Category Archives: Roman London

A Virtual Tour of Roman London

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A virtual tour of Roman London …

1 – Blackfriars

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The site of the discovery of the remains of a frame-first carvel-built barge known as the “Blackfriars I” ship, dendrochronologically dated to the late second century.  The ship contained an intact  cargo of  Kentish Ragstone, possibly intended for use in the construction of the Roman city wall at the turn of the second and third centuries.  The wall ran from Blackfriars in the west by way of Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate to Tower Hill in the east.

2 – Ludgate

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The site of one of the gates in the Roman city wall.  Part of the wall is preserved in the church of St Martin within Ludgate.  The wall was originally built at the turn of the second and third centuries, that is, around the time of the rival emperorships of and power-struggle between Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus.    It was subsequently extended and reinforced  in the late  third, when a river wall was added, and again in the mid fourth, when bastions were added, as defences against Saxon raids. It  was twenty feet high, six to eight feet thick, and two miles long. There being no local source of stone, the wall was  built out of Kentish Rag – an estimated 85000 tons of it – quarried near Maidstone and transported down the Medway and up the Thames to London on barges (see above).

3 – Old Bailey

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Another part of the Roman city wall is preserved in the Central Criminal Court.

4 – Giltspur Street

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Yet another part of the Roman city wall is preserved in the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Building.  The bastion is Medieval.

5 – Newgate Street

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Newgate Street follows part of  the line of the Roman Watling Street, running from the east to the west of Britain.   A section of the Roman road is preserved in earthwork form in Greenwich Park.

6 – Newgate

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The site of another one of the gates in the Roman city wall (image, Museum of London).  Outside the gate was a large cemetery.

7 – Foster Lane

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A fragment of Roman tessellated pavement found 18’ beneath the church of St Matthew Friday Street in the nineteenth century  is now on display in the churchyard of St Vedast-alias-Foster.  Street level has risen by an average of about 1’ every 100 years since Roman times.

8 – Noble Street (near Cripplegate)

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Part of a  Roman fort dating to the early second century is preserved in Noble Street.

8bFurther parts of the fort, in the underground car park at the northern end, may be viewed by arrangement with the Museum of London.

The fort was incorporated into the Roman city wall at the turn of the second and third centuries.

9 – London Wall

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Part of the Roman city wall is preserved in St Alphage Gardens/Salters’ Hall Gardens.  The middle part  of the wall  is thirteenth-century, the upper – brick – part fifteenth-century.

10 – Guildhall Yard

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The site of the discovery of the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, surviving parts of which may be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery.  The Amphitheatre was originally built in timber in c. 75, rebuilt in stone in the second century, and renovated in the late second to early fourth, before falling into disuse, and eventually being substantially demolished, in the late fourth, possibly around 365,  the remains coming to light again during   excavations on the site of the Medieval Guildhall in 1987.

11 – Gresham Street

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The site of the discovery of a number of Romano-British “round houses” (image, Museum of London).

12 – Moorgate

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The point at which the Walbrook stream entered the Roman city of London.

13 – Poultry and Walbrook (“The Pompeii of the North”)

The location of a section of the Walbrook stream, now underground.

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Here also have been uncovered an entire  Roman waterfront development, entire streets of houses of various status, and    many, many thousands of artefacts – including, importantly, many made  of organic materials that would normally have perished but that were preserved in the abnormal anaerobic conditions of the waterlogged deposits of the river Walbrook, such as  wooden writing tablets (image, Museum of London).

Note also that large numbers of  skulls have been found over the years in the deposits of the river Walbrook.  It is likely that some of the skulls originated in the Roman burial ground north of the City wall in Moorfields, and that they were subsequently naturally transported and deposited to the south by the waters of the Walbrook, in the process becoming hydrodynamically sorted from their skeletons.  Some others, though,  appear to have been deliberately placed in pits, and, moreover, exhibit evidence  of blunt- or sharp- force trauma, and these could be those of victims of gladiatorial combat, or of judicial execution, or perhaps of ritual decapitation, that is, head-hunting.

