Thoughts of Mars

By 22/02/2021News

The new images of the Red Planet from NASA’s Perseverance rover bring to mind our discovery of a major temple complex at Tabard Square, Southwark, a site occupying an important strategic position on the approach road to Londinium from ports to the south-east.

Two Romano-Celtic temples were found, along with an inscribed marble plaque suggesting that at least one of these buildings was dedicated to Mars Camulus.

This has been translated as:
To the Divinities of the Emperors (and) to the god Mars Camulus. Tiberinius Celerianus, a citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix, of Londoners the first [….]

This is the first stone inscription found with the name of the city, or in this case the inhabitants of the city, carved into it. The inscription also names the benefactor, Tiberianus Celerianus, and tells us that he defined himself as a citizen of the Bellovaci, a Gaulish tribe whose territory was centred on modern Beauvais. His Gaulish connections are further evinced by the use of the word moritix, this is a Gaulish word meaning sea-farer or sea traveller but where found in other inscriptions seemingly connected to trade. These details paint a picture of a trader or traveller from northern France whose home seems to have become London. He may have formed part of a wider community from Gallia Belgica that had developed in the city. His choice of god, Mars Camulus, was in keeping with the dual tradition of a Romano-Celtic temple.

Another fascinating find from the site was a pot of cream preserving the fingerprints of its last user.

This canister was thrown into a ditch on the edge of the temple complex 2000 years ago. Scientific analysis has shown the cream to consist of animal fats combined with starch and tin oxide. The tin oxide provided the white colour and it’s likely that this was a face cream, akin to foundation, which may have been used for lightening the skin.

The remarkable discoveries at Tabard Square are detailed in an award-winning book published by PCA: Temples and Suburbs; Excavations at Tabard Square, Southwark by Douglas Killock, John Shepherd, James Gerrard, Kevin Hayward, Kevin Rielly and Victoria Ridgeway.