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Historic England Research Records

Temple Of Claudius

Hob Uid: 1480040
Location :
Essex
Colchester
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : TL9986525319
Summary : A site of a large classical style Roman temple that now lies underneath and forms part of the foundations of the Norman castle at Colchester (see UID 536814). Construction of the temple began after the establishment of the colony "Colonia Claudia Victricensis" in AD 49. It was destroyed during the Boudican rebellion of AD 60-61. Rebuilt in AD 62, it was repaired again after a fire at the end of the 2nd Century AD. The temple may have been converted into a Christian basilican church in the first half of the 4th century and then used as a type of domestic dwelling in the late 4th/5th century. By the mid 5th century the temple had fallen into ruin.Only a few structural remains of the temple have been revealed through archaeological excavations, such as the temple's podium which supported the temple's superstructure. Due to the scant remains, the temple's plan has been reconstructed from its foundations and from the standardised nature of Roman architecture which allows analogies to be made with other classical temples. The temple had a main room (cella) with a porch like space in front (pronaos). There were rows of columns down the sides forming aisles and a large altar stood immediately in front of the temple. The temple was surrounded by a large court or precinct (temenos), defined by a boundary wall with monumental screen. The temple building measured 20 metres high and was built of stone (a mixture of flint and septaria) with a tile roof. The Temple of Claudius is the largest known classical temple in Britain and is on the same scale as temples in Rome. It was dedicated to the Emperor Claudius and was the base for the imperial cult in Britain. It is mentioned by a number of Roman writers, including Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Suetonius, who wrote that during the Boudican uprising the Roman colonists made their final stand in the temple, which ended when the temple roof was set alight.
More information : J Round carried out excavations of Colchester Castle's rampart opposite the entrance to the north end of the castle. 10 feet down he found the remains of a pavement covered with well-cut slabs of blue lias (stone) which were laid on a five inch deep layer of concrete (a reddish colour with pieces of red tile). 3ft 9" below were the remains of well built masonry which descended to a considerably depth. Further remains of the pavement and Roman tile, brick and mortar were found in the sides of the castle rampart. These remains indicate the presence of Roman structures. (1)

This article by Henry Laver describes the landscaping work carried out on Colchester castle's park in 1892. During which, various Roman remains were recorded including tessellated pavements and walls made of septaria. Laver suggests that the remains could belong to the forum of Roman Camulodunum. They have been interpreted as being foundations required for the columns that supported the roof of a Roman public building. (2)

R Hull's report on the excavations of Roman Colchester include a number of references to the Temple of Claudius. He reviews the early excavations by Laver and Wheeler and describes the various remains of the temple uncovered to date. The Roman vaults are described in detail with plans and profiles of the relationship between the later Norman remains and the Roman vaults and podium foundations of the temple. The Temple court or precinct is also described as are the finding of a Roman drain and altar. A large well-dressed stone found immediately before the south front of the temple was part of a large drain and another trench uncovered a very large foundation of stone and mortar which was interpreted as being part of an altar. A Roman pedestal was also found as were other remains of foundations north of the Castle. The Temple is also described in this source. The area around the temple was a public square (remains of concrete bedding and stone slabs attests for this). For a more detailed description of the work carried out and remains found, please refer to the source: Roman Colchester by R Hull. (3)

P Drury and W Rockwell re-examined the 1930-32 trenches dug in Colchester Castle to assist in the interpretation of the records from these excavations. They located the Roman tile and brick paving of the temple courtyard. Drury's full report is published in Britannia (source 5). (4)

