By Dr Neil Faulkner
Last updated 2011-02-17
Sacred landscapes - Many treasure finds were originally offerings to the gods. Metalwork close to the surface can often by found by metal-detecting - like the 3,000 coins found in a field in Leicestershire, or the stash of gold and silver plaques near Baldock in North Hertfordshire. But to discover the archaeological 'context' - to find out about the time and place of deposition - requires excavation.
Was there a sanctuary enclosure? A centrally placed shrine? A spring, a bog or a 'sacred grove'? Ancient people imagined the whole landscape to be ruled by divine beings, but certain natural places were especially revered as residences of the gods. How was their spirituality expressed?
Celtic sanctuaries - Most such places were little embellished. They were left largely to nature, with perhaps no more than a boundary ditch, an open-air altar, and a crude wooden image of the god. Evidence for actual buildings is rare. Roman writers confirm the impression we have from archaeology: they refer to druids, idols and sacred groves, but we hear nothing of temples. In the Iron Age (700 BC-AD 50), Celtic deities seem to have thrived in the open; it was the Romans who shut them up in temples (AD 43-410).
Romanisation - The Roman impact on Celtic religion was a matter of form not substance. In the Iron Age, the hot spring at Bath was a steaming marsh sacred to the goddess Sulis. The Romans built a reservoir, canalised the flow of hot spring water, fed this into a grand bathing complex, and constructed a classical temple and sanctuary in honour of the goddess.
Bath was given a complete Roman make-over. A new cult statue was made - in the image of the Roman goddess Minerva - and this updated version of Sulis was doubtless placed inside the temple. Roman engineering, architecture and art transformed Bath into a major pilgrimage centre - but the religion at its heart remained Celtic.
Romano-Celtic temples - Unlike that at Bath, most temples in Roman Britain were not 'classical' in style but what archaeologists call 'Romano-Celtic' - a design inherited from the Iron Age past and found also in other north-western provinces of the Roman Empire.
It comprised a central chamber (or cella) housing a cult statue, and a colonnaded, covered walkway around the outside. Beyond the building was an enclosed open space (or temenos), sometimes with ancillary buildings. Only a handful of classical temples are known in Britain, compared with hundreds of these Romano-Celtic ones - in towns, attached to villas, and in the open countryside.
Discover amazing archaeological finds that have been made at the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
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