Reconstruction of a Gallo-Roman temple in the Eifel, Germany

A Romano-Celtic temple or fanum is a sub-class of Roman temple found in the north-western Celtic provinces of the Roman Empire. They were the main places of worship in Gallo-Roman religion. Romano-Celtic temples differ from classical Roman temples, and evidence shows they had much continuity with earlier Celtic temples. Many were built on earlier sacred sites of the Celtic religion.[1]


In Great Britain, the term Romano-British temple is often used for these temples, and Gallo-Roman temple for sites in Gaul.

In French, Spanish, Italian and German scholarship, the term fanum is used to refer to Celtic temples of the Roman empire. This term was borrowed by archeologists from the Latin word for the sacred plot of land on which a temple was built.

The Gaulish term for these temples was nemeton, which originally signifed a sacred grove. This term was used to refer to Celtic temples until the Christianization of Gaul.[2]

Layout and location

Reconstruction of a Romano-Celtic temple in Aubechies, Belgium

The layout of Romano-Celtic temples differed from classical Roman temples. While classical temples were usually rectangular buildings with a portico, the Romano-Celtic temple was usually square or octagonal, with an ambulatory.[3] This is believed to have been influenced by earlier Celtic wooden temples, many sites showing continuity in their layout.[4][3] The ambulatory was probably meant to accommodate a Celtic rite of circumambulation.[4] Many temples were built on earlier sacred sites. While almost all classical temples were built at towns and cities, almost all 650 Romano-Celtic temples were built in the countryside or smaller settlements.[3]

Plan of the Romano-Celtic temple with its sacred enclosure in Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Xanten)

It consisted of a box-like or tower-like main room (cella), of variable height, surrounded by an ambulatory or veranda[5] built from stone, wood or both.[1] While usually square or octagonal, circular and triangular layouts are also known.[6] In size they vary greatly, with the outer ambulatory ranging from 8.5m to 22m in length[7] and the cella from 5.1m to 16m.[7] The cella, accessible from a door on one side, was usually roofed, as was the ambulatory, though the cella tower may rise above the height of the surrounding ambulatory or be pitched so that the two join together.[6] Ambulatories may be open or be enclosed by a short wall or wall-and-colonnade.[6] Some features of Classical Roman temples are included in the architecture, such as Roman-style columns as part of the outer wall.[8]

The internal features included mosaic floors[9] and decorative wall paintings.[5]

The main temple building usually stood within a sacred enclosure (temenos) along with other religious structures, which was usually marked off by a wall, palisade and ditch.[4]

Religious function

Reconstruction of a small Romano-Celtic temple at Schwarzenacker Roman Museum, Germany

Temples, as centres of religious ceremonies and festivals, may have attracted people from surrounding areas.[10] Each temple would be dedicated to one or more gods, with a statue in the cella. Votive offerings such as coins, pottery,[11] statues, miniature votive figurines[12] can be found both within the building and in the surrounding ambulatory[13] and temenos, suggesting that access may be available throughout the structure and that the external architectural components also serve a purpose within the ritual environment of the temple. The temple at Woodeaton produced evidence for multiple hearths within the temple superstructure,[14] suggesting the use of fire within the religious worship at that site.

A priest would perform religious ceremonies within the temple or outside in the enclosure, although the exact daily role they played in Romano-Celtic temples is not well understood. Performing sacrifice, prayers, and overseeing festivals are key features of priesthoods in the Roman Empire. In Aquae Sulis (modern Bath, England), an altar was dedicated by a haruspex;[15] this religious position may have been utilised elsewhere in Britannia. Fragments of priestly regalia have been found in British excavations: a copper alloy sceptre-cap from the temple at Farley,[16] a chained headpiece or "crown" at Wanborough[15] and a bronze crown with an adjustable band at Hockwold cum Wilton.[15]

In Gaul

Gallo-Roman Temples have been found throughout the region settled by the ancient Gauls, including France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, in both cities and the countryside. These temples would have been closed at the end of the 4th century by late Roman imperial anti-pagan laws, but in reality many were progressively abandoned during this period, their cults having been neglected or the locality been depopulated.[17]

Many of these temples evolved from pre-Roman temples which were built in wood and then gradually embellished. The sanctuaries of Ribement-sur-Ancre, Corent, Saint-Georges Abbey in Boscherville, are good examples showing how Celtic temples evolved. Excavations conducted by Jacques Le Maho at the site of Saint-Georges Abbey uncovered the remains of many temples: the oldest was a wooden temple without a gallery, then a second temple with a gallery, which was followed by a wooden temple built on a stone platform, and then finally, a stone fanum with gallery.[18]

One of the largest remaining Gallo-Roman temples is the Tower of Vesunna, which was built in Périgueux, France. It was dedicated to the goddess Vesunna of the Perocorii tribe. The architecture represents a synthesis of local and Classical traditions, comprising a Celtic cella and a Roman pronaos surrounded by a low gallery.