A re-appraisal of the site by P J Drury with a review of all the work carried out on the site of the temple and the production of a chronological sequence for its construction and development. These early excavations include the excavations by Wheeler and Laver in the 1920s and 1930s which uncovered the remains of the temple podium, the corner of a presumed altar base and other Roman features which were encapsulated by the foundations of the Norman keep. Other excavation work reviewed include the 1964 work by M Hebditch whose uncovering of structural remains, including the temple's monumental screen, defined the south side of the temple's precinct. Between 1964-69 B R K Niblett uncovered remains of a vaulted sewer associated with the temple which defined the west side of the temple precinct area. Fragments of monumental building materials including stucco which covered the columns and monumental inscriptions were also found and this material may also indicate a later refurbishment of the temple. The article also covers Hull's publication of the earlier excavation work and Drury's own excavations in 1977. This review was used by Drury to create a synthesis of the development of the Temple and he created six periods or phases: Period I: Pre-Colonia Military Activity, 43-49 AD; Period II: The Imperial Cult in the Pre-Boudican Colonia. 49-61 AD; Periods IIIA and IIIB: the Reconstruction of the Temple, its temenos, and Associated Structures, 62-100 AD; Period IIIC: The Antonine Fire and Subsequent Reconstruction; Period IVA: Reconstruction in the Fourth Century; Period IVB: Latest Roman/Sub-Roman Occupation. For a full description of these periods (including plans), and an analysis of the building materials, pottery and small finds associated with the excavations on the temple site please refer to the source: The Temple of Claudius at Colchester Reconsidered. (5)

C Crossman excavated a 2.5m² shaft midway along the east side of the Roman temple podium. Podium masonry was found at a depth of 3.15 m and evidence of late 17th century robbing which could indicated the known demolition works carried out by John Weeley. (6)

J Partridge excavated a lift shaft at Colchester castle in order to investigate the remains of the Roman podium. An area of 2.4 metres by 2.3 metres of podium was exposed at a depth of 2.5 metres below the present day floor level. This was made up of septaria and flints bonded with a light yellow mortar, which had been extensively robbed. In profile the podium rose in height as a step from east to west. Horizontally bedded Roman tile brick was also found. The findings correspond to those found by Laver in the 1930s. (7)

These articles are written on the debate on whether the temple at Colchester was dedicated to Claudius before his death or after which was the norm of dedications to the Emperor cult. The concentrate on the historical evidence provided by classical writers. (8-9)

A great classical temple was built at Colchester (dedicated to the deified Emperor Claudius) to establish a provincial cult centre for the new province. It is a good example of the Roman's association of human and divine powers. The deification of emperors provided an important focus for loyalty in the conquered territories. Therefore, the Temple of Claudius became a symbol of Roman Control, and inadvertently a cause of the Boudican revolt. (10)

The Temple of Claudius is the largest classical temple in Britain and would have been of comparable size to temples in Rome. The existence of the temple is known from classical sources including Tacitus and Suetonius, but it was not revealed until excavations by Mortimer Wheeler and Dr Laver around 1920. They found that the vaults underneath Colchester Castle were not Norman in date but were really the foundations of a large Roman classical temple and suggested that this was in fact the Temple of Claudius. The vaults are in fact the underside and foundations of the temple's podium which supported the temple's structure. The podium was built by pouring stones and mortar into large trenches shuttered with timbers. The imprints of these timbers can still be seen. Although none of the temple's superstructure has survived, its plan can be reconstructed because the positions of the vaults and podium foundations corresponded to the load-bearing parts of the podium, i.e. the columns and walls required foundations directly beneath. Although there isn't a detailed plan of the podium's foundations, Roman books on architecture written by Vitruvius do help in reconstructing the temple. The main room of the temple is called the cella which according to Vitruvius, its length was one and a quarter times its width. The porch like area in front of the cella is called the pronaos. Rows of columns formed aisles down the sides of the temple, but stopped at the rear of the building, creating a "peripheral temple". The temple was also of "Eustyle", meaning that the space between each column was two and a quarter times the diameter of the columns, apart from the two central columns which were three times. Through comparison with other classical temples the façade would have had eight columns (octastyle). The temple would not have had any windows and access was through double doors in front of the cella. It was 20m high (higher than the castle standing today) and had a tile roof. The structure was built of stone (a mixture of large flints and septaria) sources locally in Essex. The columns were made of curved bricks rendered with plaster. The decorative capitals and bases were probably formed with moulded plaster. A large altar would have stood in front of the temple. The temple precinct or temenos was entered by a monumental arch flanked on either side by a large arcaded screen which went along the whole length of the frontage. The screen consisted of a series of arches with half-engaged columns behind and in front of the piers. The size of the columns (0.9m diameter) suggest that the screen would have been at least eight metres high. Tacitus writes about the Boudican revolt and paints a heroic picture of the Roman colonists last stance in the temple. However, it may be that the temple was used as a final refuge point for colonists before the temple was destroyed. (11)

