Beyond AD 130: People, Politics and Places



As ‘the first of Hadrian’s best generals’, Julius Severus was summoned from Britannia in the spring of AD 133 to take charge of operations in Judaea following the serious revolt there led by Simon Bar Kokhba. His mission was to annihilate the Jewish rebels,1and he was so successful that some 580,000 men on the Jewish side were said to have been killed.2 For his role in the campaign, Severus was awarded the highest military honours, the ornamenta triumphalia. He was appointed proconsul (governor) of the newly formed province Syria Palaestina, which incorporated Judaea. At this point he vanishes from the record—presumably he died in Syria.3 Nothing is known about his wife or children, although he appears to have had a son or nephew called Gnaeus Julius Verus, who was appointed governor of Britannia in the 150s (c.155–158).

The commander of the classis Britannica, Marcus Maenius Agrippa, appears to have thrived in Britannia, for he was afterwards appointed procurator of the province. Minicius Natalis, however, returned to Rome on completion of his commission as legionary legate in York. There, he was appointed praefectus alimentorum (prefect of the food supply) and then curator viae Flaminiae (curator of the Via Flaminia). He was made consul in AD 139, after Hadrian’s death, and held a further post in Rome with responsibility for temples and public works. He then acceded to Julius Severus’s old job as governor of Moesia Inferior, where he had first served as a tribune. His career was crowned with the proconsulship of Africa, a post that his father had also held.


After Hadrian’s death in AD 138, Antoninus Pius succeeded as emperor. Within a year the northern frontier of Britannia was overrun and the province’s governor, Quintus Lollius Urbicus, was forced to drive back the barbarians and to build a wall of turf between the Forth and the Clyde, 37 miles (60km) long. In the 160s, under Marcus Aurelius, this ‘Antonine Wall’ was abandoned, and Hadrian’s Wall once again formed the northern frontier. There was a further war in Britannia, about which little is known, and under Commodus in the 180s tribes again wreaked havoc across the Wall, though the Romans eventually celebrated victory in AD 184. When Commodus was murdered at the end of AD 192, Pertinax, one-time governor of Britannia, became emperor for eighty-six days before he, too, was assassinated.

Years of civil war in the empire followed, until the North African Septimius Severus narrowly defeated, near Lyon, the army of his compatriot Clodius Albinus, another governor of Britannia and pretender to imperial power, who had the support of the British and Spanish legions. Albinus killed himself, Lyon was pillaged and the fall-out was felt all over the empire. During the course of his reign, Septimius Severus divided Britannia into two provinces, the south part becoming Britannia Superior (‘Upper Britain’, i.e. nearer Rome) and the north Britannia Inferior (‘Lower Britain’). Britannia Inferior was governed from York. In AD 208 Severus himself arrived in Britannia to invade Scotland, accompanied by his wife and two sons, Caracalla and Geta. The war was a failure, and the emperor died in York in 211. His sons succeeded as joint emperors and abandoned the war. The following year Caracalla killed his brother and gave all free men Roman citizenship. Caracalla, too, was killed—by the Praetorian prefect Macrinus, in 217, who claimed imperial power. But Caracalla’s cousin Bassianus (a.k.a. Elagabulus), a man of bizarre tastes, managed to snatch that power away from him within the year. He came to a bad end in March 222, when his decapitated body ended up in the Tiber alongside that of his mother. His blander young cousin Severus Alexander succeeded, only to be murdered in his tent, together with his mother, in AD 235 by mutinous soldiers on the Rhine.

Thereafter there followed a dizzying succession of emperors, who mostly died by violent means. Mid-century, plague and Goths hit the empire hard, soon followed by Franks and Alemanni, who crossed the Rhine and pillaged Gaul and Spain, and by Saxons, who appeared on the shores of the North Sea to threaten Britannia. During these deeply troubled times, British cities began to be fortified, and forts were built on the south and east coasts to guard against these barbarian pirates. Christians were persecuted. In the east, the Emperor Valerian was captured, humiliated and put to death by the Persians in AD 259/60.

