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Hadrian’s Wall: Temple of Antenociticus in Benwell

Welcome back to my blog! This time, I’m at the Temple of Antenociticus here in Benwell, Newcastle, just off Hadrian’s Wall. I’m excited to take you on a journey back in time to explore this fascinating Roman temple and its significance in the ancient world.

The Vicus and the Temple

If we travelled back 1900 years, we would be standing in the vicus, the civilian settlement south of the fort of Condercum, part of the Roman Empire’s frontier defences. Extensive archaeological work in the 1930s, during the construction of the current housing estate, preserved key elements like the Temple of Antenociticus and the vallum nearby.

A peek into the past

If you could have stood here nearly two millennia ago, this site would have been bustling with life. The vicus served as a hub for trade, social gatherings, and religious worship. The fort of Condercum, part of the Roman Empire’s vast network of frontier defences, played a crucial role in maintaining Roman control over the region. The extensive archaeological excavations in the 1930s uncovered remarkable insights into this ancient world, including the well-preserved Temple of Antenociticus.

Unique worship practices

Unlike the native Britons who worshipped in natural settings like springs and woodlands, Romans built stone temples. The Temple of Antenociticus is a prime example. Inside, worshippers would enter to find a plinth for the god’s statue and altars dedicated by followers. The Romans anthropomorphised British deities, giving them human forms. The statue of Antenociticus, with its youthful features and horns, is housed in the Great North Museum Hancock today.

Adopting local gods

The Romans incorporated local gods to pacify the native Britons who may well have been quite angry at them for taking their land, defeating them in battle and subjugating them. By worshipping Antenociticus, the Romans aimed to integrate the locals into their culture, easing tensions. This strategy possibly encouraged Britons to adopt Roman worship practices, fostering a sense of inclusion. Imagine being a native Briton, seeing your local god honoured in a grand Roman temple – it would certainly make you feel more connected to the occupying forces.

The significance of Antenociticus

The temple houses altars dedicated by Roman officers, indicating high-ranking officials’ reverence for Antenociticus. These dedications might have been made for the welfare of their men or to integrate the god into the Roman religious calendar. The god was also seen as powerful, capable of granting promotions and favours, as evidenced by a centurion’s dedication.

Connecting with the past

Standing in the ruins of the temple today, we can only imagine the feelings and rituals of ancient worshippers. What was it like to pray to Antenociticus? Did the Britons feel a sense of hope, fear, or reverence as they made their offerings? Though many questions remain unanswered, sites like this offer a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of people from Roman Britain. Exploring these remnants helps us connect with history in a way that really brings it to life.

The adoption of Antenociticus into the Roman pantheon wasn’t just a political move – it may also have been a cultural bridge. The Romans were masters at incorporating aspects of the cultures they conquered, and this temple is a testament to that strategy. It stands as a symbol of the blending of Roman and British cultures, offering us a unique insight into the past.

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