Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Senhouse Roman Museum reopens!

Senhouse Roman Museum is built upon the site of Alauna, a castrum or fort in Roman Britannia just north of the town of Maryport in Cumbria. It was linked by a Roman road to the Roman fort and settlement at Derventio (Papcastle) to the southeast, and thence by another road northeast to the regional hub of Luguvalium (Carlisle). The fort was established around 122 CE as a command and supply base for the coastal defences of Hadrian's Wall at its western extremity. There are substantial remains of the Roman fort, which was one of a series along the Cumbrian coast intended to prevent Hadrian's Wall being outflanked by crossing the Solway Firth. 

Geo-magnetic surveys have revealed a large Roman town surrounding the fort. An archaeological dig discovered evidence of a second, earlier, larger fort next to, and partially under the present remains. The Roman fort site was owned from the 16th century by generations of the Senhouse family. The main building on the site was constructed as a naval artillery drill hall in 1885. It was converted into the Senhouse Roman Museum in 1990. The Senhouse family's collections contained numerous Roman artefacts including dedicated altars. Beginning in Tudor times, the site has yielded more altars than any other Roman site in Britain.  One of the best known, now in the British Museum, has an inscription dedicated by Gaius Cornelius Peregrinus, a decurion (town councilor) from Saldae (present-day Bejaia in Algeria), who was tribunus (military commander) of the auxiliary garrison. 

Another interesting artifact in the collections of the local museum is a column base bearing a relief of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, discovered in the 18th Century in the Headquarters Building within the fort. This is one of only two representations of Epona in Britain. Epona is depicted riding sideways on a prancing horse with a basket of fruit in her lap. She was the personification of the horse and protector of horses, particularly going into battle or breeding stock. Auxiliary cavalrymen brought the belief in Epona with them from their tribal territories. The Celtic goddess was also revered as the patroness for wagoners. She was popular among the military particularly in the provinces of Gaul and Germania.

A column base bearing a relief of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, discovered in the 18th century in the headquarters building within the fort. This is one of only two representations of Epona in Britain. 

Epona, Roman, Second or Third century CE, from Contern, Luxembourg at the Musée National d'Art et d'Histoire, Luxembourg City courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Owen Cook

Relief depicting the "Lady of Animals", Epona, sitting on a throne holding a fruit basket on her lap, 200 CE at the Kunst der Kelten, Historisches Museum Bern courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Rosemania

Epona relief, Gallo-roman, from Allerey, Dijon Archeological Museum, France courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Siannan

Epona relief, 70-100 CE, later incorporated into the city wall of Bregenz, revered as "Ehre-Guta" at the Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz, Austria

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