This week, Year Eight and Nine classics students set off for the city of London to explore the Roman remains and learn about life in “Londinium”. The students were split into their year groups on arrival to take part in two different activities.
One part of the day involved visiting the Guildhall Art Gallery. When this beautiful gallery was built, about thirty years ago, the developers were fascinated to discover a number of walls as they were digging the foundations. They soon realised that they had discovered an archaeological site which historians had been searching for for many years – the remains of London’s Roman Amphitheatre!
Work then began to excavate the site, and it has now been turned into a visitor site underneath the art gallery. Andrew Lane from the outreach team introduced students to the site, explaining how they were all stood in the main entrance to the amphitheatre, where the gladiators would have waited to enter the arena. The gravel surrounding them was the actual gravel from the arena. Originally the amphitheatre was built in wood in AD 70, but it was later constructed in stone in the second century AD.
The curve of the amphitheatre arena wall can be seen, as well as drainage systems. Outside, in the courtyard, the outline of the arena has been drawn in grey slabs. Students were then abe to handle a range of artefacts which have been found, from fragments of amphorae (for storing things like wine and olive oil) to the well-known red slip ceramic which was made in Germany and Gaul and imported. There was also a replica of a stunning oil lamp in the shape of a foot, oyster shells (oysters would have been eaten as snack food and readily available), roof tiles and a large gladiator helmet! Everyone very much enjoyed handling these and hearing more about their roles in ancient Roman life.
As well as this, the students were able to explore some classically inspired paintings in the art gallery. Artist Edward’s Armitage’s “Herod’s Birthday Feast”, John Collier’s “Clytemnestra”, and Michele Tedesco’s “A Pythagorean school invaded by Sybarites” were all explored and discussed by the students, before Tanya, from the outreach team, explained some of the layers of meaning in these beautiful paintings, how they recreated stories from the classical period, and how later artists had re-imagined and sometimes altered or confused details.
The other part of the day involved exploring the Museum of London’s Roman Gallery. This gallery contains a large range of excellently-preserved artefacts, as well as lots of interactive features. Each student was given a trail sheet to fill out, which highlighted some particularly interesting artefacts, such as the tombstone to Roman Britain’s youngest recorded wife (at 19), Claudia Martina, and the brick tile inscribed by a Roman bricklayer. Students could also see the remains of London’s city wall, a mixture of Roman and medieval and Victorian building.
Students searched high and low for one of the items on their trail sheets, which was a third century AD carved gemstone showing a Roman warship!
Everyone really enjoyed both the Guildhall and amphitheatre, and the visit to the Museum of London. One student said “the most interesting artefacts were the glass workshops”, whereas another thought the iron chain and shackle was very interesting because of the story it told about captives taken from Wales and Scotland. Another said “the Roman lock and keys were very interesting, as they were so conscious about their safety.”
We are very grateful to both the Guildhall team and the Museum of London for two really excellent, enjoyable and informative visits!