Romano-Celtic Temples

Colchester, Essex

NGRef: TL9825
OSMap: LR168
Type: 7 Temples
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Colchester Temple 1 with no roof tiles
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See CAMVLODVNVM (Colchester, Essex)

Templum Divi Claudii - The Temple of the Divine Claudius

"... [at Camulodunum] the temple raised to the deified Claudius continually met the view, like the citadel of an eternal tyranny; while the priests, chosen for its service, were bound under the pretext of religion to pour out their fortunes like water. ..." (Tacitus Annals XIV.xxxi)

So far, no textual remains, either monumental or otherwise, have been recovered from the site. Indeed, the only references we have that indicate that one of the temples at Camulodunum was dedicated to Claudius are both Classical. The first mention was by Seneca, the personal tutor of Claudius' adopted son and successor Nero, neither of whom held Claudius in any esteem (vide infra). This merely confirmed that a temple to Claudius existed somewhere in Britain. Further confirmation as to the actual location of the temple within the province was later given by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, when describing some of the causes of the Boudiccan rebellion (vide supra).

"... He [Claudius] wants to become a god, does he? Isn't it enough for him to have a temple in Britain, have savages worship him, and pray they'll find him a Merciful Clod." (Seneca The Apocolocyntosis VIII.iii)

Classical Temple, Colchester 1

(TL998253)

The podium of this massive temple measures about 80 ft. wide, 105 ft. long and about 11 ft. high. The structure was not solid, the central portion being constructed of four large sand-filled vaults, probably in order to conserve stone, a rare commodity in these parts. This base survives to this day, underlying the Norman castle. The width of the podium suggests that it was fronted by 8 columns (octastyle), with centres spaced about 11 ft. apart, with a row of 11 columns spaced 10 ft. 4 ins. down each side; there would also have been a row of 'engaged' columns along the rear wall of the building. Although none of these columns have come to light, it is thought that they would have measured about 3½ ft. in diameter and would, therefore have risen to a height of around 35 ft. above the podium. The temple was built around the year A.D.50, dedicated to the then emperor Claudius, and was razed during the revolt of Boudica in the winter of 60/61, after which parts of it's original superstructure were re-used in the building of a walled enclosure around the central temple. Whatever structure that replaced the original temple of Claudius was removed and re-used by the Normans when they built their castle motte on the site.

Other Romano-British Temples at Camulodunum

Romano-Celtic Temple, Colchester 2, Sheepen Farm 1

(TL989258)

This square temple lies NW of the town within a temenos enclosure. The portico is 63 ft. square with walls about 2 ft. thick, the cella is 38 ft. square with walls around 3½ ft. thick. The temple faced south-east. There are four building phases known: (i) the original temple with temenos dates from the late-1st century. (ii) gravel was added outside the temple building. (iii) more gravel added outside the temenos; this phase allowed to fall into ruin. (iv) in the late-4th century the temple building was dismantled and replaced with more gravel. (Type I)

Romano-Celtic Temple, Colchester 3, Sheepen Farm 2

(TL988259)

This square temple lies outside the temenos of Sheepen Farm 1. The portico measures 41½ x 36 ft., the cella 23 x 18½ ft., the outer wall about 2 ft. thick, the inner only 1½ ft. thick, which must have supported a wooden superstructure. The temple faced south-east. Built during the 3rd century, fell into disuse during the 4th. (Type IId or IIe, possibly IIId/e)

Romano-Celtic Temples, Colchester 4 & 5

(TL989260)

These two square temples share a temenos about 200 yards to the north-east of Sheepen Farm 1. Both temples faced south-east:

Rectangular Temple of Silvanus/Callirius - Colchester 6

This temple site, within the grounds of the Royal Grammar School at Colchester, lay just to the west of the Roman road between Colchester and London, past the temple at Gosbecks in the south-west. There are several phases evident in its construction:

