The thank you post

Now the Nemi exhibition is over now and Fundilia is safely back in her box we’d like to thank you all for supporting us in our digital engagement with this fantastic exhibition. Thanks to the Nottingham Castle Museum and University of Nottingham for letting us work with them, in particular Ann Inscker and Katharina Lorenz. Thanks especially to our guest bloggers for your fantastic research and ideas. Most of all to those who followed our posts and tweets, we hope you enjoyed them and – although this blog has now come to a close – that we’ve got you excited enough about Nemi and her history for you to continue those conversations begun here. Look out for the odd special post in the future too!

We hope you made it to the exhibition but for those who didn’t here are a few of our favourite exhibits.


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

Approaching the temple of Diana via the ‘Appian Way


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

Model of an Etruscan temple found at Nemi, a small version of the actual ancient temple?


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

A selection of the fascinating small votives dedicated by ordinary Romans at the sanctuary


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

A votive tree! Hundreds of wishes and thanks hung by visitors.


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

The fabulous matron, Fundilia Rufa, herself with two of our team, Cara and Rebecca.

©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

Thank you!


The Rex Nemorensis

This week our guest blogger, Tom Oberst of the University of Exeter, takes us through what the ancient sources reveal about the mysterious and violent cult of the ‘King of the Grove’ at Nemi.

The temple beside the SpeculumDianae is one of the more conspicuous, tangible aspects of the history of the area. Yet, as so often is the case, it was the mysterious side that garnered so much interest in the late 19th Century. Sir James George Frazer wrote a monumental tome attempting to use these more mystical aspects to channel his universalist ideas about the progression of understanding from sympathetic magic via religion to science. His work was named The Golden Bough, a reference to a notorious cult, allegedly situated in the woods surrounding the temple in which the herm of Fundilia resided.

The Golden Bough by J. M. W. Turner, inspired by Virgil's Aeneid. Photo: Tate

The Golden Bough by J. M. W. Turner, inspired by Vergil’s Aeneid. Photo: Tate

This cult, now know as the cult of the rex nemorensis (lit. king of the grove), has not left any archaeological evidence of its existence except, arguably, the double headed herm, found in the Nottingham Castle Museum. The only real evidence we have for this cult are the numerous references in ancient literature. The archaeological data makes it quite clear that the temple was relatively popular, yet in literature the key words are the nemus or lucus (grove), usually described as sacred to Diana, but always located on the banks of Lake Nemi or near the ancient town of Aricia, modern day Ariccia. What this tells us is that there was something significant about the Arician grove, something that made Roman and Greek authors reference it in their prose and poetry, or use it as a topographical marker. Lake Nemi was clearly an important spot, Caligula relaxed on his floating palaces there, and Caesar had a mansion overlooking it (Suet. DivJul. 46), yet it consistently seems to be the surrounding woods that fascinate. I have complied a list of references I have come across to the grove or the cult of the rex nemorensis in my research on its thematic appearance in Latin epic poetry. There are surely more, unfortunately I have yet to come across them.

So what was this cult? Carin Green’s 2007 book, Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, dedicates a whole chapter to this discussion which is excellent and well worth a read for a more in depth analysis of the sources (although I feel she is a little too liberal with her analysis of the literary data). There was a small group which lived in the woods surrounding Lake Nemi who were ruled by a priest king, the rex nemorensis. Strabo (5.3.12) tells us that the priest had to be a fugitive, which has led many to assume that the majority, if not all, of the inhabitants of the grove were also fugitives. We know nothing about their lifestyle, whether they lived in the grove, or used it for purely ritualistic purposes. What we do know about is the rex.

Double headed herm possibly depicting the Rex Nemorensis. Photo: figurine with Victorian excavation label. Photo: ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Double headed herm possibly depicting the Rex Nemorensis. ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries. Photo: author’s own

The rex was part of a perpetual tragedy in which successor became succeeded in a bloody fight to the death. Sources differ about the nature of the rite but there they all agree that at some point, the rex carried a sword with him, and could be challenged by a fugitive for kingship of the grove. Servius, in his Fourth Century commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid, mentions the significance of a bough, a branch which had to be broken off in order to commence the challenge (A. 6.136). Despite the fact that Servius is our only source about the bough in this context it is one of the most well known features of this rite, thanks to Frazer and his dubious assertion that this bough is Vergil’s aureus, the ‘Golden Bough’ (6.136). Frazer’s reasoning is dubious because he claims that the aureas is the bough of the Arician cult, whereas Servius claims that it is merely an allusion. This blasé interpretation of sources is something one becomes accustomed to after reading a few pages of The Golden Bough. Ancient authors who are often overlooked are Ovid (Ars. 1.259-62; Fast. 3. 269-72), Pausanias (27.4), Servius (A. 6.136), Strabo (5.3.12), Suetonius (Cal. 35. 3) and Valerius Flaccus (2.300-5) who all mention a king, usually a priest to Diana, who wanders around the Arician grove carrying a sword, and explain that his successor was chosen through a murderous or sacrificial duel. Unfortunately they do not elaborate on how this duel was fought.

