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6. Technology and the Arts in Roman Britain

After the Roman conquest the people of Britain were introduced to the enormous experience and varied skills of the Roman world in both technology and the arts.
A metalworker's workshop showing the manufacture of copper alloy objects. Processes include the use of a crucible, molten metal being poured into a mould and hand finishing. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The Romans brought in improved methods for extracting the raw materials used in manufacturing. For example, the Romans taught the Britons new ways of quarrying for stone and mining for metals like gold, silver and iron.
One of the entrances to the Dolaucothi Roman gold mine, near Llandovery (Dyfed), Wales. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Romans introduced new manufacturing technologies such as glass making. Glass was made into jars and bowls, and into windows for rich people's houses.
Roman glass bowl from York. York Archaeological Trust.
Roman technology was based on a system of numbers which could be used to measure such things as area, length, volume and weight.
Brass vessel used for measuring corn from Carvoran Roman fort (Northumberland), now in Chesters Roman fort museum. Inscribed with the name (later erased) and titles of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). It held 17 ½ sextarii of grain. © English Heritage
In the visual arts the Romans introduced mosaics and painted wall plaster. New kinds of dance and music were probably introduced to Britain, although not much evidence for them survives.
Mosaic at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight) showing musicians playing the pan pipes (right) and a tambourine (left). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Latin literature was popular in Roman Britain and authors like the poet Vergil were well known. At the same time the British people held on to their rich oral tradition of storytelling which kept the culture of their ancestors alive.
Mosaic from Lullingstone Roman villa (Kent) showing the princess Europa riding on the back of the god Jupiter who is disguised as a white bull. On either side are cupids. The inscription refers to a passage in Vergil's Aeneid. © English Heritage
Did you know? Life-like human figures were hardly ever seen in art in Britain before the Romans. All the great Roman sculptures of emperors, gods and goddesses in the forts and towns would have astounded the Britons!
Statue of a genius from Carlisle. He holds a dish over an altar in his right hand and has a cornucopia (horn of plenty) in his left hand. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle

Counting and Measuring

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The Romans brought their system of numbers to Britain. These numbers could be written down and used for counting, measuring and mathematical calculations. The native Britons could count and measure, but had nothing like Roman numbers.
Building stone referring to vexillations (detachments) of the Second and Twentieth Legions found at Maryport Roman fort (Cumbria). Photo Simon I Hill, Senhouse Museum, Maryport.
Numbers were used in many areas of life in Roman Britain. For example, numbers were essential for trade in which money, weights and measures were used.
Illustration to show the use of the hand-held balance by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Numbers were used in measurement which was used to lay out land for forts, towns and buildings, and to measure the distance between places along the great Roman roads of Britain.
Plan of the layout of the Roman fortress at York showing the principal dimensions in Roman feet (pedes). York Archaeological Trust.
We can find out how the Romans in Britain used numbers from inscriptions. For example, they are used on tombstones to give a person's age at death.
The Roman number 90 (LXXXX) on the tombstone of Claudia Crysis from Lincoln. Photo Simon I. Hill, City and County Museum, Lincoln.

Roman Numbers

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The Roman system of numbers is still used today, although it is less easy to use for mathematical calculations than our system which is Arabic in origin. The Romans used letters to stand for numbers as we can see on this chart.
I=1 VIII=8
II=2 VIIII or IX=9
III=3 X=10
IV or IIII=4 L=50
V=5 C=100
VI=6 D=500
VII=7
Numbers without a single letter were made up in two ways. Other letters might either be put after the letter standing for the highest number to show they should be added e.g. LXXXX = 90 (50 + 4 x 10) or before the letter representing the highest number to show that they should be subtracted e.g. XL = 40 (50 - 10).
The Roman number 90 (LXXXX) on the tombstone of Claudia Crysis from Lincoln. Photo Simon I. Hill, City and County Museum, Lincoln.
A thousand was sometimes shown as this symbol . Sometimes a bar was put over the letters indicating the number of thousands. You can see the number 3000 on this inscription which refers to the construction of 3000 feet of the Antonine Wall, the Roman frontier in Scotland. The Romans did not use M for 1000; this is a recent invention.
The distance slab from Hutcheson Hill (Bearsden, Glasgow) on the Antonine Wall commemorating the construction of 3000 feet of the Wall by the Twentieth Legion. In the centre a standard bearer is crowned by the goddess Victory and on either side are tied-up native prisoners. Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
It was not as easy to do mathematical calculations using Roman numerals as it is with our Arabic numbers, but it could be done. To help them with their arithmetic the Romans used an abacus, a device which is still used in many parts of the world.
The Roman abacus in use. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain

Roman Weights and Measures

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The Romans had a system of weights and measures which was used in market trade, cooking, medicine and in many other ways in daily life. The smallest Roman unit of weight was the ounce, uncia in Latin, which equals 27 grammes. Twelve ounces, or unciae, made a Roman pound, libra in Latin, which equals 324 grammes, a bit smaller than our pound of 454 grammes.
Illustration to show the use of the steelyard weighing machine by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
For measuring the volume of dry goods such as grain, the Romans used the modius which equals 8.736 litres. It was made up of sixteen sextarii. A sextarius equals 0.546 litres. A corn measure found at Carvoran fort on Hadrian's Wall was intended to take 17 1/2 sextarii.
Brass vessel used for measuring corn from Carvoran Roman fort (Northumberland), now in Chesters Roman fort museum. Inscribed with the name (later erased) and titles of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). It held 17 ½ sextarii of grain. © English Heritage
For measuring the volume of liquids the Romans used a unit called a sextarius (also used for dry goods) which equals 0.546 litres. In the case of liquids 6 sextarii equalled one congius and 48 sextarii equalled one amphora, a unit which took its name from the large pottery jars used to transport wine and olive oil. An amphora equals 26.21 litres.
Roman amphorae for wine and olive oil from St Albans (Verulamium), Verulamium Museum.

