Set of swords hold key to grisly murder mystery

Swords on display in Canterbury's Roman Museum

Two Roman swords dating from the 3rd century are key pieces of evidence in a Roman murder mystery.

The weapons were unearthed during an archaeological dig within Canterbury’s city walls in the 1970s which turned up the skeletons of two Roman cavalrymen.

What makes the discovery of the men and their weapons so puzzling and intriguing are the details surrounding the find.

Firstly, the soldiers were dug up within the city walls. Almost all burials of the dead took place outside the walls.

It was also practice to lay bodies down flat on their backs and individually.

The Roman Museum is in Butchery Lane

In this case the men, who were aged between 20 and 30, appear to have been thrown into a hole in the ground.

Their weapons – which are on display at Canterbury’s Roman Museum –  were then tossed in after them.

This raises yet more suspicion around the soldiers’ deaths. High quality weapons were incredibly valuable and any not needed would have been returned to an armoury.

The museum said: “The Roman Army was very strict about the return of such weapons so not returning the swords was unheard of. The grave was also found inside the city walls, yet official burials in Roman times were made outside the walls, in cemeteries.

“All the evidence was beginning to suggest the burial may have been the result of a grisly murder or execution. But how could this be if the skeletons were intact?

“Poison or disease then became a possibility. These affect the soft tissue and tend to attack parts of the body other than the skeleton, leaving the bone unmarked.

“Then again, if an individual met a violent death caused by a weapon, the bones would not necessarily be hit or cut. Whatever the cause of death all the evidence from this grave suggests foul play, or at the very least a cover up job.”

To see the weapons and learn more visit the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane. It is open every day of the week from 10am to 5pm. Entry is £8 for adults, concessions £6 and children free.



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