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Glossary

A

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AD
Abbreviation of Anno Domini meaning 'year of the lord' and used to express dates since the birth of Jesus Christ, but note AD and BC (before Christ) were not used until after Roman times.
Aedes
Room containing a shrine dedicated to the gods, often found at the back of the main hall of a fort principia or a town basilica.
Ala
Latin for 'wing', and used to describe a unit of mounted auxiliary soldiers.
Altar
A Roman altar is usually a stone block up to about 1m high with a dedication to a god or goddess inscribed on the front along with the name of the person who set it up. On top is a dished area known as the focus. Altars were used in religious ceremonies.
Amphitheatre
A large oval arena surrounded by seating. It was used for gladiatorial contests and other entertainment.
Amphora
A large pottery vessel usually used for transporting olive oil or wine. An amphora was also a unit of measurement for liquid (= 26.21 litres)
Anglo-Saxon
The term describes the people from what are now north Germany and Denmark who settled in Britain in the 5th - 6th centuries. Anglo-Saxon is also the name given to the language spoken by these people which is the basis of modern English.
Apse
A semi-circular room which usually had a domed or vaulted roof.
Aquilifer
Latin for 'eagle-bearer', the soldier who carried a standard with an eagle on it representing the power of the Roman legion.
As
A Roman bronze coin.
Augur
A priest who foretold the future by observing the flight of birds or listening to their song.
Aureus
A Roman gold coin.
Auxiliary
(Latin auxilia) An auxiliary soldier belonged to a unit of 500 or 1000 men who had been recruited by the Romans among people they had conquered. An auxiliary could be a foot soldier or a cavalryman. Units of auxiliaries assisted the legions in battle and were often used for frontier defence, for example on Hadrian's Wall.

B

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Ballista
A machine with a catapult mechanism used by soldiers for firing ballista bolts which have wooden shafts tipped with iron.
Basilica
A large hall with a central space, or nave, divided from side aisles by arcades. The main hall in a Roman fort or fortress headquarters building (principia) was usually a basilica and a town hall was known as the basilica because of its plan.
BC
Abbreviation meaning 'Before Christ' and used to express dates before the birth of Jesus Christ. Remember that the numbers get smaller the later the date so that 50BC is later than 100BC. Like AD, BC was not used until after Roman times.
Birrus
A heavy woollen cape or cloak with a hood.
Britannia
The Latin word for the Roman province of Britain.
Britons
The native people of Britain who were conquered by the Romans and formed the majority of the population in Roman times.
Bronze
A metal which was a mixture of copper and tin.

C

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Caduceus
A special sort of staff carried by the god Mercury in the form of an olive branch and two snakes.
Caldarium
The hot room in a Roman bath house.
Caliga
A soldier's boot with a nailed sole.
Cantharus
A two-handled jar or vase.
Cavalry
Soldiers who fought on horseback.
Cavea
The seating in a Roman theatre.
Celts
The people who occupied much of central and western Europe in the Iron Age from about the 4th century BC onwards.
Celtic
Term used to describe the language, art style, religion and other aspects of the culture of the Celts.
Century
(Latin centuria) A unit of 80 men in the Roman army.
Centurion
(Latin centurio) A soldier commanding a century ( a unit of 80 men) in the Roman army.
Chariot
A vehicle with two wheels drawn by a pair of horses. Used in battle by the Britons and in sport by the Romans.
Chi-Rho
(or Christogram) A sign showing something was owned or used by Christians. It looks like an X over a P. X and P are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek.
Circus
A stadium used for chariot racing. It was laid out as an oblong with a semicircle at one end and stalls for the horses at the other. A barrier down the centre divided the track into two halves.
Citizen
(Latin civis). Originally a free-born inhabitant of the city of Rome, later of other Roman colonies and after 212 of the empire as a whole.
Civitas
(plural civitates) A self-governing region in the Roman empire inhabited by a conquered people or tribe. The principal town is usually referred to as a civitas capital.
Cohort
(Latin cohors) A unit of about 500 foot soldiers who might form either an auxiliary regiment or part of a legion.
Colonia
(plural coloniae) Latin for 'colony'. Used in Roman Britain to describe a type of town of which the inhabitants were largely Roman citizens. The people who lived in three of the British coloniae, Colchester, Gloucester and Lincoln, were originally retired soldiers and their families. York was made a colonia as a special honour.
Consul
One of two magistrates in Rome elected by the Senate for one year and holding supreme power. The emperor was usually one of the consuls.
Contubernium
(plural contubernia) The smallest unit of men in the Roman army consisting of eight soldiers who shared a tent on campaign and a pair of barrack rooms in a fort or fortress.
Cornucopia
The Latin word means horn of plenty. It appears in Roman art as a cow's horn containing corn and fruit.
Corona
A wreath or garland worn on the head and given to soldiers for bravery or other splendid deeds.
Cremation
The burning of a dead body.
Cucullus
A hooded cape or cloak.
Curse
Words usually said or written to get revenge on an enemy or someone who has harmed or wronged you.
Cursus
Publicus The official Roman postal service.

