Excavation of a Roman building on the grounds of a cricket club in the northern English city of Carlisle has yielded tiles with rare imperial stamps linked to Emperor Septimius Severus, reports Ted Peskett for the News & Star.
“The Romans would quite often stamp their tiles,” says archaeologist Frank Giecco, who is leading the dig for British firm Wardell Armstrong. “The legions would stamp tiles, the auxiliaries would stamp tiles; but this is the very top of the pile. This is the imperial court stamping the tile.”
Giecco says similar tiles have previously been found “in random places” across Carlisle. Since researchers discovered the ruined bathhouse in 2017, they’ve uncovered about a dozen of the tiles there, suggesting that the others also originated at the site.
“IMP,” the letters stamped on the tiles, stand for imperator, the Latin word for emperor. Dot Boughton, an archaeologist at the nearby Tullie House museum, which is one of the partner organizations working on the excavation, tells BBC News that the find indicates the tile maker was “supplying tiles fit for the emperor” or “on the emperor’s demands.”
Archaeologists first found the Roman structure, which they identified as a bathhouse or hotel, during construction of a new pavilion at the Carlisle Cricket Club in 2017, according to a statement. The venue is located near Stanwix, which was the largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
Initial investigations unearthed an engraved stone fragment dedicated to Empress Julia Domna, Severus’ wife and the mother of Emperor Caracalla. The building was equipped with a hypocaust—a system used in Roman baths and private homes that relied on an empty space warmed by a furnace to heat the rooms above it.
This latest excavation is part of the Uncovering Roman Carlisle Project, which was funded through a $136,000 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Volunteers and archaeologists have been working at the site since August 31, with thousands of people visiting to help out or participate in tours or activities, per ITV News.
In addition to the tiles, the dig has unearthed an iron signet ring used to stamp letters to prove their authenticity, as well as Samian ware pottery—expensive, glossy red tableware that often features scenes of gods, animals, hunts or natural scenes. Other finds that particularly interested volunteers included paw prints left on tiles by both cats and dogs.
Severus, who ruled Rome from 193 to 211 C.E., led significant rebuilding and reinforcement of defenses along Hadrian’s Wall, notes English Heritage. In 208, he and his family traveled to Britain, establishing the seat of the empire in York. Severus led campaigns against the British tribes north of the wall in what is now Scotland prior to his death in 211.
According to Giecco, it’s impossible to say whether Severus ever visited Carlisle—but the evidence is suggestive.
“All we can say is that we have got a huge monumental building that has been built in Carlisle,” he tells the News & Star. “The emperor was in Britain at that time, we’ve got an inscription from his wife in the building and we have got his personal workshop-stamped tiles coming from the building. The evidence is building up that there is something really special going on here.”