Aristocratic Gallienus began to re-establish order before being assassinated by his own officers in AD 268. His tough ‘Illyrian’ soldier successors continued the interminable struggle against external enemies and internal instability. It was the last of the Illyrian emperors, Diocletian, who managed to make the greatest headway. Under him (in AD 284) the army, administration and monetary system were reformed, and the empire was split into two, with his co-emperor (or co-augustus) Maximian ruling the West. Two ‘Caesars’, Constantius Chlorus and Galerius, helped them govern, thus forming the Tetrarchy, or rule of four.

Britannia continued to cause trouble. In AD 286 Belgic-born Carausius made himself head of an independent state in Britain, declaring himself emperor. He was, however, murdered in AD 293 and succeeded by his curly-haired, snub-nosed chancellor of the exchequer, Allectus, who was himself killed by Constantius Chlorus when he recovered the British provinces for Rome in AD 296. After twenty years, the two emperors abdicated in AD 305, Diocletian retiring to his palace at Split, near his birthplace at Salona.

Under the Tetrarchy, Britannia had been reorganized again, and by AD 312–314 it was divided into four provinces within a diocese of Britannia ruled by a vicarius, under whom were four separate governors who were no longer in charge of both the administration and the military. Soldiers were under the command of a dux Britanniarum (Duke of Britain), while a comes (count) controlled the coastal forts (known as the Saxon Shore forts). Another comes controlled the cavalry. In AD 305, Constantius Chlorus returned to Britannia for a new campaign in Scotland. He died in York in 306. There, the troops declared his son Constantine emperor. He faced much competition for the position—at one point there was a Heptarchy, or rule of seven emperors—but after years of war, Constantine emerged triumphant in AD 324 and became sole ruler.

During the course of these unsettling years Constantine managed to carry out reforms, and in AD 313 he issued the Edict of Milan, legitimizing Christianity. Britannia was sufficiently organized to send bishops from the sees of London and York (probably also Lincoln) to the Council of Arles in AD 314. Constantine founded Constantinople, the ‘New Rome’, and died in AD 337. The empire had now shifted significantly eastwards, culturally as well as politically.

In the West—and although the times remained troubled, pirates infested the seas and the frontiers were unsafe—Britannia was, in many ways, more settled in her Romanized skin, with magnificent country houses in the south and west and provincial capitals such as York and Cirencester booming. But with the empire’s power shifted so far east, this most north-westerly province was now even more geographically and culturally remote.

For the poets, Britannia would forever be clothed in the skin of a ‘Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, her azure cloak sweeping around her feet, imitating the billowing ocean.’4


ALAUNA (MARYPORT). The names of the units that were subsequently stationed here, in the third and fourth centuries, are unknown. The earthworks of the fort are well preserved and there is a fine museum adjoining it. The north-east gate of the fort now forms the chancel arch of Crosscanonby Church.

The bulk of the museum’s collection is known as the Netherhall Collection. It was first begun in 1570 by John Senhouse, recorded by William Camden in 1599, and built upon by subsequent generations. The highlight of the museum is the astonishing group of Roman military altars, the largest in Britain, from the site of the fort lying adjacent to the museum. In 2013 excavations at the fort uncovered the most north-westerly Classical temple known in the Roman world.


AQUAE SULIS (BATH). The temple was modified in the late second century when two small side chapels were added on either side of the steps. The spring was enclosed by a building whose entrance was on the south side of the temple courtyard. The so-called ‘four seasons building’ was built on the north side of the courtyard. The baths also underwent many changes over time, becoming progressively larger and reaching their maximum extent in the fourth century. Thereafter the complex declined.

Aquae Sulis was surrounded by a defensive wall in the third century. The area contained within the wall was built up, although it is not certain whether these were private dwellings or buildings connected with the development of the site as a centre of religious tourism, with local people living outside the walls.

The Roman baths are astonishingly well preserved, and the sight of the thermal water still gushing through the original Roman channels, and the steam rising from the green waters of the sacred spring, is one of the most thrilling of any Roman remains anywhere. The gilded bronze head of the cult statue of Sulis Minerva and the head of the ‘Gorgon’ from the temple pediment are two of the most hypnotic treasures of Roman Britain.