D

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Decurion
(in Latin decurio) 1. A town magistrate or councillor. A Roman town was governed by 100 decurions. 2. An officer in a Roman cavalry regiment.
Defences
Structures such as a bank, ditch or wall, making a barrier to protect a fort , town etc.
Denarius
A Roman silver coin.
Dendrochronology
The science of dating ancient timbers by looking at the pattern of growth rings and comparing them with timbers on which the ring pattern can already be dated.
Diploma
A document which conferred honour or privilege on a person. An auxiliary soldier discharged from the army would have received a diploma giving him Roman citizenship.
Druid
A native British priest.

F

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Fibula
A safety-pin type of brooch.
Floralia
The Roman festival of summer's beginning, celebrated on about May 1st.
Focus
The dished area on the top of a Roman altar where sweet-smelling wood or pine cones were burnt during religious ceremonies.
Fort
The base for a unit of auxiliary soldiers. Usually playing card-shaped in plan and about 1 - 6 hectares in area.
Fortress
The base for a Roman legion. It was like a large version of a fort and about 26 hectares in area.
Forum
An open square often used for markets and public meetings. In towns the forum was usually surrounded by shops on three sides and the basilica or town hall on the fourth.
Frigidarium
The room with a cold water bath in a Roman bath house.

G

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Garum
A sauce made from the ground-up and salted heads, scales and guts of fish.
Gaul
(Latin Gallia) The Roman name for the countries which are now France and Belgium.
Genius
A spirit or guardian angel who looked after a person, group of people, or a place. Roman altars are often dedicated to the genius loci meaning 'spirit of the place'.
Gladiator
A man who fought with deadly weapons to entertain an audience.
Gladius
A short sword used by a Roman soldier.
Gorgons
The gorgons were a trio of horrible female spirits who had wings, sharp teeth and hair covered in hissing snakes. The best-known gorgon was Medusa.
Governor
(Latin gubernator) Official appointed to rule a Roman province and command its armies.
Granary
(Latin horreum) A grain or food store. A granary can be recognised by its floor which was raised off the ground and its very thick walls.

H

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Haruspex
A fortune teller who foretold the future by examining the guts of sacrificed animals.
Hill
fort An enclosure on high ground defended by banks and ditches. Hill forts were common in many parts of Britain in the Iron Age.
Hypocaust
Roman under floor heating system.

I

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Ides
In the Roman calendar this was the 13th day of the month or 15th day in March, May, July, October (months with 31 days).
Imaginifer
A soldier who carried a model of the emperor - often in gold - on the top of a standard.
Imbrex
(plural imbrices) A roof tile which is semi-circular in cross-section. Imbrices were used with tegulae to cover a Roman roof.
Inscription
Roman writing on stone, bronze or any other material where the letters were carved or inscribed.
Insula
Latin for island. Insula is used to describe the blocks of buildings between the streets of a fort or a town.
Intaglio
A carved gemstone often used in a seal ring.
Iron
Age A term used to describe the prehistoric period when iron was first used. In Britain this is between about 700BC and AD43, the date of the Roman conquest.

J

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Jet
A black stone a bit like coal which can be made to shine. It was very popular in Roman times for jewellery and thought to have magic powers.

K

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Kalends
In the Roman calendar this was the first day of the month.

L

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Laconicum
A heated room at one end of the caldarium in a bath house where there was a tank of water for sprinkling over the body of the bathers.
Lares
The souls of a family's ancestors who were thought to protect the Roman household. They were worshipped in a lararium
Latrine
A term used for the communal lavatory in a Roman fort, fortress or bath house.
Legate
(Latin legatus) The commander of a Roman legion and also a diplomat or anyone else representing the emperor on official business.
Ligula
A long thin tool usually made of bronze with a spoon-like end. Used for ointments and cosmetics.
Lorica
segmentata A form of soldier's body armour made of strips of steel held together by leather straps.
Lupercalia
Roman festival of spring's beginning celebrated on February 15th.

M

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Mansio
A Roman inn, usually sited on a main road and often used for the staff of the official postal service (cursus publicus).
Milecastle
A small fortified crossing point on Hadrian's Wall. There was a milecastle at approximately every mile.
Mithraeum
A temple used for the worship of the god Mithras.
Mortarium
A mixing bowl for food with a pouring spout and gritted inner surface to aid the grinding process.
Mosaic
A floor made of small blocks of tile and other materials, known as tesserae, usually arranged into regular patterns and sometimes into scenes showing gods, goddesses, animals or other subjects.

N

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Nones
In the Roman calendar this was usually the 5th day of the month, but the 7th day in March, May, July and October (months with 31 days).
Nymphaeum
A shrine to water spirits known as nymphs.

O

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Optio
A soldier who was awaiting promotion to the rank of centurion.