Roman Measurements of Length and Area

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Roman measurements of length were based on the human body. A Roman foot, for which the Latin word is pes, was almost the same length as a modern foot and equals about 0.295m. It was divided either into 12 unciae (inches) or 16 digiti, plural of the word digitus which meant a finger's breadth. This gives us our word 'digit' meaning both a finger and a number.
A Roman foot! Bronze foot from a monumental statue. York Archaeological Trust
Five Roman feet equalled one Roman pace or passus which was roughly the same as two strides. One thousand paces equalled one Roman mile or mille passuum.
Antonine Wall distance slab found at Ferrydyke, Old Kilpatrick (Strathclyde). The slab is carved to resemble a temple faēade. The goddess Victory reclines resting her left elbow on a globe. The slab marks the construction of 4411 feet of the Wall. Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
For measuring out the land for buildings, roads, forts and so on Roman surveyors used an instrument called a groma which could be used for making straight lines and right angles. It had a cross piece which was set on the top of a pole driven into the ground. From the end of each arm of the cross a string was suspended and held taut by a lead plum bob. To lay out a straight line you had to make sure that two of the strings and a pole at a convenient distance lined up exactly.
The Roman surveyor's groma in use. York Archaeological Trust

The Calendar and The Clock

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The Romans introduced more accurate ways of telling the time and date to Britain than had been known before the conquest. They were based on detailed astronomical observations of the stars and the planets.
Relief of the sun god (Sol) from Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
The Romans had no clocks like we have today, but used hour glasses and sun dials to tell the time.
The Roman hourglass. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
To tell them the day's date the Romans used a calendar which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC. The method we use to calculate the date today is still much the same as the Roman method and so it is over 2000 years old!
Figure of a philosopher with a sundial on a mosaic at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Did you know? The Romans knew all about the signs of the zodiac. They believed the sky was like a great circle divided into twelve parts. Each part had its own sign. It was thought that the sun passed through each part once a year and, just as some of us do today, the Romans believed that their lives were influenced by the sign they were born under.
Relief from the London temple of Mithras showing the god Mithras slaying the bull - notice the snake and dog leaping up to drink the blood of life from the bull's neck while a scorpion nips the bull's testicles. On the circular band around the central scene are the signs of the zodiac. In the upper left corner is the sun god (Sol) driving his horses across the sky and upper right is the moon goddess Luna. In the lower left and right corners are two wind gods. The inscription refers to a vow made by Ulpius Silvanus, veteran of the Second Legion. © Museum of London

Telling the Time

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The Romans had 24 hours in their day, but divided into two lots of twelve: the day time hours and the night time hours. The lengths of the hours varied according to the seasons because the length of day and night varies through the year. In winter the days are short and so were the Roman day time hours while the night time hours were longer.
Part of a mosaic at Bignor Roman villa (Sussex) showing the spirit of winter with a bare branch. Photo Simon I Hill, Bignor Roman Villa
In summer the days are long and so, of course, were the Roman daytime hours, while the night time hours were shorter. At Rome the longest summer daytime hours actually lasted 1 ¼ hours and in winter a daytime hour could be as short as ¾ hour.
The spirit of summer on a mosaic at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa
The Romans' longest day time hours were on the day of the summer solstice on about June 21st and the shortest daytime hours were at the winter solstice on about December 21st. A solstice marks the time of year at which the earth has completed half its orbit of the sun.
Relief found at Corbridge (Northumberland) which probably came from a temple. It shows the Syrian sun god Jupiter Dolichenus (left) riding towards the house of one of the heavenly twins -Caster or Pollux- who is leading a horse. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
One of the ways the Romans told the time was by using a sun dial. This has a face marked out to record the passing of the hours. In the centre is a projecting bar which casts a shadow on the face. The shadow moves round the face according to the position of the sun which changes continually through the day as the earth orbits around it.
Replica Roman sundial at South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear). Photo Patrick Ottaway by kind permission of Tyne and Wear Museums
The Romans also used an hour glass to tell the time. It consisted of two containers with a narrow waist between them. It took an hour for water to run from the upper container through the waist to the bottom one. We still use hour glasses, but they are filled with sand not water.
The Roman hourglass. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain

The Day's Date

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In Roman times the years were reckoned from the year when it was thought Romulus had founded Rome. This was Roman Year 1. In terms of our years this was 753BC.
Mosaic showing the twins Romulus (who founded Rome) and Remus and the wolf who suckled them, found in the Roman town at Aldborough (North Yorkshire). Leeds Museums
Today dates in Britain are usually reckoned from the year of Jesus Christ's birth which was once thought to have been at the beginning of AD1. AD stands for Anno Domini which is Latin for 'Year of the Lord' - Lord meaning Jesus Christ. In fact no-one knows exactly when Jesus Christ was born. 'AD' and 'BC' (before Christ) were not used to express dates until after Roman times.
The head of Jesus Christ on a mosaic from the villa at Hinton St Mary, Dorset. The round orange-coloured fruits are probably pomegranates which have many seeds and symbolise fertility. Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum
At the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in the year 43 each year was given a name according to which two men were Consuls (leaders of the Senate) in Rome. On this coin of the Emperor Domitian the letters COSXV mean he had been declared consul for the fifteenth time which dates the coin to the years 90 or 91.
Silver coin (denarius) of the Emperor Domitian (81-96). Reverse shows the goddess Minerva. Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust
The Romans reckoned that a year's length was the time taken by the sun to make a complete orbit around the earth. Today we know that the earth goes around the sun once a year.
Relief of the sun god (Sol) from Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Today we use the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) in which the Romans divided the year into twelve months. We still use the same twelve months with the same number of days in each - including the extra day for a leap year in February. The names of our months are based on the Roman names.
This is list of the names of modern months and Roman months
JanuaryJanuarius, named after the Roman god Janus who could look two ways at once, into the old year and into the new.
FebruaryFebruarius, named after the Roman festival of the god Februus.
MarchMartius, named after the god Mars.
AprilAprilis, named after the Latin word aperire meaning 'to open', because this is when the spring flowers opened.
MayMaius, named after Maia, a Roman mother goddess.
JuneJunius, named after Juno, the queen of the gods and goddesses.
JulyJulius, named after Julius Caesar.
AugustAugustus, named after the Emperor Augustus Caesar. He took a day from February which originally had 29 days - instead of 28 - and added it to August which now has 31.
SeptemberSeptember, from the Latin septem meaning seven. In the old Roman calendar this was the seventh month.
OctoberOctober, from the Latin octo meaning eight. In the old Roman calendar this was the eighth month.
NovemberNovember, from the Latin novem meaning nine. In the old Roman calendar this was the ninth month.
DecemberDecember, from the Latin decem meaning ten. In the old Roman calendar this was the tenth month.
By the 4th century the Romans had created weeks of seven days. The number seven was chosen because of the seven planets which were known at that time. Each planet bore the name of a god or goddess. The movements of the planets were thought to influence the lives of all human beings.
The Roman moon goddess, Luna, on the gable from a great sculpted stone screen in the temple area at Bath. To the right of her head is a crescent moon. She rode across the night sky in a chariot drawn by four horses and to the right of the moon is her riding whip. Roman Bath Museum, Bath
The days in a Roman month were given in a way that seems to us to be very complicated. Each day was so many days before the Kalends, the first day, the Nones, usually the 5th day, but the 7th day in March, May, July and October (months with 31 days) or the Ides, the 13th day or the 15th day in March, May, July and October. One day before any of these dates was called Pridie meaning 'the daybefore'.
Here are examples of how the days of July might be described:
1st JulyKalends Julius
2nd JulyVI Nonas Julius (five days before the Nones including the Nones itself)
3rd JulyV Nonas Julius (four days before the Nones including the Nones itself
6th JulyPridie Nonas Julius
7th JulyNones Julius
8th JulyVIII Ides Julius (seven days before the Ides including the Ides itself)
15th JulyIdes Julius
26th JulyVII Kalendas Augustus (seven days before the 1st August including 1st August itself)
Did you know? Our Saturday and Sunday, are named after the Roman gods Saturn and Sol (Latin for sun), and Monday is named after the goddess Luna (Latin for moon). Other days are named after Anglo-Saxon gods and goddesses.
Relief found at Corbridge (Northumberland) which probably came from a temple. It shows the Syrian sun god Jupiter Dolichenus (left) riding towards the house of one of the heavenly twins -Caster or Pollux- who is leading a horse. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Roman Buildings

