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The Vindolanda Calendrical Clepsydra: Time-Keeping and Healing Waters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2019

Alexander Meyer*
Department of Classics, University of Western


An unusual copper-alloy fragment was recovered during excavations at Vindolanda in 2008. It has been identified as part of a calendar or water clock. A very similar fragment was found near Hambledon in Hampshire in 2017. Further investigation of the Vindolanda and Hambledon fragments and of similar objects from Frankfurt, Salzburg and Grand reveals that the Vindolanda and Hambledon fragments were once attached to clepsydrae to form time-keeping devices that are unattested in ancient sources, but that might be called ‘calendrical clepsydrae’.1 The links between similar artefacts and deities associated with water and healing are explored and evidence for a shrine located near sulphur springs in the Allen Valley is also discussed. The Vindolanda calendrical clepsydra is placed within this social and religious context.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2019. Published by The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies 

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Clepsydrae are simple water clocks that measure time by the outflow or influx of water. In their simplest form they measure the fixed amount of time it takes to empty or fill a vessel with a regulated flow of water. More sophisticated clepsydrae may include marks on their bowls that represent intermediate increments of time, such as hours. This basic design is also elaborated upon with various decorative schemes and methods of display. The earliest remains of a clepsydra are from Egypt and date to the fourteenth century b.c.e.



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