This post is intended as a brief introduction to what I consider to be the best preserved Roman sites in Britain, there are of course many others which I have not listed here. But these particular sites show how far reaching the occupation of Britain was, from structures relating to the military occupation to civilian settlements.
Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre, Kent
Widely considered to be where the Romans first landed when they began their conquest of Britain in AD43. The occupation of the fort at Richborough (known in Latin as Rutupiae) lasted for the duration of the Roman period from the beginning of the conquest in the 1st century up to 410 AD. This was the gateway to Britain and a settlement grew beside the fort.
The site now lies inland, but was originally an island next to the Wantsum Channel. Initially a temporary camp was constructed which has been dated to 43 AD, the camps ditches are still clearly visible. To celebrate the conquest a rectangular monument was constructed, possibly a triumphal arch. Over the next two centuries other buildings were added including a courtyard building and an amphitheatre. Another fort was constructed in In the later Roman period to combat the threat of Saxon incursions.
What remains today are the impressive walls, outlines of the buildings and foundations of a triumphal arch.You can also see the elliptical hollow of what would have been the arena of the amphitheatre. The banks and ditches of the fort can be clearly seen and it is not hard to imagine the layout of the site. The museum contains important artifacts from excavations at the site.
Silchester Roman City Walls and Amphitheatre, Hants
The town at Silchester (known as Calleva Attrebatum) the capital of the Attrebates tribe. There is also archaeological evidence of an iron age settlement here. The settlement expanded and prospered during the 2nd century AD. Excavations have uncovered the basilica and insulae (houses) although little remains of the buildings above ground. You can walk around the length of its walls. Also of interest, outside the walls is the amphitheatre one of the best preserved arenas in England. Silchester is one of the few examples of a Roman settlement that was abandoned after the departure of the Romans and has subsequently not been developed upon. It is relatively hidden within the Hampshire countryside, but is well worth exploring.
Housesteads Roman Fort, Northumberland
Located on a steep escarpment in the North of England lies the fort of Housesteads (originally known as Vercovicium). One of the most famous and popular Roman sites. Built under the rule of the Emperor Hadrian between 122 and 130 AD. It would have housed 1,000 soldiers and remained in use until the 4th century. It is of a typical layout for a Roman fort, it consisted of six rectangular barrack blocks, the commandant’s house, granaries and a headquarters building.
What remains today are the curtain walls,latrines, a hospital and a long stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. Also worth a visit is the site museum containing artifacts from the site. You can walk up the steep slopes to see the impressive remains of the fort and beyond that the surviving remains of Hadrian s Wall itself.
Fig 3. Overlooking Hadrian’s Wall from the Roman Fort at Houseteads
Fig 4. Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus killing the Chimera
Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent
Set within the Darent Valley, Kent lies Lullingstone Villa, one of the most important Roman villas in the country. Built over several phases between the 1st- 4th centuries AD. Initially constructed as a simple county house in the 2nd century, it gradually expanded the later half of the century to include a bathhouse and granary. Two marble busts dating to 150AD -170AD show a man in his 50’s, which some consider to be the Roman Emporor Pertinax.
In the 3rd to 4th centuries the villa expanded to include a circular temple and mausoleum. The most impressive aspect of the villa is the mosaic depicting the slaying of the chimera by Bellerophon.The most important aspect of the villa was the discovery of christian wall paintings and a chi-rho symbol which indicates that the inhabitants had become Christians by the 4th century. The mosaics illustrating pagan mythology suggest that the inhabitants were hedging their bets somewhat!
Once you have visited the site make sure to head behind the villa up the steps to see the foundations of the circular temple overlooking the Darent valley.
Author: Jeremy Hallatt
Photos: All photos taken by author