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The Romans were great architects and engineers. By the time they came to Britain they had had hundreds of years of experience of building large, impressive bath houses, temples and palaces. The native Britons would have been amazed by the size and splendour of Roman buildings.
Reconstruction of the centre of the Roman town at Wroxeter (Shropshire), the capital of the native British Cornovii people. You can see the bath house (upper left) and the forum and basilica (upper right). Illustration by Ivan Lapper, English Heritage
The Romans brought the technology for building in stone to Britain. Before the Roman conquest buildings were usually made of wood. They were very skilfully constructed, but in most parts of Britain people were not able to build in stone.
Britain's first town wall: part of the Roman wall of Colchester, built 65-80. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Romans introduced mortar to Britain which holds stones in a wall together and prevents it from falling down. Mortar is made by mixing lime (made from limestone), sand and gravel with water. Sometimes the mixture became very hard and can be called concrete, although it is not like our concrete which is made with cement.
The Roman town wall at Silchester (Hampshire). Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Romans knew about arches and vaults which allowed buildings to have roofs covering large interior spaces.
A half dome in the Roman baths at Arles, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
A great Roman achievement was the aqueduct which could bring vast quantities of water over great distances to Roman forts, towns and other settlements. Just as important were the drains to take water away again. The Romans are rightly famous for their drains!
The Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, near Nīmes, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
There is a lot of archaeological evidence for Roman buildings in Britain. The remains of some stone buildings still stand above ground, but many more, built of wood as well as stone, have been found in excavations.
Roman stone building at York (Wellington Row site). The layer of crushed limestone and mortar probably supported a wooden floor which does not survive. York Archaeological Trust

Native Round Houses

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Before the Roman conquest the typical building in most parts of Britain was the 'round house'. Some of them were big enough to house a family of twenty or more people as well as some of their animals.
Replica Iron Age British round house from Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
The walls of a round house were usually made with upright posts set in the ground and wooden rods, or wattle, woven between them. The wattle was covered in clay to keep draughts out.
Replica Iron Age British round house at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
The roof of a round house was cone-shaped and made with rafters joining the wall to a central point at the top. The rafters were covered with thatch.
Replica native British round house at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire) under construction showing the wattlework. Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm
A round house had no windows, only a door. It could be very smoky inside when the hearth was lit, but it was warm and cosy. From a seat by the hearth a farmer could look through the door of his house and check on his animals and crops.
Replica clay oven inside a reconstructed Iron Age British round house at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I.Hill, Butser Ancient Farm
In some parts of Britain, including Cornwall, Scotland and parts of Wales, the native farmers had round houses with dry stone walls. This is a reconstruction of the village at Chysauster in Cornwall which you can still visit today.
Reconstruction of part of the Roman native settlement at Chysauster (Cornwall). Illustration by Judith Dobie, English Heritage
In the centre of the round house was the hearth where cooking was done and where people huddled together in cold weather.
Replica hearth in a reconstructed Iron Age round house at Butser Ancient Farm. Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm

Roman Timber Buildings

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We often think that the Romans only built in stone because the remains of stone buildings are all that can be seen above ground today, but archaeologists have found that there were just as many timber buildings as stone buildings in Roman Britain.
Replica timber gateway at the reconstructed Roman fort at the Lunt, Baginton near Coventry. Photo: Simon I Hill, Coventry Museums and Art Galleries
Roman wooden buildings could be just as large as a stone building. The picture shows a reconstructed fort granary building. The floor is raised above ground to allow air to circulate below it and keep the grain stored above cool so that it does not spoil.
Replica timber granary building at the reconstructed Roman fort at the Lunt, Baginton near Coventry. Photo: Simon I. Hill, Coventry Museums and Art Galleries
The walls of timber buildings used posts either set straight into the ground or into a horizontal beam which was laid on the ground. Other timbers ran between the upright posts to support them. The space between the wall posts was filled with wooden rods, or wattle, covered in clay and plastered on the inside.
Reconstruction drawing of a timber and wattle wall. By Kate Biggs, York Archaeological Trust
Sometimes actual Roman timbers are found in good condition. This picture shows a rectangular hole cut out of a beam. Another beam would have been slotted into the hole making a so-called 'mortise and tenon' joint.
A Roman timber beam with a tenon (socket) cut into it, from York. York Archaeological Trust.