A second important extratextual clue our literary sources can give us is the dates in which they were written, or were written about. Our sources range from the 1st Century B.C. to the 4th A.D., which, although this is not conclusive proof of its actual longevity, does display the extent of its fame.

So there you have it! A brief outline of the elusive rex. There is a lot of conjecture out there about the rite’s practices, symbolism and participants, and I would advise erring on the side of sceptical if you go on to read the suggested ‘further reading’ (below), but I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite about one of the more fascinating characters of ancient Italy.

Suggested reading:

Alfoldi, A. (1960) ‘Diana Nemorensis’, AJA 64: 137-144.

Dyson, J (2001) King of the Wood: The Sacrificial Victor in Vergil’s Aeneid, Oklahoma.

Frazer, J. G. (1890) The Golden Bough, abr. Fraser, R. (1994) Oxford.

Green, C. M. C. (1994) ‘The Necessary Murder: Myth, Ritual, and Civil War in Lucan, Book 3’, CA 13: 203-33.

Green, C. M. C. (2006) Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, Cambridge.

MacCormick, A. G. & Blagg, F. C. eds. (1983) Mysteries of Diana: The Antiquities from Nemi in Nottingham Museums, Nottingham.

Dissecting the Past: writing the biography of an anatomical votive

In this week’s special guest-post, Dr. Jessica Hughes of the Open University, shares her research on the fascinating ‘dissected’ female figurine found at the Nemi sanctuary


Terracotta Roman female figurine with open torso. Excavated from Nemi sanctuary. Photo: ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

In 2009 a team from the Open University went to Nottingham to record some audio-visual material for a new course on Greek and Roman mythology. Part of the course focused on the sanctuary at Lake Nemi, where the mythical figure Hippolytus was said to have been taken by Artemis/Diana after he had been raised from the dead by the healing god Asklepios. As an introduction to this site and its material culture, we recorded Dr Katharina Lorenz from the University of Nottingham talking about four objects in the Castle Museum collections: the famous herm of Fundilia, a terracotta oil lamp depicting a street entertainer, a terracotta votive model of a temple (which may or may not represent the temple of Nemi itself) and another votive model of a woman without a head, whose torso was ‘opened’ to reveal her intestines, rather like the later anatomical models used for teaching dissection to medical students.

L0037289 Ivory anatomical figure of a pregnant woman

Ivory 17th century medical figure of a pregnant woman with removable internal organs. Photo: Wellcome Images

While each of the objects was fascinating in its own way, the ‘dissected woman’ was my personal favourite, not least because I was in the process of researching a book about ‘anatomical votives’ – models of the human body and its parts that were dedicated in ancient sanctuaries. The Nottingham figurine was one of the most unusual and striking examples of this phenomenon, and when I was invited to give a paper at a conference about votive offerings the next year, I jumped at the chance to go back to Nottingham to have another look at her. With the help of the Castle Museum curator Ann Inscker, I began to do some research into the various stages of this object’s ‘biography’, from its manufacture, dedication and subsequent disposal in a ‘sacred pit’ within the Nemi sanctuary, to its excavation by Savile in 1885, its journey from Italy to England, and its modern display in both physical and digital form.

Needless to say, some stages of the votive’s biography were much easier to reconstruct than others. We could access quite a lot of information about the manufacturing process from a close visual analysis of the figurine itself, which was made in two parts – front and back – from reddish clay pressed into moulds that had themselves been made from another ‘prototype’ figurine. Examining the figurine also shed light on later stages of its life: for instance, the surprisingly good state of preservation suggested that the model had been placed gently amongst the other objects in the votive pit where it was discovered – rather than carelessly discarded, as people often think in relation to this sort of findspot. And of course, the handwritten label that had been carefully glued to the figurine’s back gave insight into nineteenth-century practices of excavation, recording and interpretation (the fading ink letters read ‘Anatomical Votive Offering for some internal malady or childbirth from Artemision, Nemi, 1885’).


Reverse of terracotta Roman female figurine with Victorian excavation label. Photo: ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Further information about the figurine came from comparing it to other objects, both in and beyond the Castle Museum collections. One exciting moment in the research process came when Ann found another, previously-overlooked fragment of a figurine that was identical to part of the dissected woman, suggesting that there may have been more than one such model amongst the votives dedicated at Nemi. At other times, ‘general knowledge’ about anatomical votives from other sites in Italy helped to to fill in the gaps in the figurine’s own, inevitably patchy narrative.

L0058445 Votive male torso, Roman, 200 BCE-200 CE

Terracotta Roman male figurine with open torso. Excavated from Isola Farnese, near Rome, 1871-1900. Photo: Wellcome Images

For example, while the dedicant of this figurine did not inscribe their offering with their name or any clue as to the motivation for their offering, other votive body parts from the ancient world do sometimes have inscriptions, findspots or other things that connect them to healing, making this a plausible interpretation for our figurine too. And while we have no trace of where this votive was dedicated and displayed at Nemi, the evidence from other sanctuaries can suggest possible locations – round the bases of the temple’s cult statue, for instance, or (as was the case at the nearby site of Lavinium) on the top of altars that were used for the performance of animal sacrifice.

