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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Maiden Castle Romano-British Temple, Minerva, Bronze Plaque

I frequently walk up to the hill fort, and usually head for the site of the Romano-British temple, which holds a certain fascination and gives rise to both archaeological and historical speculation.

If anybody knows the answer, I would like to find out where exactly on the site the bronze plaque of Minerva was discovered. "From the temple itself came a fragment of a near life-size bronze statue, a feather-shaped bronze plaque with repoussée figure of Minerva with traces of an inscription (Wheeler, Pl. XXXIX B)", See below.

Sketches by R. E. M. Wheeler
(from Maiden Castle, Niall M.Sharples, 1991)

From The Town of Maiden Castle, Eric Benfield,  1947

The bronze plaque of Minerva found on the site

Roman Buildings Within Maiden Castle 

"The temple (67118846), excavated by E. Cunnington in 1882–4 and by Wheeler in 1934, was of Romano-Celtic type, 43½ ft. by 40½ ft. externally, and terraced into the gentle northerly slope. The cella, 20 ft. by 19½ ft., or 16 ft. square internally, was slightly W. of centre and surrounded by a passage or verandah. A paved approach indicated a central E. entrance, and post-sockets on E. and W. perhaps imply a fence. The walls, largely robbed but uniformly some 2 ft. wide, were of coursed herring-bone flint-work above a levelling course or courses of Purbeck limestone on chalk rubble footings; the external wall survived to 3 ft. on S., but evidence is lacking for use of columns here or elsewhere. The walls were probably plastered on both sides. Plaster of the outer S. wall, originally yellow outside with a basal panel or border of oblique red splashes, had been renewed three times. The W. cella wall had remains inside of mortar rendering with 'roughly stuck' false joints; loose fragments within indicated panels of blue-green, dark red and white, on a mainly terra-cotta ground, while one piece in yellow and black showed two renewals.

No remains survived in 1934 of the 'small portion of black and white tessellated pavement' reported by Cunnington or of his mass of masonry 9 ft. by 6 ft., both apparently in situ in the cella. Cement foundations for such a floor remained, however, over rubble and cement make-up which contained debris and lumps of black and white mosaic border from an earlier building; the surround or verandah had been floored wholly or partly with coarse red tesserae. Both these floors had been largely replaced by reused stone roof-slabs which had possibly formed the original roof of the building, which was probably covered with clay tiles in the second phase.

122 coins were found in and near the building, all save 11 of the 4th century. Several sealed below the floors and paved approach dated the original construction at earliest to 367, and the reconstruction to 379 or later; further occupation was represented by eight Theodosian issues and a hoard of four gold coins of Arcadius and Honorius of c. 405 found with a gold ring beside the outer wall.

A rectangular building (the 'priest's house'; Wheeler, Pl. CXV), 26 ft. by 18 ft. overall and roughly aligned with the temple, lay immediately N.; it consisted of two rooms stepped down the slope, with an entrance in the N. end. The walls 1½ ft. wide were of herring-bone flint-work, levelled with and partly based on limestone courses; it had no surviving floor-surface or wall-plaster. The building contained 4th-century pottery but no coins.

An oval building (67098844; Wheeler, Pl. CXVI) lay on the local hill-crest 12 yds. S.W. of the temple. It was 23 ft. by 21 ft. internally, with rough drystone wall; holes and debris suggested a clay-tiled roof on axial posts. The floor was of limestone roof-tiles and slabs, and had been levelled into that of the largest Iron Age 'C' hut found at Maiden Castle (Wheeler, Pl. XX). A pivot-stone showed the position of a S.E. doorway, outside which was rough paving containing a tile-lined pit-hearth filled with wood ash. As well as cult objects listed below, the hut contained 171 coins mostly of 4th century down to Honorius (393–423); a preponderance of issues of c. 350–360 suggested a slightly earlier period of use than that of the temple.

Discussion. The date of the temple aligns it with others built or restored in Britain in the late 4th century in response to a widespread revival of paganism. Its dedication is unknown, and the small private ex voto objects frequently found on such sites are lacking; nevertheless several objects of dedicatory or cult significance show signs of the syncretism of Roman and native religion. From the temple itself came a fragment of a near life-size bronze statue, a feather-shaped bronze plaque with repoussée figure of Minerva with traces of an inscription (Wheeler, Pl. XXXIX B), and in 1934 a figurine of tinned bronze probably representing the Celtic three-horned bull surmounted by three human busts with bird-like bodies, thought probably all female (ibid., Pl. XXXI B). This figure, and another, in private hands, from Waddon Hill, Stoke Abbot, have been further discussed by F. Jenkins (Dorset Procs. LXXXII (1960), 104–8, fig. 9). From the oval hut came a bronze pedestal for a standing statuette (Wheeler, fig. 97) and the base of another in Italian marble with the feet presumably of Diana and a hound (ibid., Pl. XXXI A).

The objects found in the hut, as well as the quantity of coins, may be cited in support of the view that it served as a shrine, perhaps consciously archaic and continuing a local cult of Iron Age origin, despite the apparent discontinuity of occupation; the importance of the Iron Age 'C' hut which underlay it is evident both from its size and its situation astride or at the head of an Iron Age main street leading from the E. gate (Wheeler, Pl. I), although there is no direct evidence of religious use. If this view is correct, parallels are offered by the 'rotunda' near the temple at Frilford, Berks., overlying an Iron Age penannular ditch (Oxoniensia IV (1939), 11–15), and the polygonal shrine at Brigstock, Northants., in a similar association (Ant. J. XLIII (1963), 235–8). The identification of the small rectangular building as a priest's house, although without obvious parallel, is supported by its division into two small rooms, and by the absence of coins and cult objects.

The inhumation burials. An irregular line of four extended burials (one male, three female) was partly excavated about 150 yds. W. of the temple, overlying the S. ditch of the 'long mound' and close within the original W. rampart, here supposed to form the precinct wall (66988847; Wheeler, Pls. III, V). All were orientated E.-W. with head W., and one at least was not earlier than the 4th century A.D. Fragmentary remains of a child were in the same stratum.

Of earlier burials, in addition to 38 male and female skeletons in the war cemetery of c. 44, 18 inhumations are referred to the Iron Age 'C'/Roman phase, mostly within the outworks of the E. entrance. Some (e.g. T 3–6) were in orderly lines; heads were normally towards N.E., E., or S.E. All save one had limbs flexed or slightly bent, in plain graves accompanied in some cases by vessels or food. The exception was a female fully extended with head S. and hob-nails at feet, accompanied by the headless skeleton of a lamb, in a coffin indicated by iron nails, and with a young dog probably outside the coffin. Interments in the war cemetery, despite evidence of haste, indicated a substantially similar ritual of burial".

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