The Corinium of Bodicacia

Report by Colin Backhouse of Neil Holbrook's talk on 15th February 2018

In 2011 the opportunity arose to excavate the site of a former garage and swimming pool adjacent to the centre of present-day Cirencester, which resulted in the discovery of a second century walled Roman burial site.  It had been in a surprisingly good state of preservation and human remains had been found, some of which were within twenty centimetres of the surface and were clearly shown in photographs. The site was typical of a cemetery for wealthy Romans at that time.

The burials had been of both males and females and in some cases there had been grave goods, including a pot made in the Swindon area and a child’s pottery feeding bottle. A rare find had been a bronze and enamel figurine of a cockerel of which fewer than ten had been discovered throughout the Roman empire.

Work on site had had to finish by Christmas but fortunately they had been able to return after two years and in total one hundred and twenty burial sites were located.  In February 2015 they found a large piece of stone and photographs showed what looked like an unevenly shaped dolphin with visible teeth. Had it been some form of tombstone? To find out they had had to excavate further, lift it and carefully turn it to avoid any damage. What had been revealed was a beautifully carved headstone and a skeleton beneath it. An inscription, irregularly engraved, read in translation from the Latin “To the shades of the dead, Bodicacia, (my) wife. Lived 27 years”.  Unusually it had  not included the husband’s name.  Perhaps, at that time, it would have been obvious who he had been. What had been her nationality?  Algerian, German, British? Why had the features of the face in the carving been chiselled away, as clearly it had represented Oceanus, the god of the seas and an indication of the passage to the afterlife?

It was thought the stone had fallen on the buried body, but the skeleton was that of a forty to fifty year old male and therefore could not be Bodicacia.  The stone was thicker than was usual.  Had it been part of a larger monument? Had there been a conflict between Pagan and Christian beliefs evidenced by the defacing? Why had the stone been placed over an unrelated body? In summary, who was Bodicacia, who was she?

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