Only a few classical temples in Roman Britain have been recorded, and the majority of these date to the 1st century AD. Its existence is known from the Roman writer Tacitus in his account of the Boudican revolt. However, because the monument has not survived today only circumstantial evidence of its vaults which form the foundations of the Norman castle in Colchester remain. The temple seems to have been constructed within a large monumental precinct in line with it status as being the centre of the imperial cult of Claudius in Britain. The remains that have survived are of four rectangular vaults built in pairs (discovered by Wheeler and Laver in 1920) which due to their dimensions suggest that there was a classical temple's cella and pronaos. This interpretation is based on standard proportions and decorations of known Roman classical temples. The podium survives to nearly 3.5m above the original Roman ground level and probably measured 32 x 24 m. It was surrounded by 36 Corinthian columns (eight on each end) and in front there would have been an altar. This stood on a podium (c.10m wide) and was surrounded by the pedestal bases of statues. Remains of the precinct together with the street plan of Roman Colchester suggest that the precinct measured 150 x 120 m. Decorative building remains found suggest that the temple was richly decorated. The temple was dedicated to the Emperor Claudius who died in 54 AD which suggests that the temple which was destroyed in the Boudican revolt in 60 AD may have been dedicated to other gods and was rededicated to Claudius after its reconstruction in 62 AD. It has also been suggested that the temple was demolished in the late Roman period and the site rebuilt as a "Trier", a government audience hall. (12)

In the section on Colchester there is a description of the Temple of Claudius. A great classical temple was built dedicated to Claudius. It had a very large masonry base (32 x 24 m, 3.4m high and foundations to a depth of 4m). The temple was incomplete at the time of its destruction by Boudica and was then rebuilt. The superstructure was destroyed by the construction of the Norman castle which used the vaulted temple foundations as its own foundations. (13)

Classical temples are rare in Britain and the Temple of Claudius was the earliest one erected. It was destroyed by the Boudican revolt and rebuilt. Only the podium and vaults which were used in the foundations of the Norman castle have survived. As classical temples were built to set rules and proportions it has been possible to reconstruct the Temple of Claudius. The temple had a façade of steps leading up to columns which supported a pediment. Inside was a cella where the image of the god to be worshipped was kept. (14)

The temple was a large walled precinct with an altar positioned in front of the temple. Fragments of classical structures have been found. The temple may have first been dedicated to Claudius's victories and then after this death to "Divi Claudii" - "to the deified Claudius". The temple acted as a centre of resistance for the Roman colonists who lived in Colchester. Figure 12 in the book is of the façade of the supreme court in Washington which is similar in scale, proportions and decoration to the Temple of Claudius in Colchester. (15)

The podium measures c.32 x 23.5m, with the base of a flight of steps to the south. The vaults were not in fact vaults but large areas of the podium which were not load-bearing and therefore did not need to be solid stone structures which saved in materials and costs. The temple plan created by Hull is incorrect as the columns are placed over the non load-bearing vaults and it was not peripital on all sides as it is more likely that there was a closed rear North wall. The temple was built in a precinct (Insula 22 of the town) which had in the centre of its south side a monumental gateway with a monumental arcade on either side. The other three sides may have contained rooms and colonnades. Some black and white tessellated pavements are also associated with the temple. After it was rebuilt after fire in the late 2nd century AD there is evidence for a major reconstruction of the temple in the late Roman period (first half of the 4th century). A wall was added across the front of the temple and a basilican structure with a narrow apsidal vestibule in front was erected. There is also evidence of internal marble decoration. The latest occupation of the temple area in the 4th/ 5th century was domestic and may have been a very large residence. See Essex SMR for a full description and detailed list of references and sources. (16)

