Category Archives: Romans

Exploring the Romans

Roman Towns, Forts and Museums

Since I began presenting my Roman Workshop Day in schools I have visited as many archaeological sites and museums as possible in order to gather information, add to my existing knowledge and create my own photographic record for use in my school visits. Here are some of the wonderful places I have been able to explore so far.

Aldborough, Roman Town

In Roman times Aldborough was the civitas capital of the Brigantes tribal area. It was therefore an important centre of local government. Remains of the town wall can be seen as well as some very fine mosaic floors. There is a very small museum located at the entrance.

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Arbeia, Roman Fort

Originally a fort but later a main supply depot.  Although South Shields is not on the “tourist trail” for Hadrian’s Wall this site is well worth a visit. There is a reconstruction of a gate house, commandant’s quarters and a barrack block. The small on site museum also contains some very interesting objects.

Binchester, Roman Fort

Just on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland lies Binchester, a Roman cavalry fort. The bath house can be explored and parts of the barracks and the roman road “Dere Street” are also uncovered.


Caerleon, Roman Legionary Fortress

Once the home to 5,000 Roman legionary soldiers, the fortress covers a considerable area. Some of the barrack blocks are visible together with the amphitheatre, baths and perimeter walls.


Chesters, Roman Fort

Built where Hadrian’s Wall crosses the River Tyne, Chesters has an excellent museum with a huge selection of finds on display. Much of the fort can be explored and down by the river are the remains of the bath house.

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Chichester, Roman Town

Look at a modern day map of Chichester and you can immediately see the layout of the town centre follows the original Roman town plan. The museum in the town centre is built on the site of the public baths and later Roman town walls are still in existence.


Colchester, Roman Town

This is where the Emperor Claudius came to accept the surrender of the south eastern tribes following the invasion of AD43. It was the first Roman Colonia and was burnt to the ground by Boudicca during the rebellion of AD60. Colchester has the only known circus for chariot racing in Britain. The castle museum has a floor devoted to Roman times with many fabulous exhibits relating to all aspects of Roman life and culture.

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Corbridge, Roman Town

This must have been a very busy place in Roman times as it was the main supply base for the garrison of Hadrian’s Wall. Here you can see the remains of the Roman town, walk down the main street and enjoy the superb museum. The remains of the original fort can also be seen.

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Fishbourne Palace

It is thought that Fishbourne Palace was built by the Romans for a local British king as a reward for loyalty during the Roman conquest. It covers an extensive area although a large part of it lies beneath a local housing estate. No expense was spared in the construction of the buildings and much of the stone and marble as well as the specialist craftsmen had to be imported for the task. Whoever lived here must have been very important. There are some wonderful mosaics, a huge ornamental garden and a museum.

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Herculaneum, Roman Town

When Vesuvius erupted in AD79 the town of Herculaneum was buried under a sea of volcanic ash. Today part of the town has been excavated and some of the best preserved buildings can be seen here. Even some of the original timber beams, doors and window frames have survived.

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Hermann Monument

Under Emperor Augustus the Roman Army had been campaigning in Germany with a view to establishing control over the territory between Rhine and the River Elbe. In AD9 Germanic tribes lead by Arminius delivered a crushing defeat on the Romans wiping out three entire Roman Legions in the Teutoberg Forest. After this the Rhine became the northern frontier of the empire and a period of consolidation began. Today the Hermann monument with Arminius raising his sword in triumph is a symbol of German unification.

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Housesteads, Roman Fort

Possibly one of the most popular forts on Hadrian’s Wall here you can clearly see the layout of the buildings, the perimeter walls, gates and roads. As Houseteads is  high on a hill it has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. There is a scale model reconstruction of the fort in the museum.

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Lincoln, Roman Town

After four years most of southern Britain had been subjugated. The Roman Army had moved forward to a line roughly between the Humber and the Severn. Two new colonia were founded. One at Gloucester and the other at Lincoln. On visiting the latter there are still some visible remains of the Roman town to be seen including parts of the original town walls.

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Mainz Museum of Ancient Shipping

Here you can see fully reconstructed Roman ships. There are warships and merchant ships some of which are full size and others scaled down. Unfortunately photography is not allowed and so I was unable to use my camera.


Naples, Archaeological Museum

This museum contains an astonishing collection of statues, mosaics, paintings and objects from Herculaneum and Pompeii. Although not very well curated there are a great many fabulous exhibits. Well worth the effort to get to this place.

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Piercebridge, Roman Fort

Built where Dere Street crosses the River Tees, this was one of a number of forts on the line of this important road which ran from York to Corbridge, Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. Much of the fort remains are exposed and nearby the bridge abutments for the roman bridge can be seen too.

