As an archaeologist doing excavations on a farm in Somersham (Cambridgeshire, England) come across three cemeteries of the Roman Empire, they are faced with a riddle: 17 of the 52 buried bodies had been beheaded. That’s a third of the dead – far more than usual.
The find puzzles researchers at the University of Cambridge: What happened in Somersham in the third century AD that resulted in an above-average number of people being beheaded? In other cemeteries of Roman settlers in Great Britain, only 2.5 to 6 percent of those buried had their heads cut off.
Experience has shown that in the Roman Empire (753 BC to around 480 AD) people were executed in religious rituals – or because they had committed crimes.
The type of burial in Somersham suggests, according to the archaeologists, that they may have been criminals. Because: 13 of the decapitated were buried face down – a sign that the bereaved were ashamed of the dead.
The Somersham settlement provided food for soldiers of the Roman Empire. “Roman laws seem to have been applied particularly strictly there because they supplied the Roman army. That is why there were many beheadings. Usually crimes were often forgiven, but there must have been tension with the army, ”says Isabel Lisboa, who oversees the excavations CNN.
The Roman Empire ruled large parts of Great Britain for around four centuries until 410 AD. Towards the end of the occupation, the death penalty rose from 14 to 60.