Roman relief from Louvre showing haruspex (divinator of entrails, left) waiting to inspect after a sacrifice. Photo: Flickr aegean-blue.

Roman relief from the Louvre showing haruspex (divinator of entrails, left) waiting to inspect after a sacrifice. Photo: Flickr aegean-blue.

This mention of sacrifice leads on to what was, for me, the most compelling aspect of writing the figurine’s life story – that is, thinking about how its symbolic meaning changed and acquired different layers as it moved through history and across cultures. The more I looked at this offering in relation to its original context, the more I became convinced that the imagery of sacrifice had been deliberately evoked in order to add meaning to the object for ancient viewers. The iconography of the dissected torso bore many similarities to depictions of the sacrificial butchery of animals and the related ritual of prophesying the future from the appearance of the entrails. Meanwhile, other objects and narratives from the Nemi site related to human sacrifice, such as a now-lost marble relief showing the killing of the ‘Rex Nemorensis’ (complete with his ‘protruding entrails’, according to one nineteenth-century description). And human sacrifice lay at the core of the sanctuary’s own mythical foundation narrative, in which Orestes had rescued his sister Iphigenia from a life of sacrificing human victims to the Tauric Artemis before bringing her to Nemi along with that goddess’ cult statue. In fact, sacrifice and healing were closely linked concepts in classical antiquity, and it may be that the dedicant of the figurine was aware of this connection, using the figurine to represent his or her status as a sacrificial gift handed over to the care of the goddess.

Early 19th century ivory mug showing Iphigenia as preistess of Artemis on the right and Orestes on the left, about to take her to Nemi. Photo: Walters Art Museum

Early 19th century ivory mug showing Iphigenia as preistess of Artemis on the right and Orestes on the left, about to take her to Nemi. Photo: Walters Art Museum

For later viewers far from the sanctuary of Nemi, these sacrificial resonances would have been less intrusive, and indeed most later commentators focus – as the author of the figurine’s label did – on the ‘medical’, healing function of the votive. When the figurine was included in the innovative virtual sanctuary created by the University of Nottingham it was represented alongside other anatomical offerings in a category of votives related to physical well-being. Here, the visitor to the site is given the opportunity to (re)dedicate votives from Nemi by sending them to another online correspondent for whom the votive might have meaning (in this case, perhaps a friend with tummy ache?!). This is a really good example of how later ‘receptions’ of votives can simultaneously take us away from, and draw us closer to, the original meanings and functions of votives. Here, the emailing of a votive to a mortal rather than a divine recipient seems like the ultimate act of secularisation; however, at the same time, it also potentially restores to the votive some of its empathic, emotional and transactional qualities – qualities that have often been sidelined in academic and antiquarian discussions.

I haven’t yet been to the new exhibition to see how the dissected lady has been presented, but I’m really looking forward to going and updating my object biography with this latest stage in the figurine’s story. In the meantime, our OU students continue to enjoy looking at and hearing about the different votive objects from Nemi, and discovering how the ritual practices surrounding Diana can complement (and sometimes complicate) the rich body of mythological narratives about the goddess of Nemi.

The Anatomy of Ritual is Dr. Hughes’ forthcoming book on ancient anatomical votives.

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Nemeton in the Medieval World

In part one of her special guest-post Dr. Kelly A. Kilpatrick from the Institute for Name-Studies, University of Nottingham, explained how the name ‘Nemi’ connects our sacred place with others across the pre-Christian world. In this second part she shows how this special place-name persisted in the Christian world: 

The previous post discussed the development of the pre-Christian functions and interpretations of nemeton sites. With the decline of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity across Europe, new and distinctive attitudes towards pre-existing nemeton places developed. Nemeton sites in post-Roman Gaul often became the focus of Christian missions. The poet Venantius Fortunatus (530-600) describes how the relics of St Vincent put the demons to flight at Vernemetis (Pompéjac) in the poem Basilica S. Vincentii Vernemetis:

Nomine Vernemetis voluit vocitare vetustas, quod quasi fanum ingens Gallia lingua refert. ‘The ancient wished to call it by the name Vernemetis, which refers, as it were, to a great shrine in the Gaulish language’. (Venanti, 12-13).

This place-name is also recorded in the Passion of St Vincent d’Agen as Reonemetum (a corruption of regione Nemeti/ Nemetum). A chapter heading from the Indiculus superstition et paganiarum, the only surviving document from a series of synods held between 741 and 747 concerning missionaries to Saxony and Frisland, also indicates that sacred forests (or  shrines in groves) were known as nimidas and still used in pagan worship. Sources such as Fortunatus and the Indiculus indicate that nemeton sites retained many of their pre-Christian characteristics, but with the adoption of Christianity, nemeton place-names, like many other pre-Christian religious sites, were modified to fit within the contexts of Christian ideology.


Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

There are fewer records of nemeton place-names in medieval Britain and Ireland. Old Irish nemed, ultimately a derivative of nemeton, came to be applied in many different contexts within medieval Irish society. The most common use of nemed in early Ireland was in relation to the Church. In medieval texts this term eventually came to simply mean ‘a sanctuary’ (in some cases ‘glebe-land’), and it is frequently associated with cell ‘chapel’. The term also developed to form an abstract in Old-Irish law referring to a person with certain privileges and immunities. The best source for the medieval Irish interpretation and functions of nemed is found in O’Mulconry’s Glossary from the Yellow Book of Lecan (Kilpatrick, Appendix III).

The evidence for nemeton place-names in medieval England is appreciably greater due to the records in the Domesday Book (completed in 1086). The nemeton place-names (spelled in English as nymet) first recorded in Domesday are borrowings from Brittonic and are clustered in Devon, with one outlier in Gloucestershire. Nearly all of them survive today. In Devon they are located within the immediate vicinity of the Rivers Yeo, Mole and Troney, which were previously known by the name Nymet. C. E. Stevens suggested that Nymet was the name of a forest through which these rivers flowed. There is evidence of nemeton place-names in this area of Devon from the Roman period. Nemetostatio is very near Nymet Tracey and Nymet Roland. Similarly, the Romano-British name Nemetobala located at Lydney, Gloucestershire, was directly across the Severn from Nympsfield. It is ‘almost certain’ that the nemeton-element of Nympsfield is derived from its close proximity to the Uley Shrines complex .


River Mole, Devon. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The region with the largest concentration of place-names in nemeton is Scotland, where at least twenty-six have been identified. They are, however, poorly documented. These sites have often been labelled as pre-Christian religious centres, though it should be noted that there is ample evidence of early Christian activity within the vicinity of most nemeton place-names in Scotland, and a number are closely associated with place-names in cell ‘chapel’. Geographically, the nemeton place-names in Scotland (excluding Rosneath in Argyll) are found in the former region of Pictland, which suggests they are derived from a developed Pictish form of nemeton (Taylor, 152; Goldberg, 178). Whether the Scottish nemeton place-names are pre-Christian places of worship which developed into Christian sites in the Middle Ages or early ecclesiastical sites interpreted similarly to the medieval Irish definition−or a combination of both−requires further study.

Modern Nemeton pns in Devon and Cornwall

Nemeton place-names in Devon and Cornwall.

In Cornwall, the modern place-name Trenovissick (from earlier Trewarnevas) is of interest. The name is formed from Cornish tre ‘estate, farmland’ plus earlier *uer ‘great’, and *neved, and means ‘estate of the great sanctuary’.  It is likely that tre was later prefixed to an existing name *Uerneved.  The name would be identical to the Romano-British and Gaulish name Vernemeton, and if so, it may be a rare survival of an early nemeton site. The nemeton-based names that have survived in Cornwall are located within a particular geographical area.  They are also not far west of the cluster of English nymet place-names and rivers in Devon, near the earlier Romano-British Nemetostatio.

Scottish place-names in 'nemeton'.

Scottish place-names in ‘nemeton’.

The available evidence suggests that there was a sharp contrast between the survival and function of nemeton place-names inside and outside the former areas of the Roman Empire. It is clear that the manner in which this term was interpreted changed significantly from the ancient world to the medieval, especially with the adoption of Christianity. From the Late Antique period the element was typically associated with a pre-Christian sanctuary of some kind, and was possibly a place that housed a shrine. By the early medieval period the term had evolved Christian connotations, and came most commonly to be associated with the Church. Though the word nemeton was retained in the various Celtic languages spoken in the medieval period, from the early Irish usage it is clear the word evolved within a Christian context, though certain aspects of the original meaning were preserved.

Citations and Suggested reading:

Goldberg, M., ‘Ideas and Ideology’, in D. Clarke, A. Blackwell and M. Goldberg (eds.), Early Medieval Scotland (Edinburgh, 2012), pp. 141-204.

Kilpatrick, K. A., ‘A Case-Study of Nemeton Place-Names’, Ollodagos: Actes de la Société Belge d’Études Celtiques, 25, Appendix III.

Stevens, C. E., ‘The Sacred Wood’, in J. V. S. Megaw (ed.), To Illustrate the Monuments: Essays on Archaeology Presented to Stuart Piggot (London, 1976).

Taylor, S., The Place-Names of Fife, vol. I (Donington, 2006).

Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Berlin, 1881).


3D-Scanning Fundilia: Research on the statuary finds from the Sanctuary of Diana at Nemi

Dr. Katharina Lorenz, director of Digital Humanities Centre at University of Nottingham, has been exploring how to connect with the ancient finds at Nemi through twenty-first century digital means. Following a successful talk at Nottingham Castle Museum as part of the Treasures of Nemi exhibition programme she shares with us her experience of 3D scanning the star exhibit of the show, the herm of Fundilia Rufa.