14 – Bloomberg Building, Walbrook

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The site of the restored Roman Temple of Mithras, which may be viewed in the basement. The  Temple was originally built in the early third century, c. 220-40, and abandoned in the fourth, when Christianity came to replace paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the remains being revealed  during the bombing of  the Blitz of the Second World War.  It  was reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street in 1962, and reconstructed again in the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook in 2017.  Some of the finds from the recent archaeological dig on and around the temple site may also be viewed in the Bloomberg Space.

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Other finds, from the original post-war dig, including a marble bust  of Mithras in his distinctive Phrygian cap, may be viewed in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.

15 – Cannon Street Station

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The site of the discovery of the remains of the so-called “Governor’s Palace” (image, Museum of London).  The palace was built during the Flavian period of the late first century, c. 69-96, on the then-waterfront, which was much further north in Roman times than it is today, and it remained in use throughout the  second and third, before being substantially demolished at the turn of the third  and fourth, the remains being discovered during   the nineteenth.

The so-called “London Stone”, which presently  stands outside No. 111 Cannon Street, opposite the station,  is believed by some to have been formerly associated in some way with  the “Governor’s Palace”, possibly as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured (it  is carved out of Clipsham Stone from Rutland, which is known to have been used for construction in Roman times).

16 – London Bridge and Port of London

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The Roman London Bridge was   originally built in c. 50, and rebuilt in stone and timber in c. 90 (and in stone many, many times in the succeeding nearly two millennia).

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The embryonic Port of London was located around  the bridge, and was to become an important trading centre (image, Museum of London).

17 – Thames Street

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A section of timber from the Roman waterfront  is  on display in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr.  It has been dendrochronologically dated to 62AD, to the period of the reconstruction that followed the destruction of Roman London  in the Boudiccan revolt of the previous year.

18 – Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate

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Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate  follow part of  the line of the Roman Ermine Street, running from the south to the north  of Britain.

19 – No. 90 Gracechurch Street

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The site of the discovery of the remains of the first undoubted Roman Basilica and Forum, a surviving pier base from  which may be viewed in the basement of No. 90 Gracechurch Street.

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The Basilica and Forum were built in c. 70, and rebuilt and considerably extended in c. 100-30, before being substantially demolished in c. 300 (image, Museum of London).

20 – Rear of “The Gherkin”, Bury Street

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The site of the discovery of the buried remains of a young Roman girl.  Most burials took place  outside the Roman  city walls.

21 – Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street

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The site of the discovery of the remains of a post-Boudiccan fort (image, Museum of London).

22 – 101 Thames Street

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The site of the discovery of the remains of the so-called “Billingsgate Roman House”, complete with baths, surviving parts of which may be viewed in the basement by  arrangement with the Museum of London.

23 – All Hallows Barking, Byward Street

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The site of an in situ  section of Roman tessellated pavement (in the crypt).

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Also of a fine diorama of Roman London (lacking the amphitheatre, which was still yet to be  discovered at the time of manufacture).

24 – Novotel Building, Pepys Street

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The site of the discovery of the remains of a Roman building variously interpreted as a late   Roman Basilica or – on the basis of similarity to the Basilica di Santa Tecla in Milan – a “palaeo-Christian” church or cathedral.

25 – Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill

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Parts of the Roman city wall are preserved in Cooper’s Row and on Tower Hill.

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A section of the river wall may be viewed inside the Tower of London (admission charge payable).

 

 

Ambresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, Epping Forest (Iron Age enclosures)

In the timeless wilds of Epping Forest lie the remains of two partially-preserved prehistoric earthworks:

Ambresbury Banks, a little over a mile north-west of Theydon  Bois;

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and Loughton Camp, a mile north-north-west of Loughton – at the end of a muddy slalom!

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Both are banked and ditched enclosures with areas of around 4 hectares.  When they were built, the banks would have been 3m high and the ditches 3m deep.  They are believed to have been built by Ancient Britons during  the Iron Age, circa 500BC.  They are further believed to have built to mark the boundary between the tribal areas of the Catuvellauni to the west and Trinovantes to the east, or as lookout posts, or defensive positions, or livestock pens, or some combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

They remained in use at least until the Roman period.  According to local legend, Ambresbury Banks was where the Iceni  Queen Boudicca made her final stand against the Romans in 61AD.