Roman Stone Walls

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The Romans were extremely skilled at building in stone. If they are not deliberately destroyed some Roman stone walls will probably last for ever!
Detail of Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
A Roman stone wall had to have solid foundations underneath it or else it would soon fall over. The foundations were built in a trench in the ground and usually made out of stone fragments held together with mortar or out of cobbles mixed with clay.
Cross-section through a Roman stone wall showing the foundations at the base (around the red and white photographic scale). York Archaeological Trust
Above the foundations the stone wall usually had a core of stone fragments held together with mortar, and on the wall faces there were rows, usually called courses, of small, neatly-made stones with a flat face. Notice how the stones on the face are tapered so as to fit snugly into the wall.
A stone wall in the Roman fortress at York seen from above. York Archaeological Trust.
Roman builders sometimes put bands of tiles into a stone wall. This may have been done to make the walls look nice or there may have been some practical reason. No-one really knows.
Small limestone facing stones and a tile bonding course in the Roman fortress wall at York. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Some Roman stone walls, like the fortress wall at Chester shown here, were built of large stone blocks which were so heavy that they did not need mortar. Careful cutting of the stones meant that they fitted together perfectly and the wall did not collapse.
The north wall of the Roman legionary fortress at Chester. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Did you know? Fire was a constant threat in Roman towns where everyone had open hearths and used lamps with a naked flame for lighting. A spark could quickly set a building ablaze.
Reconstruction of a Roman building on fire in York (Wellington Row site). Illustration by Simon Chew, York Archaeological Trust.

Roman Roofs

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Most Roman buildings had simple gabled roofs, but some large buildings had impressive domed or vaulted roofs.
Reconstruction of part of the Roman fortress at York in the early 3rd century seen from the north-west. Illustration by Simon Chew York Archaeological Trust.
The roofs of Roman buildings were usually supported by triangular wooden supports set between the walls as you can see in this illustration of a barrack block. These supports were linked by timbers running the length of the building and on these timbers were placed tiles or thin stone roofing slabs.
Reconstruction of a legionary barrack block at Caerleon Roman fortress (Gwent), Wales. Illustration by John Banbury after Howard Mason, CADW - Welsh Historic Monuments
A Roman tiled roof used two types of tile which you can see on this modern reconstruction. A flat tile with turned-up edges, known as a tegula, was placed on the roof surface. Each row of these tiles overlapped the row below. Each join between the tiles in the rows was covered with another tile, known as an imbrex, which was semi-circular in cross-section.
Replica tiles on the roof of the reconstructed west gate at South Shields Roman fort (Tyne and Wear). Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission of Tyne and Wear Museums
Along the edges of Roman tiled roofs there were often little vertical tiles called antefixes with strange designs on them like this one from York.
Antefix (roof edging tile) with human face. York Archaeological Trust
Rectangular stone slabs used on roofs were often held in place by a nail through one corner and each row of slabs overlapped the one below. This meant that the whole roof looked rather like the scales of a fish.
Reconstructed roof of stone slates from Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
A vault is a form of roofing. In Roman buildings it was usually what we know as a barrel or tunnel vault. Vaults were particularly useful for the roofs of passages and tunnels which carried the weight of the upper parts of a stone building, like an amphitheatre, above them.
The vaulted entrance to the strong room in the headquarters building at Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Domes were used in buildings where a large open space was needed for people to gather, and the Romans knew that there was nothing like a great domed roof for impressing visitors in a palace or a bath house.
A half dome in the Roman baths at Arles, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Roman Floors

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Roman building floors could be made of clay, mortar or wooden planks. Floors were also made of stone slabs if they had to take heavy weights as in a granary or storehouse.
The stone-flagged floor of a granary at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Floors in bath houses were often made of a special sort of concrete, known as opus signinum, which had fragments of tile mixed into it. This made the floor waterproof.
Cross-section through a floor made of opus signinum - concrete with tile chips - in the Roman baths at Arles, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
What are known as tessellated floors were made of small pieces of tile known as tesserae. Sometimes different coloured tesserae were used to make mosaics.
Tessellated floor at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Mosaic floors were made with different coloured pieces of stone, tile or other materials which were arranged into attractive designs.
A Roman craftsman laying a mosaic. Illustration by Trevor Stubley, Sussex Archaeological Trust and Lund Humphries
Did you know? Tiles were made of wet clay and they had to be left to dry before being fired in a kiln to make them hard. While they were drying a dog might run over them leaving its paw prints!
Dog paw prints on a tile from Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Arches and Columns

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The Romans usually used arches for doors and windows because an arched opening will take a much greater weight of wall on top of it than a same sized opening with a flat top.
Arched windows and doorways in a Roman building at Bordeaux, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The arch shifts the downward pressure exerted by the weight of the wall above it away from the centre of the opening, where it is weak, to its sides.
Arches supporting the great Roman aqueduct at Segovia (Spain). Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Romans liked arches so much that they built special ones to commemorate their victories. They are known as triumphal arches.
Richborough Roman fort (Kent) in the late 1st century showing the great triumphal arch erected to commemorate the conquest of Britain. Illustration by Ivan Lapper, English Heritage
The Romans used rows of arches, known as arcades, to support the weight of the roof in a large building where they needed a lot of light and space. For example, arcades can be found in Roman basilicas which are buildings, like churches, with a central nave and side aisles.
Reconstruction illustration of the drill hall at the Roman fort at Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall. Illustration by Kate Wilson, © Cumbria County Council
The columns between the arches in an arcade were usually made in sections known as drums. At the top there was a capital and at the bottom was the base. Both the capital and base might be carved in a distinctive style.
Roman stone column, originally one of sixteen which held up the roof of the main hall (basilica) of the fortress headquarters building at York. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Did you know? The most elaborate Roman column capitals, known as 'Corinthian capitals' were carved to look like the leaves of the acanthus plant. 269 +
The acanthus plant. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Aqueducts and Water Supply

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The Romans used the force of gravity to transport water from natural springs even if it had to be brought a long distance in a pipe. In Mediterranean countries, where water was scarce, it sometimes had to be brought across wide valleys using massive stone aqueducts many metres high.
The Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, near Nīmes, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Once water had been brought to a Roman town, it was distributed in pipes from a tower on high ground. This picture shows the remains of a water tower in Nīmes, France. Originally the water came in through the big square hole at the back and went out through pipes leading from the small round holes.
Remains of the tower used for distributing the town water supply at Nīmes, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Pipes of wood or lead ran from the water tower to the baths, street fountains and houses of the rich.
Roman water tank at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I Hill with kind permission of English Heritage
As well as using piped water the Romans also used wells to get water. If they were deep the sides were supported by a strong timber framework.
Roman timber-lined well from York looking down from the top. York Archaeological Trust

Drains and Sewers

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Well-made drains to take away rain water could be found in all Roman forts, fortresses and towns. The drains ran along the sides of the main streets and important buildings.
Arch over a drain at the base of a stone wall at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Street drains were usually made of stone, but around the buildings they could be made of tiles and wooden planks. Drains were usually covered to prevent rubbish falling into them and causing a blockage.
2nd century plank-lined drain (centre) and wooden posts at the Tanner Row site, York York Archaeological Trust
The Romans built sewers to take the used water and lavatory waste away from the public bath houses. A Roman sewer found in the fortress bath house at York was so large a person could easily crawl along it. Its walls were built of massive stone blocks and the roof was made of stone slabs which supported the walls of the baths above.
The Roman sewer in the fortress baths at York. York Archaeological Trust.