Gallo-Roman Temples

In Britain

Reconstruction drawing of Pagans Hill Romano-Celtic temple.

They are, by far, the most frequently occurring type of temple in Roman Britain[7] in place of the Classical Temple which are few in number: the Temple of Claudius[19] in Colchester, the temple of Sulis-Minerva in Bath and the examples at Maryport, Lincoln, Gloucester, and St.Albans are the only known examples.[8]

Romano-Celtic temples occur across Britannia and are frequently associated with sites with recorded pre-Roman activity, such as at Jordan Hill. Temples may be associated with an extra-mural settlement near a fort, as at Vindolanda, or along a roadside. Prominent places within a landscape may also be chosen as sites for Romano-Celtic temples, for example the temple on top of the huge Iron Age Hillfort at Maiden Castle, Dorset or the temple on the coastal promontory at Brean Down, Somerset. The distribution of these temples covers both major and minor towns and includes rural sanctuaries.[8] In towns they can occur as individual temples or in groups of two or more within an enclosure.[8] At least seven have been identified at Camulodunum (Roman Colchester), several of which can be linked to certain deities by the statues and inscriptions found at the sites.[20]

List of Romano-Celtic Temples in Britain
Site name
Alternative name(s)
Date Plan or photo Location Dimensions Dedication Notes Reference
Bourton Grounds 2nd - 4th Century AD Cella: 7.6m2 Isis

Excavated in the 1960s. A Figurine of Isis found by metal detector at a later date.

Brean Down 4th Century AD Excavated in 1957-8, the temple was constructed c.AD340 and demolished c.AD390. It lies on a promontory off the Somerset coast. [22][23]
Caerwent 4th Century AD Cella: 7.5m x 7m Built in c.AD330, it stood next to the forum and basilica. [24]
Chanctonbury 3rd-4th Century AD 50°53′47″N 0°22′54″W / 50.896258°N 0.38177312°W / 50.896258; -0.38177312 (Chactonbury Ring) Cella: 9m x 7m Built on an Iron Age hillfort. [25]
Farley 1st-4th Century AD 51°11′37″N 0°29′47″W / 51.193708°N 0.49627427°W / 51.193708; -0.49627427 (Farley Heath Roman Temple) Cella: 7.3m x 7.3m
Ambulatory: 14m x 14m
Temenos: Diameter - c. 73m
Excavated in 1848 by Martin Tupper, and later in 1926 and definitively in 1939. Pre-Roman coinage of Verica, Epaticcus and Tincommius has been found on the site during early excavations. The temple is associated with two pottery kilns. Finds include a possible Priest's sceptre, two Roman coin hoards, a swan-head handle and pottery. [16][26]
Gosbecks Farm mid 2nd-4th Century AD 51°51′34″N 1°02′37″W / 51.859450°N 1.0435977°W / 51.859450; -1.0435977 (Gosbecks Farm) Cella: 7m x 7m Camulos

Excavated in 1842. The temple temenos stands at the west and of a much larger walled enclosure stretching 340 metres to the east. The off-central location of the temple has been held to imply that a sacred grove or tree occupied the most important position within the temenos One of at least seven found at Roman Colchester.[20]

Great Chesterford 2nd? - 4th Century AD Cella: 6.7m x 6.7m

Discovered in 1847 and excavated under the direction of the Hon RC Neville. Two mosaic floors were located in the cella. The temple was re-excavated in 1978.

Jordan Hill 1st - 4th Century AD 50°38′15″N 2°25′38″W / 50.637547°N 2.4271160°W / 50.637547; -2.4271160 (Jordan Hill) Cella: 6.8m2
Temenos: 84m2

First Excavated by J. Medhurst in 1843. The structure is in stone, with minimal evidence of an ambulatory. An early 1st century pit or shaft was associated beneath the temples structure.

