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RATAE CORITANORUM (Leicester) Leicestershire, England.

Capital of the Roman civitas of the Coritani in the E midlands. In late pre-Roman times this tribe had a coinage, but the importance of Leicester itself in that period is uncertain. It seems probable, on the evidence of pottery, that a small native settlement existed from at least ca. A.D. 10, and that after 43 this was enlarged as the vicus of a Roman fort or fortress. Ratae occupied a strategic position at the junction of the Fosse Way with a road from Colchester, near a crossing of the river Soar.

Little is known as yet of the strength of the military occupation or its duration, but the late appearance of civic public buildings may indicate that it lasted until the 2d c. A milestone of Hadrian (RIB 2244) inscribed A RATIS II implies the existence of the town as an administrative center by A.D. 119-120. A military diploma, or grant of Roman citizenship to an auxiliary soldier, found in Roumania (CIL XVI, 160) and issued in 106 to M. Ulpius Novantico son of Adcobrovatus, gives his origo as Ratis. This formula has been held to imply that by that date Leicester was already a chartered town (municipium); but the special circumstances of this grant make the conclusion doubtful.

Remains of the forum have recently been identified: 91 by 131 m overall, with a basilica 11.3 m wide at the N end. It was erected perhaps in the reign of Hadrian. Part of a large courtyard house NE of the forum has been excavated: the walls were built of unfired clay bricks on masonry sleeper walls. Erected early in the 2d c., it was later decorated with mosaics and some remarkable frescos of Classical character depicting human and other figures on a perspective architectural background; but before the end of the 2d c. it had fallen into decay and seems to have been used in connection with a tanning industry. About 180 it was replaced by a macellum planned like a smaller version of the forum, with a basilica at its S end. These facts point to more space being required by traders, and suggest increasing commercial and industrial prosperity. The public baths, excavated in 1936-39 just W of the forum, occupied half an insula. They were completed in two stages between ca. 130 and 150. Two parallel and symmetrical bath suites extend W from an enclosed exercise area, a basilica or palaestra. Much of the W wall of this area still stands ca. 7.2 m high: called the Jewry Wall, it is one of the major monuments of Roman Britain. Thus the main civic development of Ratae, as illustrated by its more important buildings, was delayed until the Hadrianic-Antonine period.

The defenses, consisting of contemporary rampart, wall, and ditch enclosing just over 40 ha, were erected probably early in the 3d c. The town has yielded over 40 mosaics, the best known being the Peacock pavement and one depicting Kyparissos and his stag. Another important find is the box flue-tile on which the maker scrawled the words PRIMVS FECIT X, interesting evidence for literacy in Latin among the working classes. But the sherd inscribed VERECVNDA LYDIA LVCIVS GLADIATOR is now known not to be a local find. Graffiti scratched on some of the wall plaster mentioned above express various obscenities in Latin, another indication that it was widely used as a language of first choice. A short distance S of the town is a linear earthwork, the Raw Dykes, which has been identified as an aqueduct although the low level of the system would have made it difficult to supply water to the baths and impossible in much of the town. Alternatively it may have been a canal.


Graffiti: JRS (1964) 182; Forum: Britannia 4 (1973) 1-83; Baths: K. M. Kenyon, The Jewry Wall Site, Leicester (1948).


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