Corbridge: Hercules & The Hydra


Hercules is the latinized form of the Greek Heracles who Homer describes in the Odyssey: “I saw mighty Heracles – his ghost, but he himself delights in feasting among the immortal gods, with fair-ankled Hebe for his wife” (Homer, Odyssey 11.601-603). Hercules was a Greek hero, son of Zeus and exemplar of strength and patience. Such a diverse character attracted a variety of interpretations and uses. His virtues became significantly used by the moralists and philosophers to whom he became a model of unselfish fortitude, labouring for the good of mankind and achieving immortality by his virtue (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). He was especially important as a paradigm of virtue in Roman Stoicism who set high value on the Heraclean qualities of endurance and self-reliance. The iconography of Hercules was firmly established by the Archaic period with the major identifying symbols of the lion skin cape and hood, his club and his bow and arrows. The geographical distribution of his cult was as wide as his legends and Hercules was adopted by individuals or states as a symbol or protecting deity (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). The above relief was found in the west Principia strongroom and depicts the second of Hercules’ Twelve Labours which made him a hero in both the Greek and Roman worlds. A natural patron of emperors and soldiers struggling on behalf of the empire, the carving show Hercules attacking the Hydra (a serpent with snake-headed tentacles, mainly lost but one tentacle is around the demi-god’s forearm). His patroness, the goddess Minerva, stands on the left watching over him. The west Principia was a headquarters building which was divided by arches onto three bays, each entered by one of three doors in the facade. The shrine from the Principia was packed with brightly coloured altars, statuary and standards with the above panel forming one of a series (Hodgson, 2015).

Corbridge: Statue of Jupiter


The above Statue of Jupiter holding a staff was found in the aedes (chapel in the headquarters building) at Corbridge Roman Fort. Although much of the statue is missing, Jupiter can be identified by his staff or sceptre, and the drapery over his shoulders and round his waist, leaving the torso bare. Jupiter was the great Italian sky-god, the forms of whose name are etymologically connected with other Indo-European sky-gods, including Zeus. Known by many titles, as sky-god he directly influenced Roman public life in which the weather omens of thunder and lightning, his special weapons, played an important role. His many titles indicate his supreme importance in all matters of the state’s life in war and peace (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). The role of Jupiter in Roman religion became increasingly important and he was seen as the ‘president’ of the council of gods and the source of all authority. During the Empire, the emperors placed themselves under the protection of Jupiter and every provincial city had a Capitol similar to the one in Rome; the Triad (Jupiter, Juno & Minerva) would be installed with Jupiter enthroned in the centre. With each of the daughter cities imitating a small copy, Jupiter represented the political bond between Rome, the mother city (Grimal, 1991). As king of the gods and patron of the empire, this would have been an appropriate statue for the location in which it was discovered.

Corbridge: Shorden Brae Lion


The Romans erected gravestones and tombs for their dead just as we do today. Often inscribed with the letters DM, Dis Manibus (To the Spirits of the Departed), not all Romans believed in an afterlife and there was a wide range of religious beliefs. The earliest graves found at Rome date to the 10th century BCE and include both urn cremations and inhumations. The bulk of the population was disposed of relatively informally across most of Europe in the 5th-3rd centuries, often by exposing the body on platforms. By the 1st century cremation was the norm and Roman nobles began building elaborate tombs around the same time. Modelled on those of the Greek east, such tombs featured monumental sculptures and elaborate stone architecture.  The Roman tradition relating to the disposal of the dead led to a strict separation between the space of the deceased and that of the living. It was illegal to bury the dead within the boundaries of a settlement so cemeteries are always found outside towns and forts (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). It was widely believed that the souls of the dead lived on in their tombs or graves and so gifts were often brought to placate these spirits. At Corbridge there are tombstones which detail the names of individuals who lived at the Fort. The lion above was discovered when the mausoleum at Shoredon Brae was excavated and was originally placed on top of the outer wall of the monument. Lions were often associated with funerary monuments as they were seen to symbolise either the inescapable ravages of death or man’s triumph over death. As very few have been found in direct association with mausoleum buildings, the lion is an important find.

Corbridge: Sol Invictus


Corbridge Roman Fort lies to the south of Hadrian’s Wall which incorporated milecastles, or small fortlets, every Roman mile. Each of which had a gateway to the north and south with two small square turrets between each milecastle (Andrews, 2015). The soldiers stationed along the Wall and at the early forts at Corbridge were mostly auxiliaries: non citizens initially recruited from the enemies Rome encountered on her frontiers and later from Rome’s provinces (Hodgson, 2015). Organized into famous legions, the Roman citizen troops were heavy infantry units with trained craftsmen contained within the ranks – accounting for the high quality religious sculpture and architectural stonework found at Corbridge. Inscriptions provide an accurate means of dating events at Corbridge and the movement of troops can be traced through the dedications they leave. Stone survives very well and provides extremely useful evidence. Stone sculpture can be dated according to its style and the techniques used to carve it with inscriptions providing information relating to building activity, religious practices and linking people to places. The letters cut into stone would have been painted red, relief decoration and sculpture was also brightly coloured. The above inscription was dedicated to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) who was an eastern god whose worship spread through the army from the 1st century AD and was especially encouraged by the Emperor Elagabalus (AD 218-22). The son of Sextus Varius Marcellus, Elagabalus took the cult of the god by whose name he is known to Rome and which he reached in July 219. His intention in late 220 to make Elagabalus (deus Sol Invictus) supreme god of the empire aroused hostility at Rome and ultimately led to his murder on 11 March 222 (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). He was subjected to damnatio memoriae – essentially an eradication of his public memory which is evident from the first line of the inscription being chiselled out. The above inscription would have adorned an undiscovered, yet substantial, temple dedicated to Sol which was built by a detachment from the 6th Legion, stationed at Corbridge in about AD 158. The dedication is flanked by peltae (crescent shaped shield) and adjacent panels would have depicted winged Victories.