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Great Britain

18 June 2020

Roman Britain

Great Britain: Roman Britain, 18 June 2020. Images from Royal Mail.

Technical Specifications:

Stamp format: Over-square portrait
Stamp size: 35mm x 37mm
Design: Up
Printer: International Security Printers
Print process: Lithography
Perforations: 14.5 x 14
Phosphor Bars: as appropriate
Gum: PVA

A collection of eight Special Stamps featuring important sites and artefacts that illustrate the profound impact of the Roman occupation on our nation’s life and culture.

Each stamp subject has been chosen in collaboration with the British Museum to reflect the sophistication, technical brilliance and artistry of Roman Britain.

Two Second Class stamps, two First Class stamps, two £1.63 stamps and two £1.68 stamps.

Dover Lighthouse The UK’s tallest standing Roman building. Second Class

Dubris, also known as Portus Dubris and Dubrae, was a port in Roman Britain on the site of present-day Dover, Kent, England. As the closest point to continental Europe and the site of the estuary of the Dour, the site chosen for Dover was ideal for a cross-channel port. The Dour is now covered over for much of its course through the town. In the Roman era, it grew into an important military, mercantile and cross-channel harbour and – with Rutupiae – one of the two starting points of the road later known as Watling Street. It was fortified and garrisoned initially by the Classis Britannica, and later by troops based in a Saxon Shore Fort.

Two lighthouses, each called the Pharos, were built soon after the conquest. Proposals of their date range from 50 (only seven years after the invasion of 43), 80 or (since the building includes tiles identical to the mansion in the town built at that date) c. 138, though the general consensus is for a 1st-century AD date. They were sited on the two heights (Eastern Heights and Western Heights) and modelled on the one built for Caligula’s aborted invasion at Boulogne.

The one on the Eastern Heights still stands in the grounds of Dover Castle to 80 feet (24 m) high close to its original height, and has been adapted for use as the bell tower of the adjacent castle church of St Mary de Castro. This Roman Pharos has been a Grade I-listed building since 1974. What little remains of the western lighthouse is called the Bredenstone or the Devil’s Drop of Mortar after the putative nearby lost village of Braddon, within Drop Redoubt on Dover Western Heights – it was covered in the 18th-century building works but then rediscovered in fresh works in the 1860s, and was the traditional site of the investiture of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Bignor mosaic Depicts Venus, Roman goddess of love. Second Class

Bignor Roman Villa is a large Roman courtyard villa which has been excavated and put on public display on the Bignor estate in the English county of West Sussex. It is well known for its high quality mosaic floors, which are some of the most complete and intricate in the country.

The rooms on display today are mostly located at the west end of the north wing, including a summer and winter (underfloor heated) dining room. The bathhouse is to the south-east. The rooms contain some of the best Roman mosaics to be found in Great Britain, both in terms of preservation, artistic merit and detailing. The Greek-key-patterned northern corridor extends for some 79 ft (24m) making it the longest in Britain.

The traditional definition of a mosaic is a coherent pattern or image in which each component element is built up from small regular or irregular pieces of substances such as stone, glass or ceramic, held in place by plaster/mortar, entirely or predominantly covering a plane or curved surface, even a three dimensional shape, and normally integrated with its architectural context.

Mosaics were traditionally used as decoration for floors and walls becoming very popular across the Ancient Roman World.

Amffitheatr yng Nghaer Isca, Caerllion Amphitheatre at Isca Fortress, Caerleon. First Class

Caerleon is a suburban town and community on the River Usk in the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, Wales. Caerleon is of archaeological importance, being the site of a notable Roman legionary fortress, Isca Augusta, and an Iron Age hillfort. Close to the remains of Isca Augusta are the National Roman Legion Museum and the Roman Baths Museum. The town also has strong historical and literary associations: Geoffrey of Monmouth elevated the significance of Caerleon as a major centre of British history in his Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1136), and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King (1859-1885) while staying in Caerleon.

Isca, variously specified as Isca Augusta or Isca Silurum, was the site of a Roman legionary fortress and settlement or vicus, the remains of which lie beneath parts of the present-day suburban village of Caerleon in the north of the city of Newport in South Wales. The site includes Caerleon Amphitheatre and is protected by Cadw.

Headquarters of the Legion “II Augusta”, which took part in the invasion under Emperor Claudius in 43, Isca is uniquely important for the study of the conquest, pacification and colonisation of Britannia by the Roman army. It was one of only three permanent legionary fortresses in later Roman Britain and, unlike the other sites at Chester and York, its archaeological remains lie relatively undisturbed beneath fields and the town of Caerleon and provide a unique opportunity to study the Roman legions in Britain. Excavations continue to unearth new discoveries in the late 20th century a complex of very large monumental buildings outside the fortress between the River Usk and the amphitheatre was uncovered. This new area of the canabae was previously unknown.

