Gladiators and Roman Britain

London, Roman Amphitheatre © David Gill

Several amphitheatres are known from Roman Britain. Remains of the one in London includes a dramatic reconstruction that helps visitors to understand the space.

Cirencester, Roman amphitheatre © David Gill
Cirencester, Roman amphitheatre © David Gill

One of the most dramatic examples can be found at Cirencester, with another at Silchester. Amphitheatres are also known from the legionary fortresses at Caerleon and Chester.

Bignor Roman Villa © David Gill

Gladiatorial combats feature in the mosaics from the villa at Bignor suggesting familiarity with gladiators.

Gladiator cup from Colchester © David Gill
Gladiator cup from Colchester © David Gill

The Hawkedon gladiatorial helmet from Suffolk and now in the British Museum is suggested by some to have been derived from the Roman colony at Colchester, and a gladiator carved from bone and now in the British Museum is also said to come from Colchester.

The so-called ‘Colchester Vase’, decorated with gladiatorial scenes, was discovered in a cemetery off the Lexden Road in 1848. This is the subject of a report (Dalya Alberge, ‘Startling’ new evidence reveals gladiators fought in Roman Britain. The Observer (London) March 4, 2023; James Fitzgerald, ‘Gladiator fights were staged in Roman Britain, evidence suggests‘, BBC News March 6, 2023) that claims ‘Gladiator fights were once staged in Roman-occupied Britain’. Alberge notes a forthcoming ‘research paper’ by Glynn Davis of Colchester Museum and John Pearce of King’s College London. The new research presumably has as its focus a re-interpretation of the pot and its decoration.

Silvanus at Corinium

Corinium Museum © David Gill

A fragmentary altar to Silvanus was found at Circencester (Corinium) in the 19th century (RIB 104). It was dedicated by [.] Sabidius Maximus.

Anthony Birley has suggested a possible link with M. Sabidiu[s] Ma[ximus] known from an inscription found at Elbasan, Albania, on the route of the strategic Via Egnatia (AE 1937, no. 101) [JSTOR]. He served in various roles, including signifer, in the Legio IX Claudia, then as centurion in the Legio III Gallica (during the reign of Hadrian). Birley suggests that one of the Legions in which he served could be restored as the Legio I[I Augusta] (based at Caerleon).

Cavalryman from Corinium

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

The Corinium Museum contains a particularly find Roman tombstone of a Roman cavalryman, eq(u)es, Sextus Valerius Genialis. It was discovered at Watermoor towards the south-east corner of the (later) Roman town of Cirencester.

The relief shows Genialis riding over a fallen soldier, and aiming his lance downwards. In his left hand he has a hexagonal shield as well as what appears to be a military standard.

The tombstone is dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century AD.

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

The inscription (RIB 109) reads:

Sextus Valerius Genialis, trooper (eq(u)es) of the Cavalry Regiment of the Thracians, a Frisiavone tribesman, from the troop (turma) of Genialis, aged 40, of 20 years’ service, lies buried here. His heir set this up.

Genialis came from Gallia Belgica. The unit is known to have been in Britain as late as 124, but then transferred to the Rhine.

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

UCS Heritage Professor Shortlisted in Poetry Competition

Rotas Opera
Latin inscription from Cirencester © David Gill

Professor David Gill, Director of Heritage Futures at UCS, has been shortlisted in the first Corinium Museum poetry competition. The Corinium Museum in Circencester is one of the leading Roman collections in the UK. The winning and shortlisted poems will be displayed in the museum alongside the objects.

Professor Gill’s poem, ‘Sowing Letters’, was inspired by a Latin acrostic inscription cut into wall plaster that was found in a Roman house at Cirencester in the 1860s. The five lines of text can be read from left to right, right to left, or vertically. The letters can be re-arranged to form the first two Latin words of the The Lord’s Prayer (‘Pater Noster’) with ‘A’ and ‘O’, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet that allude to Jesus Christ as the beginning and the end. The text is perhaps one of the earliest allusions to Christianity found in the British Isles.

The earliest known version of the inscription has been discovered at Pompeii, destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Another has been excavated at the site of Dura-Europus on the river Euphrates in what is now modern Syria.

Professor Gill’s poem uses two of the Latin words from the inscription to provide an acrostic structure to his work.

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