Temple of Claudius at Camulodunon (Colchester)

Temple Or Shrine

The Temple of Claudius (Templum Claudii) or Temple of the Deified Claudius (Templum Divi Claudii) was built in Camulodunum (Roman Colchester) sometime after the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 CE, although it is not certain whether it was built before or after Claudius’ death and deification in 54 CE.

The podium of this massive temple measures about 80 ft. wide, 105 ft. long and about 11 ft. high. The structure was not solid, the central portion being constructed of four large sand-filled vaults, probably in order to conserve stone, a rare commodity in these parts. This base survives to this day, underlying the Norman castle. The width of the podium suggests that it was fronted by 8 columns (octastyle), with centres spaced about 11 ft. apart, with a row of 11 columns spaced 10 ft. 4 ins. down each side; there would also have been a row of ‘engaged’ columns along the rear wall of the building. Although none of these columns have come to light, it is thought that they would have measured about 3½ ft. in diameter and would, therefore have risen to a height of around 35 ft. above the podium. The temple was built around the year A.D.50, dedicated to the then emperor Claudius, and was razed during the revolt of Boudica in the winter of 60/61, after which parts of it’s original superstructure were re-used in the building of a walled enclosure around the central temple. Whatever structure that replaced the original temple of Claudius was removed and re-used by the Normans when they built their castle motte on the site.

emplum Divi Claudii – The Temple of the Divine Claudius

… [at Camulodunum] the temple raised to the deified Claudius continually met the view, like the citadel of an eternal tyranny; while the priests, chosen for its service, were bound under the pretext of religion to pour out their fortunes like water. …” (Tacitus Annals XIV.xxxi)

So far, no textual remains, either monumental or otherwise, have been recovered from the site. Indeed, the only references we have that indicate that one of the temples at Camulodunum was dedicated to Claudius are both Classical. The first mention was by Seneca, the personal tutor of Claudius’ adopted son and successor Nero, neither of whom held Claudius in any esteem (vide infra). This merely confirmed that a temple to Claudius existed somewhere in Britain. Further confirmation as to the actual location of the temple within the province was later given by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, when describing some of the causes of the Boudiccan rebellion (vide supra).

… He [Claudius] wants to become a god, does he? Isn’t it enough for him to have a temple in Britain, have savages worship him, and pray they’ll find him a Merciful Clod.” (Seneca The Apocolocyntosis VIII.iii)

Other Colchester Temples

Possible Romano-British Temple, Colchester 7

Located outside the Balkerne Gate beneath St. Mary’s Hospital. It is uncertain whether this structure represents a square temple or a funerary monument. The outer portico measures about 35 ft. square, the inner cella about 18 ft. square. Being completely robbed-out, the thickness of its walls and its orientation remain unknown.

Possible Apsidal Temple, Colchester 8

This building lies just outside the south-west corner of the enclosed town. It is about 110 feet long (c.33.5m) with an apse at its eastern end. Just outside the building was a pit or well about 6 feet deep (c.1.8m) which contained human bones, a silver torque and ring, widely dated pottery and 188 coins ranging from Nerva to Honorius though mostly of 4th century date. It is very likely that this pit contains votive deposits, and if so, the associated apsidal building is a possible candidate for some sort of temple or shrine. An altarstone dedicated to the Matres Sulevis was found nearby (vide RIB 192 infra), and it is possible that the altarstone and building are related.

RIB192 - Dedication to the Mother Goddesses Suleviae

To the Mother Goddesses Suleviae, Similis, son of Attus, a tribesman of the Cantiaci, willingly fulfilled his vow.
For the Suleviae cf. RIB 105, 106, 151.For Attus as a cognomen see Huebner (ed.), Ephemeris Epigraphica Vol. iv, addit. tertia (1881) 451, CIL iii 5354. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For names in Att- see Alföldy, Ep. Stud. 4 (1967), 10-16.

References for Colchester Temples

  • The Apocolocyntosis by Seneca, translated by J.P. Sullivan (Penguin, 1986);
  • Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • Annales by Cornelius Tacitus, translated by J.Jackson (Loeb, Harvard, 1937).

Map References for Colchester Temples

NGRef: TL9825 OSMap: LR168

Roman Roads near Colchester Temples

None identified