Temple of ClaudiusColchester
Castle Park
Essex CO1 1TJ

 

After Emperor Claudius personally led the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, Colchester was made the capital of the new province of Brittania. As befitted such an important town, a number of public buildings were erected, including a huge Temple to Claudius.

Construction of the classical-style Temple began during Claudius' reign, and was dedicated to him after his death in 54 AD, with the official name of the town becoming "Colonia Claudia Victricensis" (The City of Claudius' Victory) and the Temple becoming the "Templum Divi Claudii" (The Temple of the Deified Claudius).

The Temple is rectangular in shape and was constructed by pouring a mix of mortar and stone into trenches cut into the ground. This base still survives today, and from the position of its load-bearing walls can be made out the superstructure’s layout.

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Beautifully proportioned Temple
It was obviously a beautifully proportioned eight-columned temple, aligned North-South. The rectangular main chamber of the temple (the Cella) was positioned on the rear part of the base, and would have measured 3067.7 sq feet (285sq metres).
 
The length of the room was one and a quarter times its width, in keeping with Vitruvian design and was also aligned North-South, with a Southern entrance. It had bronze doors, no windows and would have been about 65.6 feet (20 metres) high.
 
Ten columns would have run along the East and West exterior sides of the temple, with none around the back of the chamber. Eight columns would have run across the front of the Cella. The portico in front of the Cella would have had six columns along its sides. The Temple was Eustyle, meaning that the space between each column was two and a quarter times the diameter of the column, except for the two central columns at the front of the temple portico, which were three diameters apart.
 
The temple is constructed from hardened rock obtained from the Essex coast and large flint nodules, whilst the roof would have been of overlapping clay-fired tiles.
 
The columns were made from a core of curved brick, with the exterior and capitols rendered in plaster. Polished marble, including Purbeck marble and rare giallo antico from Tunisia, and stone (including tufa from the Hampshire coast) would have faced the temple, large fragments of which have been found nearby.
 
Pieces of inscriptions on marble and large bronzed letters have been found around the site. An altar stood in front of the podium of the Temple. The Temple stood in the centre of a large precinct, parts of the wall of which are still visible beneath the later Norman Castle bailey earthen bank.
 
In 2014 columns from the Monumental façade of the precinct were discovered behind the High Street. It is planned to make them visible to the public. The entranceway to the precinct took the form of a tufa-faced 26 foot (8 metre) wide monumental arch flanked by a columned arcade screen.
 
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Destruction of the Temple
This magnificent and ostentatious structure was much hated by the conquered local Trinovantes and Iceni tribes. They regarded the Temple as a “...stronghold of everlasting domination." As soon as they got the chance to rebel under Boudica (Queen Boadicea) in 60/1st century AD the town and the temple were destroyed.
 
The decapitated bronze head of a statue of Claudius was found in The River Alde in Suffolk, and has been interpreted as having been taken from the Temple of Claudius by the Iceni.
 
Rebuilding the Temple
The town and Temple were rebuilt in the years after the attack, with the colonia reaching a peak in the Second and Third centuries AD. The Temple was one of the main public buildings in the town, and its façade and precinct were added to and enlarged over time.
 
4th Century AD Changes
The Temple of Claudius and its associated temenos buildings were reconstructed in the early-Fourth century. The Temple appears to have had a large apsidal hall built across the front of the podium steps, with numismatic dating evidence taking the date of the building up to at least 395AD. The changes to the Temple in the Fourth century may have been the result of the Temple being converted to Christian use.
 
Temple located under Colchester Castle
Large amounts of the superstructure of the Temple were standing throughout the Saxon period, when the Temple was known as King Coel's Palace. The Norman architects of Colchester Castle built the structure on the remains of this "palace" in the years 1070-1080, with archaeological evidence showing that the base of the Temple was used as the foundations of the Castle.
 
The podium was rediscovered in the 17th century when the underside of the Temple's base was grubbed out creating "vaults" under the Castle.
 
Early 20th Century Discovery
The underside of the Castle was not identified as the podium of the Temple until the early 20th century when it was found that the Norman builders had clasped the Castle's walls to the Roman concrete podium. Today, the Castle’s 17th century "vaults" are open to visitors, showing the underside of the Temple.