Because of its rounded form, the unexcavated amphitheatre was known to locals as ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’, but there is no known connection. An initial investigation in 1909 showed the potential for a full-scale excavation of the structure, which began in 1926 and was supervised by Victor Erle Nash-Williams. This revealed, among other things, that the amphitheatre had been built around 80. This (Period I) building was destroyed by fire in the early-second century, and the second (Period II) building erected c.AD138 was destroyed around sixty years later c.196/7. It was rebuilt for the third and last time during the campaigns of Severus and Caracalla in Britain c.197–211. The Period III building finally fell into disuse around the middle of the fourth century at the same time that the Caerleon fortress was evacuated. The latest coin from this site is that of Valens (AD364–378).

The arena is oval in shape, with eight entrances, and the stadium is thought to have had a capacity of around six thousand spectators, and apart from the usual gladiatorial entertainments, it was probably used for parades, displays and exercises by the garrison of the fortress.

Ribchester helmet Worn at displays of Roman horsemanship. First Class

The Ribchester Helmet is a Roman bronze ceremonial helmet dating to between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, which is now on display at the British Museum. It was found in Ribchester, Lancashire, England in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. The model of a sphinx that was believed to attach to the helmet was lost. The helmet was impractical for protecting a soldier in battle. It was intended for displays of elite horsemanship known as hippika gymnasia or cavalry sports.

The helmet was part of the Ribchester Hoard, which was discovered in the summer of 1796 by the son of Joseph Walton, a clogmaker. The boy found the items buried in a hollow, about three metres below the surface, on some waste land by the side of a road leading to Ribchester church, and near a river bed. The hoard was thought to have been stored in a wooden box and consisted of the corroded remains of a number of items but the largest was this helmet. In addition to the helmet, the hoard included a number of paterae, pieces of a vase, a bust of Minerva, fragments of two basins, several plates, and some other items that the antiquarian collector Charles Townley thought had religious uses. The finds were thought to have survived so well because they were covered in sand.

Only three Roman helmets with a covering over the face have been found in Britain. Prior to the 2010 discovery of the Crosby Garrett Helmet and the 1905 discovery of the Newstead Helmet this helmet was described as the highest quality helmet found.[citation needed] The Ribchester helmet was found corroded but, like the Newstead helmet, largely complete, whereas the Crosby Garret helmet was found in 67 fragments.

It is known that these helmets were used for display because of accounts left by Arrian of Nicomedia, who was a governor in the time of Emperor Hadrian. Arrian describes how soldiers of high rank or with particular skills were allowed to wear these helmets in the hippika gymnasia or cavalry tournaments.

The helmet was voted Britain’s “second best Roman find”, behind the Vindolanda tablets, according to a web site poll by the Channel 4 television programme Time Team.

Bridgeness distance slab Records the building of the Antonine Wall. £1.63

The Bridgeness Slab is a Roman distance slab created around 142 CE marking a portion of the Antonine Wall built by the Second Legion. It is regarded as the most detailed and best preserved of the Scottish distance slabs. The sandstone tablet was found at Bridgeness in Bo’ness, Scotland in 1868 on a promontory close to Harbour Road. The original is in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, while a replica is near the site of its discovery.

The slab was erected 142 CE to mark the completion of a section of the Antonine Wall. It was uncovered during excavations in 1868 on land owned by Henry Mowbray Cadell, whose son Dr Henry Cadell was an eyewitness of its discovery. Cadell offered it to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh if they would provide a copy for display locally.

The first on-site replica includes only the centre panel of the original. A second replica, including the side panels, was unveiled by Bo’ness Community Council and Falkirk Council on 7 September 2012 at 56°0′58.45″N 3°35′1.31″W in Kinningars Park, Bridgeness, Bo’ness. The replica was based on the original as was an older copy of the stone now in the Hunterian Museum. The Bo’ness replica was made using digital laser scanning since silicone or other moulds risked damaging the slab.

The inscription in the centre panel reads “Imp CaesTito Aelio / Hadri Antonino Aug Pio p p legII Aug / per m p ĪĪĪĪ DCLII s / FEC“, which when expanded reads as “Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) Tito Aelio Hadri(ano) Antonino/ Aug(usto) Pio p(atri) p(atriae) leg(io) II Aug(usta) per m(ilia) p(assuum) IIII(milia)DCLII s(emis)”. In English this translates as “For the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, the Second Augustan Legion completed [the Wall] over a distance of 4652 paces”.

In addition to the Latin inscription the original has sculpted panels.

On the left is a victorious, Roman cavalryman with four naked Britons: one being trampled holding a shield, one running with a spear in his back, one sitting in apparent despair, and one of whom is bound and beheaded. It has been suggested that the last act was a show of contempt for Gallo-Briton head veneration. The propaganda, particularly Roman depiction of natives is consistent with other slabs like the ones from Balmuildy and Westerwood.

