Including remote forts and luxurious villas, baths, temples, amphitheatres and fascinating museums, and of course Hadrian’s Wall, our unrivalled collection brings Roman Britain to life.
Roman Britain endured for over three and a half centuries, as long as the span which separates us from the English Civil War. Over fifty varied sites in our care reflect its story from the invasion of AD 43 to the flickering out of Imperial rule in the early 400s. Richborough Roman Fort and Ampitheatre witnessed both the beginning and almost the end of the Roman era: the very first Roman troops landed on this site, and it was among the very last forts to be regularly occupied.
The jewel of our collection is Hadrian’s Wall, begun in AD 122 and held for more than 250 years. Marching 73 miles from sea to sea, this World Heritage Site incorporates no fewer than 25 individual monuments. The impressive major forts of Birdoswald, Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, Housesteads Roman Fort and Corbridge Roman Town each has its own outstanding museum, and there are also isolated fortlets, turrets, signal towers and stretches of Wall, as well as two Roman temples.
Other forts guarded the renowned Roman roads (of which a little-altered moorland stretch survives at Wheeldale Roman Road). Among the remotest and most spectacularly-sited is Hardknott Roman Fort amid the rainswept Cumbrian fells, but even this was equipped with a bath-house and ‘sauna’, a compensation for British weather which every Roman soldier demanded. More complete military baths can be seen at Ravenglass Roman Bath House and Chesters Roman Fort on the Wall, where Housesteads Roman Fort also displays a famous Roman communal lavatory.
Baths as well as underfloor ‘central heating’ were also indispensable features of Roman villas, the country houses and centres of farming estates which flourished in the kinder climate of southern ‘Britannia’. We care for three of these, the grandest and best-preserved being Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, family home of a governor of Britain who became Emperor of Rome (for just 87 days). As well as spectacular mosaic floors, this displays remains of both a pagan cult-room and a ‘house church’, whose wall-paintings are among the earliest evidence for Christianity in Britain.
Towns were a still more important Roman introduction to Britain, and the hubs of its ‘civilisation’ (which means ‘townisation’), for here Britons could learn Roman ways while visiting markets or law-courts. We care for Wroxeter Roman City, once the fourth largest town in Roman Britain, as well as smaller Aldborough, the ‘capital’ of a Romanised British tribe. At Chester, Cirencester and Silchester, the remains of amphitheatres recall the sometimes bloodstained amusements of Roman citizens, and at Silchester and St. Albans we care for parts of the defensive walls increasingly built round towns as sea-borne ‘barbarians’ began to threaten the coasts.
The most dangerous of these raiders gave their name to the ‘Saxon Shore’ forts of later Roman Britain. Those in our collection are Burgh Castle and Caister Roman Fort in Norfolk, Reculver Towers and Roman Fort, and Richborough Roman Fort in Kent, and later and much stronger in Sussex and Portchester Castle in Hampshire, the only Roman stronghold in northern Europe whose multi-towered walls still mainly stand to their full height.
Yet neither these nor the Roman signal-tower forts of the Yorkshire coast (the only visible survivor is within Scarborough Castle) could stem the sea-borne threat for long. When Rome itself was threatened by barbarians, Britain was left to face its enemies alone.