Lancing Late 1st - Mid 3rd Century AD Cella: 6.7m x 6.7m
Lullingstone 3rd Century AD 51°21′50″N 0°11′47″W / 51.3640°N 0.1964°W / 51.3640; -0.1964 (Gosbecks Farm) Cella: 6.4m x 5.1m Water Deities
Lydney Park 4th Century AD 51°43′15″N 2°33′12″W / 51.7207°N 2.5532°W / 51.7207; -2.5532 (Lydney Park Roman Temple) Nodons Excavated in the 1920s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler. The site also has evidence for iron ore extraction.
Maiden Castle 4th Century AD 50°41′42″N 2°28′01″W / 50.694871°N 2.4669376°W / 50.694871; -2.4669376 (Lydney Park Roman Temple) Cella: 6m x 6m Minerva? Built on top of an Iron Age hillfort [30]
Nettleton 3rd-4th Century AD 51°29′27″N 2°15′28″W / 51.490763°N 2.2577696°W / 51.490763; -2.2577696 (Nettleton) Apollo Cunomaglus? [31]
Pagans Hill 3rd-4th Century AD 51°21′39″N 2°38′14″W / 51.360732°N 2.6373580°W / 51.360732; -2.6373580 (Pagans Hill Roman Temple) Mercury? Excavated by Philip Rahtz in 1949-53. The temple was built in c.AD258 with an octagonal cella, but soon fell into decay. A well is associated with the temple, into which objects were deposited. It was the site of domestic occupation by the 5th Century. [32][33]
Ratham Mill 1st-2nd Century AD 50°51′07″N 0°51′08″W / 50.851830°N 0.85212269°W / 50.851830; -0.85212269 (Ratham Mill) Cella: 4m x 4m
Ambulatory: 8.5m x 8.5m
Temenos: 15.5m x 15.5m
No excavation; site seen as cropmarks. Roman pottery associated in surrounding area. Outer two walls may not have southern sides. The inner square (here identified as the cella) may, in fact, be an altar or plinth within a larger structure. [34][35]
Vindolanda 3rd-4th Century AD 54°59′29″N 2°21′47″W / 54.991481°N 2.3630965°W / 54.991481; -2.3630965 (Vindolanda Temple) Cella: 5.1m x 5.1m
Ambulatory:10.8m x 10.8m
Wicklewood 1st-4th Century AD 52°35′1.320″N 1°4′51.492″E / 52.58370000°N 1.08097000°E / 52.58370000; 1.08097000 (Wicklewood Roman Temple) Cella: 8.5m x 8.5m Discovered and excavated in 1959 [37]
Wimblington 2nd-3rd Century AD 52°31′26″N 0°08′13″E / 52.523846°N 0.13699638°E / 52.523846; 0.13699638 (Wimblington) Cella: 5.6m x 5m
Ambulatory: 11m x 11m
Epona? Excavated in 1980s, Wimblington temple comprised a stone and timber cella surrounded by a timber enclosure. Cropmarks hint at a larger earthwork surrounding the temple c50m in diameter. Finds associated with the temple site included a clay figurine of a horse (Epona?), while surface finds included various copper alloy items possibly linked to Mercury, Minerva and others. [38]
Woodeaton 1st-4th Century AD 51°48′32″N 1°13′25″W / 51.808933°N 1.2236703°W / 51.808933; -1.2236703 (Woodeaton) Cella: 5.8m x 5m
Temenos: 45m2.
Excavated in 1952, the temple was found to have to main phases of use. In the first a clay floor and three internal hearths noted. The later phase is marked by the widening of the walls and the addition of an ambulatory. The site is associated with Iron Age activity. [11][39]