ARBEIA (SOUTH SHIELDS). The Hadrianic fort was replaced, probably under Marcus Aurelius in the AD 160s. Shortly after AD 200, the south wall was taken down and the fort extended. Many of the buildings were replaced by thirteen granaries, converting the fort into a supply base, probably to serve Septimius Severus’s attempts at conquest north of the Wall. Nine more granaries were subsequently built. One hundred years later, following a devastating fire, the granaries were adapted as barracks and a new headquarters and commanding officer’s house were built.

The fort was first excavated in the 1870s, and the finds from this time form the nucleus of the small but sensational collection at the fort’s museum, which includes some of the most important finds from Roman Britain. Highlights include the funerary monument to Regina, the British ex-slave and then wife of Barates the Syrian; the elaborate funerary monument to handsome Victor, a North African slave evidently much cherished by a Spanish soldier stationed here; a complete ringmail suit; a large collection of Roman jet; and the recently discovered second-century head of a deity, possibly the northern goddess Brigantia. On the site are a number of reconstructed buildings, including the fourth-century commanding officer’s house, a barrack block and the west gate modelled on that at Housesteads.


BANNA (BIRDOSWALD). The I Aelia Dacorum Miliaria Cohort originally raised in Dacia (modern Romania) had arrived at Birdoswald by AD 219 and remained there through the third and fourth centuries, although the fort might have been briefly abandoned in the late third century. An extensive settlement grew up outside the fort. The important discovery of a series of timber halls on the site of the granaries indicates that descendants of the soldiers continued to live in the fort long after the end of Roman rule in Britain and into the sixth century.

Lying within a meander of the River Irthing, Birdoswald affords spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The complete circuit of the fort walls, Roman granaries with the position of the Dark Age hall marked out, a sixteenth-century bastle house and foundations of a medieval tower house may all be seen. The museum has a selection of finds from the site. To the east and west of Birdoswald, Hadrian’s Wall survives up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) high, providing one of the most impressive stretches along its entire length. Turret 49b and Milecastle 49 (Harrow’s Scar) lie nearby.


BREMETENACUM VETERANUM (RIBCHESTER). At some point after AD 175, Sarmatians from the Ukraine and southern Russia were stationed at Ribchester. Superb horsemen, they were among 5,500 men drafted to Britannia following Marcus Aurelius’s victory over them in what is now Hungary. The baths had fallen into disuse by AD 225, and the granaries appear to have been burned down, but it is not clear whether this was by accident or a deliberate act when the auxiliaries were posted elsewhere.

The site is charming and picturesque, on the banks of the River Ribble. There is a small museum with some excellent finds, including the tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman trampling down a Celtic warrior. The remains of the baths and two of the granaries may be viewed. The Ribchester Hoard, including the famous parade helmet found in 1796 by the son of a village clogmaker, is on display at the British Museum.


CALLEVA ATREBATUM (SILCHESTER). In about AD 270, a substantial wall was built around the town, covering an area of 2.4 square kilometres. Also in the third century, the amphitheatre was refurbished (by this time it had assumed a typical elliptical shape). Calleva was abandoned between AD 550 and 650. Why a town of such size and status was left in this way and never subsequently developed or built on—there are indications that the inhabitants were forced to leave—is one of the mysteries of Roman Britain.

At Silchester, the amphitheatre and parts of the town walls may still be seen. The large number of finds from the town are on display at the nearby Reading Museum. The most celebrated of them is the bronze eagle, discovered in the forum basilica in 1866 between layers of burned material, and which was romantically interpreted as the imperial standard of a Roman legion lost during a desperate struggle; it is now thought to have formed part of a statue of Jupiter or of an emperor. The find inspired Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 children’s novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, on which the 2011 film The Eagle was based.


CILURNUM (CHESTERS). Lying in a tranquil valley, with a flourishing civilian settlement, Chesters remained occupied until the end of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century.

The site has the finest example of a Roman bath building in Britain. There is also the remarkable survival of the strongroom, with its vaulted roof intact, and the superb remains of the bridge abutment across the North Tyne. An Edwardian museum contains one of the best collections of inscriptions and sculpture on the Wall. The collection was put together by John Clayton, who was responsible for excavating and saving central sections of the Wall, including Chesters, which was situated in the parkland of his family’s estate.


