Digging into the Collections August 2016

Verulamium

Location of Verulamium in Great Britain. Wikipedia.

Verulamium was the 3rd largest city in Roman Britain.  It is located near the modern-day city of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England.  Verulamium, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, was founded at the site of an ancient Celtic village in the center of Catuvellauni territory.  The Romans first occupied the site in 44-45 BCE, and the town became a municipium by 50 BCE.  (A municipium is a Romanized settlement with an imperial charter giving its inhabitants Roman citizenship and rights.)  The Romans continued occupying Verulamium until 450 CE when they abandoned the city.

The town has a bit of a tumultuous history as it was destroyed twice.  First during the rebellion of the Iceni queen Boudicca in 60-61 BC.  And second in a fire during the reign of emperor Antonius Pius who ruled from 138-161 CE.   Both times the city was rebuilt within 20 years of its destruction.

The site today is an open field with a nearby museum.


The lack of modern development on the site makes it possible for extensive archaeological investigations.  In addition to the recent geophysical surveys by Dr. Lockyear and his crew, the site has been excavated numerous times since its rediscovery.  But there were two major excavations at the site: the first in the 1930s under R.E.M. Wheeler and Tessa Verney Wheeler, and the second in the 1950s under Sheppard S. Frere.  These excavations gave us most of our current knowledge about Verulamium including the town’s layout.  This layout includes a forum, theatre of the Gallo-Roman type, fragments of the town wall, market hall, two triumphal arches, and a variety of houses and shops.

Roman Theater at Verulamium. Przemyslaw Sakrajda.

So how did we get artifacts from Verulamium?  They were donated in 1934 by Dr. Harvey Walker (1900-1971), a professor and head of the political science department at Ohio State University.  Walker is most well-known for his proposal of a one house legislature in Ohio.  He also wrote a book entitled Training Public Employees in Great Britain (1934).  How or when these artifacts came into Walker’s possession is unknown, but perhaps it had to do with the publication of the Public Employees book which is about Britain.

Posted August 31, 2016

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