See also


  1. ^ a b Lewis, M.J.T. 1966. Temples in Roman Britain (Cambridge Classical Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp49-50
  2. ^ Xavier Delamarre indique pour nemeton le sens général de « sanctuaire » qui a fini par signifier « temple ». Il cite par exemple Venance Fortunat en latin : « loco nomine Vernemetis ("grand temple") … quod quasi fanum ingens Gallica lingua refert » in Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, Errance 2003, p. 232 - 233.
  3. ^ a b c Goodman, Penelope (2006). The Roman City and its Periphery: From Rome to Gaul. Routledge. p. 128.
  4. ^ a b c Kiernan, Philip (2020). Roman Cult Images: The Lives and Worship of Idols from the Iron Age to Late Antiquity. Cambridge University Press. p. 151.
  5. ^ a b Liversidge, J. 1973. Britain in the Roman Empire. New York: F.A. Praeger pp439
  6. ^ a b c Lewis, M.J.T. 1966. Temples in Roman Britain (Cambridge Classical Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp174
  7. ^ a b c English Heritage (May 2011). "Shrines (Roman and Post-Roman): Introduction to heritage assets" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-08-07. Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  8. ^ a b c d Mattingly, D. 2006. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. London: Penguin. pp281-281
  9. ^ Lewis, M.J.T. 1966. Temples in Roman Britain (Cambridge Classical Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp89
  10. ^ Rodgers, A. 2011. Late Roman Towns in Britain Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp 96-97
  11. ^ a b Goodchild. R. and Kirk, J. 1954. "The Romano-Celtic Temple at Woodeaton". Oxonesia Vol.19 pp15-37
  12. ^ Portable Antiquities Scheme (2013). "PAS Record:GLO-F3F9B0, Votive Model". Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  13. ^ Woodward, A. and Leach, P. 1993. "The Uley Shrines: Excavation of a Ritual Complex on West Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire: 1977-9" (English Heritage Archaeological Report No. 17). London: English Heritage
  14. ^ Historic England (2007). "Woodeaton Temple (338732)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-20.
  15. ^ a b c De la Bedoyere, G. 2002. Gods with Thunderbolts: Religion in Roman Britain. Tempus: Stroud. pp 122-125
  16. ^ a b Goodchild, R. 1947. "The Farley Heath Sceptre", Antiquaries Journal Vol 27. pp83-85
  17. ^ Vincent Charpentier, émission Le Salon noir sur France Culture, 23 janvier 2013.
  18. ^ Jacques Le Maho et Nicolas Wasylyszyn, Saint-Georges de Boscherville, 2000 ans d'histoire, 2e éditions GRAPC, 2008.
  19. ^ Rodwell, W. (1980). "Temples, Churches and Religion: Recent Research in Roman Britain with a Gazetteer of Romano-Celtic Temples in Continental Europe" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  20. ^ a b Crummy, Philip (1997) City of Victory; the story of Colchester - Britain's first Roman town. Published by Colchester Archaeological Trust (ISBN 1 897719 04 3)
  21. ^ Green,W. 1965. "A Romano-Celtic Temple at Bourton Grounds, Buckinghamshire", Records of Buckinghamshire Vol 17. pp356-366
  22. ^ Historic England (2007). "Brean Down (191317)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-20.
  23. ^ Apsimon, A.M. "The Roman Temple on Bream Down Somerset" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-20.
  24. ^ Knight, K. (2011). "Caerwent and Caerleon: What the Romans did for south east Wales" (PDF). Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-11-23.
  25. ^ "Romano-Celtic Temple Chanctonbury Ring, West Sussex". Roman Britain Site.
  26. ^ Historic England (2007). "Farley Roman Temple (393929)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  27. ^ Historic England (2007). "Gosbecks Farm Roman Temple (384017)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-09.
  28. ^ Historic England (2007). "Monument No. 374280". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  29. ^ Historic England (2007). "Jordan Hill Roman Temple (452622)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  30. ^ English Heritage (2004). "Maiden Castle Temple". Retrieved 2013-11-04.
  31. ^ Wedlake, W.J. (1982). The Excavation of the Shrine of Apollo at Nettleton, Wiltshire, 1956-71. Society of Antiquaries of London. ISBN 0-85431-233-1.
  32. ^ P. Rahtz, P. and Harris, L.G. 1958. "The temple well and other buildings at Pagans Hill, Chew Stoke, North Somersetshire", Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Societypp: 25-51
  33. ^ Historic England (2007). "Pagans Hill (198024)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  34. ^ Historic England (2007). "Monument No. 245746". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  35. ^ King, A. and Soffe, G. 1983. "A Romano-Celtic Temple at Ratham Mill, Funtington, West Sussex", Britannia Vol.14. pp264-266
  36. ^ Vindolanda Tablets Online (2011). "Romano-Celtic temple and mausoleum". Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  37. ^ Historic England. "Romano-Celtic temple 590m south east of St James's Church (1020862)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 26 September 2023.
  38. ^ Historic England (2007). "Monument No. 1331890". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-09.
  39. ^ Historic England (2007). "Woodeaton Temple (338732)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2013-11-20.