The Roman Empire began invading Britain in AD 43 and continued for 44 years to complete their campaign. Although they never quite conquered Scotland, they had control of what is today England and Wales. Romans stayed in Britain until the early 5th century and in the meantime brought many things that Britain and the world still use. Basically, the Romans brought fast food, plumbing, sewers, underfloor heating, bathhouses, a whole new religion, and Latin to Britain. However, arguably the most impressive relic from those times is the Roman sites in Britain that still (somewhat) stand. The Roman sites in Britain range from houses to roads, from walls to forts and castles.
When Romans invaded Britain, the biggest tribe in the region was the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe who made Aldborough their capital. As time passed, the Brigantes were Romanized and Aldborough became popular with the Roman population. Many consuls and officials made Aldborough their home.
Romans used Aldborough as a place of administration and to keep the Britons in control easily. Although only some remains exist today, historians estimate that Aldborough was a lively city with buildings, markets, walls, and ditches for defense. A perfectly preserved 8-pointed star at the site shows the fine craftsmanship of the Romans.
Arbeia Roman Fort
Arbeia South Shields Fort was a military defense and supply fort for the North of Hadrian’s Wall. It served as a headquarters for the Scottish invasion as the Emperor made Arbeia his home for a while. Officer’s houses, soldier barracks, and granaries clearly show that Arbeia was a highly important fort for Romans during their stay in Britain.
Arbeia means “fort of the Arab troops.” This is because following the invasion of Singara, a squadron of Mesopotamian soldiers from Tigris was stationed at the fort. Moreover, it is clear that the fort had a cosmopolite structure. The statue below belonged to Victor, a former African slave, who became a soldier.
Bignor Roman Villa
The Bignor Villa is the largest courtyard ever excavated in Britain. Its magnitude, mosaics, and murals show that the villa owners were wealthy people. The farmstead also shows that the owners became wealthy from farming. The mosaic and murals appear to be authentic works since one of them is signed by its maker.
It is estimated that Bignor Villa supported up to 70 buildings over 4 acres of land. In addition, the villa had a period of expansion of 300 years. The excavations show that the villa had extensions to its North, South, and West sides proving that the villa passed from owner to their heirs until it was abandoned in the 5th century.
Brading Roman Villa
The Brading Villa is located in the Isle of Wight which the Romans invaded in the 2nd century. However, estimations say that the villa was originally built in the 1st century. This shows that the Romans probably took over a Briton’s villa and developed upon it. The villa had extensive rooms, twelve of which are in good condition.
The structure of the villa indicates that the owners were quite wealthy. The villa has murals and mosaics depicting different mythologic figures and gladiator fights. Moreover, a farmhouse in the villa shows that the villa had a lot of workers living in close quarters. Aside from the villa building, its murals are some of the most well-preserved Roman sites in Britain.
When the Normans conquered England in 1066 they built a castle in the city of Kent. It was one of the three royal castles of the Normans which represented their victory. In time, the castle lost its importance and only its ruins exist today. However, around the castle, there are remains of a wall from a time much earlier than the Normans. This is the Canterbury Wall built by the Romans.
The Canterbury Walls were a set of defensive walls protecting the city and another castle in Kent. The walls had various gates facing outside and connecting the Roman roads together. The walls were 2.5 meters thick and 6 meters high. Thanks to the Canterbury Walls, the city survived many invasive forces until the Romans left Britain.
Chester Roman Amphitheatre
The Chester Amphitheatre was the biggest in all Britain and it was one of the biggest archeological excavations of modern England. The amphitheater was not only used for entertainment such as gladiator fights but for military training as well. Historians believe that in its heyday, the amphitheater would have supported up to 12.000 spectators.
It is obvious that the Chester Amphitheatre was more significant for the Romans as it is different from the other amphitheaters in Britain. It had two entrances leading to different sets of seating and a shrine near the entrances. The amphitheater was in use for nearly 300 years before the Romans left.
