This rainy UK city was once the centre of the Roman Empire | Tech News

Rome, Italy, was briefly unseated as centre of the Roman Empire by a town in northern England (Picture: Getty)

Believe it or not, Rome was not always the centre of the Roman Empire. For a time, that honour went to Carlisle.

Yes, the rainy Cumbrian city a stone’s throw from the Scottish border in north west England was the seat of power for one of the world’s greatest civilisations, according to archaeologists digging up the local cricket ground.

Six years of excavation have revealed it was once home to an Imperial Bath House, built for the Roman emperor Septimius Severus while he was staying in the city around the turn of the third century AD.

And wherever the emperor lived was the centre of the empire.

The bath house is thought to be the largest building discovered along Hadrian’s Wall, which once stretched unbroken from Bowness on Solway in Cumbria to Wallsend – then Segedunum – east of Newcastle.

Although almost 2,000 years old, the remains of 34 separate tiles bearing the letters IMP, signature of the Roman Imperial court, were found. These suggest it was either built for or on the command of Severus.

Tiles found at the site of the bath house suggest it was built on the order of emperor Septimius Severus (Picture: Dr Dot Boughton)
Detail of the head of bust of Emperor Septimius Severus (Picture: Getty)

The team of archaeologists, including historian and presenter Professor Alice Roberts, believe the emperor was in Carlisle shortly before his death in 211 CE, based on an ancient text called Historia Augusta.

However, there were two other key clues pointing towards the finding were enormous sculptures and a regal dye.

The bath house is thought to be the largest building along Hadrian’s Wall (Picture: Stuart Walker)

In summer 2023, two ‘monumental’ sculpted heads were discovered at the site, which would have adorned the rooftops. Both are larger than life-sized, treatment reserved only for the gods or emperors. 

The sculptures would have adorned the rooftop of the bath house, creating an impressive entrance for anyone visiting.

Carlise in Cumbria was once the centre of the Roman Empire (Picture: Shutterstock/Sue Martin)

Interestingly, many of the most remarkable artefacts were found in an unexpected place – down the drains – including a striking purple mineral which could have been used to dye clothes.

This serves as further evidence Carlisle was home to the emperor, because only Roman rulers could wear purple.

The bath house had elaborate underfloor heating (Picture: Stuart Walker)
Carlisle is around 1,500 miles north west of Rome (Picture:

The drains offered a whole trove of treasure, including an amethyst showing Venus and a red-brown jasper. Dozens of precious gemstones were found, likely lost by bathers after the steamy conditions weakened the glue holding them in their settings.

An inscription dedicated to Julia Domna, the mother of the most Holy Emperor Alexander Severus, one of Septimius Severus’s successors (Picture: Carlisle Cricket Club)

‘I love archaeology like this – turning up completely unexpected discoveries,’ said Professor Roberts, speaking to Mail Online.

‘And here we have this brilliant association of archaeology with a specific moment in history – when Septimius Severus and his entourage were in town, in Carlisle, at the northwest frontier of the Empire. 

Professor Alice Roberts will present the findings from Carlisle on BBC2 tonight (Picture: BBC/Rare TV)

‘But of course those attempts to subjugate Caledonia would ultimately fail.’

Archaeologist Frank Giecco from Wardell Armstrong Archaeology added: ‘The north of England would have been the centre of the Roman Empire.’

Mr Giecco and the team began excavating the cricket ground in 2017, before it was moved to higher ground following flooding in 2005 and 2015.

Carlisle’s surprising new status was revealed in full during an episode of Digging For Britain, presented by Professor Roberts, earlier this year.

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