Corinium, or Cirencester as it is known today, was a major urban centre in Roman Britain. Located in Gloucestershire, it may have been a provincial capital of Britannia I in the Diocletian period.
The town developed around a Roman Fort and on the cross roads of important roads including the Fosse Way. It was an important place and the wealth of finds from the town, hint at its ancient wealth and prestige.
The gods of Roman Corinium
Two divinities were particularly important in the region; the Celtic matres and Hermes.
The matres, are figures of three women. The Triad was important in Celtic belief. The matres have been found in Britain, Gaul and Germania, but not much more is known about these mysterious figures.
Hermes, god of merchants, god of the dead
The inhabitants of Roman Cirencester particularly venerated the god Mercury (or Hermes). Several statues have been found to him ranging from the fragments of a colossal statue down to small figurines.
Combined with this several small figurines of cockerels and chicken bones have been found which are linked to him.
The reason why Hermes was popular are complicated. He may have been associated with a “local” Celtic god, or it might be his role as guide of the dead (psychopomp).
The Egyptian god Anubis was associated with Hermes across the Roman Empire, including in Britain. Although no statues to Anubis have been found, it is worth bearing in the mind the complex web of meanings that particular gods might have in any one region. Note however, the dog in the small relief stele below.
Images of other god have been found including Olympian gods and Celtic gods, and a bronze cupid made in Italy.
A strange “ram headed god” is surrounded by two snakes: their positions similar to images of Horus and Isis-Thermouthis and Serapis Agathos-Daimon from Egypt. Could there be links?
Animals in Roman Corinium
Animals were important in Roman Cirencester both economically and financially. Two animals predominate: dogs and cockerels, both animals could be associated with Hermes.
The cockerel was the herald of the new day. An auspicious bird. The quantity of figurines may also point to the popularity of “cock fighting”, a pernicious form of animal abuse popular into the nineteenth century.
Roman Britain was famous for its dogs. Dogs were useful in hunting and several scenes show dogs in pursuit of hares. Yet they may also have had another role as healers. Statues of dogs have been at the nearby Lydney Park Temple and at Llys Awel in Wales. They are also companionable and friendly creatures and statues of dogs might reflect the social importance of dogs as “pets”, for want of a better word. Dog fighting may also have been a popular form of entertainment in the Roman amphitheatre.
Other animals were portrayed including animals local to the area (like wold boar), animals imported via the Romans (like Hare, see the mosaic below) and exotic animals such as lions and panthers.
Lots of lovely bits in Roman Cirencester
Several items have been found in the town including statues, gems and mosaics.
Several fine Romano-British mosaics have been found across Cirencester. These provides some proof of the relative wealth of the city and its (better off) inhabitants.
Jewels and gems
Several small finely worked jewels and intaglio gems have been found in Cirencester. Two of the gems below depict shrimp, even though the diet of Cirencester did not particularly include fish or seafood.
The Corinium Museum also owns a fine wall painting.
Earthbanks and stonework remain of the town’s mighty roman walls. Fragments of a large statue of Hermes was found here. Possibly the god was placed in the gate overlooking the road to Bath.
The town had a small Amphitheatre which likely hosted events such as animal abuse (bear baiting) and staged fights. It remains today as a circular grass banks. Walking through the entrance, you have an eerie sense of time folding in on you. The bowl shape turns the engine noises from the nearby road into a sound like a cheering crowd, shivers run down your spine.
Eighteenth Century Obelisk
An eighteenth century obelisk can also be found by the Roman Ampitheatre. No one is sure where it’s from, but it may be linked with the poet Alexander Pope, a freemason.
An enjoyable day out, make the trip today via National Express.