Dolaucothi Gold Mine
Located in Wales, Dolaucothi Gold Mines are one of the fewest gold sources in Wales. While today the National Trust owns the mines, the Romans had their fair share of the gold back in the 1st century. The extraction of gold by the Romans is traced to Quintus, the governor of Wales. Quintus subdued Welsh tribes and established a fort which he used to exploit the gold mines.
The Romans used the gold mines for 200 years and some of the jewelry made from the gold is in British museums. Aside from the jewelry, Dolaucothi shows the advanced Roman technology perfectly. The Romans used hydraulic mining by storing water from a nearby river and releasing it into the mines. The water swept the soil and revealed gold rocks under the dirt which made mining much easier.
Eboracum was the biggest town in Roman Britain and one of its provincial capitals. Although a mere fort in the beginning, Eboracum turned into one of the most important centers for the Romans. Two emperors died in Eboracum one while residing and the other while conquering it again. Since it was home to a legion of nearly 6 thousand soldiers, many locals settled in Eboracum to set up businesses.
The excavations show that there existed different religions inside Eboracum. Various stone works and some historic documents show traces of Greek mythology and later Christianity being practiced in the city. Moreover, the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great was crowned in Eboracum making it a monumental place for various eras of the Roman Empire.
Fishbourne Roman Palace
One of the biggest Roman residences in Northern parts of Europe and built only 30 years after the Romans conquered Britain, Fishbourne Roman Palace and its gardens are sights to behold. The palace was originally a supply base for Roman soldiers and in time it became a place for the Roman royalty. The palace had a garden, under-floor heating, and baths accompanied by excellent mosaics that survived.
While the mosaics today are the greatest draw of the palace, the stone head of the emperor Nero is as significant. The stonework indicates the craftsmanship of an Italian sculptor, showing how Fishbourne was an important site for the Romans. Although many officials and emperors developed the palace, it burnt down in the 3rd century after which the Romans abandoned it.
The Roman Baths
Located in the city of Bath, the Roman Baths are one of the most-preserved and important tourist attractions of Britain. Roman baths around the world are famous for their structure and outlook and the ones in England are no less. Built as a temple honoring two water goddesses from Celtic and Greek mythologies, the Roman Baths were sacred to the Roman population.
The Baths were open to the public and had different levels of hot and cold water to use. Moreover, the citizens had curse tablets where they wrote curses for the thieves who stole their goods while bathing. The baths were in use until the 5th century and after reconstruction until the 20th century. However, after a girl contracted a deadly disease in 1978 after swimming in the baths, it was revealed that the water had brain-eating bacteria in it. Therefore, the government shut down the baths and began to allow only touristic visits.
Temple of Mithras
Built as a place of worship for the god Mithras, the Temple of Mithras is a peculiar Roman site. Although Mithras belonged to Persian mythology, the Romans took him as one of their own and even started a religion dedicated to him. Mithras and his myth of strength and courage were especially appealing to Roman soldiers who fought in Northern Europe and heard his story.
Since the temple was intentionally built underground, the Romans had a hard time keeping it active. In time, the temple was abandoned and it sank even deeper without a trace. Therefore, its excavation was completely a coincidence and not a conscious attempt. England suffered heavily during WW2 due to the series of bombings by German planes known as Blitzkrieg. After the war, the country went into reconstruction during which the officials found the ruins of the temple.
Wroxeter, also known as Viroconium, is a currently-excavated Roman site and was the 4th-largest city of Roman Britain. After it was taken from the Celtic tribe living in it, the Romans used it as a fort which later turned into a place of living. It is estimated that in its prime, Wroxeter was home to 15,000 Romans. The city’s name, Viroconium, had Celtic origins and Romans Latinized it later which literally means werewolf.
Although only ruins exist now, Viroconium was a popular Roman center between the 1st and 5th centuries. The city had temples, shops, baths, a forum, and houses which increased in number over time. Being a frontier town did not stop Viroconium from getting wealthy. By establishing trade routes to Wales, the city flourished which eventually declined after the Roman rule.