New evidence for Nero’s links to Roman Silchester

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An aerial view of the Roman temple recently discovered at Silchester. (Image: University of Reading)

Over the decades there have been tantalising hints about the Emperor Nero (r. AD 54-68) and his possible connections with the Roman city of Calleva Atrebatum in modern-day Silchester. Now archaeologists at the University of Reading have uncovered more evidence to support this idea.

Professor Michael Fulford and teams from the University of Reading having been leading projects at Silchester since the 1970s, excavating remains from both the underlying Iron Age oppidum, or fortified town, and from the later Roman city that supplanted it (see CA 75, 82, 161, 177, 200, 226, 250, and 300).

During the excavations in autumn 2017, the remains of a Roman temple were discovered in Insula XXX on the east side of the town. There, four tile fragments stamped with Nero’s name were recovered from a ritual pit. While several tiles bearing the emperor’s name have previously been recovered from Silchester or other nearby sites, this is the largest number from any one context found in the town.

Tiles found at Silchester and at the nearby Little London have highlighted Nero’s investment in the city. (Image: University of Reading)

The discovery comes after another two tiles were discovered during summer excavations at Little London, just over a mile south-west of Silchester, and the only other site in Britain to have produced a Nero tile. This investigation confirmed the site as a major brickworks and the source of the Nero tiles, providing further evidence of the scale of the emperor’s Silchester project.

‘These findings are a crucial piece of the jigsaw as we look to solve the mystery of Nero’s links to Silchester,’ said Michael. ‘Only a handful of Nero-stamped tiles have ever been found before, so to unearth this many was very exciting. It adds to the evidence that Nero saw Silchester as a pet project where he could construct extravagant buildings, like those seen in Rome, to inspire awe among his subjects in the UK.’

The recently uncovered temple is one of a group of three excavated at Silchester (the other two were discovered in 1890), and evidence suggests that it was built sometime between AD 50 and 70, falling within Nero’s reign. as the layout of this temple is similar to the others, it is possible that they were all constructed around this time – possibly through the support of the emperor. This is a theory that the University of Reading team hopes to explore further.

This article appeared in CA 336.

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