The Winchester Palace Roman wall paintings were discovered in 1983 when archaeologists from the Museum of London’s Department of Greater London Archaeology investigated the site in North Southwark once occupied by the palace belonging to the mediaeval Bishops of Winchester. This building stood on the south bank of the river Thames, some 250 metres west of London Bridge, and gave the site its name.

Excavation revealed that beneath the foundations of the mediaeval palace lay the remains of a series of Roman buildings dating from the first to the fourth centuries A.D. The wall paintings were discovered in the robbed out ruins of a room belonging to a building originally constructed about 120 A.D. This building seems, from it’s stone construction, vaulted ceilings and extensive sub floor heating system, to have been part of a large baths complex.

Of interest regarding the status and history of the site was the discovery of an early third century inscription listing, by cohort, what seem to have been members of a military guild.

Unfortunately too little remained of the inscription's heading to identify the unit that those listed belonged to. A close parallel to this inscription is one from North Africa listing members of a guild of centurions.

However the question has been raised that London seems an odd location for such a military guild, somewhere closer to the frontier would seem more likely. I feel myself that the discovery of a number of Classis Britannica tiles from the site may be relevant. London would certainly have been a logical location for the head quarters of the fleet. I must hasten to add that this is very much my personal view and it is not shared by some of my old colleagues.

Two successive paintings were recovered from the site, the second one painted over the first one. The earlier painting dating to about 120 AD, the second, later one appears to date from the third century, the inscription possibly commemorated this third century redecoration.

We were able to recover both paintings because they were created using the 'fresco' technique which requires that the painting should be executed on to a layer of fresh plaster. Thus when a room was redecorated it had also to be replastered first. When the painting's supporting wall collapsed, some time in the late third or the fourth century, the two layers separated and consequently it was possible to save both paintings.

The first painting
The second painting
A detailed analysis and description of this site is comprehensively covered in the Museum of London's publication "Excavations at Winchester Palace, London, 1983-90, Brian Yule." MOLAS Monograph 23. 2005.

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