• Henry Hopwood-Phillips

Top Roman Sites in Britain

I’ve tried to omit some of the obvious big ticket items like Aquae Sulis (modern Bath, which is Roman only really up to the stylobate) and Hadrian’s Wall (which I covered here when I walked it) for some of the lesser-known sites. Mosaics and artefacts have also been eschewed mainly because I believe their inclusion tends to displace the ruins that are for whatever reason considered less sexy.

  • Jewry Wall, Leicester (Roman Ratae Corieltauvorum)

Second-century wall with two archways that stands near St Nicholas’ Church. It formed the west wall of a public building that may have been baths.

  • Balkerne Gate, Colchester (Roman Camulodunum)

A first-century Roman gateway, it was built where the Roman road from London intersected the town wall.

  • City-Walls of St Albans (Roman Verulamium)

Built between AD 265-70, the walls of Verulamium can still be traced for much of its two-mile circuit. At its peak it towered at a height of five metres and was topped by a walkway protected by a two-metre parapet.

  • Public baths of Wroxeter (RomanViroconium)

Usually called the “Old Work,” this archway (part of the baths’ frigidarium) forms the largest free-standing Roman ruin in England.

  • London wall (Roman Londinium)

Built in the second or third century (around eighty years after the local fort) the city walls were up to six metres high, built from Kentish ragstone (from Maidstone) and roughly two miles long (enclosing an area of 330 acres).

  • Pharos, Dover (Roman Portus Dubris)

Built on a promontory known as the Eastern Heights during the reign of Claudius (41-54) there was also a second pharos at Bredenstone. Today it is a four-storey building at roughly twenty metres but originally it would have had six levels and been twenty-six metres in height. In the thirteenth century it was converted into a bell-tower for the neighbouring St Mary in Castro built on the first millennium.

  • Pevensey walls (Roman Anderitum)

Built 280-300 by Carausius who was appointed leader of the classis Britannica in order to end the raids of Frankish and Saxon pirates. He was eventually accused of corruption and Maximian ordered his execution. Anderitum – which originally overlooked the waterfront (it’s now 1,000 metres inland) – was probably fortified in his efforts to secure the coast from imperial forces.

  • West wall, Rochester (Roman Bremenium)

Mentioned in Ptolemy’s Geographia, the Antonine Itinerary and the Ravenna Cosmography, Bremenium was once a defensive fort along Dere Street. Its west wall still stands though much of the site has been plundered for building materials over the centuries.

  • Walls near Silchester (Roman Calleva Atrebatum)

The town of Calleva Atrebatum covered around a hundred acres with a nymphaeum, amphitheatre, thermal baths, temples and churches before declining after AD 450. Its walls were built in the early third century but today only the northern gate remains impressive.

  • Multangular Tower, York (Roman Eboracum)

Once the west corner of the city’s legionary fortress (home to the ninth legion before 120 and the sixth Victrix afterwards), it formed one of two huge corner towers that looked down on to the river Ouse. The small stones in the lower half are (early third-century) Roman whereas the upper half dates to the medieval period.

  • Newport Arch, Lincoln (Roman Lindum Colonia)

The oldest Roman arch in Britain still used by traffic, a considerable portion still stands but at least 2.5 metres of this third-century beauty buried. Part of the connecting wall survives in the nearby Newport Cottage too.

  • Portchester Castle (Roman Portus Adurni)

Constructed as part of the Saxon Short fort system – most likely during the reign of the rebel Carausius – and mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum, Portus Adurni (located in a coastal inlet on the eastern arm of the Solent) is the ancestor of modern Portsmouth.

  • Ravenglass House, Cumbria (Roman Glannoventa)

Ravenglass was once an important Roman naval base. Little remains of it now apart from a second-century bath house with three-to-four metre walls (known as Walls Castle) located to the north-east of a Roman fort.

  • Caerwent, Monmouthshire (Roman Venta Silurum)

The capital of the civitas Silurum, a tribe with a long record of resistance, its defences enclose a rectangle and comprise third-century walls over five metres high. The southern wall is the best preserved section (with multiangular towers). Interestingly, a church in Caerwent possesses a pedestal dedicated to Ti. Cl. Paulinus (former commander of Legio II Augusta c. 220).

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