Rare Roman mausoleum unearthed in Southwark

A large Roman mausoleum, used to bury high-status individuals, was recently discovered by MOLA during excavations in advance of the redevelopment of a site near Borough Market in Southwark, by Landsec and Transport for London (TfL).

The foundations, which measured approximately 7-10m wide and up to 1m in depth, as well as the interior flooring, were found to be incredibly well-preserved, making this the most intact Roman mausoleum ever to be discovered in Britain. In the centre of the structure, the team from MOLA uncovered a square mosaic – consisting of a central flower surrounded by a pattern of concentric circles – set within a pavement of small red tiles. Raised platforms, on which the burials would have been placed, were then arranged around three sides of the structure and covered with tiles bonded with a waterproof pink mortar, called opus signinum. The lowest entrance steps into the structure were also discovered.

Photo: MOLA

A second mosaic, similar in style to the first, was then found beneath it, suggesting that the floor of the building was raised at some point during its use. Although only the foundations, floor, and lower parts of the walls were still present, large buttresses at the corners suggest that this was once a sizeable building, perhaps consisting of two floors.

While no burials were found inside the mausoleum – as the upper portions of the structure appear to have been robbed out and used for building materials, possibly during the medieval period – over 80 Roman burials were found in the area surrounding it. Along with personal items from the burials (including copper bracelets, glass beads, and a bone comb), fragments of pottery, scraps of metal, and roofing tiles were discovered, as well as more than 100 coins.

Intriguingly, this cemetery was discovered just a few metres from the Roman mosaic MOLA uncovered in February of last year (see CA 386), which was the largest to be found in London for more than 50 years. It is thought that this larger mosaic once decorated the floor of a lavish dining room – part of either a mansio, for visitors to Londinium, or the private residence of a wealthy individual. The dating of the mausoleum and cemetery is ongoing, and it will be interesting to see how they relate to this complex.

Commenting on the discovery, Antonietta Lerz, Senior Archaeologist at MOLA, said: ‘This site in Southwark is a microcosm for the changing fortunes of Roman London – from the early phase of the site where London expands and the area has lavishly decorated Roman buildings, all the way through to the later Roman period when the settlement shrinks and it becomes a quieter space where people remember their dead. It provides a fascinating window into the living conditions and lifestyle in this part of the city in the Roman period.’

Landsec and TfL, who are redeveloping the site as The Liberty of Southwark, now plan to incorporate the remains of the mausoleum into the construction so that they can be accessible to the public. MOLA has made a reconstruction of the mausoleum, too, which can be viewed here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_QOFWy5sEvNEFqAus IKi1A6IzRa4X9uv/view.