Everyday life and death in Roman Canterbury
The Roman town occupied the same space as present-day Canterbury. We don’t know the size of the Roman town’s population, but we do know from excavation that people living here included craftsmen. There would also have been shopkeepers, labourers, servants, and professionals such as doctors, teachers, clerks, magistrates and priests. Visitors came from elsewhere in the Roman world: there is evidence for soldiers, while officials, merchants and traders would have come to the town, especially from northern Europe.
Roman ways of life were adopted, as can be seen from the range of finds on display. There is part of a lead cistern and water outlet pipe from one of Canterbury’s many Roman bathhouses, along with toiletry items and gaming counters (Roman baths were a place to socialise, gossip and do business). Fragments of carved stone and coloured marbles are parts of a Roman temple; the temple precinct has been found but not yet the exact temple site. Domestic items, many of them found in graves, include imported pottery and glass. There is also locally made pottery, including an urn for burial of a blacksmith’s cremated remains, decorated with his face and tools – a hammer, wedge, tongs, anvil and rope.
Two cavalry swords are extremely rare survivals from Roman Britain. They were found with skeletons of two Roman cavalrymen buried in a shallow grave outside an inn. The way they were buried points to evidence of murder!
Latin was in common use for writing. Few written records survive but there are some names inscribed on gravestones and pottery. A small marble tombstone, which may have come from Italy in the nineteenth century, commemorates a six-year-old girl, Public Valeria Maxima. It was commissioned by her parents and says ‘May the earth lie lightly on thee’.
Click here for an article by Professor Ray Laurence of the University of Kent about Roman inscriptions attesting to familial structures in Canterbury.
A Samian-ware dish and items in a hoard of Late Roman silver contain evidence for Christianity in Canterbury. They have inscriptions of the Christian symbols ‘Chi Rho’ for Christ: the Greek letters X (Chi) and P (R).
Cinerary urn of a blacksmith, found in Vauxhall cemetery, Sturry Road, in 1871