Over the last two years, I have been working on a project concerned with the 3D scanning of the two portrait statues of Fundilia, the herm statue in the Nottingham Castle Museum and Galleries (NCMG) and the full-body statue in the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. This research is thoroughly multi-disciplinary: it involves archaeologists (myself, Ann Inscker at NCMG, and Jane Fejfer and Mette Moltesen in Copenhagen), Human-Computer-Interaction specialists (Damian Schofield and Matthew Andrews at SUNY Oswego) and a forensic anthropologist (Stephanie Davy-Jow at the University of South Florida), along with Nottingham University Classics students, who helped scanning the herm statue in 2011.


Scanning campaign with Nottingham students, Nottingham Castle Museum and Galleries, January 2011. Photo: Katharina Lorenz

Enhanced artefact documentation
So why 3D-scan Roman portrait statues? There are two reasons why I started this project. The first, basic reason is that 3D scanning technology facilitates enhanced artefact documentation, a major concern in archaeological heritage management: with 3D-scanning technology, an object – in our case, a portrait statue – can be reproduced digitally in a non-invasive, quick and cost-effective way. In a case such as that of the two Fundilias this also means that distributed objects can be reunited virtually with each other, and within their original context, in order to conduct different types of contextual analysis (how did the statues appear in the room in which they were put up? When/how would visitors to the sanctuary see them?), without the need to travel from museum to museum or to the site.

In addition, this type of enhanced artefact documentation can also help to bring out object details not visible to the human eye – the 3D scanner with its high visual resolution works as if a microscope. So, for example when 3D-scanning the herm statue in Nottingham, the student team observed a sequence of indentations on the mantle of the statue, so far never recorded, which we were later able to interpret as a decorative pattern, and an indication that the statue had originally been painted (this is now confirmed after examination by the Copenhagen Tracking Colour project).

Scanning_Fundilia_20110516_webuse_2 (1)

Scanning campaign at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, May 2011. Photo: Katharina Lorenz

“Big Data” and formal analysis
The second reason for choosing 3D-scanning technology as a means of studying Roman portrait statues is that the scanning produces large data sets – sets of quantitative measurements of the statues – which can support different types of advanced statistical analysis. This part of the project is still ongoing.
What interests me here is to what extent the measurements that the 3D scans produce – measurements capturing the statues in their spherical volume with an exactitude that could not be produced by the more traditional types of manual measurement – can help us to understand the formal and stylistic relationship of the statues better. The central questions for a classical archaeologist like me here are: how similar are the two portrait representations (we know they both show Fundilia because the inscriptions on the statues tell us)? Can we tell whether one was made before the other, ie. one statue served as the model for the other statue (this would have implications for the dating of the statues, and – possibly – also for their respective importance)?
Key to answering these questions is close scrutiny of the portraits of each statue, their faces. Traditionally, classical archaeologists rely on visual autopsy for this type of enquiry: they study the portraits very closely and compare all the individual features in order to elicit an interpretation. But this type of visual autopsy comes with an error margin caused by subjectivity: different interpreters might quite literally look at things differently.


The model of the Copenhagen Fundilia during 3D-scanning. Photo@ Katharina Lorenz

The field of Roman portraiture studies has for the past century been concerned with reducing this element of subjectivity – by means of developing robust protocols that make the analyses and interpretations of individual interpreters transparent, comparable, and falsifiable. So scholars have used comparable ways of photographic documentation, and similar patterns of description. What interested me when starting the project (and still does!) is to what extent the quantification of a portrait (as a type of objective description, because not dependent on the eye sight of a single individual) could offer a new, stronger basis for the formal and stylistic analysis of Roman portraiture.
Comparing facial measurement, even if gained by an “objective” machine such as a 3D-scanner, is not easy – for one, there is the question which measurements to compare. And a decision here, as any other type of interpretation, automatically introduces an element of subjectivity into the analysis. This is where my colleagues from Human Computer Interaction and Forensic Anthropology come in: they developed a standardised system of facial landmarks, which are particularly relevant for facial identification and against which any face can be mapped. And that is what we also did with the two Fundilias, based on the data collected from 3D-scanning them.

Once the faces had been landmarked, the co-ordinates of the facial landmarks were imported into a statistical software package (MiniTab 16, © Minitab 2012) and my colleagues started to examine the statistical distance and spatial mean information relative to the three-dimensional coordinates of the anthropometric landmarks.

The outcome of this statistical analysis showed that the density of coordinates differs between the Nottingham and the Copenhagen portrait of Fundilia – or, in simple words: if the portrait heads were to be super-imposed, there would be significant discrepancy. More specifically, the variations suggest that the areas of the eyes of the two statues are highly similar in terms of relevant proportion and the areas of broader facial landmarks such as the ear or jaw have greater differentials. The tighter and more precise areas that are centred in the middle of the face tend to correlate positively whereas the broader areas have a more negative correlation. This result confirms the hypothesis that Roman artists, when copying portraits, concentrated primarily on the central axis of the face along the nose, and were less concerned about the other areas of the face.
We are currently working on the next stage of the project, with further analysis of the mathematical data and visual feature comparisons between the statues – more results to follow soon!

