Roman building materials and home
Houses built of masonry – mostly local flint and mortar – with tile roofs gradually replaced early homes of timber and clay with thatched roofs. Remains from Roman houses on display include curved and flat roof tiles, small tiles laid in herringbone patterns for flooring, and fragments of painted wall plaster. Tiles were made locally and kilns have been found to the north and north-west of Roman Canterbury.
You can go into a reconstructed Roman dining room and kitchen, and handle replica Roman pottery, as well as see examples of real Roman dishes and pots made locally and imported. There is also a reconstruction of a woman having her hair dressed in Roman style, and a display of figurines representing Roman gods for home and burial use.
In the Roman dining room (‘triclinium’ in Latin, meaning three-sided couch), diners would recline on couches set around a central, low table. Servants would bring meals. Diners ate mostly with their fingers, the food having been cut up by servants. They also used knives for bread and cheese, spoons, and pronged implements for snails. Expensive dinner services of glossy red Samian pottery came in a variety of plates, bowls and drinking cups. Wine and other drinks were served from glass or pottery flagons. The main meal was dinner (‘cena’) in the early evening. The dining room was lit using lamps fuelled by olive oil.
Next to the dining room is the kitchen (‘culina’), where servants prepared and cooked meals for wealthy households. There was an extensive range of kitchen equipment made of pottery, metal or glass. A large bowl (‘mortarium’) with a gritty inner surface was used for grinding up ingredients. Pottery or metal cooking pots were used on top of the stove, on an iron grid set above slow-burning charcoal. Below the stove was storage for charcoal; and there might be an oven, heated by a separate fire for making bread or for roasting. There was little smoke from charcoal and no chimneys appear to have been built on Canterbury houses.
Evidence for what people ate comes from written descriptions, images in wall paintings or sculpture, seeds and fruit-stones found in excavation, and traces of foodstuffs left inside pots and jars. Less well-off people ate coarse-grained bread and pea or bean soup. Those who could afford more had a range of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, as well as snails, stuffed dormice and wine. Honey was used as a sweetener and salt as preservative. Many herbs and imported spices were also available. Preserved delicacies, imported in special, sealed containers (‘amphorae’), included olives, dates, figs, salted fish and fish sauce. Olive oil, also imported in amphorae, was used for cooking.
A reconstruction of a woman having her hair dressed in Roman style is based on a Roman sculpture found in Spain. The hairstyle was popular during the late first and early second century AD. Such hairstyles needed pins and combs to keep hair in place. Pins and other fashion accessories found in Canterbury are displayed in a small case.
Wealthy women in Roman Britain followed the fashions for hairstyles and jewellery that were set by the wives of Roman emperors. Their tunics were usually made of local woollen cloth rather than linen or imported silk, which were rare. But hairstyles copied the latest Roman fashions and women wore rings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. The woman’s basket chair and footstool are based on ones in Roman relief sculptures. A carving from Neumagen (Roman ‘Noviomagus’) in Germany, now in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, shows a seated woman looking in a mirror while having her hair arranged by a servant standing behind. Roman mirrors (like earlier Iron Age ones) were made of polished metal with decorated backs.
Nearby is a showcase of figurines representing Roman gods.