• One Roman temple has been found in Leicester, a Mithraeum dedicated to the Persian god Mithras
  • Leicester had a Septisonium, a temple dedicated to the seven gods who represented the days of the week
  • A rare depiction of the Egyptian god Anubis has been found in Leicester. It is on a small carved ivory panel from a Romano-Egyptian box

A diverse and multicultural city for 2000 years

A Mithraeum

Only one definite Roman temple has been found in Leicester so far, probably a Mithraeum, a place where the Persian god Mithra or Mithras was worshipped.  Within the Roman empire, Mithraeism was a popular mystery cult from the 1st to 4th centuries AD.  The temple was found south of the Jewry Wall Roman baths in 1969 during the construction of the Holiday Inn on St Nicholas Circle.

The building was a small aisled hall, some 6m wide and 15m long, with apsidal transepts and a possible ‘sanctuary’ at its eastern end, very similar to a church. The floor of the nave was sunken below that of the aisles and the walls were painted red. Niches built into the walls may have been for statues and the layout of the building appears to have been designed for feasting and initiation, with worshipers gathering along reclining couches lining the walls.

The temple appears to have been built in the early 2nd century AD and coins found on its final floor suggest it remained in use into the late 4th century.

A fresco in an mithraeum at Marino, Italy, which was built at a similar time to the mithraeum discovered in Leicester

A Septisonium

There is also reference to a structure called a septisonium in Leicester. This was dedicated to the seven gods after whom the Roman days of the week were named – the Sun and Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. It is only the fourth known reference to such a structure in the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, we don’t know where it stood, although it was possibly close to the macellum as a column with scale decoration typically associated with celestial deities was found there in the 19th century.

Other beliefs

Although no other temples are known about, the beliefs of Leicester’s Roman inhabitants can be seen in many of the personal items they had lost, or broken and thrown away- reflecting the city’s diverse and multicultural tastes. During the excavation of the Vine Street courtyard house, archaeologists found a silver intaglio ring depicting the Roman god Mars and the broken torso of a small white-clay figurine of the Roman goddess Venus. The Celtic god Maglus (the only known reference to such a deity) was mentioned on a lead curse tablet, probably from the same building, whilst an extraordinary find of a small rectangular ivory panel depicted the Egyptian god Anubis. This panel was from a relief-carved ivory box, an exceedingly rare luxury item even in Egypt where it was made, so for it to have made its way to Roman Britain is remarkable.

Elsewhere, during the excavations beneath the original Shires shopping centre, a complete, carved bone handle for a folding knife was found. The upper part of the handle shows a small, grotesque figure, probably the Roman god Pan, holding a set of pan-pipes as if he is about to play. Whilst excavation of the macellum site (beneath the Travel Lodge at Highcross Street) found part of a stone altar showing a bearded reclining figure wearing a fisherman’s cap and robe, possibly a water god like Oceanus.

The first Christian?

The Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity as its dominant religion in the early 4th century, under the Emperor Constantine. Evidence of Leicester’s first Christians is elusive, but one clue may come from the burial of a woman in Leicester’s southern cemetery. On her left hand she wore two rings. One, made of jet, had an enigmatic design on its bezel which resembles the Christian symbol iota chi, the Greek initials of Iesous Christos (Jesus Christ).

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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