The results of the first stage of the project can be found here.
Katharina Lorenz

All around me are familiar faces …

This week in her guest-post Dr. Emma-Jayne Graham of the Open University muses on the vividness of the many ancient faces found at Nemi: 

NCM 1890-1355-384

©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

It is a common situation: you are sure that you recognise someone but can’t quite put a name to the face. Imagine, then, walking into an ancient sanctuary and seeing an array of terracotta heads that you know belong to family, friends and neighbours but can’t quite name.


©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Like most votive deposits from Italy, there are a lot of heads and faces in the assemblage from Nemi. We can’t give names to any of them, even though we know that each was dedicated by an individual. Votive heads have received a lot of scholarly attention and for good reason. Of all types they are amongst the easiest to date and their development can be traced through the use of prototypes and moulds. I suspect that heads have also proved so interesting because the diversity of faces reminds us of real people more directly than a terracotta foot ever can.

This is something that I have been thinking about, not just for the light that it sheds on our own, not always objective, responses to the material culture of the past, but because it makes me wonder about the reactions of ancient people. To us, these heads represent the range of personalities and characters found within a past community. We can recognise men and women, adults, children and adolescents based on the fundamental and immediately familiar characteristics of our shared human physiognomy. We might also sometimes recognise clues about wealth or social status.

NCM 1890-1355-388

©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

All of this and more would have been recognisable to the ancient community. Walking into a sanctuary or cult room and seeing terracotta heads lining the walls, scattered across the floor, or piled in a corner, might have been very much like walking into a room full of familiar people. It is unlikely that many of these votive heads reflect the real features of an individual so it would not necessarily have been possible to point out relatives or friends, but votive offerings were made in the understanding that this was the traditional way of communicating with the gods. It would therefore involve coming face-to-face with the past and present community of people who worshipped the same deities, performed the same rituals, sought healing for the same conditions and had done so in the same place perhaps for centuries. Consequently, almost everything in the sanctuary represented the body and identity of someone who had experienced similar concerns, fears and hopes as you. This makes me wonder about the sense of belonging and community that participating in votive cult might provoke. If the point was to seek protection, healing or good fortune from the divine, then seeing the ‘faces’ of people who had done precisely the same, knowing that you were in good company, must have intensified that feeling of security.  So, a visit to the sanctuary might indeed have entailed familiar faces all around you, including old, worn out faces that were significant precisely because they were going nowhere.

Emma-Jayne Graham, Baron Thyssen Lecturer, The Open University.

See more ancient faces in our photo gallery!

Successful Interactive Interpretation

Nemi to Nottingham has been produced as part of a project which explores the positive impact that digital technology can have on archive accessibility. In this special guest-post freelance curator Sarah Hayes explains how interactive installations can be used to encourage public engagement with museum objects


The Medieval Model Interactive depicting Birmingham in the 13th century with a view of St Martin’s Church in the background.  (Image copyright Birmingham Museums Trust)

Interactives should be an engaging part of any exhibition but for many museum professionals they are still seen as an addition rather than an integrated aspect of a gallery or display. None of us are strangers to the criticism interactives have received over the years being described as pointless push-button activities with few learning outcomes. But they can actually serve as successful and stimulating features if developed from concept stage in line with the key messages of an exhibition. In this sense, they should be integral aspects developed with other means of interpretation, because interactives are exactly that: an extension of your interpretation.  And, most importantly, interactives don’t have to be digital.  I’ll draw on two examples taken from my most recent projects to illustrate how low tech, but well researched interactives can work really well.

If you follow my activities on Twitter, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’m pretty fond of the scale model depicting the medieval town of Birmingham, developed as a feature of the new History Galleries at BMAG. The beauty of this interactive, for me, is that it isn’t too sophisticated in terms of digital activity. In fact, the most high-tech features are the push-buttons positioned around the model which trigger lights, thereby illuminating characters in the town. Moreover this interactivity doesn’t predetermine your response. Yes, it guides your eye to a particular feature if you choose to press the button, but your reaction to that feature is entirely personal. The interactivity here encourages discovery rather than prescriptive learning.


Just one of the finer details of the model showing two inhabitants building a house by ‘raising the cruck’. (Image copyright Birmingham Museums Trust)

The model is certainly interactive in the traditional sense of the word, insofar as it stimulates discussions between groups of people as they point to features or discuss topics inspired by observing. The interactive is based on current archaeological and documentary evidence and it’s this research which makes this particular interactive, interactive! The sheer attention to detail sparks discussions and inspires curiosities and interests. But, in case this doesn’t satisfy the more technical heads and those who don’t view this as a fully-fledged interactive, let me draw on one last example.

