The Temple of Claudius (TEMPLVM CLAVDII) was a large octastyle temple erected in Camulodunum in 49-60 AD, just a few years after the Roman conquest of Britannia had been carried ut in 43 AD, on the orders of Emperor Claudius.
Camulodunum was the Ancient Roman name for the town that we today know as Colchester in Essex, England. A Roman Legionary base was set up here in the 40s AD on the site of an older Brythonic-Celtic fortress, and Camulodunum – the Iron Age capital of the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni – became the first Roman provincial capital of the province Britannia.
The Temple of Claudius in Camulodunum is one of at least eight temples that were built in Camulodunum during Roman occupation, and it was the largest temple of its kind in Roman Britain. It is also believed to be one of the earliest, or possibly the very earliest, Roman stoneworks in Britannia.
Today, the Temple of Claudius fomrs the base of the Norman-built Colchester Castle.
Alternative English name
Temple of the Deified Claudius (derived from TEMPLVM DIVI CLAVDII)
The temple podium was constructed by digging trenches into the ground and pouring in a mixture of mortar and stone. This base still exist today, and is of a rectangular shape aligned north-south.
Based on the position of the temple’s load-bearing walls on the podium, it seems to have been a classical octastyle temple, following the same plan as the one we can see for octastyle temples in the Roman architect Vitrivius’ 1st century BC work De Architectura.
The temple stood in the centre of a large precinct, known in Latin as the tenemos. Parts of the walls of this precinct are still visible on the baily earthen bank below the Norman castle that now occupy the old temple site.
In 2014, columns from the monumental facade of the precinct were discovered.
The entranceway to the tenemos was an 8 metre wide arch faced with tufa. This arch was flanked by a columned arcade screen.
The cella (main chamber) of the Temple of Claudius was a rectangular room located at the back of the podium, with its back wall aligning with the back of the podium.
The cella meassured 285 square metres and had an entrance from the south. Just like the podium itself, the cella was aligned north-south. We don’t know have tall it was, but 20 metres is an educated guess based on Vitrivius plans and how other Roman temples of this style were built during this era. The chamber was most likely windowless.
Ten columns were placed along the eastern and western exterior sides of the temple.
There were no columns around the back of the cella.
Eight columns were placed along the front of the cella, which is what makes this type of temple known as an octastyle temple.
The pronaos (covered porch) leading to the entrance of the cella had six columns along its sides.
Vitrivius was a big proponent of the eustyle style of spacing columns, where the space between each column (messearued at the bottom) was two and a quarter times the diametre of the column, except for middle columns front and rear where the spacing was to be three diametres to provide larger openings.
The Temple of Claudius in Camulodunum followed the eustyle.
As mentioned above, the trenches for the temple podium were filled with a mixture of mortar and stone.
A lot of the temple above ground consist of septahria and large flint nodules. The septaria was brought to Camulodunum from the coast of Essex.
The process of making the columns started out with forming a core from curved brick, and then having the exterior and capitols rendered in plaster.
The temple was faced with polished marble and stone.
At least two types of marble was used: Purbeck marble from south-east Dorset, England and giallo antico marble that had to be imported from Tunisia.
Some of the polished stone was tufa brought to Camulodunum from the coast of what we today know as Hampshire, England. Tufa is a type of limestone that forms when carbonate minerals precipitate out of ambient temperature water.
The roof used imbrex and tegula, a type of overlapping roof tiles widely utilized by both the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. Tegula was a plain flat tile placed flat on the roof structure, while the imbrex was a semi-cylindrical tile that were placed as a joint to cover the gap between each two tegulae. When these two tile types were properly overlapped, there was little need for any further waterproofing of the roof.
Inscriptions made on marble has been found around the temple site, as well as large bronzed letters.
Roman era history of the temple
In 43 AD, after the Roman conquest of Britannia, a legionary fortress was established at what we today know as Colchester. In 49 AD, the fortress was converted into a place for retired soldiers, and a Roman town gradually formed, which was called Camuldonum by the Romans – a Latinization of the old Celtic name of this town. (It used to be the Iron Age capital of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni.)
Camuldonum was declared capital of the Roman province of Britannia, and several impressive public buildings and sites were created to signify and solidify its status, including a council chamber (curia), a theatre and a typical Roman forum.
Construction of the Temple of Claudius commences during the reign of Emperor Claudius, and when he died in 54 AD, he was deified and the temple dedicated to The Deified Claudius (Templum Divi Claudii). The official name of Camuldonum was also changed to Colonia Claudia Victricensis, which means The City of Claudiu’s Victory.
The temple became a focal point for the Imperial Cult in Britannia.
Storming of the Temple of Claudius
In 60-61 AD, there was a rebellion against Roman occupation, headed by the Iceni who in the area surrounding Camulodunon joined forces with the local Trinovantes.
As the rebells stormed Camulodunum, townsfolk fled to the Temple of Claudius where they hid in the cella, which was windowless and had strong bronze doors. Rebel forces laid siege to the temple, and sacked it two days later.
Much later, the bronze head of a statue of Claudius was found in the River Alde in Suffolk. It is believed to have been removed from the temple during the rebellion.
Rebuilding the temple
Both the town Camulodunum and the Temple of Claudius were rebuilt after the attack, and the temple was aslo added to and enlarged over time as it was one of the most important public buildings in Camolodunum.
The Temple of Claudius durig the 4th century AD
During the 4th century AD, there was a tendency for private buildings in Camulodunum to be comparatively small and less grand than before, but this trend did not extended to the public buildings. From the late 3rd century and until the start of the 5th century, public buildings in the town increased both in size and lavishnes.
For the Temple of Claudius, this ment that several reconstructions and improvements in the early 300s. At some point, a big apsidal hall was erectd across the front of the podium steps.
It is possible that the Temple of Claudius was converted into a temple for Christian use in the 300s, but this remains unclear. What is clear is that several other Christian sites existed in Camulodunum during the Late Roman period.
The temple after the Roman era
Even after the end of Roman occupation of Britannia, the superstructure of the temple remained.
Throughout the Saxon period, it was known as King Coel’s Palace. Coel was a prominent figure in Welsh culture, and early Welsh tradition includes mentionings of a “Coel Hen” (Coel the Old) from circa 4th century AD.
According to the Medieval Colchester Chronicles, Norman architects built Colchester Castle on the remains of King Coel’s Palace in 1070-1080. Later archeological investigations have shown that the temple (“palace”) was indeed used as a foundation for the castle.
The temple podium was rediscovered in the 1600s when the underside of the temple’s base was grubbed out, creating “vaults” under Colchester Castle. Today, visitors are allowed to enter the vaults with a guide, to see the underside of the old Temple of Claudius.