Romans in Chester, Chester
Headstones are always fascinating but the old ones are often too badly weathered to make out very much. What a treat to have these well preserved tombstones from 2000 years ago in such an attractive display in the Grosvenor museum.
Be still for a moment before the altar to Nemesis, goddess of fate. Of all the thousands of legionaries that were stationed at Deva we know the names and brief stories of only a handful. Can it really be blind chance that has selected these few for immortality? And what will be the fate of our own stories? Will they all ultimately be lost like sunken treasure in a flood of information? Or will another dark age winnow our billions down to a handful of web pages that live on in some virtual museum of the future? Commune for a while with these stones and you may find that they have much to say.
The Grosvenor museum has the best collection of Roman artefacts in Chester and informative displays about the castra (fort) on the river Dee. The entrance fee is by donation. I enjoyed both the exhibits and the solitude of some of the upstairs rooms. If you need a break or the weather isn't cooperating this is a lovely place to spend some time.
To explore Chester is to walk through the millenia. To start, check out the ruins of the Roman Ampitheater, located to the immediate southeast of the city center between the walls and the river.
The Roman colony here, on the furthest reaches of the empire, was called Deva. Archaeological restoration has produced a remarkably well-preserved amphiteatre and other ruins of the nearly 2000-year old city. Awesome.
This is the largest excavated roman amphitheatre in Britain. Although to me it doesnt look particular exciting, I suppose to people who know about these things it probably is. Excavations took place between 1929-34 and again 1965-69. Thought to have had a capacity for 7,000 spectators. Probably used for military training but also for what the Romans classed as 'entertainment' being cock fighting, bull bating, wrestling and fighting.
In the 18th century it was also used as a bear pit!
This sandstone pillar marked the centre of the Roman fortress. In Roman times Chester's main streets Via Principalis (now Watergate and Eastgate Streets), Via Decumana (now Northgate Street) and Via Praetoria (now Bridge Street) radiated from the cross to the main gates.
Chester Amphitheatre, the largest in Britain, was discovered in 1929 when, during gardening work for Dee House, a long, curved wall was uncovered.
It is believed, although more recent studies seem to deny, that there was a wooden Amphitheatre on the site before the Stone one was built. This wooden structure would have been built when the fort of Diva Victrix was first founded, in the late 70's AD, by 'Legio II Adiutrix'. There is some evidence to suggest that the structure fell into dis-repair, and when the fort was re-garrisoned in 86 AD, it was re-built by the new occupants, 'Legio XX Valeria Victrix'. The Amphitheatre fell into disuse when Legio XX were posted North during the construction of Hadrians Wall, but on their return it was restored again.
The current stone structure lies along the North/South line, with entrances on all four compass points, and the arena could easily seat 8,000 people. Around the amphitheatre, a complex of stables, dungeons and food stands. A shrine to Nemesis, the Goddess of retribution, was built at the Northern entrance.
Following the Roman withdrawl from Britain, the Amphitheatre once again fell into dis-repair. It was used for Bull fights and public executions, but was eventually filled in due to erosion and refuse dumping. A Victorian Convent and Manor House complex known as 'Dee House' was built over the southern end of the Amphitheatre, while a Georgian Townhouse known as St. Johns House was built over the northern end.
Today, the Amphitheatre is a Grade 1 listed building, only the Northern half of the Amphitheatre is visible as the Southern end is covered with buildings, including Dee House, some of which are listed.
The Dewa Roman experience transports you back to Roman times in Chester 2,000 years ago. An archeological dig gives an interesting insight into the extensive remains beneath present day Chester, showing the different street levels for each era. There is also a site museum, hands on exhibition area and a gift shop.
This is the largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain and held about 7000 people. However only the northern part has been excavated - hence not much to see really. It was used for military practice, gladiator fights and public executions.
Do not be deceived by the remaining low curved wall enclosing the small central arena- the Amphitheatre's massive exterior wall measured 320 by 286 feet (95.7 by 87.2 metres) and stood 40 feet (11.5 metres) above the Roman street level, around twice the average present height of the city walls- you would have had to crane your neck to see the top! The interior wall facing the arena stood twelve feet high and the arena itself measured 190 by 160 feet (58 by 49.4 metres: an area of 2230 sq m).
Update Sept. 2004 - local source informs me that excavations are currently been undertaken on the ampitheatre so hopefully more more will be visible soon!!
The Roman garden was laid out in the 1950’s to display the building fragments of the original Roman fortress which were excavated in the nineteenth century. It leads through Pepper Street to the river Dee. There is also a fine reconstruction of a hypocaust which was the Roman system of under-floor heating, an example of the Romans’ ingenuity and advanced building skills. The surrounding City Wall is medieval rather than Roman and came under attack during the siege of Chester in the Civil War.
Beneath Deanery Field archaeologists have discovered the foundations of the Roman legion's barracks and some of the legionaires' equipment, including chain armour. These date from the 1st - 4th century AD.
Roman forts were laid out to the same pattern across the Empire. Within the walls or ramparts were bakeries, granaries, workshops, administrative buildings and living accommodation for soldiers and senior officers. Most of the remains of the legionary fortress of Deva lie beneath the modern city of Chester, but the excavations at Deanery Field revealed a series of barrack blocks, where the legionary soldiers lived.
The Romans were in Chester for 400 years most of the remains and ruins that you see were constructed by the xxth legion
The amphitheatre one of nineteen known in roman Britain only nine have been uncovered lays just outside Newgate near too also is the roman gardens
A lot of the stones in the garden were found in the wall and have been recovered
A lot of the roman remains have been built over in the past ,at present a dig is taking place in the amphitheatre and the finds will be put on display when the work is finished
Look out for the romans leading school partys around chester with the school children dressed as roman soldiers
The Romans established a city here in 43 AD, named Dewa, complete with all the trappings of Roman life. They constructed the walls, an ampitheatre, baths, and many other features. Some of these are still visible today, in the old city centre. To this day, much of Chester's layout is built upon the original Roman city plan.
The Roman Gardens are a nice, quiet area which is free to visit day and night. It was created in 1969 using the excavated remains of several buildings (including a hypocaustum) and took its current shape in 2000. Some boards will provide you with additional information, including about the spot where the parlamentarian army broke through the city walls during the civil war. The spot was formerly the site of a clay tobacco pipe factory.
In 1929, the amphitheatre was rediscovered and due to neighbouring buildings and streets, it is still not fully uncovered. It was built in 86 AD, replacing a wooden structure from 75AD. Chester's amphitheatre is the largest of its kind discovered in Britain. Like the city walls and the Roman Gardens, this place is also accessible 24/7. Good information is provided here through panels and boards.
At first view, I did think these were established in the times of the Roman occupation. However, I am advised they were in fact created in 1949 adjacent to the city wall. They were formed by the use of a number of columns and bases discovered in locations across the city.
In addition to the use of the columns and the like, they have reconstructed a Roman hypocaust. They have also used plants, trees and shrubs which have a Roman theme or association.
The gardens are popular with tourists and the workers from nearby offices and shops.