Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Roman Dead Under Foot

Artist Re-Creation of Roman Corinium
Archaeology got the better of me for this short but, in my opinion, exciting post about a recent archaeological discovery on the outskirts of Cirencester or, Roman Corinium in the Cotswolds. Corinium was the second largest town in Roman Britain with a population of between ten and twenty thousand. Modern Cirencester has a population of around eighteen thousand.

Basically, a dig at a former garage in Cirencester has uncovered forty Roman burials and four cremations all of which date from the period between A.D. 70 and A.D. 120. Ok, I’m being a bit of a history geek here but what is exciting about this is that previously, it was thought that inhumation (burial of the corpse) was not really widely performed in Britain until the later Roman period on the island. The concentration of so many burials from what is really the early period of Roman occupation in Britain changes things. Among the grave good discovered were bracelets made of green glass beads, jet beads, shale and copper alloy. A child’s grave on the site contained a ceramic flagon, also from the early period. Archaeologists are being cautious in the dating but seem pretty certain at this point. The artefacts will likely be displayed in the Corinium museum (www.cirencester.co.uk/coriniummuseum).
2nd Century Amphitheatre of Corinium

What is interesting about this from the historical fiction writer’s perspective is that it opens the door a bit more and gives us some leeway around Romano-British burial practices. Burial scenes can be extremely moving and now, if you are writing about the early Roman period in Britain, you can choose more easily between cremation and inhumation. Personally, I find fire a bit more dramatic, with its links to more ancient traditions and the heroic age. But, let’s face it. Times were changing and inhumation was fast becoming a trendier way to see folks into the afterlife or whichever paradise folks aspired to. The Egyptians certainly would have understood.

Mosaic and Hypocaust Remains
Chedworth Roman Villa
I’ve been through Cirencester, which was along the route of the Fosse Way, the main Roman road north. If you happen to be in the area, be sure to check out the Roman amphitheatre in town as well as nearby Chedworth Roman Villa. The latter is a fantastic site which feels rather isolated but was quite a luxurious Roman villa in its day. It has well intact buildings, mosaics and a bath house and the grounds are phenomenal. The remains of Chedworth Roman Villa actually inspired the site of the Metellus villa in my first book, Children of Apollo (to be released early in 2012). If you are interested in seeing a bit of Chedworth, here is the link: www.chedworthromanvilla.com.
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