P

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Palisade
A wooden fence often forming part of Roman fort and town defences.
Palla
A lady's long sleeveless cloak or robe worn over the tunic.
Pallium
A simple cloak resembling a blanket fastened with a brooch at the shoulder.
Passus
Latin for a pace, but also used as a unit of 5 Roman feet which was actually a double pace. 1000 double paces (mille passuum) or 5000 Roman feet = a Roman mile.
Pediment
The triangular area at the top of the facade on a temple.
Penates
Spirits of the store cupboard, responsible for the well-being and good fortune of a Roman household.
Pes
(plural pedes) Latin for foot and used as a unit of measurement (=0.296m).
Phalera
A decorated badge which was used as a soldier's medal or as decoration for uniforms or horse trappings.
Pilum
Latin for javelin. A weapon with an iron pointed blade on a wooden shaft which a soldier threw at his enemy.
Podium
A raised platform for a temple or other structure. In an amphitheatre the podium was where the most important people sat.
Portico
A covered passage which ran along the side of a Roman building. It was open on one side and the roof was supported on columns.
Praetorium
The commanding officer's house in a fort or fortress.
Prefect
(Latin praefectus) An army officer such as the commander of an auxiliary regiment of 500 men.
Principia
The headquarters building in a Roman fort or fortress.

Q

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Quern
Used for grinding corn. A quern consists of two stones, known as quern stones, which are usually circular with flat or slightly curved grinding surfaces.

R

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Rampart
A long mound of earth or clay which was used to defend a fort, camp or town.
Relief
A form of carving or sculpture where the design stands out from a flat surface.
Retiarius
A gladiator who fought with a net and three-pointed spear.
Romano-British
A term usually used to describe: 1. the period during which Britain was ruled by the Romans; 2. the people of Roman Britain.

S

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Samian
A type of Roman pottery made in Gaul in the 1st - 3rd centuries AD. It is a shiny red in appearance. Numerous standard shapes and types of decoration are known and in many cases can be closely dated.
Sarcophagus
The word is usually used to describe a coffin made of stone or lead
Saturnalia
The Roman midwinter festival when the god Saturn was worshipped and prayers were said before the sowing of seed.
Satyr
Legendary creature who was thought to be half man and half goat.
Senate
The supreme state council of the Roman empire with power to make laws and administer justice. Members were called senators and they had to be very wealthy and have the right family connections.
Sestertius
A Roman bronze coin.
Shrine
Place of worship usually containing sacred statues, altars, and other objects used in religious ceremonies.
Signifer
Latin for standard-bearer. A soldier who carried a standard bearing the badges and emblems of his unit
Solidus
A Roman gold coin.
Sphinx
A winged monster with a human head and a lion's body.
Stola
A Roman woman's robe or tunic which usually came down to her feet.

T

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Tegula
(plural tegulae) A flat tile with sides which were turned up at 90 degrees. Tegulae were used with imbrices on a Roman tiled roof.
Tepidarium
The warm room in a Roman bath house.
Tessera
(plural tesserae) A small block of tile used in a mosaic or tessellated floor.
Toga
A sort of hooded cloak made of white wool which was the traditional outer garment of a male Roman citizen.
Torc
A ring, often made of gold and highly decorated, worn around the neck by men and women in the Iron Age and by women in Roman times.
Tribune
(Latin tribunus) A high ranking officer in government or a Roman legion who had been granted his position by the Senate in Rome. The commander of a unit of 1000 auxiliary soldiers was also called a Tribune.
Triclinium
A Roman dining room.
Tunic
The usual garment worn in Roman times by men and women. It looked like a dress worn with a belt at the waist. A man's tunic usually came down to his knees and woman's tunic (known as a stola) to her feet.
Turf
Grass and the earth around its roots. Blocks of turf were used for building and strengthening ramparts.
Turret
The word is usually used by archaeologists studying Roman Britain to describe the watchtowers on Hadrian's Wall, there were two between each milecastle.

U

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Unguentarium
Small jar for scent or ointments.

V

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Valetudinarium
Latin for hospital. You can still see the remains of one at Housesteads fort on Hadrian's Wall.
Vallum
The word is usually used by archaeologists studying Roman Britain to describe the flat-bottomed ditch which ran behind the line of Hadrian's Wall. The ditch was 6m wide and 3m deep. On either side the material dug out if the Vallum was piled up to form a mound 6m wide.
Vexillation
(Latin vexillatio). A large detachment of troops from one or more Roman army units operating under a single flag (in Latin vexillum).
Vicus
The word is usually used by archaeologists studying Roman Britain to describe a small settlement of civilians outside a Roman fort.
Villa
A Roman country house. A villa usually had stone walls, mosaic floors in some of the rooms, underfloor heating and a bath house.

W

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Wattle
Interlaced rods, often of hazel, which the Romans used for fences and building walls.
Wicker
Plaited twigs, often of willow, used by the Romans for many purposes including baskets and chairs.
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