Roman Lincolnshire Revealed

Research and discoveries from a corner of the Civitas Corieltavorum

Physical remains – Lincoln

Lincoln contains the majority of Roman monuments in the county, and indeed has more still to see than most Roman settlements in Britain. The points listed below are only where remains can physically be seen, so do not include the sites of important discoveries but where nothing can now be seen above ground. See my museums page for details of museums and heritage sites in the city.

roman lincoln places to see map
Remains in Roman Lincoln

1. ‘Newport Arch’ – the north gate of the upper city

newport arch
Newport Arch

The Newport Arch is one of the best known monuments of Roman Britain, and a must-see for anyone visiting Lincoln. The first gateway on the site was the timber north gate of the legionary fortress constructed, probably in the mid AD60s, by the IX Legion (see here for more on the founding of the fortress). That gate was rebuilt in stone at the foundation of the Colonia in the late 1st Century, but the gate to be seen today dates from another rebuild in the early 3rd Century. The original form of the arch was a single vehicular arch and two flanking pedestrian arches, the easternmost of which survives.

The gates of the upper city seem to have been rebuilt on a grander scale at the same time as the lower city walls and gates were being constructed. The gate was later modified during the Medieval period, and many of the stones of the arch come from those later alterations. The larger stones forming the arch itself and the smaller surviving pedestrian arch, however, are Roman.

newport arch bastion
Western bastion of Newport Arch

A surviving element of the arch which is easy to miss is the remains of the rounded western bastion which once formed part of a pair of projecting defensive towers. The bastion is tucked away in a little gardened area behind the Chinese restaurant next to the arch.

Finally, the line where the wall line crossed the arch is marked on the ground in cobbles across both the pedestrian tunnel and the main roadway.

newport arch wall line
Cobbles marking the wall line at Newport Arch

2. Section of the northern wall of the upper city and castellum aquae

east bight wall and water tank
East Bight wall section and castellum aquae

To the east of Newport Arch, along East Bight, can be seen a section of the Colonia wall. Marked out on the grass in front of it is the rectangular outline of a castellum aquae, a large water storage tank, excavated between 1970 and 1979. The aqueduct pipe that fed Lincoln from the north east is likely to have entered the Colonia at this point and the tank served as the first storage area for the incoming water. Just behind you as you stand looking at the wall was the site of a public bath complex, no doubt positioned to take advantage of the water supply.

3. Forum colonnade

bailgate colonnade roundels
Roundels marking the forum colonnade on Bailgate
bailgate colonnade reconstruction
Reconstruction of the northern end of the colonnade with Newport Arch in the background, by David Vale

The line of brick roundels set into the surface of Bailgate mark the position of the eastern colonnade of the forum complex. The colonnade was discovered in 1878 (a photograph of its excavation serves as the header image for this blog) and column bases and shafts survive beneath some of the buildings on Bailgate, though sadly are not publicly accessible. The line of columns can be seen on the forum plan under item 4 (the forum well), below.

Some of the columns were double and even triple columns, and mark the corners of the complex and entrance points. The double column at the very northern end of the colonnade is featured on the David Vale reconstruction drawing, above.

4. Forum well

forum well
Forum well

The well located in the forum was one of a number that served the Colonia, and in this instance was located in a prominent location at the heart of the town. The well was partially excavated in 1984 and is now covered over for its own protection.

Plan of the forum complex. Solid black areas are those attested by excavation or surviving remains, dotted lines are hypothetical. Illustration copyright Historic England

Although now located outdoors, the well was originally within a building in the eastern range of the forum complex, perhaps serving the needs of the officials, stallholders and merchants whose daily lives revolved around the forum.

5. The ‘Mint Wall’ – the north wall of the basilica

The ‘Mint Wall’

The Mint Wall is one of the most significant but overlooked Roman remains in Britain. Tucked away around the back of the Castle Hotel, it is one of the largest pieces of freestanding Roman building wall to be seen in the country. The wall is the only surviving remnant of the Basilica – the large public hall which stood at the northern end of the forum and would have been central to the governance of the Colonia. In the reconstruction drawing below, the basilica is the large building at the bottom, and the Mint Wall the section to the right of the hypothetical apsidal protrusion.

mint wall reconstruction
Reconstruction of the forum and basilica by David Vale

The name ‘Mint Wall’ is an interesting one, and is often said to have originated with the the famous Lincolnshire antiquarian William Stukeley mistakenly believing that the wall was part of a coin minting workshop. Stukeley’s description of the wall in his Itinerarium Curiosum, however, refers to the wall as the Mint Wall as if it were already known by that name, and makes no attempt to explain its origins. Other authors of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries such as Daniel Defoe in his Tour of the British Isles and Gough in his edition of Camden’s Britannia also refer to the wall as the Mint Wall but without reference to who first proposed the connection.

