6 Jaw-Dropping Finds from ‘Roman Dead’ at the Museum of London Docklands

Have you visited the Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf? If not, what are you waiting for?! As well as a brilliant permanent collection, their latest temporary exhibition; Roman Dead – about life (and death) in Roman London is simply superb.

The majority of  Roman graves were buried underground, but those that could afford it would build monuments and mausoleums to ensure that their relatives would be remembered. In fact our word monument comes from the Latin ‘monere’ which means ‘to remember’.

Location mattered too, and the Romans buried their citizens outside the City walls. Today that means we find burial sites in what were previously outskirts; Spitalfields, Fleet Street and Southwark.

Roman Dead

It was a recent discovery in Harper Road, Southwark that prompted the latest exhibition, revealing new evidence about the ways that Roman treated their dead. The Museum of London’s finds, combined with decades of research into London’s Roman burials, invites us to examine what we share between the Londoners that lived here 2,000 years ago.

Roman Dead

The free exhibition lasts is on until 28 October and here are my favourite 6 objects which you definitely shouldn’t miss…

1. Tombstone for Grata

Roman Dead

Even with an object that’s almost 2,000 year old. It’s hard not to feel a human connection, especially with something as relatable as a tombstone. This particular stone was found on London Wall, near Finsbury Circus and bears a Latin description;

“To the spirits of the dead. Erected by Solinus to the memory of his beloved wife, Grata, the daughter of Dagobitus, aged 40 years”

Not only does it echo familiar gravestone messages today, but the names are also interesting. The father’s name mentioned Dagobitus is British, while Grata is Latin for ‘welcome’, showing the influence of Roman culture in Britain.

2. Iron Rattles

Roman Dead

Just as we often include music memorial services today, it seems Roman were the same. We can of course only imagine what a ceremony would have sounded like, but we know that horns, pipes and instruments like these rattles would’ve been used to accompany the funeral rites.

3. Facepot

Roman Dead

Can you see the face? It’s not a mistake, this pot dating from 70-200 AD was found in Fetter Lane and has markings resembling a male face on the front. These pots sometimes contains burnt remains of humans or animal offerings, a traditional part of Roman funerals.

4. Coloured Glass Dish

It’s hard to believe that this modern-looking glass dish dates from 200-300 AD.

Roman Dead

Now faded, this was constructed from fusing together rods of bright blue, white and red glass, it would then be sliced into thin sections and moulded into shape. Incredibly rare, it came from the eastern Mediterranean and would have been very expensive, easily costing a year’s salary of a Roman soldier.

Get the latest London secrets to your email
See the city from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday and get the latest news about upcoming tours.
Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties

5. Gold Finger Ring

Found in Bow and dating from 200-300 AD, this tiny ring was my favourite object in the whole exhibition.

Roman Dead

It’s one of the finest pieces of jewellery to ever be covered, unearthed in 1995. It was found on the middle finger of the left had of a 17-22 year old woman.

Inside the gold band is set an agate stone with a minuscule carving of two mice eating together. It’s probably a betrothal ring and since it has very little wear, was probably new when the woman was buried.

The design of two mice isn’t that strange because there was a well known story by the Roman writer Horace who wrote a book of satirical poems around 35 BC. It’s a scene from the story of a town mouse and country mouse, retold by many generations including Aesop’s Fables and more recently by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope in the 18th Century.

6. Skeleton of a Woman

It’s incredible what science can now tell us about ancient skeletons, especially the details of your life that can be extracted just from your teeth!

Roman Dead

We can therefore tell that this woman, found in Lant Street, Southwark and who dates from c.300 AD, was of Black African ancestry.

She spent her childhood in the southern Mediterranean and gives us an idea about the diversity of Roman London. From the same burial ground in Southwark for example, 18 individuals were analysed in detail and 4 of these had Black African ancestry.

Visiting

Roman Dead is on until 28 October and free to visit. The Museum of London Docklands is at West India Quay and open daily 10am-6pm. Find out more from their website here.

More London Inspiration

  • City Churches | St Margaret Lothbury | Look Up London

    City Churches | St Margaret Lothbury

    Nestled behind the Bank of England you can find St Margaret Lothbury. It’s easy to miss, hemmed in by other buildings, but if open it’s well worth popping in to admire its treasures and history. (I’ve previously written about the beautiful Italianate building next door,......

  • History of The Crystal Palace | London Remains and Its Derbyshire Inspiration

    Within the extensive grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire you can find remnants of inspiration for one of London’s most extraordinary buildings, The Crystal Palace. It gave its name to an area of London (and a football team!) but thanks to a disastrous fire you......

  • Trinity House | Look Up London

    Trinity House | Inside the Corporation with a 500-year History

    Have you admired this dolls house-esque building on Tower Hill? This is Trinity House, an institution whose history stretches back to 1514, based here since 1794. What is Trinity House? Today Trinity House is a charity and its primary concern is the safety of shipping......

  • St Clement Watch House | History on Strand Lane

    St Clements Watch House | History on Strand Lane

    For the everyday passerby, there’s not much reason to venture into Strand Lane. It’s not a convenient cut through to the Strand however it has two quite amazing bits of history to discover! I’ve previously covered one of them on the blog, the history of......

  • Surrey Chapel | The Trailblazing Church and Boxing Ring

    As part of my new walking tour Hidden Wonders of Waterloo I’ve been researching the history of Surrey Chapel, an 18th century church that once stood by Southwark Station. Although it no longer stands today, it’s a prime example of the historic twists and turns......

  • The Medieval Priory in an Aldgate Office Block | Look Up London

    The Medieval Priory in an Aldgate Office Block

    Transport a 12th century monk to Aldgate today and there’s very little that they’d recognise. However inside this office block you can find a tiny part of an epic Medieval Priory where they’d feel right at home! If you’re passing 77 Leadenhall Street, peer through......

Old London Bridge

No Comments

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

BOOK NOW