The notorious highwayman Dick Turpin is rumoured to have had a hideout in Loughton Camp in the eighteenth century.

Buried Treasures of Greenwich Park

Greenwich was first recorded in 964 as Grenewic, from the Old English grene, meaning green, in context grassy or vegetated, and wic, meaning trading settlement or harbour.

Bronze Age and or Saxon burial mounds

Among the many features of historical or archaeological note in Greenwich Park – a World Heritage Site – are approximately fifty  rather eroded burial mounds or barrows on Croom’s Hill, a little to the west of the line of the Prime Meridian.  Archaeological excavations on the burial mounds have unearthed swords, shields and other pagan grave goods dating to  the seventh century, i.e., the Saxon period.  It is possible, though,  that the barrows themselves were originally of Bronze Age construction, a number of instances of such re-use having been recorded elsewhere in England (as in Howard William’s “Death and Memory in early Medieval Britain”).   Note in this context that there is a demonstrably Bronze Age barrow known as the “Shrewsbury Tumulus”  on nearby Shooters Hill.

Romano-Celtic temple

Also in Greenwich Park, near the junction between  Bower Avenue and Great Cross Avenue, are the remains of a second- to third- (or fourth-) century Romano-Celtic pagan temple.  A dig on the site by Channel 4’s “Time Team”, in collaboration with Birkbeck College, in 1999, turned up a number of interesting finds, including part of a statue, and a stone bearing an inscription to the god Jupiter and to the spirits of the Emperors.

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Temple reconstruction

The dig also revealed enough of the foundation of the temple, in the form of a central principal building or cella and surrounding covered walkway or ambulatory, and  outer  walled precinct or temenos,   to enable it to be reconstructed.  The cella clearly had a tessellated floor and painted plaster walls.

Watling Street

The temple would have stood at a strategically important high point adjacent to the principal Roman road from Kent into London, Watling Street, possible stretches  of which have also been recorded nearby.

 

 

The Roman London Mithraeum (Temple of Mithras)

The Roman London Mithraeum (Temple of Mithras) was originally built in the early third century, circa 220-40, and abandoned in the fourth, when Christianity came to replace paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the remains only coming to light again during rebuilding after the Blitz.

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The temple was reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street in 1962.

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It has recently been reconstructed again – inside a specially designed  space in the Bloomberg Building – on Walbrook.

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Some of the finds from the recent archaeological dig on and around the temple site may be viewed in the Bloomberg Space.

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Other finds, from the original post-war dig, including a marble bust  of Mithras in his distinctive Phrygian cap, may be viewed in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.

Mithras and Mithraism

Mithras, sometimes referred to as the “pagan Christ”,  was originally a Persian god, from the Zoroastrian pantheon, believed to be an assistant of the powers of good in their struggle against those of evil, who served to slay a bull created by evil, from the blood of which all life sprang  (*).  He   eventually came to be identified with the Unconquered Sun, or Sol Invictus, and to epitomise purity, honesty, and moral and physical courage (whence, presumably, his supposed popularity with Roman soldiers).

Mithraism, the practice and mystery cult of Mithras  worship, as by then distinct from Zoroastrianism,  came to Rome in around the first century BCE, and spread throughout much of the Roman Empire by the first century AD, becoming most widespread in the third. It was practised in specially dedicated temples or “Mithraea” (sing., “Mithraeum”), many of which were underground (because Mithras slew the  bull underground, in a cave).

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(*) Carved reliefs of the bull-slaying – or “tauroctony” – are  characteristic  features of Mithraean iconography

The London Mithraeum (Temple of Mithras)

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According to the temporary outdoor exhibition entitled “The Lost City of London” (yes, really), the recently-reconstructed  London Mithraeum in the basement of the Bloomberg building on Walbrook will be opening to the public later this autumn.

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Finds from recent archaeological excavations on and around the site will also be available for viewing.