6. Christian church in the forum

forum church outline
The apsidal 7th Century church marked out at St Paul in the Bail

There are few attested late Roman Christian churches in Britain, and Lincoln has a claim to being the site of one. The archaeological evidence is not currently conclusive, but a series of churches excavated within the courtyard of the Roman forum may have originated in the 4th Century. The excavation of the Roman forum between 1972 and 1978 was enabled through the demolition of the church of St Paul in the Bail. That last church on the site was of Victorian date, itself a replacement for earlier Georgian and Medieval churches. The excavations revealed traces of even earlier churches in the sequence, and of possible physical connections to the Roman forum structure. The second church in the sequence was of a simple apsidal form of 7th Century date, and its outline is marked out on the surface of the modern St Paul in the Bail (see the photograph above and the reconstruction below).

forum early med church
Reconstruction of the second church at St Paul in the Bail by David Vale

The relationship with the forum colonnade is speculative as the excavation could not investigate that area, but the position of the church strongly suggests that it respected surviving forum structures. The dating of the church that predated the 7th Century church is problematic as it is so fragmentary, but may have its origins in the 4th Century. The possibility that Lincoln had a Christian presence in the 4th Century is enhanced through the probability that a Bishop of Lincoln attended the Council of Arles in AD314.

7. East gate of the upper city

upper east gate (2)
North tower of the upper east gate

The east gate into the upper city was one of the largest and most impressive of Lindum Colonia‘s gates, and its surviving north tower one of the best surviving gate towers to be seen in Britain. The tower is located inside the grounds of the Lincoln Hotel, visible at the bottom of a display ‘well’ which admirably demonstrates the changes in surface level between Roman and modern Lincoln.

eastgate reconstruction
Reconstruction of the upper east gate. Copyright City of Lincoln Council

Excavations to the south of the modern road have revealed the location of the south tower, and confirmed that the gateway consisted of two large vehicular archways, but no flanking pedestrian arches. As the only gateway to possess this configuration, we can assume that the upper east gate was the main route in and out of the upper city for wheeled traffic. Just as with all of the upper city gates, the Colonia‘s gates were constructed on the same sites as the precursor gates of the Legionary fortress. The east gate of the fortress was the porta praetoria – the primary gate defending the road leading directly to the headquarters building, the principia. The Colonia‘s east gate seems to have maintained this primacy.

8. Section of the eastern wall of the upper city

wall north of upper east gate
Section of east wall of the upper city

At the rear of the Lincoln Hotel, accessible through the car park via an outdoor seating area, lies a section of the eastern wall running north of the upper east gate. One of the longest surviving sections of wall, the remains are actually not well known and rarely visited. Although densely covered in foliage, the remains are worth the effort to see.

9. Mosaic in Lincoln Cathedral

cathedral mosaic
Mosaic in Lincoln Cathedral

The Wren Library at Lincoln Cathedral is a beautiful architectural space containing a treasure trove of archival documents. Hidden at the bottom of its staircase, perhaps most commonly seen by visitors seeking the respite of the Cathedral coffee shop, is a Roman mosaic pavement. Discovered in the adjacent cloisters in 1793, the pavement was moved to its current position under the staircase shortly afterwards. Originally decorating a room in a 4th Century townhouse, the surviving section features an 8 pointed star motif surrounded by sections of guilloche. The illustration made at the time of the discovery by William Fowler of Winterton gives a better impression of the scale and overall design of the mosaic. It is clear from this that only a small portion of the mosaic is now visible, but the location of the remainder of the pavement is unknown.

fowler cathedral mosaic
William Fowler’s illustration of the Lincoln Cathedral mosaic pavement

10. South gate of the upper city

upper south gate wall
Section of the upper south gate

As most people climb Lincoln’s famous Steep Hill, they will likely not notice the moment when they pass through the site of the monumental gateway which once divided the upper and lower enclosures of the Colonia. On the street, only the strip of stone built into the modern buildings serves to mark its location. This gate is one of the most interesting and unusual in Roman Britain as it was an entirely internal structure, dividing two areas of the Colonia rather than the point where the Colonia and the outside world interfaced. Originally the site of the south gate of the Legionary fortress, the gate was rebuilt on a monumental scale in the 3rd Century. Although we cannot perceive any tangible differences between  life in the upper and lower walled enclosures, such an impressive gateway must have been seen as necessary or desirable.