Transport in Roman Britain

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The Romans are rightly famous for their roads which reached all parts of the empire. The best roads were built by the army which used them to move rapidly against its enemies. After a region had been conquered, the roads were used by merchants and traders, and anyone who wanted to travel.
A Roman road under construction. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
There were no proper roads in Britain before the Roman conquest, only rough tracks, and so getting about was usually quite difficult. The Romans built over 6000 miles of roads in Britain suitable for travellers on foot and in wheeled vehicles.
Map of the main Roman roads in Britain. Roman Britain
The Romans were very good at taking their roads across natural obstacles such as river valleys where they built superb bridges.
Reconstruction view of the Roman bridge over the River Tyne at Chesters on Hadrian's Wall. The view shows the bridge as it is thought to have looked in the early 3rd century. Illustration by Frank Gardiner, English Heritage
As well as roads, the Romans used the sea, and the rivers for travel and trade. Water transport was best way of moving heavy things like stone and timber.
Artist's reconstruction of 'Asterix', a 3rd century Roman ship about 25m long from St Peter Port, Guernsey which sank after a fire on board. Illustration by the late Lady Penny Dorey, Guernsey Maritime Trust
Before the Roman conquest the Britons only had small boats and they could easily be pulled up on a beach. The Romans had large warships and trading vessels which needed great coastal harbours and riverside wharves.
Model of the late 1st century Roman waterfront in London with Roman London Bridge in the background. Museum of London.
Many Roman roads can still be spotted on the ground or on a map because they are followed by modern roads. An old Roman road usually has long straight stretches, although it will curve to go round high hills or deep valleys .
Aerial view of a modern road near Chippenham (Wiltshire) following the line of a Roman road known today as the Fosse Way. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England
We know what Roman bridges looked like because a number of them still survive in other countries which were once part of the Roman empire and some, like this one shown here which is in Spain, are still in use.
Roman bridge over the River Guadiana at Merida (Emerita Augusta), Spain. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Roman Roads

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The first Roman roads in Britain were laid out by army surveyors who tried to get them as straight as possible so that the soldiers could march quickly from place to place. Let us look at how an important Roman road was made and how it was used.
A Roman road under construction. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
To begin with large stones or cobbles were made into a solid mound at the base of the road so as to support the weight of the traffic above.
Part of the cross-section through a main Roman road at York showing the method of construction. At the base are large cobbles and above them are layers of hard-packed gravel. York Archaeological Trust.
Compacted layers of small stones, often gravel, were laid over the base. These layers made a suitable surface for vehicles and pedestrians. The top of the road was sloped down on each side to allow drainage.
The Roman road now known as the Stanegate looking east at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill, with the kind permission of English Heritage
Roman roads usually had ditches or drains along each side to collect rain water. This was important because if water was allowed to stand on a road surface it would create pot holes. If standing water was allowed to freeze it would break up the road when it melted.
Stone drain running beside a Roman street at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Milestones were sited along the main roads to help travellers find their way. On a milestone you will find the name and titles of the emperor in whose reign it had been set up and the distances in Roman miles to the nearest towns.
Roman milestone found 1.5km south of Carlisle. It was originally set up during the reign of the rebel emperor, Carausius (white lettering), and then turned upside down after his defeat and given a new inscription in the reign of Constantine the Great (306-37). Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
After Britain had been conquered the Roman roads were used for trade, official government business and many other purposes. Ordinary people had to walk, but rich people and officials rode on horseback or in carts.
A Roman carter. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The men of the official post system, known as the cursus publicus, used inns at regular intervals along the main roads where they could change horses and stay the night. These men carried important messages from the emperor to his governors and generals.
Messengers riding for the Roman official postal system, the cursus publicus. Drawing by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain

Roman Bridges

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The Romans built bridges at all important river crossings and we know of a number of examples from Britain. A few remains can still be seen, including the base of one side of an arch which carried Hadrian's Wall across the River Tyne near Chesters fort.
Remains of the Roman bridge on the east bank of the River Tyne at Chesters on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Roman bridge over the Thames at London was about 320m long and built entirely of wood. It was probably supported by massive piers dug into the river bed.
Model of the late 1st century Roman waterfront in London with Roman London Bridge in the background. Museum of London.
Bridges built entirely of stone carried Hadrian's Wall across the River Tyne at Chesters and the River Irthing at Willowford near Birdoswald. They had great arches and a tower at each end.
Reconstruction view of the Roman bridge over the River Tyne at Chesters on Hadrian's Wall. The view shows the bridge as it is thought to have looked in the early 3rd century. Illustration by Frank Gardiner, English Heritage
At Newcastle-upon-Tyne there was a Roman bridge over the River Tyne on which there were altars dedicated to the gods Neptune and Ocean. Travellers prayed and made offerings to them as they crossed the bridge!
Altar with an anchor in relief dedicated to Oceanus (OCEANO) at Newcastle upon Tyne. Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne

Ports, Wharves and Ships

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Because Britain is an island, all trade and travel to and from the rest of the Roman empire went by sea. The Romans usually used river ports rather than coastal harbours because rivers were safer from storms and rough water.
Model of the late 1st century Roman waterfront in London with Roman London Bridge in the background. Museum of London.
The largest river port in Roman Britain was on the River Thames at London. Archaeologists have found massive timber wharves running for more than 2km along the north bank of the Thames.
There was a harbour on the coast at Dover. This was used by trading ships and by the British fleet, known as the Classis Britannica, which patrolled the English Channel and kept it free of pirates.
Tile fragment from Dover stamped CLBR which stands for Classis Britannica, the British fleet. Dover Painted House Museum.
Roman trading ships had sails and so they needed wind to power them. Only warships had slaves to row them.
Artist's reconstruction of 'Asterix', a 3rd century Roman ship about 25m long from St Peter Port, Guernsey which sank after a fire on board. Illustration by the late Lady Penny Dorey, Guernsey Maritime Trust
On the cliffs above the harbour at Dover there were two Roman lighthouses which guided the ships safely into port. The remains of one of these still survives. It would have been modelled on a famous Roman lighthouse at Pharos near Alexandria off the coast of Egypt.
The Roman lighthouse at Dover (Kent). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Technology and Crafts in Roman Britain

