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Roman around Britain – colossally good Roman sites

September 19, 2014
by Laura Canning | history and heritage

Probably not an actual Roman centurion Friends, Romans and country(wo)men! Did you know that a highly significant haul was hoked out from under a Colchester department store this month?

S'true. Excavators at Williams & Griffin in Colchester’s High Street were mightily surprised to uncover a clutch of Roman jewellery during store renovations, probably hidden there by a wealthy Roman woman during the Boudiccan Revolt of AD61 and now described by a learned type as a find of ‘national importance’.

As we’ve always been a bit obsessed by all things toga, we pondered briefly the likelihood of the find being given over to Pitchup.com if we said we’d dropped it in the shop a few years before. Sanity, however, has uncharacteristically prevailed, so we’ve done a Roman Britain blog instead.

If et tu are rabid about Romans, Juno where we’d recommend? Our favourite top Roman sites in the UK, that’s where.

Watch this Horrible Histories clip on the Roman invasion of Britain for a very fast catch-up, then Caesar the moment at these:

I. Hadrian’s Wall

If Carlsberg did Roman history sites… you could have a tin or two after a hike around Hadrian’s Wall, probably the best known Roman site in Britain. If you’re asked ‘Where is Hadrian’s Wall?’ and reply ‘Running for 73 or so miles across the north of England’ rather than ‘Around Hadrian’s garden’, we salute you.

The wall was started by the emperor Hadrian around AD122, possibly as a defence against northern Britons (like Stonehenge, why Hadrian’s Wall was built has baffled boffins for centuries), and runs from Bowness-on-Solway in north-east England to Wallsend in the north-west, cutting across the North Pennines and what is now Northumberland National Park.

Hadrian's Wall between Housesteads and Once Brewed National Park. Pic by Michael Hanselmann. These days, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the most popular attraction in the north of England, and the best place in Britain for empire enthusiasts with Roman museums, forts and settlements along the way. A few of our faves are:

Housesteads Roman fort– the most complete Roman fort in Britain.

Vindolanda– the Roman Army Museum and Roman Vindolanda, with live excavations, eight forts and the Vindolanda writing tablets.

Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum– the most completely excavated fort along the Wall, with Roman baths, museum and viewing tower

Campsites in Northumberland

Campsites in Cumbria

Campsites in north-west England

Campsites in north-east England

Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail

BBC History – Hadrian’s Wall

II. Colchester

Colchester was once the capital of Roman Britain (that might explain why Boudicca and her troops marched on the city then) and the first Roman site to be developed as a colony rather than a fortress, once the conquering Claudian hordes realised they might like somewhere slightly more comfy to live than an army barracks.

And so, it had two theatres, a large and lavish temple dedicated to Claudius, a chariot circus and the first town walls to be built in Britain… but not tall enough to keep out the invaders who burnt Colchester to the ground in AD60 – 61 and ensured the removal of the Roman capital to London. Several remains of Roman Colchester are still there to see when roaming around the city:

Colchester Castle – built on the foundations of the Claudian temple.

The Balkerne Gate – original entrance into Colchester on the town walls and the biggest surviving Roman gateway in Britain.

Roman ornaments found in Colchester (probably not gran mantelpiece-friendly). Pic by Jerzy Kociatkiewicz. Camulodunum Park at Gosbecks Archaeological Park –British settlement on the edge of Colchester.

Campsites in Essex

Campsites in south-east England

BBC History – Roman Colchester

III. Canterbury Roman Museum

Julius Caesar came, saw and conquered here among his many other crowning achievements, triumphing over the Iron Age Cantiaci tribe at Bigbury Hill fort just outside Canterbury in 54BC.

This and other tales are told at the Canterbury Roman Museum, a Grade I-listed building built around a Roman townhouse discovered six feet below the ground, with Roman mosaic pavement still in its original place, permanent collections including arms, armour, metalwork, jewellery and glass, and events for kids such as swordmaking and Roman soldiering.

Wise to let your little emperors wield weapons? You might be Gladius it’s not a Consul at least.

Also in Kent:

Lullingstone Roman Villa, Eynsford

Roman Painted House, Dover

Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre, Sandwich

IV. Bath

Think of the Bath springs and you might think of corpulent Victorians having a soak, but verily the baths in Bath were Roman before that and where the aristocracy lounged in between long days of debauchery and calling for more wine. The baths were probably built on the instructions of the emperor Claudius (him again) after the Roman invasion, on the site of a Celtic shrine to the area’s hot springs.

Roman baths in Bath. Pic by Diliff. The Roman Baths in Bath have the original Great Bath to see, along with the original temple remains, the Grand Pump Room (alack, no drinking of/dipping in the waters is now allowed) and the Sacred Spring which brought visitors from all over the Roman Empire.

Most amusingly, excavation also revealed over 130 ‘curse tablets’, many left by Romans who’d had their togas stolen – public pools have been always thus.

Campsites in Somerset

Campsites in south-west England

Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths

All about Roman baths

V. Chester

Anyone who’s watched I, Claudius (us, many times) or even Gladiator (hmph) will know the role of an amphitheatre in a Roman town: mainly quite a bit bloody.

About 230 of these have been found across Europe since the Roman empire fell, the largest in Britain so far at Chester dating from the first century AD.

Chester was the fortress of Rome’s 20th Legion Valeria Victrix for a couple of hundred years and although some folks maintain Chester Roman Amphitheatre was used for military drills and other innocent pursuits, excavations show evidence of gladiatorial combat, bull baiting and other unsavoury occupations.

As Chester was an important Roman fortress for three hundred years or so, devotees might also like a squint at:

Dewa Roman Experience: soldier patrols and guided tours of Roman Chester.

Grosvenor Museum : free museum with the biggest collection of Roman tombstones from a single site in Britain.

Campsites near Chester

Campsites in Cheshire

It’s Nicene a bit more of the country…

Mosaic at  Fishbourne Roman Palace VI. Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex – the biggest Roman home in Britain, with mosaic floors we wonder will fit in a motorhome

Campsites in West Sussex

VII. Roman Bath pub in York – built on the site of a Roman bathhouse

Campsites around York

Campsites in North Yorkshire

VIII. Chedworth Roman Villa, Gloucestershire – where some of the other half lived in the fourth century. With mosaics, bathhouses and museum.

Campsites in Gloucestershire

IX. Roman Theatre of Verulamium, Hertfordshire – part of Roman Town in St Albans, on the site of one of the biggest towns in Roman Britain.

Campsites in Central England

X. Wroxeter Roman City, Shropshire – the fourth largest city in Roman Britain.

Campsites in Shropshire

XI. Brading Roman Villa, Isle of Wight – award-winning visitor centre and museum

Campsites on the Isle of Wight

XII. Roman Britain collection at the British Museum, London. Toga and theatre fans should also check out the Globe, for  the occasional Shakespeare Roman play (squee).

Latiny links

Roman Britain

Roman sites in the United Kingdom

Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain

BBC History Primary – the Romans

Primary Homework Help – the Romans in Britain

Best. Roman. Book. Ever

And the box set…

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