Carlisle Cricket Club Bathhouse Site Reveals Colossal Roman Sculptures of Imperial Class
The site of a Roman bathhouse or mansion, the ruins at Carlisle Cricket Club have revealed more in the latest round of excavations – two exquisitely preserved head sculptures depicting Roman gods, made of rare sandstone. Dated to 200 AD, they were once part of colossal full-figure sculptures standing an impressive 12-15 ft (3.5-4.5m) tall. Lead archaeologist Frank Giecco described them as both "unique and priceless."
Giecco, Technical Director at Wardell Armstrong, added:
"It’s been an incredible two days into the project; it's the first sculpture found from the site and could be the find of a lifetime. This truly shows the significance of the Bathhouse and raises the site to a whole new level of importance with such monumental sculpture and adds to overall grandeur of the building."
Hadrian’s Wall and The Rich Roman History of Carlisle
Situated near Hadrian's Wall, the most visible and best-known land frontier of the Roman Empire, the excavation of the Roman bathhouse revealed these magnificent stone sculptures at the edge of a former cobbled Roman road. Over the course of excavations since 2021, more than 1,000 artifacts have been meticulously unearthed, encompassing pottery, weapons, coins, and even semi-precious stones.
Excavations at the Carlisle Cricket Club site. (Geraldine Moore/Cumberland Council)
According to this press release, Cumberland Council’s portfolio holder for Vibrant and Healthy Places, Cllr Anne Quilter, said:
“This is exciting news and is a real coup so early into the dig. It is a significant find and it is great to hear that they were unearthed by volunteers. Carlisle has a rich Roman history, and this further strengthens the city’s connection to that era. I can’t wait to see what else is found! Thanks to all the team involved in the dig, including the hundreds of volunteers that have signed up to lend a hand.”
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Notably, some of these findings have been deemed to possess "international significance", reports the BBC. The Roman structure was first stumbled upon in 2017 during the construction of a new pavilion at Carlisle Cricket Club. The venue is located near Stanwix, which was the larger fortification on the Hadrian’s Wall. The long list of finds is a direct linkage to Carlisle's ancient past when the city called Luguvalium to the Romans, was on the fringe of the Roman Empire.
The carved heads have added to the growing list of artifacts found on the site. (Geraldine Moore/Cumberland Council)
Evidence indicates this head could be an effigy of Julia Domna, wife of Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus. (Cumberland Council)
Septimius Severus and the Role of Fortun(a)e
While the discovery of figures within bathhouses is not entirely uncommon, the sheer magnitude of these sculptures sets them apart as exceptionally rare. Giecco emphasized the rarity, stating that similar examples in Britain could be counted on a single hand. Their preservation is immaculate, emerging from the dirt in almost perfect condition, with aloof, cold, godlike faces.
These heads may in fact be effigies of the third century Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus and his queen Julia Domna, according to the present archaeological team. Even in 2021, the discovery of ‘ imperator’ tiles suggested the same, reports The Smithsonian.
It was all down to luck, according to Giecco, who believes the female head is representative of Fortuna, the Roman goddess of good fortune. “As I was laying out the dig site, I moved the boundary about 50 centimeters to the south. I was putting a stake in the ground but hit a stone, so I moved the line. If I hadn’t done that, we’d never have found them,” he explained.
The unearthing of these head sculptures has generated great excitement among the dedicated volunteers involved in the dig. One enthusiastic volunteer shared, "When the professional archaeologists themselves became visibly thrilled and gathered around, it became evident that this find was truly extraordinary."
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The Uncovering Roman Carlisle Project
The Uncovering Roman Carlisle project stands has been a fruitful collaboration between Wardell Armstrong, Cumberland Council, and Carlisle Cricket Club, with invaluable support from government and Heritage Lottery funding. The upcoming exhibition at the British Museum in London, scheduled for the following year, will provide a window to the public to appreciate the past eight years of discoveries made during excavations. In January, Ancient Origins reported on more than 30 semi-precious stones that were found at the site.
Top image: Two Roman statue heads found at Carlisle Cricket Club Roman site. Source: Geraldine Moore/Cumberland Council
By Sahir Pandey
BBC. 2023. 'Priceless' Roman god heads found at cricket club. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/articles/c4npmy7r0g3o.
Gershon, L. 2021. Tiles ‘Fit for the Emperor’ Found in Roman Ruins Beneath English Cricket Club. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/tiles-fit-for-the-emperor-found-at-remains-of-roman-building-beneath-english-cricket-club-180978763/.
Hurst, P. 2023. Rare Roman sculptures unearthed in Cumbria. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/cumbria-carlisle-uk-government-b1083454.html.
ITV. 2023. 'Finds of a lifetime' - Two Roman carved heads unearthed at archaeological dig in Carlisle. Available at: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2023-05-24/archaeological-dig-in-carlisle-unearths-two-roman-carved-heads-on-just-day-two.
PAN. 2023. Rare Roman sculptures unearthed in Cumbria. Available at: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/national/23544715.rare-roman-sculptures-unearthed-cumbria/.