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Although native British craftspeople were very skilled in their work, the Romans introduced new techniques for making things in such materials as pottery, metal and glass to Britain.
A metalworker's workshop showing the manufacture of copper alloy objects. Processes include the use of a crucible, molten metal being poured into a mould and hand finishing. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The Romans were especially skilled at working metals including gold, silver, lead, copper, tin and iron. The rocks, known as ores, from which these metals were extracted were extensively mined in Roman Britain.
A Roman blacksmith's shop. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The Romans introduced new methods of pottery making to Britain. They used the potter's wheel and they had more efficient pottery kilns than the native Britons. The Romans also introduced new types of pot such as flagons and storage jars.
A Roman potter's workshop. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Britain has always been famous for the quality of its sheep's wool and it should be no surprise to find that one of the most important crafts in Roman Britain was the production of woollen cloth.
Roman woman spinning. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
We know a lot about what Roman craftspeople made because archaeological sites produce large numbers of objects in all sorts of materials including bone, glass, leather, metals, pottery and wood. Scientific examination of the objects can tell us exactly what manufacturing processes were used.
An archaeological conservator at York Archaeological Trust working on a Roman wooden wagon wheel from Carlisle. York Archaeological Trust

Mining for Metals

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In Roman Britain the ores of most metals could be found near the surface of the ground and the Romans did not usually need the deep mines we have today. All mining was done by hand. It was hard work and the Romans often used prisoners. Click on the map to find out where metals were mined.
Map showing the main sources of metal ores in Roman Britain. Roman Britain
There were Roman gold mines in west Wales where some mines were very deep and needed elaborate supports to stop the sides falling in on the miners.
One of the entrances to the Dolaucothi Roman gold mine, near Llandovery (Dyfed), Wales. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Two areas of Roman Britain were particularly important for iron mining: the Weald in Kent and Sussex, and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
Roman iron tools: hammer (left), axe (centre) and field anvil (right).The anvil was used for sharpening scythes and sickles during harvesting. © Rescue: Trust for British Archaeology
Lead was mined in various parts of Roman Britain including the Mendip hills in Somerset, in north Wales and in the Pennines in Cumbria. Silver was often found in the same mines.

Metalworking

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In Roman times all metals (except iron) could be extracted - or 'smelted' to use the technical term - by heating the ore in a furnace to a sufficiently high temperature to allow the metal to run off as a liquid while leaving the other matter in the ore behind as waste. Once it had cooled down, the metal could be used for making objects.
A metalworker's workshop showing the manufacture of copper alloy objects. Processes include the use of a crucible, molten metal being poured into a mould and hand finishing. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Metal could be made, or cast, into objects by melting it down and pouring it into a mould. The picture shows how a bronze figurine was made:
  1. a wax model of the figurine was made and then covered in clay to make a mould.
  2. The mould was heated to melt the wax which was poured away to leave an impression of the figurine in the clay.
  3. The molten metal was poured into the mould.
  4. Once the metal had cooled down the mould was opened and the completed figurine was taken out.
Diagram to show the lost wax process used for manufacturing a copper alloy figurine. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Some objects had to be worked by hand after being removed from the mould, especially if they needed a highly decorative finish.
Bronze figurine of the god Vulcan from Catterick (North Yorkshire). Yorkshire Museum, York

Blacksmithing

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Iron has a higher melting point than other metals. The Romans could not make a furnace hot enough to melt iron and extract it from the ore in the same way that they extracted other metals from their ores.
A blacksmith - possibly representing the Roman god Vulcan - shown on a stone monument from York. Yorkshire Museum, York.
Iron was smelted in Roman times by heating the iron ore with charcoal in a furnace. A chemical reaction separated the iron from the waste, known as slag, in the iron ore. At the end of the process a solid lump of iron was left at the bottom of the furnace which could be used by smiths for making objects.
Replica Roman iron smelting furnace. Photo Patrick Ottaway
A Roman blacksmith could not make iron objects using a mould. He had to heat the iron in a forge so that it became soft. It could then be shaped by hammering and bending on an anvil.
A Roman blacksmith's shop. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Amongst the things the Roman blacksmiths made were weapons: including spearheads, swords and daggers for the Roman soldiers. Blacksmiths also made tools for craftspeople such as axes and hammers.
Roman iron tools: hammer (left), axe (centre) and field anvil (right).The anvil was used for sharpening scythes and sickles during harvesting. © Rescue: Trust for British Archaeology
Roman farm tools made of iron such as scythes, sickles and spades.
Iron scythe blade from Newstead (Trimontium) Roman fort (Borders), Scotland. National Museums of Scotland.
Did you know? Blacksmiths worshipped Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and furnaces. He is usually shown as a bearded man in a short tunic holding a hammer or tongs.
Bronze figurine of the god Vulcan from Catterick (North Yorkshire). Yorkshire Museum, York

Pottery Making

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Before the Romans came to Britain pots were usually made by hand and not on a potter's wheel. The Romans had perfected the potter's wheel and had pottery kilns which were better than anything the Britons had. The Britons mostly made cooking pots, but the Romans introduced many new types of pottery.
A Roman potter's workshop. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Pots can be made either by simply moulding wet clay by hand or by using a potter's wheel. A pot made on a wheel is more regular in shape and has a smoother finish than a pot made by hand.
Forming a pot on a potter's wheel. York Archaeological Trust
Once a pot is formed from wet clay it is allowed to dry out. It is then put into a kiln to make it hard. We call this process firing. To make pot of good quality it must be fired at a very high temperature (at least 450 - 700° Celsius) and the heat must reach all parts of the pot at the same temperature or it will crack.
Cutaway drawing of a Roman pottery kiln. Lesley Collett, York Archaeological Trust
The Romans made a lot of different sorts of pot. Some, like these bowls, were used on the dining table.
Crab apples (Latin malus sylvestris) in a 4th century Roman bowl. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Flagons were used for keeping wine and olive oil.
Roman flagon from York. York Archaeological Trust
Jars were used in the kitchen for storing food.
3rd century pottery jar from York. York Archaeological Trust.
A mortarium was a Roman mixing bowl used with a grinding tool called a pestle. A mortarium has a thick rim to stop it splitting. It has grit on the inside to help with the mixing and a spout for pouring out the mixture.
Roman mortarium or mixing bowl of 2nd century date. York Archaeological Trust
Tazzas were probably used for burning sweet smelling incense and would have been put in shrines to the Roman household gods.
Pottery tazzas (incense burners) from York. York Archaeological Trust