Temple of Mithras finds

Finds from earlier excavations – undertaken in the immediate post-war period – may be viewed in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.

Streatham

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Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Streatham was first founded in the Saxon period, possibly on the site of an earlier, Roman settlement.  It was first recorded in 675 as (Totinge cum) Stretham, and later recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Estreham, from the Old English straet, in this context probably the Roman road that ran from London to Portslade (near Brighton), and ham, meaning homestead or village.  In  the Saxon period it, together with nearby Tooting, was owned by the Abbey of Chertsey.  In the Norman period, both estates were  given by William I to his cousin Richard of Tonbridge, who when he died bequeathed them  to the Abbey of Saint Mary  of Bec in Normandy (whence Tooting Bec).  In the later Medieval to post-Medieval/early modern period, the area came to be owned in turn by Eton College, Edward VI, the Howland family,  the Russell family (the Dukes of Bedford), and the Du Cane family, and  remained sparsely populated.  Many wealthy City families evidently established country retreats here after the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The area remained at least semi-rural, and fashionable among the bourgeois elite, into Georgian and Regency times.  It began to become much more built-up and densely populated from  the latter half of the nineteenth century onwards, after the arrival of the railway.  The number of inhabitants increased over ten-fold during the period of Victoria’s reign, to around 100000.  A significant amount of new or replacement housing had to be built in the area after the  bombing of the Second World War.

Church of St Leonard

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The church of St Leonard was probably originally built in the Saxon period; rebuilt in the fourteenth century, in c. 1350; rebuilt again in the nineteenth century, in 1830-1; and restored in the twentieth, after sustaining serious damage in a fire, in 1975.  The  tower survives from the Medieval church.  A number of seventeenth- to eighteenth- century memorials also survive, in the interior, including one to John Howland (d. 1686), and one to  the sometime brewery business proprietor, Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London, and Member of Parliament Henry Thrale of Streatham Place (d. 1781), featuring an epitaph by his close friend Dr Samuel Johnson.

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Later stained-glass windows commemorate Sir John Ward, a knight who fought alongside the Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, and who commissioned the rebuilding of the church in c. 1350; Edmund Tilney or Tylney, the Master of the Revels under Elizabeth I and James I, who lived locally  and died in 1610; and the aforementioned  Henry Thrale and his wife Hester (shown with Johnson and Boswell).

 

Mitcham

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Mitcham was first recorded in 727 as Micham, and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Michelham, from the Old English micel, meaning large, and ham, meaning homestead or village.   It was evidently originally settled even earlier, though, there being here not only a large Anglo-Saxon pagan cemetery dating to the late fifth to sixth century, but also the remains of Roman and even Prehistoric farmsteads.

In the early post-Medieval period, Mitcham became popular among the wealthy as a place in which to build rural retreats, and Elizabeth I is known to have been entertained here a number of times in the late sixteenth century.   Industrialisation may be  said to have begun  in the seventeenth century, with the establishment of calico bleaching and printing works here, although until as late as the eighteenth to early nineteenth, the cultivation of herbs was also to remain an important activity.  Urbanisation did not really begin until after the arrival of the tramway in the late nineteenth century, and the last of the market gardens remained until the mid-twentieth.  Mitcham is now part of the London Borough of Merton.

Church of St Peter and St Paul (Mitcham Parish Church)

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The church of St Peter and St Paul was originally built at least as long ago as the thirteenth century, circa 1250, and possibly as long ago as the Saxon period.  It was subsequently substantially rebuilt in the early nineteenth century, between 1819-22,  by the local master-craftsman John Chart, to the design of George Smith.  Essentially only the base of the tower still survives from the Medieval church.

