Julia Domna Head Pot

The wife of the Roman Emperor Severus

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

Septimius Severus was Roman Emperor from AD 193 to 211. He was born in Leptis Magna, in Roman controlled North Africa. It is thought that this ceramic vessel is moulded in the shape of his wife's head: the empress Julia Domna. The style of the pottery is North African in origin. It's thought that the introduction of these 'headpots' to Britain was influenced by the reign of Severus.

The pot has been hand-carved with exquisite detail. It depicts a woman with Syrian facial features, whose hair is pulled back into an elaborate bun at the back of her head. The shape of her eyes and hairstyle suggest that the woman was of Syrian origins and for this reason it is thought to be in the image of Empress Julia Domna, who was originally from Syria. 

Vessels like these are extremely rare in Britain. This one was found in North Yorkshire in 1888, excavated from York Cemetery in Fishergate. We do not know how it was used generally, but when it was discovered it contained cremated human remains. 

York was an important city in Roman Britain, known as Eboracum: Emperor Severus himself died here, after a military campaign in Scotland, in 211.

Discussion Ideas:

  • Can you think of any other type of pot that has a face on it or a particular character? 
  • What is the name we give these days to a vessel that contains human remains?
  • This style of pot is from North Africa. What might have been carried in large round pots in the past in hot countries?
  • Watch the short video 'The making of a Head Roman Pot' (see Related Links below) and then draw your own design.

Young person's response to this object:

'The detail put into this pot seems odd, would it actually have been used, or just put on display?'  Tom Burke.

The map below shows where the headpot was found in the cemetery in Fishergate, York in 1888.»

Document icon Learning article provided by: Yorkshire Museum and Gardens |  York Castle Museum | 
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