CORIA (CORBRIDGE). Lying south of Hadrian’s Wall, this fort was occupied into the 160s. It then became a base for legionary soldiers, around which a civilian settlement developed. The legionary soldiers both supported and helped garrison Hadrian’s Wall and a chain of outpost forts up Dere Street. They also supervised and administered Corbridge as a supply base and market for the frontier. By the early third century an extensive town had grown up around the base, which was abandoned rapidly when Roman administration in Britain collapsed in the early fifth century.

The exposed site of 1.8 hectares represents the central nucleus of the town, although it is only a fraction of the whole original site, which covered up to 20 hectares. The granaries are the best preserved in Britain. A fountain, main street and massive courtyard building (‘site XI’) are among the most obvious remains. The museum houses one of the biggest collections of architectural fragments from the north-western provinces, as well as a large collection of pottery and everyday objects. Of great significance is the Corbridge Hoard, the discovery of which enabled the workings of lorica segmentata—Roman plate armour—to be understood for the first time.


DEVA (CHESTER). The legionary fortress and amphitheatre were neglected for much of the second century as the Legion XX Valeria Victrix was deployed up on Hadrian’s Wall. It was only in the late second / early third century that major construction work resumed, when the legion returned to its base. The original amphitheatre was replaced with an ambitious new one, which is the largest and most elaborate of all British amphitheatres. In the post-Roman period many timber buildings were built in the amphitheatre, which might have become a defended settlement connected in some way with the royal church established next to it by the Mercian King Aethelred in the seventh century.

Two-fifths of the late-second-century amphitheatre are on display in the heart of modern Chester. The arena wall survives to a maximum height of 2.2 metres (7 feet) and the arena is floored with yellow gravel to reflect the original yellow sand. Deposits laid down outside the early amphitheatre and sealed by the construction of the second amphitheatre provide evidence for activities outside the amphitheatre, such as hot-snack and souvenir stalls. All the excavated remains are held by the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, including the altar to Nemesis.


DUROVERNUM CANTIACORUM (CANTERBURY). In the early third century, the Romano-Celtic theatre was rebuilt to a new plan, making it more Classical in form and enlarging it to accommodate 3,000 people. The town was fortified much later than other towns in Britannia—in the later third century—with coarsed flint and mortar walls, 2.25 metres (7 feet 6 inches) thick, enclosing an area of 120 acres. Many private houses in town were provided with suites of baths, and civic life continued to flourish longer than elsewhere as affluent citizens and local landowners maintained their links with the town rather than retiring to villas in the country, as happened in other places. The town went into a gradual decline from the mid-fourth to the mid-fifth century, after which time the city was repopulated, with small timber-framed houses being built among the ruins.

Finds from Roman Canterbury are displayed at the Roman Museum, built around the remains of a large Roman town house that was excavated after German bombing during the Second World War. Mosaics and the hypocaust system are displayed, as well as an extremely rare soldier’s helmet dating from the time of Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain: it was probably made in Gaul and reused as a burial urn. Outside the city walls, St Martin’s Church, where Saint Augustine set up his mission when he arrived from Rome in AD 597, contains much Roman fabric and may have been first built in antiquity. Elsewhere in town, the remains of a second-century bath complex lie in the basement of a bookshop.


HADRIAN’S WALL (VALLUM AELII). Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius, abandoned the Wall, slighting it by removing milecastle gates and throwing crossings across the Vallum ditch. He moved the frontier up to the Forth–Clyde isthmus, where he built a new turf wall. This was abandoned after twenty years, and the soldiers returned to Hadrian’s Wall and got it up and running once more. After a war in the 180s, when enemy tribes crossed the Wall, many changes took place and soldiers were redeployed at key points east and west. In the late second or early third century there was a major repair to the Wall, and many mile-castles had their north gates narrowed so that only pedestrians could use them. The Wall was manned into the early fifth century.