On the right panel is a depiction of the suovetaurilia, a ceremony undertaken before important campaigns or in this case before the wall was built. The arch top of a temple is depicted. Four soldiers are shown, one carrying the vexillum, or cavalry flag, of the Second Legion. A man in a toga, possibly Aulus Claudius Charax- commander of the Second Legion, is depicted pouring a libation on an altar as a preliminary to sacrificing a bull, a pig and a sheep. The sounds of the slaughter may have been drowned out by the musical instruments which are shown being played. The inscription records the building of 4652 paces of the Antonine Wall.

Washing revealed faint traces of pigments, mainly red, have survived on the original stone suggesting that it was once highly coloured.

Warrior god, Cambridgeshire Romano-British copper-alloy statuette. £1.63

Gorgon’s head, Bath Sited at the spring sacred to Sulis Minerva. £1.68

In Greek mythology, a Gorgon (Γοργών) is a mythical creature portrayed in ancient literature. While descriptions of Gorgons vary and occur in the earliest examples of Greek literature, the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair made of living, venomous snakes, as well as a horrifying visage that turned those who beheld her to stone.

Traditionally, two of the Gorgons, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal, but their sister Medusa was not and was slain by the demigod and hero Perseus.

A highlight of the Roman Baths in Bath, along with the gilt bronze head of Sulis Minerva, is a stone Gorgon’s head found during the building of the Pump Room in 1790. The stone is part of the main pediment at the temple of Sulis Minerva, which was situated at the spring in Bath, and is thought to have been made in Gaul, due to the quality of the stone work.

The creature depicted in the sculpture is definitely male, with a beard, which has sparked debate that the image could be the water god Oceanus, or a Celtic sun god, rather than a Gorgon.

The pediment as a whole is full of symbolism including images of the half men and half fish Tritons, servants of the god Neptune, a dolphin’s head, a small owl and female Victories. Specialists are still debating the full meaning of the various iconography of the pediment.

Hadrian’s Wall The northwest frontier of Rome’s empire. £1.68

Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aelium), also known as the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani in Latin, is a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire, immediately north of which were the lands of the northern Ancient Britons, including the Picts.

It had a stone base and a stone wall. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five Roman miles. From north to south, the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way and vallum, another ditch with adjoining mounds. It is thought the milecastles were staffed with static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. In addition to the wall’s defensive military role, its gates may have been customs posts.

A significant portion of the wall still stands and can be followed on foot along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. The largest Roman archaeological feature in Britain, it runs a total of 73 miles (117.5 kilometres) in northern England. Regarded as a British cultural icon, Hadrian’s Wall is one of Britain’s major ancient tourist attractions. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. In comparison, the Antonine Wall, thought by some to be based on Hadrian’s wall (the Gillam hypothesis), was not declared a World Heritage site until 2008.

It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s Wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. In fact Hadrian’s Wall lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border. While it is less than 0.6 mi (1.0 km) south of the border with Scotland in the west at Bowness-on-Solway, in the east at Wallsend it is as much as 68 miles (109 km) away.


Presentation Pack:

A beautifully presented fold-out pack written by the museum’s Weston Curator of Roman Britain, Richard Hobbs, explores the period’s lasting legacy.

Discover important sites and historical artefacts that reveal Rome’s profound impact on our nation’s society, laws, language, art, architecture, culture and beliefs.

This fact-filled souvenir includes all eight Special Stamps featuring Roman sites and artefacts that remain in Britain today.

First Day Cover:

All eight Roman Britain Special Stamps cancelled with the postmark, name and address of your choice.

The information card includes a photograph of a section of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park, alongside a brief history of Roman Britain, stamp specifications and acknowledgements.

The First Day envelope features a wooden ink writing tablet on the cover and a translation of the tablet’s text on the reverse.

The Colchester (Camulodunum) postmark references the location of the conquest’s first legionary fortress and first colonia established there in AD 49 – making Colchester Roman Britain’s first town. The postmark is an illustration of a Roman imperial coin featuring the head of Claudius.

The Tallents House postmark illustration is a section of a mosaic floor in the Bignor Roman Villa, West Sussex.

As a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions that were placed on individuals’ movements, Royal Mail took the decision at the end of March to extend its postmarking facilities for all Special Stamp issues until further notice. We promised that we would announce at the appropriate time when this extension would end and give customers sufficient notice of the cut-off period for accepting covers retrospectively. With these restrictions now being gradually eased throughout the UK we will revert to the normal postmarking rules from Thursday, 1st October. This means that the Roman Britain First Day Covers will come off sale at midnight on that day.

PHQ Cards:

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