Shadwell

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Shadwell was first recorded in 1222 as Schadewelle, from the Old English sceald, meaning shallow, and wella, meaning spring or stream (*).  In 1228, the Canons of St Paul’s were granted land here.  There was little or no habitation here in the Medieval period.  However,  by the early post-Medieval, sixteenth century, there was a  tidal mill.  And by the late post-Medieval, seventeenth century, there was a thriving maritime industrial town, with wharves, roperies, smithies, tanneries, breweries and taverns.  Records indicate that there were some  8000 people living here by  the end of the seventeenth century,  many of them mariners, watermen or lightermen.  There were 8000 houses here by the end of the eighteenth century, and a wretched poor slum by the nineteenth, which was cleared in the twentieth.  Shadwell is now part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Church of St Paul

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The church of St Paul, “the Church of Sea Captains”, was originally built as a chapel-of-ease in 1656, and subsequently rebuilt as a parish church in 1669, and again, as one of the “Waterloo” churches, in 1820 (by the architect John Walters).

The American President Thomas Jefferson’s mother Jane Randolph was baptised here in 1720; Captain Cook’s son James, in 1763.

(*) Some significant Roman archaeological finds have also been found here, including the remains of a port and a signal tower.  Roman burials were unearthed  here during the development of the seventeenth century.

Crofton Roman Villa, Orpington

Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington in Kent, the only surviving one in a Borough of London, was evidently originally built sometime in the mid-part of the second century, subsequently rebuilt around the turn of the second and third, and remodelled and partially abandoned – in response to declining local fortunes – in the late third, before being eventually entirely abandoned around the turn of the fourth and fifth.    Probably not long after its final abandonment, the site became buried by hill-wash, and was only re-discovered during the construction of a drive in 1926 (at which point it became apparent that substantial damage had been unknowingly done to it  at this time and also earlier, during the  construction of a railway cutting  in the nineteenth century).  Partial archaeological excavations of the villa were undertaken in the 1920s and  1950s, and a fuller programme in 1988.  Following the  1988 excavation, the importance of the villa  finally became recognised, and work began to preserve it.  Substantial parts of the villa, measuring approximately 40x15m, may now be viewed in a cover-building put up between 1990-92.    The outside walls of the villa were  stone-built; its windows glazed; and its roof tiled.  At least some of the inside walls of its total of sixteen rooms of varying time-periods were plastered and painted, and at least some of its  floors tessellated, and heated by hypocausts (it has also been speculated  that there may have been a heated bath-house either attached to  one or other of the damaged ends of the villa or in a detached annex).  Important  small finds from the villa site, of which many of which are on display on site, include several thousand pot-sherds, some local, and some others imported from Gaul, the Rhineland or the Mediterranean; and comparatively few coins, the latest dating to the emperorship of Arcadius (395-408).

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The Temple of Mithras

Mithras

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The (Roman) Temple of Mithras was originally built in the early third century, circa 220-40, and abandoned in the fourth, when Christianity came to replace paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the remains only coming to light again during rebuilding after the Second World War, when they were  moved to a new location on the west rather than east bank of the Walbrook (they are  currently in storage and  awaiting a move to another new location, in a specially designed  space in the Bloomberg Building, which is under construction and scheduled for completion in 2017).

Crowds gather to view the rediscovered Temple of Mithras on Walbrook in 1954

Crowds gather to view the rediscovered Temple of Mithras on Walbrook in 1954

The Temple of Mithras in its old relocation on Queen Victoria Street

The Temple of Mithras in its old relocation on Queen Victoria Street

Mithras, sometimes referred to as the “pagan Christ”,  was originally a Persian god, from the Zoroastrian pantheon, an assistant of the powers of good in their struggle against those of evil, who served to slay a bull created by evil, from the blood of which all life was believed to have sprung.  He eventually came to be identified with the Unconquered Sun, or Sol Invictus, and to epitomise purity, honesty, and courage.  Mithraism, the practice and mystery cult of Mithras  worship, as by then distinct from Zoroastrianism,  came to Rome in around the first century BCE, and spread throughout much of the Roman Empire by the first century AD, becoming most widespread in the third. It was practised in specially dedicated temples or “Mithraea” (sing., “Mithraeum”), many of which were underground (because Mithras slew the  bull underground, in a cave).

A marble head of Mithras recovered from the Mithraeum in London can be seen in the Museum of London.

Finds display in the Museum of London

Finds display in the Museum of London

Finds depicting images of Mithras from the Temple of MIthras

Finds depicting images of Mithras from the Temple of Mithras