The ‘Ludi Victoriae Caesaris’ or ‘Ludi Veneris Genetricis’ were ludi circenses (games in the Roman circus) and they were presented in the Circus Maximus in Rome from 46 BC. The first of these Ludi were actually held on the 26th September in 46 BC but, from 45 BC, they began on the 20th July (yesterday) and continued until the 30th July. These Ludi were established by Julius Caesar, apparently because of a vow he made to the goddess Venus Genetrix at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, and they were presented in 46 BC to celebrate Caesar’s conquests, and then repeated the following year. They seem to have become an annual event under Augustus. At the Circus Maximus, the Ludi included ‘scenic events’ and circus games, ie athletic events, races, wild animal hunts, and chariot races. The Ludi Victoriae Caesaris followed on from the Ludi Apollinares which were presented on the 6th-13th July and were followed by festivities at the temple of Victory on the 1st August. July was Julius Caesar’s month: he was born in July, and the month was renamed ‘Julius’ (July) in his honour. Julius Caesar led a Roman invasion of Britain in 54 BC and, possibly, came to Camulodunum, the Iron Age precursor of Colchester. Perhaps a provincial version of the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris was even presented here, at Colchester’s far-flung Roman circus…
Colchester’s Roman circus was built in the early 2nd century AD and seems to have been in use for about 150 years, until towards the end of the 3rd century AD. Assuming that people buried around Roman Colchester also lived here, and that everyone who lived in and around Roman Colchester would have attended events at the Roman circus, then it is possible that people whose burials we have excavated, and which date to within the lifetime of the circus, would have been spectators at the Roman circus. Over the years, the Trust has excavated hundreds of burials of people who lived in Roman Colchester, in Roman cemeteries and burial grounds on sites in Lexden, at St Mary’s hospital and in Butt Road, for example. It’s very serious archaeology, and sad, but a reality. Each burial is like a small snapshot of an individual, with the relatives who made the burial in the background. Here are just six individuals from Roman Colchester, who may have been spectators at the Roman circus over several generations, and whose burials we excavated at Area J North in the old garrison at Colchester (published in CAT Report 412).
> F121 was an urned cremation burial within a sub-circular pit which produced 1,470 g of cremated bone fragments. These represent a female adult, aged 30-35 years. The bone showed evidence of arthritis in the spine (spinal disease). A jar had been used as the cremation urn and a bowl had been turned upside-down and placed over the urn as a lid; the jar was excavated almost whole. A fragment of animal bone was identified inside the urn and may represent an item of food for the afterlife or an offering to the gods. The jar is of Cam form 278 and made in black-burnished ware. This burial is dated to the mid 2nd to late 2nd/early 3rd century.
> F236 was a cremation burial within an oval pit which contained pyre debris. It produced 120 g of cremated bone fragments which represent a middle-aged adult, aged 35-50 years, of indeterminate gender. The pit included a concentration of charcoal, and cremated bone fragments and burning were scattered throughout the pit fill. The burial goods consisted of a miniature pottery jar, the remains of a burnt pottery bowl, about 40 other pottery sherds – many burnt, and which represent about nine vessels – and hobnails from footwear and some iron nails. The miniature jar is of Cam 278 and made in black-burnished ware. The bowl includes a potter’s stamp, consisting of five dots with an angled stroke between two of the dots. This burial is dated to the early 2nd to the mid 3rd century.
> F323 was an urned cremation burial within an oval pit. It produced 645 g of cremated bone fragments which represent a juvenile to young adult female, aged 15-20 years. A pottery jar had been used as the cremation urn, and a pottery bowl had been turned upside-down and placed over the urn as a lid. A complete lamp and two fragments of juvenile pig bone were found within the urn. The jar is of Cam 278 and, as its body slightly distorted and its surface degraded, it may have been a kiln ‘second’, made in black-burnished ware; the bowl is of form Cam 37A, also made in black-burnished ware. The complete lamp is of Loeschcke Type IX and it is probably a London product. The animal bone suggests meat waste and may represent food for the afterlife or, as one of the bones was burnt, it might represent either food being cremated with the body or animal bone being used as fuel on the pyre. The lamp also appears to have been burnt on the pyre. This burial is dated to the mid/late 2nd to the early 3rd century.
> F348 was an urned cremation burial within an oval pit. It produced 737 g of cremated bone fragments, representing a male young adult, aged 20-35 years. A pottery jar had been used as the cremation urn and a pottery bowl or dish had probably been used as a lid for the urn: the jar is a large example of form Cam 268, made in grey ware. This burial is dated to the late 2nd century-third quarter of the 3rd century.
> F368 was an urned cremation burial within a sub-circular feature, which had been disturbed. It produced 742 g of cremated bone fragments, which represent an old adult male, over 50 years of age. The bone shows evidence of two spinal diseases (arthritis of the spine and Schmorl’s nodes), arthritis of the hip (joint disease), periostitis (a non-specific infection) and dental disease. A pottery jar had been used as the cremation urn, and a flagon and part of another jar had been buried next to the urn. The jar is of form Cam 278, made in black-burnished ware and with burnished line decoration. Several fragments of burnt animal bone may represent either food for the afterlife or fuel for the pyre. The feature also produced residual finds, ie pottery sherds and some iron nails. (Iron nails may have been used in Roman burials as apotropaic or lucky amulets to protect the deceased.) This burial is dated to the mid-late 2nd century.
> F440 was an urned cremation burial within a sub-circular feature. This produced 559 g of cremated bone fragments, which represent a male young adult, aged 20-35 years. The bone showed evidence of a spinal disease. A pottery jar had been used as the cremation urn: the jar is of form Cam 278, lattice-decorated, and made in black-burnished ware. The feature also produced residual finds, ie pottery sherds, some animal bone and a single iron nail. This burial is dated to the mid-late 2nd century.
The image shows the complete lamp from the young girl’s burial (F323): the lamp is 10 cm in length.