Saturday, March 10, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Grab bag o'Roman stuff edition.

A couple of recent developments in the world of Roman archaeology:

Roman settlement found next to 'devil's hill'
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Evidence of a Roman sacred site has been discovered at the foot of a man-made hill created thousands of years before the Romans arrived in Britain, it was announced yesterday.

That would be Silbury Hill:

Click to see larger version

It's a massive construction, originally terraced, with a presumably ceremonial walkway to the top. It's surrounded by a sort of moat, bridged by two causeways (the material used to build the hill was originally dug out of the moat). It was probably built in about 2600 B.C., roughly contemporary with some of the early phases of Stonehenge. Various myths and legends have arisen about the hill; according to one tradition, it is the tomb of the legendary King Sil and his golden horse. Another tale, the source of the "Devil's Hill" moniker, relates that the devil was carrying a load of earth to drop on a nearby town. When he was stopped by some priests from Avebury, he dropped the dirt, creating Silbury Hill. Although various theories have been put forward (e.g. an enormous sundial), the truth is that we have no idea whatsoever what that hill was built for, or how it was used in neolithic times.

Returning to the Romans, it's not at all surprising that they would build a religious site there. Contrary to what one might expect, the Romans were extremely open-minded about other religions (they tended to outlaw religions only in cases where there were issues of pubic order), to the point where they made a practice of adopting the worship of "foreign" gods. A prime example of this is the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose cult became very popular in Roman Italy.

The Temple of Isis at Pompeii - click to enlarge

The main question, yet to be answered, about the Roman site at Silbury Hill is to which deity it was devoted. It remains distinctly possible that it was actually a Celtic deity whose worship was promoted at the site.

Anyway, moving along, awhile back I did a Friday Archaeology Blogging on the insignia of Maxentius. There have been further developments:

Scepter from Roman emperor exhibited
Telegraph, 27 February 2007

The scepter, which is topped by a blue orb that represents the earth, was discovered at the end of last year and is believed to have been held by Emperor Maxentius, who ruled for six years until 312AD.

This is the best picture of the scepter that I've been able to find so far.

Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see the rest of the insignia soon.


Scout said...

those romans had quite the ways about them.....seems part of keeping the non-disruptive religions alive was part of their success.....after all, if you're going to keep dissidace down after conquering.....

Bazz said...

Precisely! The Romans had pretty much figured out (usually) that messing around with peoples' religions was a good way ensure unending local rebellions, so they tended to let things go as long as said religions weren't actively causing difficulties.

The other matter to consider, as well, is that the Romans probably didn't see a lot of "foreign" religions as different from their own. I mean, if a particular group spoke a different language, well it just made sense that they would have different names for the Gods and Goddesses. And if that meant that the Romans occasionally encountered a God or Goddess they hadn't met before, then that was fine too!