Colchester Castle is a Scheduled Monument. For more information please refer to the Scheduled Monument Record of Colchester Castle. (17)

National Grid Reference TL9986525319 (centroid of the object) identified by digital ordnance survey mapping. (18)



Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Journal of the British Archaeological Association
Source details :
Page(s) : 36-8
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 2, 1847
Source Number : 2
Source : Essex archaeology and history : transactions of Essex Archaeological Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 122-5
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 9, 1902-05
Source Number : 11
Source : City of victory : the story of Colchester - Britain's first Roman town
Source details :
Page(s) : 59-60, 75-6, 99-100
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : The buildings of Roman Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 122-3, 168-170
Figs. : 122, 123
Plates : 24
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 13
Source : Discovering Roman Britain [a visitor's guide]
Source details :
Page(s) : 37
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 14
Source : Architecture in Roman Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 47, 48
Figs. : 3
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 15
Source : Roman Towns in Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 35, 153
Figs. : 12
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 16
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : Essex County Council. 2003. Unlocking Essex's Past (SMR) http://unlockingessex.essexcc.gov.uk/custom_pages/monument_detail.asp?content_page_id=89&monument_id=35410&content_parents=48 [Accessed 02-SEP-2008]
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Source Number : 17
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 17-Jul-84
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Source Number : 18
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : 1:1250, 2007
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries on London
Source details :
Page(s) : 162-184, 189-91
Figs. : 82-90
Plates :
Vol(s) : 20, 1958
Source Number : 4
Source : Essex archaeology and history : transactions of Essex Archaeological Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 242
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 10, 1978
Source Number : 5
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details :
Page(s) : Jul-50
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 15, 1984
Source Number : 6
Source : Essex archaeology and history : transactions of Essex Archaeological Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 103
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 23, 1992
Source Number : 7
Source : Essex archaeology and history : transactions of Essex Archaeological Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 234-236
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 24, 1993
Source Number : 8
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details :
Page(s) : 01-Jun
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 24, 1993
Source Number : 9
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details :
Page(s) : Nov-27
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 26, 1995
Source Number : 10
Source : English Heritage book of Roman Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 107
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Repaired late 2nd C
Monument End Date : 200
Monument Start Date : 167
Monument Type : Temple
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Sub Surface Deposit, Excavated Feature
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Possibly converted in 1st half of 4th C
Monument End Date : 350
Monument Start Date : 301
Monument Type : Basilican Church
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Sub Surface Deposit, Excavated Feature, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Possibly converted to dwelling late 4thC
Monument End Date : 400
Monument Start Date : 350
Monument Type : House
Evidence : Artefact Scatter, Sub Surface Deposit, Excavated Feature, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Fell into ruin early to mid 5th century
Monument End Date : 466
Monument Start Date : 400
Monument Type : House
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit, Excavated Feature, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Built after 49AD
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 49
Monument Type : Temple
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Demolished Structure, Excavated Feature
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Destroyed 60-61AD
Monument End Date : 61
Monument Start Date : 60
Monument Type : Temple
Evidence : Demolished Structure, Documentary Evidence, Excavated Feature
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Rebuilt 62AD
Monument End Date : 62
Monument Start Date : 62
Monument Type : Temple
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Excavated Feature, Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Early Medieval
Display Date : Fell into ruin early to mid 5th century
Monument End Date : 466
Monument Start Date : 410
Monument Type : House
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit, Excavated Feature, Conjectural Evidence

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : EX1
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Essex)
External Cross Reference Number : 12223
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TL 92 NE 143
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 536814
Relationship type : Is referred to by

Related Activities :
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Associated Activities : Primary, COLCHESTER CASTLE
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End Date : 1950-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, COLCHESTER CASTLE
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End Date : 1977-12-31
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