The form of the gate has been a source of speculation for many years, and vague and contradictory antiquarian accounts of the architectural elements surviving into the 18th Century but now lost to us have not been entirely helpful. Renovations at number 44 Steep Hill in 2001 finally confirmed, however, that the gate consisted of two primary arches, the western most of which is the one that the modern Steep Hill sits on the line of. Inside 44 Steep Hill, now a charming gift shop, can be seen the spina, the stone column separating the two arches, and at the back of the shop (behind glass and shop displays) the eastern wall of the eastern arch.

upper south gate spina
Spina of the upper south gate in 44 Steep Hill

The reconstruction drawing below therefore shows how the arch may have appeared. The presence of any smaller side arches remains speculative, though they are included in the drawing.

upper south gate reconstruction 2
Hypothetical reconstruction of the upper south gate by David Vale

Although sadly not visible today, the grand series of steps leading up to the gateway in the reconstruction are not conjectural – they have been attested through excavation, as seen in the image below.

steep hill steps
Stone steps leading up to the upper south gate on Steep Hill during excavation

11. Section of the eastern wall of the lower city

temple gardens city wall
Wall section in Temple Gardens

A lesser known section of the lower Colonia‘s eastern wall can be found at the north of Temple Gardens (the park surrounding the Usher Gallery). Though now in a slightly sorry state, and with foliage growing on it, the section (at right angles to the southern wall of the Medieval Bishop’s Palace) does provide a clear marker of the line of the wall as it progressed further down the hill.

Just to the south of the standing wall section is an earthwork covering more of the wall.

temple gardens wall earthwork
Earthwork in Temple Gardens

12. Remains of the 4th Century defensive ditch outside the lower east wall

usher gallery ditch
Defensive ditch in Temple Gardens

As well as containing the wall section discussed above (11), Temple Gardens also contain a section of the Colonia‘s massive 4th Century defensive ditch. The line of the eastern wall of the lower city can be traced from the remains to the north, travelling just past the eastern edge of the Usher Gallery. The now landscaped feature containing a contemporary sculpture called ‘Way of the Clouds’ is the remains of the defensive ditch.

13. Line of the western wall of the lower city and defensive ditch

motherby hill
Motherby Hill. Image copyright Richard Croft

Motherby Hill is a steep, narrow pedestrian street. The line of the street correlates directly with the line of the western wall of the lower city (joining with the lower west gate (14) just to the south). To the west of Motherby Hill, the wide defensive ditches can still be seen running parallel to the street in the gardens of the houses below.

14. Southwest gate of the lower city and wall section

lower west gate
Southwest gate of the lower city

The hidden nature of Lincoln’s Roman remains are perhaps best demonstrated by one of the south western gateways of the lower city, excavated between 1968 and 1972 and now preserved and visible beneath the City of Lincoln Council offices on The Park. A surviving gate and wall section of this scale, the gate even being walkable through, would surely be a nationally recognised monument if located in London or York.

The visible remains demonstrate a sequence of activity at the site. The Colonia wall, visible for stretches to the north and south of the gate, dates to the enclosing of the lower city in the late 2nd or early 3rd Century. An interval tower (now no longer visible) was constructed on the site in the mid to late 3rd Century and it was this that was modified into the first gateway in the 4th Century. This gateway was itself enlarged in the mid 4th Century with the addition of gate towers, the lower courses of which can still be seen projecting outwards from the wall line.

lower west gate colonia wall
Colonia wall south of the gateway. Image copyright City of Lincoln Council

Excavations at the gateway produced a mass of interesting small finds, including the insertion of a votive offering inside an oven, dating to the construction phase of one of the towers and believed to be a foundation offering. The oven contained a wine flagon, the bones of a young chicken and an egg.

The construction of the gateway involved, as is often seen in 4th Century construction, the re-use of monumental stonework from other buildings. These most dramatically included carved and decorative cornices, evidence of huge classical structures once to be seen in Roman Lincoln. One of these cornices is on display in the entrance of the Lincoln City Council offices.

15. ‘Posterngate’ – pedestrian gateway into the lower city

The Posterngate and tower remains
posterngate reconstruction erik
Reconstruction of the posterngate and tower in the southern wall, by David Vale, amended by Dr Erik Grigg

The Posterngate was a 4th Century gateway inserted into the southern wall of the lower enclosure, presumably to provide easier access to the river bank. The name is a generic one used in military terminology to describe subsidiary entrances to fortified areas and there may be other such gateways in the wall line yet to be discovered.