The Arts in Roman Britain

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The Britons had some very skilled artists, but the Romans introduced new kinds of art to Britain including mosaics and wall paintings.
Reconstructed Roman dining room in the Corinium Museum, Cirencester. Corinium Museum.
The Romans introduced the Britons to techniques of painting and sculpture which allowed artists to show realistic human figures, animals and plants.
Statue of a goddess from Lincoln. Photo Simon I. Hill, City and County Museum, Lincoln
The Romans introduced their literature to Britain and there are mosaics, sculptures and other works of art from Roman Britain which show scenes from the work of Roman authors.
Mosaic from Low Ham villa (Somerset) showing scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas in the Aeneid by Vergil. Right: the ships carrying Aeneas and his men arrive at Carthage. Top centre: Aeneas (left) and Dido (right) are brought together by Cupid disguised as Ascanius, Aeneas's son, sent by Venus. Left: Dido and Aeneas go out hunting on horseback. Bottom centre: Dido and Aeneas embrace in the cave while sheltering from a storm. Centre: Venus flanked by cupids holding lighted torches. Somerset County Museum Service
We know very little about music, dance and drama in Roman Britain, although there are mosaics which show musicians and dancers, and a few Roman theatres have been found.
Mosaic at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight) showing musicians playing the pan pipes (right) and a tambourine (left). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
The names of individual artists in Roman Britain are virtually unknown. Roman sculptors, painters and other artists rarely signed their work.
The letters 'TR' on a mosaic at Bignor Roman villa (Sussex), possibly the signature of the mosaicist. Photo Simon I. Hill, Bignor Roman Villa
We know a lot about the visual arts in Roman Britain because many sculptures, wall paintings and mosaics have been dug up by archaeologists.
A geometric mosaic under excavation in the Roman town at Exeter. Exeter City Museums and Art Gallery.
Did you know? Just as there are today, there seem to have been lots of artists in Roman Britain with more enthusiasm than skill!
Simple carved scene of men hunting found at Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.

Native British Art

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Native British artists worked in what is often called a Celtic style. They liked abstract designs with curves and spirals as you can see on this beautiful mirror. It was owned by a lady living at about the time of the Roman conquest in the year 43.
Bronze mirror from Desborough, Northamptonshire. Drawing by Lesley Collett.
Native British art of pre-Roman times did not usually depict human figures or animals except in a very simple way.
Early 1st century (pre-Roman Iron Age) wooden bucket with decorative bronze fittings from a burial at Aylesford (Kent). Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum
When they did show figures native artists often gave them very large eyes. The Britons believed that eyes had special magic power.
A boar's head made of bronze which was part of a trumpet, possibly used by a native Caledonian army. From Deskford (Grampian), Scotland. National Museums of Scotland
After the Roman conquest sculptors and other artists in Roman Britain usually worked in a mixture of native and Roman styles.
The god's head on the gable of the Roman temple at Bath. Roman Bath Museum, Bath
Some artists in Roman Britain still used Celtic styles, especially in metalwork. This can be seen, for example, on a type of brooch with an S-shaped body which is made in the shape of a dragon. Archaeologists call a brooch like this 'dragonesque'.
Roman (1st century) dragonesque brooches in bronze with enamel inlay from Winchester. Winchester Museums
Here is another Roman bronze object in Celtic style which may have come from a horse's bridle.
Bronze fitting in native British style from York. York Archaeological Trust

Roman Mosaics

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Mosaic floors were introduced to Britain by the Romans and were found in large Roman town houses or villas.
Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight) display area. Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
A mosaic was made from large numbers of different coloured small blocks, called tesserae. They were usually pieces of tile, stone, pottery, but occasionally made of glass and other materials.
Shield-shaped (Latin pelta) motifs on a mosaic from York. York Archaeological Trust
One way of making a mosaic was to start with a floor covered with damp mortar. Before the mortar was dry the mosaic maker marked out the pattern with a pointed tool. The tesserae could then be stuck down in the right places. Some mosaics have simple motifs or patterns, others show gods and goddesses as well.
A Roman craftsman laying a mosaic. Illustration by Trevor Stubley, Sussex Archaeological Trust and Lund Humphries
A popular motif on mosaics was a type of Roman urn called a cantharus.
A Roman urn (cantharus) on a mosaic at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa
One of the most popular patterns on Roman mosaics was the guilloche - two twisted multi-coloured strands.
Two types of guilloche (twisted multi-coloured strands) motif on a mosaic at Bignor Roman villa (Sussex). Photo Simon I. Hill, Bignor Roman Villa
Another popular pattern was the maeander - a continuous line of swastikas. To the Romans the swastika symbolised the sun crossing the daytime sky.
Swastika motif on a mosaic at Bignor Roman villa (Sussex). Photo Simon I. Hill, Bignor Roman Villa
As you might expect Bacchus, the god of wine, was very popular on mosaics in dining rooms.
Detail of a mosaic in the dining room at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire) showing a satyr and a maenad (dancing girl). Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa
Did you know? It is not always clear to us what the design on a Roman mosaic is supposed to show. Here is a mysterious scene from a mosaic at Brading Roman villa in the Isle of Wight showing a very odd cock-headed man.
Mosaic at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight) showing a figure with a cockerel's head and two animals. Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust

Roman Wall Painting

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The Romans had no wall paper, but they painted the plaster on the walls of their buildings.
Reconstructed Roman dining room in the Corinium Museum, Cirencester. Corinium Museum.
Before it was painted a Roman wall was given several layers of plaster to smooth out any unevenness. The last layer was left damp while the design was painted. This technique is known as 'fresco' and it prevented the colours fading. A white colour was made with lime. To make other colours minerals such as red and yellow ochre were used.
A fragment of painted wall plaster from a building in the Roman fortress at York. Photo: Simon I Hill, York Archaeological Trust.
Walls were usually painted with simple coloured stripes or blocks, but Roman painters also made complicated designs. Sometimes you will find pictures of animals and plants or gods and goddesses. Some of these wall paintings were very skilfully done and would have been stunning to look at.
Painted wall plaster from the inn (mansio) at Dover showing the bases of columns. Painted House Museum, Dover.
The lower part of a Roman wall, called the dado, was sometimes painted to look like marble. Real marble was far too expensive for most people.
View of the rooms in the 'painted house' at Dover during excavation. Dover Painted House Museum
On the rest of the wall there might be columns and arches which were painted in such a way as to make a room look bigger and grander.
Painted wall plaster from a house in the Roman town of St Albans (Verulamium), Verulamium Museum.

