The Romans In LondonLondon Grid for Learning

Roman London's dead were buried in cemeteries outside the town walls in such areas as today's Spitalfields, Bishopsgate and Aldgate. At first, they cremated the dead on funeral pyres in the cemeteries but then they began to bury the dead, often in wooden or lead coffins. The Romans believed that people travelled to the Underworld when they died. They took with them food for the journey or coins to pay Charon, the ferryman, to carry them across the River Styx. Gifts or favourite possessions were sometimes placed in the burials and even pendants of mythological creatures like Medusa were chosen to protect the dead from evil spirits.

Archaeologists found an unusual burial at Spitalfields, part of the northern cemetery. The skeleton of a young woman lay inside a lead coffin and stone coffin, called a sarcophagus. Her clothes showed that the young woman had come from a very wealthy family. She had been buried dressed in an expensive long garment, made of purple silk that had come from China. It had been woven in Syria and decorated with a braid woven with gold thread. She was buried with hair accessories and glass vessels that may have held perfumed oils.

Archaeologists can tell a lot from the bones themselves. She was in her early twenties, was taller than average and had eaten a healthy diet. Her teeth showed little decay as the food was less sweet than we eat today. Science today is able to extract data called isotopes that show that she originally came from Rome.