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Pompeii, Roman Town

The entire town was buried under volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. Here you can explore a complete Roman town. Visit the forums, temples, basilicas, public baths, theatres, roads, shops, houses, amphitheatre, gladiator barracks, walls, tombs. Pompeii has it all. This is the ultimate step back in time!

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Richborough, Roman Fort and Amphitheatre

When the Romans invaded in AD43 they used the Wantsum Channel as a safe anchorage and landed their army at Richborough. The remains of the earthworks they built to protect their landing area is clearly visible. Richborough became the main entry and exit point for reinforcements, supplies and people coming from Gaul. On visiting the site it is possible to trace its development over the course of Roman occupation.

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Roman Army Museum

The Roman Army Museum on Hadrian’s Wall provides detailed information about the Roman Army in Britain and particularly the units engaged in the garrisoning of the northern frontier.


Roman Legionary Museum

A very good museum dedicated to the Roman Army. Lots of information, objects and displays explaining the organization, weapons and equipment of the army and information about the Roman Army in Britain.


The heart of the Roman Empire. The Forum Romanum, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla, Circus Maximus, Trajan’s Market, Ara Pacis and much much more.

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Saalburg, Roman Fort

Superb restored Roman Fort in North Germany with an amazing museum including a special exhibition on Roman siege artillery. Close by is a section of the “Limes” which is the German equivalent of Hadrian’s Wall built to protect the land between the natural obstacles of the Rhine and Danube rivers.

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Segedunum, Roman Fort

The viewing tower allows a birds eye view of the fort. There is also a reconstructed bath house and an excellent museum.

Trier, Roman Town

From 260 to 274 AD Britain was part of the breakaway Gallic Empire. For this period Britain was governed from Trier which was the capital city of the Gallic Empire. There are lots of interesting Roman sites here including three bath complexes, a basilica ( now a church ), an amphitheatre, an excellent museum an of course the famous “Potra Nigra” city gates.

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Vindolanda, Roman Fort

Prior to the construction of Hadrian’s Wall the northern frontier in Britain followed the Stanegate line. Vindolanda was one of the forts forming part of the Stanegate line. Remains of the fort and the vicus ( civilian settlement ) are visible. The on site museum is amazing with a massive collection of finds from the site on display. It is also possible to view the Vindolanda writing tablets which give an insight into life at the fort prior to the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.


Xanten, Roman Town and Legionary Base

Now a huge archaeological park, Xanten was one of the most important Roman bases on the Rhine frontier. Today there are many reconstructed buildings, displays and exhibitions on many aspects of life in Roman times and a superb museum.

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York, Roman Town

When the Roman Army moved north York was chosen as the site for a Legionary Fortress and later it became a colonia. York was the most important town in Britain after London. There are few visible traces of Roman buildings to be seen today however you can see part of the public baths, the Roman walls and a few columns and statues. The city museum also has many interesting Roman exhibits.

More to follow…..

My Visit To Colchester Roman Circus

Chariot Racing in Britain

Colchester Roman Circus Centre is well worth a visit. I am so glad I made the effort!

The Ancient Romans were mad about chariot racing. Colchester has the only known chariot racing circuit in Britain. If there were others they have yet to be discovered. When the Romans invaded in 43AD they made straight for the heart land of the enemy. Camulodunum was the home of important tribal leaders and a spiritual settlement named after Camulus the celtic god of war. Once opposition had been subdued the Romans took over the area and founded their first colonae which they called called Victricensis, which translated from latin means city of victory. Thousands of retired soldiers were given land here and a model Roman town was built complete with all of the amenties Roman citizens expected and this included entertainment in the form of a theatre, amphitheatre and a circus.




Although nothing remains above ground of the circus building, extensive archaeological investigation has revealed the foundations and clearly the original structure was massive. It was 450 metres long with a capacity for 16,000 spectators. The only Roman building in Britain bigger than this is Hadrian’s Wall.




I have been to Circus Maximus in Rome. This was the biggest circus of all. However all there is to see is a huge open field. Colchester is far more interesting. The museum although containing very few artefacts does have some excellent displays, some of which are interactive. There is a reconstructed chariot and a superb scale model showing the layout of the race track and spectator stand. Outside there is a reconstruction of the foundations of the starting gates with a window to look through showing an elevation of how this part of the stadium might have looked. Very clever idea! There is also a metal frame work set up showing the profile of the spectator stands and the lines of the inner and outer walls have been marked out in the ground.


Profile of spectator stands


For anyone interested in Ancient Rome and chariot racing then I highly recommend a visit to this place. They have done an excellent job of providing information and designing displays both indoors and outside which enable the visitor to visualize what must have been a magnificent sports stadium. To the Romans this was surely their equivalent of Wembley

The Circus Centre is only a few minutes drive from the centre of Colchester and there is a car park on Butt Road ( which was free when I went ).