By far my favourite interactive in the We Made It exhibition at Thinktank is the Woolrich Generator exhibit, which sits in the Treasure section. Again, it’s not digital, but instead relies on a very clever pepper’s ghost effect. As the visitor continuously winds a handle round to ‘generate’ electricity, the pepper’s ghost creates the illusion of a dull-grey trophy being gradually plated in silver. Obviously, there’s more to the science of electroplating, but this interactive conveys a very technical concept in a very straight-forward fashion by inviting the visitor to learn through interactivity.

Woolrich Generator

The Woolrich Generator Interactive on display in the new We Made It exhibition at Thinktank, perfectly positioned in front of the actual Woolrich Generator which dates from 1844. (Image copyright: Sarah Hayes)

One of the many things that I’ve taken from my time working on the Birmingham History Galleries and We Made It is not to become too fixated on interactives having to be superiorly digital, ‘flashy’ and high tech. They can certainly be all of those things providing they do the fundamental thing that all interactives should do: enable visitors to engage by participating, therefore offering an avenue for stealth learning and understanding. Last but not least, incorporate interactives in to a display because they help you interpret your themes and messages, and not because you think you have to. This will lead to far superior and successful interactive and multimedia elements.

Sarah Hayes, Freelance Curator. Follow me on Twitter @HayesSarah17 and my blog at

Tonight’s the night!

This evening, Nemi’s fabulous finds will be on display to the public for the first time in thirty years! No need to go to Italy – Nottingham brings ancient Rome to you!


If you aren’t attending the opening, get down to Nottingham Castle before the end of September to see the amazing material left by ancient Romans to honour the goddess Diana. Exhibition details here.


Votive figurine
Photo: ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Among the prize exhibits is our very own social media matron – a magnificent herm sculpture of a wealthy female patron of the ancient sanctuary. Follow Fundilia Rufa on twitter and facebook.


Marble herm sculpture of Fundilia Rufa
Photo: Donna Taylor

This blog will get you informed about all things Nemi before your visit with information, research and images. Once you’ve seen the exhibition, check back here for more posts on this amazing snapshot of ancient life and more ideas about our connections with the past in the modern world.


Terracotta lamp
Photo: ©Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Also check out the amazing series of events at the museum to coincide with the exhibition! Details are here.

Nemorensis Lacus

In this special guest-post, Dr. Kelly A. Kilpatrick from the Institute for Name-Studies, University of Nottingham, explains why the name Nemi is so special and how it connects our sacred place with others across the pre-Christian world: 

the-sacred-grove-1366-768 (1)

Grove of trees

The place-name Nemorensis Lacus, the Classical name of Lake Nemi, preserves the Latin term nemus ‘sacred grove’ (nemorensis being a Latin adjective of locality formed from nemus plus the suffix –ensis.). Latin nemus is a cognate of Celtic nemeton (‘sanctuary’ and often interpreted as ‘sacred grove’), an early term used to denote sacred space. The Celtic element nemeton is fascinating because of its long history and widespread distribution, from Hellenistic Asia Minor to contemporary Ireland. The term nemeton is attested in various forms in the Celtic languages (historical and modern):

Gaulish (νεμητον) nemeton/beside nimidas; Old Welsh niuet (nimet/nimed), Middle Welsh nyfed, Old Cornish *neved, Modern Cornish neves, Breton nemet besides niuet/nyuet; Old Irish (n. o-stem) nemed, Modern Irish neimed, and Scots Gaelic neimheadh.

Celtic nemeton is frequently translated as ‘sacred grove’, though as Jane Webster (1995: 448) points out, there is ‘little indication that it principally denoted such sites’. Place-name elements and their interpretations can evolve in different social and political contexts, especially where a term is used in multiple languages over a broad time-span—nemeton being a primary example (Kilpatrick 2010). Nemeton places recorded in ancient sources were locations of pre-Christian worship, whereas by the early medieval period in some parts of Europe pre-existing nemeton sites were Christianised and elsewhere new nemeton place-names were coined with Christian connotations. The remarkable longevity of this element—across languages, cultures and religions—indicates that the concept and spatial symbolism of nemeton must have been highly significant in early Celtic culture, and nemeton appears to have had several meanings in various languages at different stages in history.

Early nemeton place-names include the following: Δρυνέμετον/ Drunemeton/ Drynemeton (near Ankara, Turkey); Nemetacum Atrebatum/Nemetocenna (modern Arras, France); Αὐγουστονέμετον / Augustonemeton / Nemossos (Clermont-Ferrand, France); Nemausus (Nîmes, France); Tasinemeton/ Vernemeton (Klagenfurt, Austria); Rostro Nemavia (near Türkheim, Germany); Noviomagus/ Nemetae (Speyer, Germany); Nεμετόβριγα Nemetobriga/ Nemetobrica (Puebla-de-Trives, Spain).