The gateway was discovered during excavations in 1973/4 and is now contained within an underground room, viewable on certain open days throughout the year and occasionally to groups be request. Access is managed by The Collection. The remains consist of a section of the 4th Century roadway that passed through the gate, the gap of the gateway itself (complete with the fixing holes for the gate and a groove where a bolt wore away the stone surface), the remains of a guard tower that stood alongside the gate projecting out towards the river, and sections of the southern city wall to either side.

16. Altar set up by Gaius Antistius Frontinus in St Swithin’s Church

frontinus altar
Altar set up by Gaius Antistius Frontinus

This altar, the best surviving example known from Lincoln, can still be found in St Swithin’s Church, the construction of which in 1884 led to its discovery. The limestone altar contains an inscription telling us that it was set up to ‘the Fates, goddesses and the spirits of the deified emperors’ by Gaius Antistius Frontinus. He describes himself as ‘curator’, indicating not that he was the earliest museum professional in the city’s history, but that he took care of (‘curare‘ in Latin) the finances of a guild, probably a burial club. At the time that he set the altar up, he was holding that post for the third time.

17. Tombstone of Sacer and his family, St Mary le Wigford Church

st mary le wigford church
Tower of St Mary le Wigford church

This tombstone, placed prominently beside the door of the church, is significant because of its re-use in an Anglo Saxon context but the actual content of the tombstone is often overlooked. The Anglo Saxon text in the apex of the tombstone dates to the time the church was constructed in the 11th Century, and reads ‘Eirtig had me built and endowed to the glory of Christ and Saint Mary’. It is hard to imagine that the Roman tombstone was simply seen as a convenient piece of stone to squeeze the new inscription into, so the use must have been deliberate. Was it an attempt to identify with Roman predecessors or claim superiority over the past? Perhaps the use of the phrase ‘NOMINI SACRI’ in the second line of the Latin was misinterpreted as a Christian message?

st mary le wigford tombstone drawing
Drawing of the St Mary le Wigford tombstone

The Roman tombstone was set up to a man named Sacer (the proper translation of the ‘Sacri’ in the line mentioned above), who was the son of Bruscus of the Gaulish Senones tribe. The tombstone, somewhat unusually, also appears to have been set up in the names of Sacer’s wife Carssouna and his son Quintus. Are they all commemorated together due to them all dying at the same time, perhaps in some disaster such as a fire?

18. Section of the Fosse Way at St Mary’s Guildhall

Section of the Fosse Way under glass at St Mary’s Guildhall. Image copyright Visit Lincoln

St Mary’s Guildhall, at the junction of High Street and Sibthorp Street, is one of Lincoln’s Medieval treasures, built in the late 12th Century and possibly once the property of King Henry II. Hidden away inside, protected under glass, can be seen a section of the Fosse Way, the famous Roman highway stretching between Lincoln and Exeter. This section of the road was situated just south of the point where the Fosse Way and Ermine Street split south of Lincoln.

fosse way ermine street split
The line of Fosse Way and Ermine Street showing excavated road surfaces

19. Possible Mithraic carving, St Peter at Gowts Church

The Church of St Peter at Gowts, just south of St Mary’s Guildhall (18) on the High Street, is of Anglo Saxon origins, but it is the 11th Century tower which contains a carving of potential Roman interest. Set high in the western face of the tower, above the lancet window, is a re-used and very worn stone carving.

st peter at gowts
St Peter at Gowts Church

It has been suggested by Professor David Stocker that the carving represents an image of the Mithraic deity Arimanius. Although sadly now very worn, Professor Stocker’s analysis that the figure bears the major attributes of Arimanius – lion headed, wearing a short military tunic, winged and carrying a sceptre – is a convincing one. The best British comparanda for the image is the inscribed carving of Arimanius from York (now in the Yorkshire Museum collections, YORYM : 2007.6162). The counter argument is that the carving represents St Peter, whose attributes included the holding of keys, though it has been argued that this very similarity led to the carving being mistaken for a Christian image in the 11th Century. Perhaps it was discovered at the time the church was being built, and taken as a positive sign. If so, it might suggest to us that the worship of the Mithraic cult might have existed in the southern suburb of Roman Lincoln.

st peter at gowts arimanius
Possible carving of Arimanius at St Peter at Gowts Church. Image copyright Professor David Stocker



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