Contact details are as follows:

Roman Circus Centre, Roman Circus House, Roman Circus Walk, Colchester, CO2 7GZ.

Tel 01206 501785


Related articles

Understanding Roman Britain

Roman Britain Workshop Day

Roman Britain Workshop

Roman Britain Workshop

Who were the Romans and they did they come to Britain? Why was the Roman army so powerful? How did Britain change under Roman rule? How has the way we live today been influenced by the Romans?

The Roman Britain Workshop Day investigates the Roman conquest and life in Roman Britain. Famous people, important dates, events and places.

Why did Hadrian build a wall across northern Britain? Who built it? Who guarded? Why did the Romans eventually abandon Britain?

This workshop day is aimed at KS2 children. It is run in school and provides a good alternative to a school trip.

Schools in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Doncaster, Harrogate, Wetherby areas and some North Yorkshire schools may like this.

For more information please contact us now.


Roman Soldier Video

Roman Army Weapons and Equipment

This You Tube video gives an excellent overview of the equipment, weapons and armour that helped to make the Roman Army the best in the ancient world. Basic methods of combat and tactics are also explained.

Book a Roman Day for your school for your children to see a full demonstration of the above, first hand.


Who Ruled Roman Britain?

How Rome ruled Britain


The Emperor Hadrian

When Britain became a province of the Roman Empire it was ruled by a Governor. As Britain was a military province the Governor was appointed by the Emperor.

The official title of the Governor as legatus Augusti pro praetore and he would be a man of senatorial rank. Appointments were usually for three or four years.

His duties included:

  • Military Commander in Chief
  • Chief Judge ( with the power of life or death over citizens )
  • Head of civil administration
  • Maintaining relationships with friendly chieftains and kings

The Governor was the Emperors representative and bore responsibility for implementing the directives of central government.

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Roman Coins: Senatus Consulto

Roman coin

The letters SC appear on this coin.

Roman Coin Propaganda

Roman coins were used for propaganda purposes. Coins were issued following great military victories or to let people know about important events for example.

Although the emperor had absolute power the letters SC were often inscribed on roman coins. This stands for “senatus consulto” meaning with permission of the senate. This was propaganda to give the impression that the senate still had authority whilst in reality it had none.

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The End Of The Roman Empire

Why Did The Roman Empire Fall?

English: Roman SPQR banner

English: Roman SPQR banner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whilst discussing holidays with a friend we got onto talking about Italy as he has had some very enjoyable holidays in Tuscany. He is also quite interested in history and knowing that I do school workshops on Romans he asked me whatever caused the Roman Empire to decline and fall.  At the time I couldn’t give a clear and concise answer. I knew there  were many contributory factors and I couldn’t think where to start without boring my friend to death!

I recently read an article by Dr Miles Russell, a senior lecturer in Roman archaeology summarizing the main reasons for the fall of Ancient Rome in an article written for History Extra. I was very impressed with Dr Russell’s explanation. I made a list of the  key points below:

  • disease
  • invasion
  • civil war
  • social unrest
  • inflation
  • economic collapse

Dr Russell states that during the third and fourth century the continual internal power struggles between rival emperors was the most significant factor. The Empire turned in on itself and gradually tore itself apart. The army could no longer effectively defend the borders against constant attacks by waves of invaders from the north.

Although the eastern half of the empire continued the west broke up into a number of separate kingdoms effectively ending the Roman Empire and beginning the Dark Ages.

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Romanization of Britain: Towns

Types of Roman Towns


Roman Roads in Britain

Roman Roads in Britain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the arrival of the Romans Britain was made up of tribal areas with hill forts, settlements and farms connected by ancient pathways and tracks. Most Britons lived in circular “roundhouses”  and there was no uniformity in the positioning or layout of dwellings. By contrast Roman towns were laid out in a grid pattern with a central area and containing certain characteristic building which were common to all Roman towns throughout the empire. Here are the main types:


These were larger towns occupied mainly by Roman citizens ( often retired army personnel ). In Britain there were four, Colchester, Gloucester, Lincoln and York.


These towns were occupied by provincials but were under direct Roman control.


The civitas ( the commonest and possibly most important type ) were self governing by local people and were often based on existing tribal centres. The local chieftain or tribal leaders became the civic leaders and were responsible for implementing Roman customs and laws.


Smaller settlements that were located outside of Roman army forts or legionary bases. They provided homes for camp followers, soldiers families and also shops, taverns and tradesmen supplying the army’s needs.

