In pictures: Romans and their dead

An exhibition exploring how Romans treated their dead is to open in London. Take a closer look at some of the artefacts on display…

The skull of a Roman man from London

A new exhibition in London is to explore what the Romans of Londinium believed about the afterlife and how they treated their dead.

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Opening at the Museum of London Docklands in May 2018, the exhibition will include grave goods from across the Roman Empire. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a rare Roman sarcophagus, excavated from Harper Road in Southwark over several months in 2017.

Founded by the Romans after the forces of Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43, Londinium was Britannia’s most important city and attracted international trade and a cosmopolitan population. Exhibition displays will look at funerary rituals and beliefs and different types of burial practices in London 2,000 years ago.

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Roman Dead is open at the Museum of London Docklands from 25 May until 28 October 2018.

Roman stone sarcophagus
Stone sarcophagus from Harper Road, Southwark. This is the most recent Roman sarcophagus to be found in London (discovered in summer 2017). The lid of the coffin was found partly pushed to one side, indicating it might have been disturbed by grave robbers. (© Museum of London)
A multi-coloured glass dish Roman
A multi-coloured glass dish found in Prescot Street near Aldgate in 2009 during excavations in Roman London’s eastern cemetery. It formed part of the grave goods of a Londoner whose cremated remains had been buried in a wooden container. The dish is an extremely rare find, both from Roman London and the western Roman Empire. It would have been very expensive – there are references in literature of multi-coloured bowls being worth thousands of sesterces (an ancient Roman monetary unit), at a time when a soldier may have earned just over 1,000 sesterces a year. (© Museum of London)
Roman jet Medusa pendant
A jet Medusa pendant found in the burial of a woman from Hooper Street, Tower Hamlets. The woman’s skeleton has been scientifically analysed, revealing that she grew up in the London area. Jet was frequently used as a material for burial goods, particularly jewellery and dress accessories. It was thought to have magical properties and to protect the dead, perhaps on their journey to the underworld. (© Museum of London)
A tombstone of a 10-year-old girl, Marciana. It was found during excavations of the city wall in 1979, which revealed that the wall was partly composed of reused monumental masonry including fragments of tombstones. The tombstone has an inscription beneath Marciana's bust and a D M on the border of the stone. (© Museum of London)
A tombstone of a 10-year-old girl, Marciana. It was found during excavations of the city wall in 1979, which revealed that the wall was partly composed of reused monumental masonry including fragments of tombstones. The tombstone has an inscription beneath Marciana’s bust and a D M on the border of the stone. (© Museum of London)
The skull of a Roman man from London
The skulls of four men showing signs of violent death were found in waterlogged pits near London Wall. The pits contained human remains, mostly skulls, of 40 people. Most of the individuals were men, aged between 18 and 35 years old. Many of their skulls showed signs of multiple blunt- and sharp-force trauma which had caused their deaths. (© Museum of London)
Face pot used as a cremation urn © Museum of London
A pot decorated with a human face, used as a cremation urn and found during excavations of part of the western Roman cemetery at Fetter Lane. Face pots are usually found in cemeteries or religious sites and were probably not for domestic use. A wide variety of pots were used for holding cremations. Some were everyday cooking pots but others, like this face pot, were probably specially purchased for burials. (© Museum of London)