Rare evidence of a connection between one of the Roman Empire’s best-known rulers and rural Hampshire some 2,000 years ago has been unearthed by archaeologists.
A team from the University of Reading has discovered three extremely rare tiles bearing the stamp of Roman Emperor Nero at the Roman Tile Kiln site at Little London, located within the Englefield Estate which is supporting this archaeological project.
The site has been open to the public since the dig began in August with over 500 people visiting during a recent open day, taking part in tours and handling uncovered artefacts.
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD37 – 68) was known for his extravagance and tyranny, but also his diplomacy and love of culture and the tiles confirm that the site was used for the production of building materials, endorsed by the Emperor, for use in construction projects in the area, particularly at the nearby Roman town at Silchester.
This recent find, alongside another four tiles previously excavated by the team from a ritual pit within a temple at Silchester, adds to a collection of only 14 such tiles to ever have been found in the UK. All of which bear a variation of lettering of Nero’s title.
There is no record of Nero having visited England but the unearthed items reveal that Nero sponsored construction at Silchester during his short reign from AD54-68.
The tiles were found during the excavation of a series of Roman kiln structures including some huge brick and tile production facilities, with an associated quarried-out clay pit, full of rejected overfired and broken pieces. Approximately four tonnes of Roman Ceramic Building Material has been recovered so far including roller-decorated box-flue tiles, tegulae, and bricks.
Many of the tiles bear footprints of sheep, dogs, calves, people and even a weasel from when they were left out to dry prior to firing in the kilns. Two small round pottery kilns, one with associated dumps of discarded high-quality pottery flagons, have also been discovered.
The project is directed by Professor Mike Fulford, assisted by Dr Catherine Barnett, Senior Research Fellow, both from the University of Reading. Project officers Nick Pankhurst and Dan Wheeler have led the site teams and have been supported by PhD student Sara Wilson, a specialist in Roman Ceramic Building Material.
“The kilns are remarkably well-preserved, with their firing chambers, stokeholes and flues intact,” said Professor Fulford.
“One edge of the kiln area is defined by a 1.5m deep V-shaped ditch and its profile, the scale of activity and the early start to such a large-scale operation all hint at the Roman military being involved.
“But of particular significance are the extremely rare finds of the stamped tiles bearing the name Nero.”
Dr Barnett added: “Even in its closing days the team is confident this site has plenty more to reveal about the industry and Nero’s part in its establishment.
“There has been a steady flow of visitors to the site and we are pleased to be able to discuss our work with the local community.
“The team are grateful for everyone’s interest in the work and in particular to Dr Peter Warry, the Englefield Estate and the Kolosowski family for access and their encouragement.”
Englefield Estates Director Edward Crookes, added: “This is a fascinating project and the team’s efforts have been particularly fruitful with the uncovering of such rare artefacts pointing to the close connection between the area and one of the Roman Empire’s best-known emperors.”