Characteristic buildings in Roman towns

The following buildings were common to all larger Roman towns:

  • Forum or market place consisting of a large open area where people could gather to hear important news or announcements. Hold meetings, socialize and do business. There were usually shops round the sides.
  • Temple (s) to the gods where public religious ceremonies took place and where individuals could pay homage.
  • Basilica, a large building used for civic administration, money exchange, legal dispute and trials.
  • Public Baths, for bathing, exercising, having a drink or food and socializing.
  • Amphitheatre for entertainment such as gladiator fights ( there is only limited evidence of this in Britain ), chariot / horse racing animal hunts, theatre shows, military training and ceremonies etc.

Most towns had paved roads a water supply and some kind of sanitation.
Although during the early occupation buildings were of wood. Once the Romans were established in an area and local resources could be harnessed  important buildings were constructed from  locally quarried stone.
In Roman Britain as elsewhere most people did not live in towns. The majority of the population lived in the countryside. Villas were used to control and maximise agricultural resources. There were many villas in the south and east of Britain which were the most important farming areas. There were less in the military zones and hill country of the north. Villas varied in size from quite small to palatial ( Fishbourne ).
Although the arrival of the Romans had a massive impact on governance and the economy the vast majority of the population would have been unaffected. They continued to live in their  settlements as before. They would however have to pay taxes and be subject to Roman law.
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Why Did Julius Ceasar Invade Britain?

 Pretext for Invasion


The domination of Rome

It took Julius Caesar six years to take and pacify Gaul ( present day France, Belgium, southern Holland and pajuliuscaesarbustrt of Germany ).  After the initial conquest in 59 BC he had to put down numerous rebellions. One tribe called the Veneti lived on the Atlantic coast. They were powerful with a large fleet and had close trading links with the Dumnonii tribe who lived in south west Britain and the Durotriges who lived further east in the area that is now Hampshire.  When they rebelled in 56 BC they undoubtedly received support from their British allies but the Veneti were no match for the Roman Army on land and Ceasar also built a fleet of warships to ensure victory at sea. The Veniti were quickly defeated.

The Romans knew about Britain and believed it could be a source of valuable commodities such as iron, silver, copper and lead as well as grain, leather, wool and meat.  There was free flowing of merchandise across the channel although little was known of the geography of the islands, the size of the population or the extent of its natural resources.

It was normal practice for the Romans to mount punitive raids against troublesome neighbours and it is likely that Caesar wanted to show the British that the channel was no obstacle to the Roman army should he choose to punish them for interfering in Roman affairs.

The Romans had to safeguard the Republic by dominating tribes living near to the borders of their territory. Potential enemies had to know that acts of aggression would provoke immediate and severe reprisals from the Roman army.

Caesar’s ambition

Julius Caesar was ambitious and his conquest of Gaul had brought him immense personal wealth as well as increasing his standing in Rome where he was hailed by the Roman people as a hero of the Republic. Caesar was now at the head of an experienced, well trained and powerful army who were utterly loyal to him.  The prospect of conquering Britain must have been very tempting as this would further add to his glory and bring even more wealth and prestige. He must have felt supremely confident that he could do as he pleased and that no-one could oppose his will.

Caesar was curious about the Britons. He wanted to find out about their customs, how they lived and how their warriors fought. He wanted to know more about the land and in particular where there were good harbours, anchorages and landing sites. This information would be useful in the event of future military campaigns against the British.

Although crossing the channel would be a great risk militarily Caesar considered the potential rewards outweighed the consequences of failure.

The return of Mandubracius

When the Veniti were beaten envoys came from Britain to pay homage to Caesar presumably hoping to avert an invasion. At this time Caesar was approached by a young British prince called Mandubrachius whose father had been king of the Trinovantes ( whose territory is present day Essex ). When his father was murdered by Cassivellaunus of the Catevellauni tribe Madubracius fled to Caesar for protection. The elders of the Trinovantes wanted their prince to come back and be their cheiftain. They petitioned Caesar to help agreeing to obey and assist him in return. It was an attractive offer as the Tirnovantes would be useful allies and new trade routes could be opened up with them which would be more beneficial to Rome and potentially  lucrative to Caesar himself.

A foregone conclusion

It seems inevitable that Caesar would invade Britain. The Britons had to be made to acknowledge and respect the power of Rome. Caesar wanted to enhance his reputation and standing ( gravitas ) with the senate and the people of Rome. He also stood to gain financially by extending his influence to the new lands. Finally he had an open invitation to cross the channel in order to assist the Trinovantes.

Caesar invaded first in 55 BC and then again in 54 BC however he did not stay and the full Roman conquest did not begin until nearly 100 years later in the reign of he Emperor Claudius.

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