Hadrian’s Wall, the most famous of all the frontiers of the Roman Empire, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been studied for more than 400 years. Sections of the Wall, the associated forts on the Wall (and to the south and along the Cumbrian coast), its mile-castles, turrets, signal towers, Vallum, civilian settlements and bridges may all be visited. A number of museums containing important collections lie on and around the length of the Wall.


ISCA AUGUSTA (CAERLEON). The legionary fortress baths appear to have been maintained until about AD 230–240. By AD 290–300, at the time of the Emperor Carausius or his successor Allectus, the fortress had been stripped of most reusable material. Parts of the buildings were still standing in the twelfth century, when Gerald of Wales, out recruiting for the Third Crusade in 1188, admired ‘a lofty tower and beside it remarkable hot baths’.

The excavated remains are extensive: they include the defences, the amphitheatre, the only legionary barracks buildings to be seen in Britain, and the baths. The last are displayed under a covered building. Numerous finds can be viewed at the National Roman Legion Museum in the town.


LANCASTER. The auxiliary fort at Lancaster underwent numerous changes, with at least six phases of development. In about AD 340 a stone fort was constructed on a different alignment, which remained in use until the early fifth century.

Little of Roman Lancaster remains: a Roman bath house, part of a large courtyard house and possible mansio connected to the fort, can be visited in Vicarage Fields. A fragment of the fort’s massive fourth-century wall, known as the Wery Wall, may also be seen. On display at Lancaster City Museum is the Rider tombstone of Insus, showing him triumphantly holding the head of a Briton whose decapitated body lies at his feet.


LETOCETUM (WALL, Staffordshire). Letocetum, an important staging post on Watling Street, provided overnight accommodation at its mansio. A settlement developed and eventually there was a small Romano-British town. The town ran into difficulties towards the end of the third century, and baths and mansio were destroyed by fire and abandoned. Substantial defences were built to the east of these buildings and astride Watling Street around this time, and by the fourth century the whole population appears to have moved within the defences.

The mansio’s foundations and those of the bath house (both of which underwent several phases of development and construction, the best understood of which date from about AD 130) can still be seen, together with many excavated finds on display in the museum.


LONDINIUM (LONDON). London was enclosed by some 2 miles (3km) of stone wall in the late second century, and the fort (at Cripplegate) was incorporated into these new defences. At Newgate, where the road west to Calleva left the city, the gate was equipped with twin portals flanked by square towers projecting in front of the line of the curtain wall. Ermine Street, the main road north to York, left the city at Bishopsgate, and the main road for Colchester and East Anglia ran from Aldgate. Towards the end of the second century a temple to Mithras was built on the site of Bucklersbury House, north of Cannon Street, which continued in use with several changes to its interior into the middle of the fourth century, after which it was rebuilt and dedicated to Bacchus.

The Museum of London contains much of interest, including a leather bikini and sculptures from the temple of Mithras, the site of which lies at the corner of Queen Street and Queen Victoria Street. Beneath the Guildhall, at Guildhall Yard, the remains of the amphitheatre are on show. The remains of the late-second-century Billingsgate house and baths in Lower Thames Street, once on the waterfront, are generally not open to the public. More accessible are the remains of the Roman wall and gates, although the medieval wall was built on them.


LUGDUNUM (LYON). As capital of Tres Galliae, Lugdunum continued to enjoy great prosperity for several more decades after AD 130, but by the advent of the third century the city had run into difficulties. In AD 197 Lyon declared for Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia and pretender to the imperial throne. He fought Septimius Severus just outside Lyon—and was defeated. The depth of the repercussions the city suffered for supporting the losing side is unclear, but the urban cohort, the only military unit stationed in the interior of Gaul, was disbanded. Under Diocletian’s administrative reforms, Lugdunum became the capital of a reduced province. Trèves, Arles and Vienne now assumed greater importance, and during the third century the city contracted.

On the hill known as Fourvière, the 10,000-seat theatre and the smaller 3,000-seat Odeon next to it may be visited. The neighbouring Gallo-Roman Museum contains a breathtaking collection, including the Lyon tablet recording Claudius’s speech to the Senate in AD 48, in which he proposed to admit citizens from Gaul as senators, a speech for which we also have Tacitus’s version. The second-century Coligny calendar, written in Gaulish, is another of the many treasures in this museum. There is also an amphitheatre on Croix-Rouge, which is where the sanctuary of the Three Gauls was sited and where the Lyon tablet was discovered in the sixteenth century.