Ruins from Roman town Nemetacum Atrebatum (Arras, France)

The Ravenna Cosmography records a number of place-names with this element in Roman Britain, most of which are identified with Roman forts, temple sites or springs, including: Nemetobala (Lydney, Gloucestershire), Nemetostatio (Tawton, Devon), Medionemeton (on the Antonine Wall), Aqua Arnemetiae (the Roman springs at Buxton, Derbyshire) and Vernemeton (the Roman settlement at Willoughby, Nottinghamshire). The forms Vernemeton seen above mean ‘great nemeton (sanctuary or sacred site)’, and is more frequently attested from the Late Antique period.


Altar found at Bath, England with inscription to Nemetona and Mars
Photo: © Roman Baths, Bath

There is also evidence of deity-names derived from the term, such as Nemetona, the eponymous goddess of the Nemetes tribe who lived in the region of modern Speyer, Germany. There are a number of inscriptions and dedications to Nemetona that associate her with the Gallo-Roman god Loucetius Mars.  The association with Mars is also paralleled on an altar from Bath, England built by a Treveran named Peregrinus.

Diana Nemorensis, one of the best documented grove goddesses was venerated at Nemorensus Lacus and her cult affords comparison with Romano-Celtic deities worshiped at nemeton sites. At Nemausus was an important sanctuary and sacred healing spring dedicated to the local deity from which it was named, Nemausus (itself a Celto-Ligurian name). Another example is the goddess Arnemetia, preserved in the Romano-British place-name Aqua Arnemetiae: her name means ‘before the sanctuary’. Arnemetia is also commemorated on an altar stone from Navio (modern Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire), indicating a local cult-site to this goddess.

Classical writings such as De Bello Civili (also known as Pharsalia) composed by the poet Lucan (39-65 AD) and the Historia Romana of Dio Cassius  (c. 150-235 AD) supports the notion that groves were used by the Iron Age Celts for religious practices. The following excerpts from Lucan’s De Bello Civili, for example, describe a nemus in Gaul (near modern Marseille) that was cut down by Caesar’s troops:

There was a grove (nemus) from a bygone age, | never ravaged, | caging within its laced branches | dusky gloom | and icy shadows; | high above, the banished sun.  | Here no rustic Pan holds sway, | no powers of the forest—Silvani or Nymphs—| but, barbarous in its rituals, | a cult of Gods: | altars heaped with hideous gifts, | every tree around them splattered with human gore.

The God’s images, grim and | crudely fashioned, | started forth, rough-hewn, from felled trunks.  | The very earth, | the pallor of heartwood long since rotted | down to powder, left men | thunderstruck.  Divinities | consecrated in common shapes | can never cause fear | like this— | so much does it add to human terror | not to know the Gods we fear!


Reconstruction of the Romano-Celtic temple, Roman town of Caerwent, Wales

Many of the early nemeton-names may have had their origins in grove worship, but with the establishment of Roman political rule, structures characteristic of Roman religion were introduced and adopted across the Empire. Surviving place-names and inscriptions such as altar stones also help us to visualize the evolution of this term, and suggests that nemeton sites adopted certain Roman religious customs. The prefix in the place-name Augustonemeton, for example, indicates that the imperial cult of the Roman Emperor Augustus was established at this site. Since nemeton is retained in the name it is likely to have been a pre-existing nemeton site.


Inscription from Vaison, Valcluse recording the construction of a ‘nemeton’
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

An important inscription was discovered at Vaison, Valcluse, which states that ‘Segomāros of Nemausus built a nemeton to the goddess Belisama’, and this implies the construction of some form of structure known as a nemeton.

Early inscriptions and place-name evidence suggests that the perception of nemeton may have altered within a Roman context, embedding the definitions ‘sanctuary’ and ‘shrine’ in the interpretation (though this certainly does not rule out the possibility that the Celts had pre-existing shrines at these sites). Therefore, the common application of ‘sacred grove’ to describe nemeton place-names, is not so straightforward. With the decline of the Roman Empire and the introduction of Christianity, new attitudes towards nemeton place-names developed.

Read the second part of Dr. Kilpatrick’s guest-post on how the nemeton name persisted into the Christian era. Keep up to date by following this blog or our twitter page.

Citations and Suggested reading:

Dio Cassius, Historia Romana, ed. & trans. E. Cary, Dio’s Roman History (London, 1925).

Green, M., Seeing the Wood for the Trees: the Symbolism of Trees and Wood in Ancient Gaul and Britain (Aberystwyth, 2000)

Green, M., Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins and Mothers (London, 2005).

Kilpatrick, K. A., ‘A Case-Study of Nemeton Place-Names’, Ollodagos: Actes de la Société

Belge d’Études Celtiques, 25 (2010), pp. 1–113.

Koch, J. T., Celtic Culture (Oxford, 2006).

Lucani, M. Annaei, De Bello Civili, ed. D. R. Shackleton Baily (Stuttgart, 1998).

Richmond, I. A. and O. G. S. Crawford, ‘The British Section of the Ravenna Cosmography’, Archaeologica, 93 (1949), 1-51.

Webster, J., ‘Sanctuaries and Sacred Places,’ in M. Green (ed.), The Celtic World (London, 1995), 445-464.