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Scientists Find Earliest Roman London Plaque

October 11, 2002


LONDON - Archaeologists excavating an ancient site in London said on Friday they had unearthed the oldest known plaque inscribed with the city's Roman name.
"This is hugely important," Francis Grew, curator of archaeology at the Museum of London told reporters. "It is the first real monumental inscription with the word Londinium on it.
"It is also visually the most important inscription we have even found in London. The words are just as clear as people would have seen them 2,000 years ago," he added.

The Italian marble plaque, found in the Southwark area of London at the junction of three key Roman roads, is dedicated to the Roman emperors and the god Mars from London-based merchant Tiberinius Celerianus.
It refers to "Londiniensium" which Grew said could either be a variant of the more usual "Londinium" or, more likely, a reference to Tiberinius as being "of the people of Londinium."

Gary Brown of Pre-Construct Archaeology which is carrying out the major dig on the one hectare site on the southern banks of the River Thames said the plaque was found in a pit near the remains of two large Roman brick buildings.
"The buildings could have been trading guild houses or even villas. We just don't know yet," he said.
Grew said the plaque probably dated from between 50 and 150 AD and would have been placed prominently either on a building or in a shrine.
"The whole purpose of this was to advertise the importance of the man who by his name was from northern Gaul, probably in the Champagne region of Rheims, and who in Rome would have been treated as a yokel but who had made it in London," he said.
He said that in cities like the French river port of Lyon there was plentiful evidence from inscribed plaques of the important merchant classes.
But to date, despite much anecdotal evidence of the importance of London as a trading center, little actual physical evidence such as the Southwark plaque had been discovered.
"This is in part what makes it so important. It is clear evidence of the emergence of the merchant class in London," Grew said.
Brown, who is just six weeks into a 40-week dig on the site before it is covered by a housing development, said Southwark had been a bustling commercial center.
The site is on the river at the junction of Watling Street bringing people and goods up from the port of Dover and Stane Street coming up from the garrison town of Chichester to the south west.
As Southwark lies on the other side of the river from the walled Roman city of Londinium, there is another main road connecting Watling and Stane streets to the city proper.
"I can't stress how important this site is. We have already gone back to the pre-historic occupation of the site and we have found vast quantities of artifacts," Brown said.
"We have so far only dug 15 percent of the site and we have already found this plaque, so the potential for more staggering finds is there. Who knows what more we will find?"



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