium had good sculptors as well as good mosaic makers. You may wish to see some more ancient statues of Mater Matuta, an Italian goddess of motherhood.
Corinium Museum: (left) altar to "Genius Loci" (Spirit of the Place); the inscription reads G(enio) S(ancto) HVI(V)S LOC(I); (centre) relief portraying Mercury, perhaps from one of the Roman gates of Corinium; (right) bronze statue of Mercury and of a cock, a symbol of the god
Some exhibits at the Museum shed light on the deities which were worshipped at Corinium. Nullus locus sine Genius (No place is without its genius) is written in a commentary to Virgil's Aeneid. The Romans worshipped the Spirits of the Place, i.e. rivers, forests, crossroads, etc. and therefore also those of the countries they conquered. An echo of this tradition is the worship of patron saints and in some cases the dedication of statues to the local genius, e.g. at Palermo.
The local deities who were not related with a location were associated with a Roman/Greek god, but often an epithet was added to highlight their link with the local tradition. Mercury, god of Trade, definitely was more popular than the other gods (not only in Britain, but in Gaul and Germany too where he was added the epithets of Cissonius, Gebrinus and Visucius).
Corinium Museum: (left) Samian bowl with a relief depicting a "venatio", a fight with wild beasts (see the Colchester Vase with other scenes of fight); (centre) wall plaster scratched with a "Sator Square"; (right) bricks marked with the name of the manufacturer (see some stamped bricks in Rome)
For the service of the table, the Samian pottery is even yet held in high esteem; (..) The priests of the Mother of the gods, known as the Galli, deprive themselves of their virility with a piece of Samian pottery.
Pliny - Historia Naturalis - Book XXXV - Loeb Edition
Pliny knew how to grab the interest of his readers even when talking about Samian ware which was a pottery with a glossy surface. It was manufactured in Italy and in many parts of Gaul, from where the fragments at Corinium most likely came.
The graffito with the "Sator Square" was found in 1868. The words ROTAS OPERA TENET AREPO SATOR can be read horizontally and vertically in both ways. For some time it was believed to be a secret Christian code, but today it is generally thought to be a game similar to the REGES one.
Plan of this section:
Aquae Sulis (Bath Spa)
Isca Augusta (Caerleon)
Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester) and nearby Fishbourne Palace
Portus Adurni (Portchester)
Venta Belgarum (Winchester)
Verulamium (St. Albans)
Roman Villas on Vectis (Isle of Wight)
Roman Villa of Lullingstone
Roman Villa of Bignor
Roman Villas in Dorset/Somerset