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Gladiator Charm, 1,900-Year Shoe Revealed in London Dig

Roman Timber Drain
A timber drain used to divert water from a rooftop in Roman-era England, measured by an archaeologist. The drain was found during digging at Bloomberg Place, the future London headquarters of Bloomberg LP. Source: Museum of London Archeology via Bloomberg

April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Archeological digs on the site of Bloomberg LP’s future London headquarters have revealed Roman building remains and some 10,000 well-preserved objects that have led the site to be dubbed the “Pompeii of the north.”

Museum of London archeologists have discovered good-luck charms, coins, drains and even leather shoes -- dating from the mid-40’s A.D. (when the Romans founded London) to 410 A.D. The objects are in good condition because a now-lost river, the Walbrook, kept the ground wet and prevented their decay.

“What we’ve found is essentially a slice through the entire history of Roman London,” said Sophie Jackson, project manager for the Bloomberg Place excavation. “We’ve got, in one corner of this site, the whole sequence: every year of Roman occupation, represented by buildings and yards and alleyways -- places where people lived and worked for 350 years, one layer above another.”

“We’re calling this site the Pompeii of the north,” said Jackson, as she and her team took reporters in protective jackets and hard hats around the site, located in the City financial district.

As part of the visit, a few objects were displayed, including a shoe known as a carbatina -- made from a single piece of leather, with cut openwork decoration. It would have folded around the foot and was stitched up at the back.

Roman Style

The shoe is one of hundreds found on the site, spanning a 200-year period and indicating changes in styles and fashions. They include flip-flop-like sandals with wooden or cork soles that allowed their wearers to protect themselves against the under-floor heating.

Also on the display table were an amber amulet shaped like a gladiator’s helmet and fist and phallus good-luck charms.

By and large, the dig has thrown up two kinds of objects: those found in trash heaps and those put up as offerings to the gods for good luck.

“We’ve been sifting through 2,000-year-old rubbish pits,” said Michael Marshall, a Roman finds specialist. “Some of them are incredibly smelly.”

The most groundbreaking finds are 100 writing tablets. So far, London has revealed only two such tablets, including one discovered nearby about the sale of a slave girl from Gaul (present-day France) by the name of Fortunata.

Bloomberg Place is also the site of a temple, the Temple of Mithras, which was originally discovered in 1954. Further traces of it have recently been found on site, which will remain underneath the building. The temple itself will be reconstructed as near as possible to its original location for public viewing.

Bloomberg LP is the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Muse highlights include Jorg von Uthmann on Paris arts, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and Ryan Sutton on New York restaurants.

To contact the writer on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at farahn@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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