The Kent coast, near Richborough August 27th 55BC, Julius Caesar sets foot on British soil for the first time. At the time this land was known as Britannia, and Caesar wanted to make it his own. He spent the following months and years marching to the four corners of Britannia conquering and colonising across two campaigns.
What is often misunderstood of the Romans is that they rarely destroyed towns and populations. Preferring to assimilate with the local populace and establish a political influence. The people of Britannia fully embraced the ways of Roman life and adopted Roman style accommodation, entertainment, customs and religions. When the Romans officially departed they left behind more than forts and walls, they left behind their culture.
If you ask most people about Roman sites in Britain they will most likely say, Hadrian’s Wall and The Roman Baths in Bath. Rightly so for these are the largest and best preserved sites respectively. But The UK has a wealth of Roman sites ripe for discovery – here are ten of the best;
One of Britain’s largest on-going archaeological projects, Vindolanda has given up some real treasures. Quite literally actually, the Vindolanda Tablets were voted “Britain’s Greatest Treasures.” The tablets now reside at the British Museum but Vindolanda is still fit to bursting with artefacts. Used as a military fort it has given us widespread understanding of Roman military activities in Britain. The site today boasts modern and immersive window into the Roman military world. Definitely among the best of its type in the UK.
York Minster sits proudly atop the ruined foundations of a very significant Roman Basilica, The entire Roman Empire was governed from York, or Eboracum as it was then known, under the rule of Septimus Sevuirus. Later Constantine the Great was to write a chapter into York’s History. Significantly Constantine was the first Emperor to officially allow Christianity in the Roman world and went on to rule as the very first Christian Ruler of Rome. He was proclaimed sole Emperor at the Basilica at York and may have laid out some of his decrees on Christianity form the same place. So while not much remains beyond foundations, the York Basilica played host to extremely significant events.
Hadrian’s Wall is probably Rome’s most iconic monument in the UK. spanning the island from east to west it was built to control the marauding and aggressive tribes
of North England and Scotland. Along its 117km length there are a great number
of Forts (Vindolanda included) and Roman archaeology as well as ample
opportunity to indulge in outdoor activities like hiking and cycling.
Lesser known is the Antonine Wall which spans Scotland’s central belt it has been given UNESCO’s World Heritage Status as the extreme north-western border of the Roman Empire. To gaze north of this wall was to look out of the largest empire of the Ancient World. Less remains then of its Hadriannic counterpart and it is definitely better suited to the adventurers.
On Tyne and Weir, Arbeia Fort & Museum is a really great place to experience what live in Roman Britain would have been like, re-enactments, workshops, archaeology and all kind of other entertainment are always on offer here. In fact in a few weeks’ time (Sep 14th) they are hosting the Great North Roman Games to coincide with the Great North Run.
Once Britain’s second largest Roman city, the preserved town museum boasts a number of spectacular and intricate mosaics in situ. You will also find lots about the Anglo Saxon era of the ancient city.
Mosaics are synonymous with Ancient Rome and some of the best in the UK are on show at Fishbourne Roman Palace. Fishbourne would have been one of the more lavish palaces of Roman Britain and much is still to be admired about the scale of the palace and recreated gardens
Wroxeter began as a legionary fortress but later evolved into a thriving city, because of this we can find a nice mix in military and civilian archaeology. The most impressive features are the 2nd century municipal baths. Unique to Wroxeter is the recreated Roman town house which was built as part of the channel 4 TV series ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day.’ It gives a great insight into what living as a Roman Brit would have been like.
Among the most outstanding Roman villa survivals in Britain, Lullingstone provides a unique all weather family day out. Set in the attractive surroundings of the Darent Valley in Kent, the villa was begun in about AD 100, and developed to suit the tastes and beliefs of successive wealthy owners, reaching its peak of luxury in the mid-4th century.
Visitors to the villa today can still view the spectacular mosaics and prints of the rare wall paintings, a heated bath-suite and a ‘house-church’. A specially commissioned light show brings the villa to life, and galleries display Lullingstone’s fascinating collection of Roman artifacts. Kids will love trying on the Roman costumes and playing traditional board games from the period.
Richborough is the landing point for Caesar’s campaigns into Britannia. Evocatively sited amid the East Kent marshes, Richborough is perhaps the most symbolically important of all Roman sites in Britain, witnessing both the beginning and almost the end of Roman rule here. Explore the huge stone walls which mark the site of this Saxon Shore fortress and take a look at the fascinating museum. Catch a boat from Sandwich and reach the fort as the Romans would have done
Little needs to be said to hype up the Roman Baths at Bath, they are far and away the best preserved Roman site in the UK and one of the very finest outside of Rome itself. Recently undergoing a massive refurbishment the site offers a spectacular insight into ancient Rome and the life of luxury enjoyed by its wealthy citizens. Also very worth a visit is the revamped Bath Spas which give you an experience not unlike that which Romans would have enjoyed all those years ago.
Wales was the furthest outpost of the Roman Empire. In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years.
Step back in time at the National Roman Legion Museum and explore life in a far-flung outpost of the mighty Roman Empire. Today at the National Roman Legion Museum you can learn what made the Romans a formidable force and how life wouldn’t be the same without them.
These ten form just some of the countless Roman sites spread across the UK; you can find any and all near you by using English Heritage’s website which lists many Roman sites alongside all Heritage sites. It is an essential resource for anyone looking to explore the history of the British Isles.