LUGUVALIUM CARVETIORUM (CARLISLE). The fort, which essentially lies underneath Carlisle Castle, was occupied until the early fifth century. At some point in the third century, possibly as a consequence of Caracalla’s settlement of the northern frontier in the early third century, Carlisle became the civitas capital of the Carvetii. The town was fortified, possibly encompassing some 70 acres, and the walls were still standing in the seventh century, when Saint Cuthbert walked around them and was shown a Roman fountain.

The Tullie House Museum contains a large collection of Roman artefacts, including a significant number of wooden and leather objects and a small number of writing tablets from the town, together with numerous artefacts from sites along the western half of Hadrian’s Wall.


NARBONENSIS (NARBONNE). Narbonne suffered from a terrible fire in about AD 150, which destroyed many of its public buildings. These were restored with the help of Emperor Antoninus Pius. The city began to decline in the third century as trade slowed, and Arles became more important as a commercial centre. Under Diocletian’s administrative reforms, Gallia Narbonensis was divided up and Narbonne became the capital of the south-west part of the province named Narbonensis Prima. It remained an important and relatively prosperous city, however, into the fifth century.

Nothing substantial remains of the city’s celebrated public monuments so admired by Martial in the first century and Sidonius Apollinarius in the fifth, apart from extensive horrea, or warehouses, which survived as cellars. There are fine collections of artefacts, though, in the Palais des Archevêques, including mosaics and wall-paintings, while the l’église Lamourguier holds an extensive lapidary.


OSTIA. Later in the second century and into the early part of the third, little monumental new building took place here, with the exception of a large temple resembling the Pantheon in Rome, constructed near the forum during the reign of Alexander Severus (AD222–235). During the long period of turmoil following the end of the Severan dynasty, building activity at Ostia almost ceased, the size of the population shrank, and local government collapsed. In the second half of the third century and the first part of the fourth, Ostia and Portus were struck by earthquakes and tsunamis.

Most of the excavated buildings at Ostia date from the first half of the second century, during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, with a large number dating from Hadrian’s time, so the visitor here will be able to get a strong flavour of the Hadrianic period.


PONS AELIUS (NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE). Newcastle Castle occupies the site of the Roman fort. Fragments of the headquarters building, commanding officer’s house and granary are visible under a railway arch beside the castle keep.

The city’s Great North Museum (Hancock) now houses the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, whose Roman material is of international significance. The museum contains altars, building inscriptions, relief sculpture, tombstones and many other artefacts, including jewellery, pottery, weapons and organic material. The sensational statue of the Birth of Mithras from Housesteads is on display in the museum.


ROMA (ROME). After a terrible fire in AD 191, many buildings were reconstructed. The Severans also erected major new monuments, including the baths of Caracalla. During the years of turmoil in the third century, construction work slowed down and practically stopped. Aurelian (ad 271–275) erected walls around the city. Diocletian resumed work, reconstructing a large part of central Rome destroyed in a great fire in ad 283. He also built the largest baths ever constructed in the empire. Maxentius, the son of Diocletian’s co-ruler Maximian, chose Rome as his base after the Praetorian Guard proclaimed him emperor, and he began to tend to the neglected city. Constantine the Great took on his work, but soon became engrossed in his new capital, Constantinople. As the old monuments were patched up or fell into disuse, Rome was finished as a political force but emerged as a religious one. With Christians no longer persecuted, Christian monuments began to rise out of the neglected pagan city.

The two outstanding Hadrianic monuments to survive in Rome itself are the Pantheon and his Mausoleum, now the Castel Sant’Angelo. Outside the city there is his stupendous palace at Tivoli.



Rutupiae thrived as a port until the early third century, when it began to decline, possibly because of the increasing importance of Dover. In the mid-third century, large ditches and an earthen rampart were built around the monumental arch, whose days were numbered. In the 270s, work began on the construction of a massive fort in response to increasing attacks by Saxon and Frankish raiders. The arch was taken down for building material and its marble cladding broken up and burnt to provide lime for concrete. The fort formed part of the Saxon Shore fortifications defending the coast. But despite these radical changes, Rutupiae retained its symbolic importance as the gateway to Britannia.