Roman Sculpture

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Realistic sculptures of human figures and animals were very rare in Britain before the Romans. Most Britons would never have seen anything like Roman sculptures of the emperors or the gods and goddesses.
Statue of a genius from Carlisle. He holds a dish over an altar in his right hand and has a cornucopia (horn of plenty) in his left hand. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
In Roman times sculptures were made in many different materials. They were carved in stone or wood, moulded in clay or cast in a metal, usually bronze.
Wooden model of the Celtic goddess Epona from Winchester - notice the keys in her left hand. Photo John Crook, Winchester Museums
Roman sculpture showed its subject either 'in the round' meaning in its entirety, like the statue of Juno shown here, or in 'relief' where you only see one face like the tablet shown here with an image of the mysterious hooded gods. 963+
Sculpture of three hooded gods, the Cucullati, at Housesteads Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Some of the best Roman sculptures in Britain were intended to be accurate portraits of important people like the emperors and empresses. This is the head of a larger than life-size statue of the Emperor Hadrian in bronze.
Bronze bust of Emperor Hadrian - part of a larger than life size statue found in the Thames at London. Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum
Local British sculptors usually made human figures and animals in a simple, but lively manner. Their work often appears on tombstones where you will see the dead person, sometimes accompanied by his or her relatives. Here is a lady from York with her husband and children.
Tombstone of a Roman lady named Julia Velva found in York. She is shown reclining on a couch at a family meal. Yorkshire Museum, York.
Did you know? Roman sculptures, especially in stone or wood, were usually painted in bright colours so they would have looked quite different to the Romans from how they look to us.
The god Mithras slaying a bull on a stone tablet from the temple of Mithras at Housesteads fort on Hadrian's Wall © Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne

Roman Literature

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We know that Latin and Greek literature was enjoyed in Roman Britain, although there were no printed books. Every book was copied out by hand so there were very few of them. Many people in Roman Britain had heard of famous authors such as Livy and Vergil. Even people who could not read knew what these authors wrote about because they would see scenes from their works on mosaics, in paintings or carved in sculpture.
Mosaic pavement from Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight) with the gorgon Medusa in the centre and various mythological scenes in panels around the sides. Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
The poet Vergil, who lived in the 1st century BC, was one of the great Roman authors and his work was well known in Britain. Vergil's most famous poem is The Aeneid which tells the story of a heroic prince named Aeneas who fled from the famous ancient city of Troy after it was destroyed by the Greeks. He set off on a journey across the Mediterranean Sea which eventually took him to Italy where he founded a town called Lavinium. Rome itself would be built in the same region.
Mosaic from Low Ham villa (Somerset) showing scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas in the Aeneid by Vergil. Right: the ships carrying Aeneas and his men arrive at Carthage. Top centre: Aeneas (left) and Dido (right) are brought together by Cupid disguised as Ascanius, Aeneas's son, sent by Venus. Left: Dido and Aeneas go out hunting on horseback. Bottom centre: Dido and Aeneas embrace in the cave while sheltering from a storm. Centre: Venus flanked by cupids holding lighted torches. Somerset County Museum Service
The writer Livy, who lived from about 59BC to AD17, devoted his life to writing a history of Rome. At the beginning he tells of the founding of Rome by Romulus and his twin brother Remus.
Mosaic showing the twins Romulus (who founded Rome) and Remus and the wolf who suckled them, found in the Roman town at Aldborough (North Yorkshire). Leeds Museums
The Roman poet Ovid lived from 43BC to AD17. One of his most famous works is called Metamorphoses, in which he retells a number of ancient myths about people and gods being transformed from one shape to another. A scene from the Greek myth telling of the seizure of the princess Europa by the god Jupiter is shown on a mosaic from Lullingstone villa in Kent.
Mosaic from Lullingstone Roman villa (Kent) showing the princess Europa riding on the back of the god Jupiter who is disguised as a white bull. On either side are cupids. The inscription refers to a passage in Vergil's Aeneid. © English Heritage

Roman Music

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We do not know what Roman music really sounded like, but music was played at religious festivals and at the theatre. Wealthy people had musicians to play at meals and dances.
Figure playing a flute (tibia) on a mosaic from Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
The lyre was a stringed instrument like a harp. It is often shown being played by Orpheus, a mythical hero, who used it to charm the birds and animals.
Apollo with his lyre on a mosaic at Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Pan pipes can be seen on mosaics in Britain, but real examples of Roman pan pipes made of wood, bronze or pottery have been found by archaeologists.
Dancing satyr and maenad (heads destroyed) and pan pipes (lower right) on a mosaic at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa.
The tibia was rather like a modern clarinet. There was a reed to blow against at the top and notes were made by covering the holes with your fingers. Musicians often played two at the same time.
Figure playing a flute (tibia) on a mosaic from Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Percussion instruments for beating time included cymbals and tambourines.
Detail of a mosaic in the dining room at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire) showing a maenad (dancing girl) carrying a tambourine. Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa

Roman Drama

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Only four Roman theatres have been found in Britain, but plays were probably performed in the amphitheatres and other open spaces as well. The best known Roman theatre in Britain is at St Albans.
Reconstruction illustration of the Roman theatre at St Albans (Verulamium) Illustration by Alan Sorrell, Verulamium Museum.
The stage in a Roman theatre was known in Latin as the proscenium - a word we still use today.
The Roman theatre at Roman St Albans (Verulamium). The remains of the banks which supported the seating are in the foreground and the stage is in the background. Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission of the Gorhambury Estate
The stage was set in front of a backdrop known as the scena which might be a very elaborate piece of architecture with columns and statues as you can see in this view of the great Roman theatre at Orange in France.
Interior of the Roman theatre at Orange, France, showing the seating and stage with its elaborate backdrop (scena). Photo Patrick Ottaway
The stage faced an auditorium with banks of seating arranged in a semi-circle known as the cavea. Between the seats and the auditorium was the orchestra. This was where the wealthy people sat. Sometimes dancers performed here, but it was not used by the musicians in Roman times.
The seating (cavea) in the Roman theatre at Orange, France. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The actors probably performed Greek dramas which were already several hundred years old, but the Romans were also keen on comic plays like our pantomimes. The actors were masked so the audience could tell the goodies from the baddies. Which do you think the man in the picture is?
A Roman actor wearing a mask. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
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