Excavations at Tabard Square in 2002 have transformed perceptions of Londinium’s ritual landscape and refined our understanding of Southwark’s prehistoric and Roman topography. Hearths and associated scatters of worked flint attest to the temporary camps which characterised Southwark’s channel edges from Late Glacial or early Post-Glacial times.
Set between Borough Channel and Watling Street, the approach road to Londinium from ports to the south-east, the site occupies a strategic location adjacent to the Roman crossing point across Southwark’s islands to the settlement on the north bank. Following extensive drainage and reclamation the earliest buildings here were domestic structures of clay and timber, well-appointed and with finely-executed painted plaster schemes.
But it is as the location of a major temple complex that this site is best known. The mid second century saw a transformation of the landscape as domestic buildings were levelled and a large gravelled precinct constructed, with two Romano-Celtic temples, numerous plinths, altars and columns. An inscribed marble plaque suggests that at least one of these buildings was dedicated to Mars Camulus.
The complex was modified and embellished through time, a dividing wall and possible portico were constructed in the third century, setting each temple building within its own precinct. By the fourth century the precinct had contracted to a small enclosed area, with an enigmatic winged building set to the south-east.
Amongst the finds recovered from the ditch defining the precinct’s eastern extent were numerous, deliberately punctured, complete flagons and other vessels. One of two tin-alloy canisters found contained a greasy preparation, most probably used for lightening the complexion, still bearing the finger marks of its last user.