A window into Roman life in Southwark
When you hop-off the train at London Bridge, wander around Borough Market, or gaze up at The Shard, do you ever wonder what this part of London used to look like? Well, archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) have been leading excavations at the site set to become The Liberty of Southwark cultural quarter near Borough High Street. What they’re discovering provides a fascinating window into what life was like in Southwark almost 2,000 years ago.
WHAT HAS BEEN FOUND?
Archaeologists have uncovered a large and impressive Roman building. It was made up of four rooms, one of which is thought to have been an internal courtyard. The walls were decorated and large quantities of painted wall plaster have been found. This includes some particularly pretty pieces featuring colourful flower designs. The floors were also beautifully finished, and both a mosaic and opus signinum (broken tile) floor have been discovered. It is likely that the structure was surrounded by lush gardens containing raised beds for planting.
The building is thought to have been constructed around AD72 – about 25 years after the Romans founded the settlement of Londinium (Roman London) in the area we now know as the City of London. Other finds from the site currently include coins, jewellery, pottery, oyster shells, copper bowls and a gaming counter. Interestingly, the gaming counter appears to have been lost when it fell in a gap between the floor and the wall – a frustration clearly shared throughout the ages!
WHO WOULD HAVE LIVED THERE?
The northern part of the building was previously dug in the 1980s and at the time was thought to be a Mansio – the Roman equivalent of a fancy motel. Here important officials would have stayed and rested between long journeys. The latest findings suggest this may well have been what the building was used for. However, it is also possible that it was the private residence of a wealthy person or family. The discovery of a phallic-shaped pendant indicates that high-ranking soldiers might have stayed there, as this is a symbol often linked with the Roman military.
As MOLA Senior Project Manager Derek Seeley summarises: “The quality of materials found at this site suggests this building was occupied by only high-ranking members of society. It is rare that we are able to study such a large area in central London. This has provided a fascinating window into the living conditions and lifestyle of elites in Roman Britain.”
WHY ARE THESE EXCAVATIONS TAKING PLACE?
Excavations at the site are taking place ahead of the construction of The Liberty of Southwark, a new cultural quarter designed by leading architects Allies and Morrison.