Seventeen decapitated skeletons dating back to about 1700 have been found in three Roman cemeteries on Knob’s farm in Cambridgeshire, UK.
Archaeologists who excavated the site believe the people were executed for violating Roman law. However, non-research scientists have expressed mixed views on this explanation.
52 people are buried in the cemetery, and the 17 decapitated bodies include those of nine men and eight women and all over the age of 25 at the time of death, a team of researchers said in an article published online on May 19 in the journal Britain. In many cases, the heads of decapitated individuals were buried at their feet and the pottery was placed where their head would normally be. Some of the bodies were also placed lying (stomach down) in their graves.
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Researchers believe the beheaded people were executed. They note that the number of serious crimes in Roman law increased dramatically in the third and fourth centuries, around the time these skeletons were buried. Surviving archaeological evidence shows that the Roman military used Knob̵
“During the third and fourth centuries, the punishments available under Roman law increased steadily. The number of crimes punishable by death increased from 14 at the beginning of the third century to about 60 from the death of Constantine in 337 AD. ” researchers write in the journal’s article, noting that security concerns are one of the reasons for the increase in the death penalty. During the third and fourth centuries, there were numerous civil wars in the Roman Empire, and many people often fought to be called emperors. In addition, attacks from the so-called.barbarians“were a major concern at the time.
Although it is possible to be executed, people were still buried in clay pots and in some cases were placed in coffins. “A decapitated woman had the richest collection of tombstones, buried with two vessels and a necklace of cinnamon beads,” Isabel Lisboa, the archaeologist who led the excavations, told Live Science. Cinnamon charcoal is a type of charcoal that glows easily. “Under Roman law, family and friends can request the return of the body of an executed criminal for burial,” the team wrote in the magazine’s article.
If this policy were such, it could explain why executed persons were allowed something close to an appropriate burial.
The executed people are probably not slaves, as “slaves have no status” and will probably not be given burials, much less coffins and graves, Lisbon said.
Scientists are responding
Live Science contacted several scientists who did not participate in the study to find out their thoughts on the discovery. Many did not respond during the publication; but few scholars have really expressed skepticism that Roman law has much to do with the execution of these persons.
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“What we know about the sites of Roman court executions suggests that they were mainly in the cities, as a public spectacle and because of their deterrent effect,” said Simon Cleary, an honorary professor of Roman archeology at the University of Birmingham in Britain. that Knob’s farm is not near any big city or town.
It is difficult to implement a law issued by an emperor in Rome in a distant place, Cleary told Live Science. “Indeed, local magistrates, landowners or government officials had to do or not do what the emperor ordered,” Cleary said. “If it [the decapitated burials] are the result of such legislation, then execution burials, especially beheadings, can be expected to be found throughout the empire. This just doesn’t happen. Beheadings are almost entirely confined to Britain, “said Cleary. So, unless Britain is an area that takes imperial legislation far more seriously than the rest of the empire, that suggests that explanations should be sought in Britain, “Cleary said.
Cleary added that he thought it was possible that these people would be executed, but Roman law may have nothing to do with the reasons why they were killed. “By the fourth century, the Roman army was literally a law unto itself, with no return for civilians,” Cleary said. Why most decapitated burials in the Roman Empire took place in Britain is not clear. “Sometimes Roman Britain can be really, really weird, especially when it comes to healing the dead – there are many other practices besides decapitated or inclined burials that seem strange to our eyes. To the eyes of the people at the time, they may have seemed completely understandable.” said Cleary.
Other scholars have also expressed doubts that Roman law has much to do with decapitated burials. “Personally, I don’t think it’s very likely that the executions at Knob’s farm have anything to do with late Roman legal proceedings,” said Caroline Humphres, director of the Institute for Legal and Constitutional Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland. “If they have a judicial context, they are more likely to be localized and linked to executions in brief,” is an execution carried out without a trial, Humphres told Live Science.
Yet other scholars believe that these people could have been executed under Roman law. “The official execution seems to be the best explanation for the Knobb’s Farm case,” said Judith Evans Grubs, a professor of Roman history at Emory University in Atlanta. “Official executions will be carried out under the direction of the provincial governor, not the local judiciary, and will reflect imperial ideas of crime, not local ones,” Grubs said. She noted that women in the Roman Empire were often accused of witchcraft and adultery, both of which could be considered serious crimes as serious crimes.
The excavations took place between 2001 and 2010. The excavations were fully funded by a company called Tarmac and were carried out before the quarry was expanded, Lisbon said.
Originally published in Live Science.