At the other end of the Wantsum Channel, a new fort was also built at Regulbium in response to the Saxon threat, although it seems to have been abandoned by ad 375. It later became an important Anglo-Saxon monastery, the remains of which still dominate the coastline today. The Roman foreshore now lies two miles inland from the sea.

At Richborough, the most striking standing remains are the walls of the Saxon Shore fort, but there is also much else of interest, including the excavated Claudian invasion ditches, a rare Roman baptismal font, the remains of the mansio and other buildings in the town, and the site of the gigantic arch. The museum displays a small but significant collection of finds from the site, including decorative fragments from the monumental arch.


SEGEDUNUM (WALLSEND). As early as the eleventh century the settlement was called ‘Wallesende’. Lying at the heart of industrial Tyneside and buried under housing until the 1970s, the whole Roman fort has now been excavated, making Segedunum one of very few places where a fort plan is laid out more or less whole. It is one of the best understood and best excavated sites along the Wall. The barracks, south of the headquarters building, revealed how horses were stabled alongside their cavalrymen.

There is a viewing tower over the site, a reconstructed bath house modelled on that at Chesters, and a museum displaying finds from the site.


VENTA SILURUM (CAERWENT). Despite its forum basilica and mansio, Venta remained something of a straggling backwater along the Caerleon–Gloucester road until the later second century. The street grid was then modified and the town surrounded by a ditch, bank and wooden palisade. Towards the end of the third century a stone wall was built in front of the bank, and in about ad 350 stone towers were added to the north and south walls. The town started to decline in the fourth century, but the Roman remains were impressive enough in the 1540s for John Leland to remark that it was ‘sometime a fair and large city’.

Now a small village, the defences are still astonishingly well preserved, their circuit just over a mile. The foundations of shops, houses and a Romano-Celtic temple are also on view, as well as the forum basilica—interestingly, the only town in Britain where this can be seen. The road through the village is more or less on the line of the Roman road, although the latter was much wider than the present one. Some stone inscriptions are displayed in the church. Other significant finds from the town are in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.


VERCOVICIUM (HOUSESTEADS). About halfway along the Wall’s length, Housesteads was manned from the later second century until after ad 395 by the First Cohort of Tungrians, raised in eastern Belgium. Early in the third century they were strengthened by a war band of Frisians, recruited from outside the empire.

Perched high on a windswept ridge, with sweeping views over the surrounding countryside, Housesteads is one of the most iconic sites, not just on the Wall but throughout the whole empire. The latrine, west gate, commanding officer’s house and granaries are exceptionally well preserved. There is a small exhibition, including finds from the site. The extraordinary sculptures from the Mithraeum are at the Great North Museum (Hancock) in Newcastle upon Tyne and also at Chesters Museum.


VINDOLANDA (CHESTERHOLM). Vindolanda lies on the Stanegate, south of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort underwent at least nine phases of construction. After the end of Roman rule, Vindolanda remained in use for over 400 years until it was finally abandoned in the ninth century.

Ongoing excavations constantly add to knowledge of the site. Together with the excavated parts of the fort there are also reconstructed buildings and a museum containing a marvellous collection, including the Vindolanda letters and a remarkable display of leather shoes and other organic material. The nearby Roman Army Museum is located next to Walltown Crags, one of the highest-standing sections of Hadrian’s Wall.


VIROCONIUM CORNOVIORUM (WROXETER). The substantial baths complex was finally completed around ad 150 and the town’s defences were built towards the end of the second century. They were refurbished in the fourth century. The baths basilica was maintained into the fifth century and then dismantled; over the ruins, timber buildings were constructed, some of which were substantial. The town was probably abandoned in the sixth century.

The most substantial remains of what was once the fourth-largest town in Britannia are the baths, including the remains of the huge wall of the baths basilica. There is also a reconstructed town house and small museum with an excellent collection of finds from the site. Other significant finds may be seen at Shrewsbury Museum.

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