  1. The original (pre-Roman?) temple consisted of a sacred enclosure or temenos with a maximum width of around 120 ft. delineated by a wide polygonal ditch with an entrance on the east-south-east. No sign of any central building survives, which may mean either that ceremonies were performed here in the open air or that there was a building, perhaps of light timber, all traces of which were erased during later building work.
  2. At a later period a rectangular building was erected within the polygonal enclosure, noticeably off-centre, about 20 ft. from the entrance and aligned upon it. The building possessed relatively narrow stone foundations measuring about 30 ft. by 21 ft., which probably points to a timber or half-timbered superstructure. An internal division of its rammed-earth floor created an almost perfectly square room on the west with a rectangular porch to the east.
  3. Possibly contemporary with the stone temple building, a roughly pentagonal stone wall measuring about 125 ft. WNW-ENE by about 180 ft. transversely, was erected around the old temenos, which was at first retained, as the new side wall on the NW curves closely about the enclosure ditch before resuming its original straight course.
  4. At a later period a large rectangular building measuring roughly 60 x 30 ft. was erected on the same alignment as the temple. Its north-east long wall lay over the original enclosure ditch, probably indicating that the temenos ditch was filled-in at this time. The walls were quite narrow, again suggesting a light timber superstructure, and the width of the building may even preclude a roof. There was a 10 ft. wide gap in the centre of the south-west long side, which may also point to the building being open to the sky.

Several artefacts have been recovered from pits within the enclosure, including second-century pottery and coins ranging from Claudius to Constans (AD41 to 350), with a preponderance of Trajanic and Hadrianic issues, which suggest a construction date of the stone temple sometime during the reign of these two emperors (AD98 to 138).

Bronze Plaques Dedicated to Silvanus/Callirius

The most interesting finds came in the form of two bronze plaques, one dedicated to Silvanus Callirius and another to Silvanus alone, which very likely point to Colchester Temple 6 being consecrated to the Latin god of woodland and good hunting. Callirius is a Celtic god whose name may be translated 'King of the Woods', here conflated with the Roman god who the natives deemed was closest in nature to their local hunting deity.

DEO SILVANO CALLIRIO D CINTVSMVS AERARIVS VSLM DEO SILVANO HERMES VSLM
"To the god Silvanus Callirius,¹ Decimus Cintusmus, coppersmith, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow." "To the god Silvanus, Hermes willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 194; bronze plate) (RIB 195; bronze ansate plate)
  1. Silvanus was the classical god of herdsmen and wooded (silvan) places. The affix Callirius, meaning 'king of the wood', is unique in Britain.

Possible Romano-Celtic Temple, Colchester 7

(TL990254)

Located outside the Balkerne Gate beneath St. Mary's Hospital. It is uncertain whether this structure represents a square temple or a funerary monument. The outer portico measures about 35 ft. square, the inner cella about 18 ft. square. Being completely robbed-out, the thickness of its walls and its orientation remain unknown.

Possible Apsidal Temple, Colchester 8

This building lies just outside the south-west corner of the enclosed town. It is about 110 feet long (c.33.5m) with an apse at its eastern end. Just outside the building was a pit or well about 6 feet deep (c.1.8m) which contained human bones, a silver torque and ring, widely dated pottery and 188 coins ranging from Nerva to Honorius though mostly of 4th century date. It is very likely that this pit contains votive deposits, and if so, the associated apsidal building is a possible candidate for some sort of temple or shrine. An altarstone dedicated to the Matres Sulevis was found nearby (vide RIB 192 infra), and it is possible that the altarstone and building are related.

MATRIBVS SVLEVIS SIMILIS ATTI F CI CANT VSLM
"To the Sulevi mothers,¹ Similis the son of Attius, of the Civitas Cantiacorum,² willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow."
(RIB 192; statue or altar base)
  1. Possibly the goddess Sulis represented in her Celtic triple-form. This was the goddess after whom was named the Roman spa town of Aquae Sulis (Bath, Avon).
  2. The Cantiaci tribe, who inhabited Kent (Cantium) in the extreme south-east of Britain, closest to the continent.

Click here for the RBO Temples and Shrines Index

See: The Apocolocyntosis by Seneca, translated by J.P. Sullivan (Penguin, 1986);
Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Annales by Cornelius Tacitus, translated by J.Jackson (Loeb, Harvard, 1937).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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