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Roman Temple on Lancing Down in West Sussex
I take great pleasure in the walk from Lancing College, past Hoe Court and Lancing Ring and round Steepdown and, depending on the mood, further along to the West.

On the way,  I think about our ancestors who might also have walked this way. Over at Cissbury Ring, a few miles distant, we know that in around 3000 bc. the Neolithic people were mining for flints. They might well have come this way too.

Looking out over the Downs, whether it be summer or winter, you cannot fail to be impressed by the views. The sky, the fields, the distant haze of the Weald and  the silvery shape of the river Adur. It is not difficult to think how, back in pre-Christian days, the worship of nature would have been very important. 

Which brings us neatly on to the story of the Temple on Lancing Down.

 Who built the Temple on Lancing Down?

A Romano-Celtic Temple is referred to as being on "Lancing Down". The site is about 200 yds west of the present day Lancing Clump. Artifacts from both the pre-Roman and Roman period have been found there.

The original Temple was probably built before the Roman Invasions of 55/54 bc and 43 ad by Celts. Probably this Temple was a simple (but still important) stone platform on which offerings and other worship rituals were undertaken. Coins and votive objects (votive = an object used for a ritual or worship) such as bowls, cups and an urn from this period have been found.

The invasion of Britain in 43 ad, ordered by Emperor Claudius, meant that the "Celtic" culture began to wane in Sussex as the Roman soldiers pushed remorselessly across.

Roman soldiers were great followers of religious events and kept diaries of days for special ritual and worship. It is very likely that soldiers built the Roman Temple on Lancing Down. The Temple is of a type particular to Southern Britain and Gaul (modern day France) that were dedicated to their Gods, particularly Jupiter. It was built either on or very close to the Celtic one. Its construction was a far more involved affair, being about twelve metres square. The links below give full descriptions, layout details and lists of objects found.

Following the Roman Invasion, for the next three hundred years the invaders and "locals" integrated to become "Romano-Britains". This was a prosperous time for the area, as can be seen by buildings such as Fishbourne Roman Palace.

This period also saw the arrival of Christianity. Roman power began to collapse as their Empire came under attack from all corners. In our area, the Saxons invaded and became the new dominant rulers. Under the Saxons, Christianity thrived.

It may well be that the arrival of the Saxons led to the Roman Temple becoming a ruin, which did not "surface" again for a further 1500 years.

Mr Medhurst and the Lancing Temple in the 19th Century

In the 1820s the "ruins" of the Roman Temple were discovered by a certain Mr Medhurst.  Mr Medhurst, something of an entrepreneur, opened an exhibition in a hut that he erected on the site and charged visitors to view objects found. A few years later, he then grubbed up all the remains of the building and removed them to his (still unknown) house in North Lancing!

Archaeological digs at Lancing Down in the 20th Century

Following the activities of Mr Medhurst, it was another century before more work was undertaken at the Roman Temple. In both 1940 and 1980, teams of archaeologists from the Sussex Archaeological Society carried out digs on the site. Details of the their work and discoveries can be found using the link below.

Appendix 1 - Some points arising from the Excavations on Lancing Down in 1980

In 1980 the site was excavated by a team of archaeologists and helpers.  Owen Bedwin wrote up their work and discoveries in volume 119 of the Sussex Archaeological Society journals. This volume is available locally at Worthing Library.

I have been selective in choosing the following points from the article by Owen

"....  the most interesting discovery of the 1980 excavation was the identification of the small squared shrine. Its ground plan and proximity to the masonry temple are powerful arguments in favour of religious significance"

" .... this late Iron Age shrine, the first of its kind to be found in Sussex, joins the small but heterogeneous group of square structures of religious significance known from the Iron Age contexts in southern Britain. Most of these have been found inside late Iron Age hill forts"

" .......there remains to be considered the settlements of those who used this site in the late Iron Age and early Roman period. Evidence for contemporary settlement nearby is scanty. Frere (1940) mentions Roman finds (though not precisely dated) in North Lancing, near the Manor, just over 1 km south east of the site and there are two known second century cremations, one from Sompting and Crabtree Lane"

"  .....to the east of the temple there could have been a settlement on the edge of the Adur Valley, now perhaps covered by alluvium from river flooding"

links to related websites

Items found at Lancing Down

Sussex Archeological Society

Fishbourne Roman Villa

 

The Ordinance Survey Map of the area reproduced by permission, The site of the Temple is to the left of text "Lancing Ring" near the 110 contour line.    Click to enlarge the image

 

 

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the Roman Emperor Claudius the Vatican Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 Use link below to view larger image.

Cross plate brooch of the 3rd century found at Lancing Down click to enlarge
 

 

 

 

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 the Roman God Jupiter the Vatican Museum. Jupiter was leader of the Gods and could "hurl thunderbolts from the sky". He was an object of worship to the Roman Army.
 
page created 18/12/11