Temple of Silvanus/Callirius - Colchester 6

Temple Or Shrine

This temple site of Rectangular Temple of Silvanus/Callirius – Colchester 6, lie within the grounds of the Royal Grammar School at Colchester, lay just to the west of the Roman road between Colchester and London, past the temple at Gosbecks in the south-west. There are several phases evident in its construction:

  1. The original (pre-Roman?) temple consisted of a sacred enclosure or temenos with a maximum width of around 120 ft. delineated by a wide polygonal ditch with an entrance on the east-south-east. No sign of any central building survives, which may mean either that ceremonies were performed here in the open air or that there was a building, perhaps of light timber, all traces of which were erased during later building work.
  2. At a later period a rectangular building was erected within the polygonal enclosure, noticeably off-centre, about 20 ft. from the entrance and aligned upon it. The building possessed relatively narrow stone foundations measuring about 30 ft. by 21 ft., which probably points to a timber or half-timbered superstructure. An internal division of its rammed-earth floor created an almost perfectly square room on the west with a rectangular porch to the east.
  3. Possibly contemporary with the stone temple building, a roughly pentagonal stone wall measuring about 125 ft. WNW-ENE by about 180 ft. transversely, was erected around the old temenos, which was at first retained, as the new side wall on the NW curves closely about the enclosure ditch before resuming its original straight course.
  4. At a later period a large rectangular building measuring roughly 60 x 30 ft. was erected on the same alignment as the temple. Its north-east long wall lay over the original enclosure ditch, probably indicating that the temenos ditch was filled-in at this time. The walls were quite narrow, again suggesting a light timber superstructure, and the width of the building may even preclude a roof. There was a 10 ft. wide gap in the centre of the south-west long side, which may also point to the building being open to the sky.

Several artefacts have been recovered from pits within the enclosure, including second-century pottery and coins ranging from Claudius to Constans (41AD to 350), with a preponderance of Trajanic and Hadrianic issues, which suggest a construction date of the stone temple sometime during the reign of these two emperors (98AD to 138).

Bronze Plaques Dedicated to Silvanus/Callirius

The most interesting finds came in the form of two bronze plaques, one dedicated to Silvanus Callirius and another to Silvanus alone, which very likely point to Colchester Temple 6 being consecrated to the Latin god of woodland and good hunting. Callirius is a iron-age god whose name may be translated ‘King of the Woods’, here conflated with the Roman god who the natives deemed was closest in nature to their local hunting deity.

DEO SILVANO CALLIRIO D CINTVSMVS AERARIVS VSLM:

“To the god Silvanus Callirius,ยน Decimus Cintusmus, coppersmith, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”

DEO SILVANO HERMES VSLM:

“To the god Silvanus, Hermes willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”

DEO SILVANO CALLIRIO D CINTVSMVS AERARIVS VSLM:

(RIB 194; bronze plate)

DEO SILVANO HERMES VSLM:

(RIB 195; bronze ansate plate)

  1. Silvanus was the classical god of herdsmen and wooded (silvan) places. The affix Callirius, meaning ‘king of the wood’, is unique in Britain.

 

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).