Towns in Roman Britain

  • Created on: 27-04-13 17:50


  • Only one theater remains in Britain today, and that is at St Albans. It combines a circular structure with a stage building, suggesting that it could have been used for displays that could have also been shown in an amphitheater. 
  • Amphitheaters were more popular in the Western parts of the Roman empire, and Britain was no exception. Evidence of amphitheaters in Cirencester and Silchester. Around 20 amphitheaters in general have been found around the UK, and these are generally evenly spread, suggesting that the Romans influenced a lot of the province.
  • Amphitheaters were used to house many different shows, including gladiator shows, animal shows and public executions. Sometimes they could be used for the military to practices strategies.
  • Theaters and amphitheaters provided entertainment for the citizens of Roman Britain. This would have been very enjoyable for the people, and perhaps played a part in the native's acceptance of the Roman's rule; if their quality of life was improved, then they would be more willing to conform. 
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Public Buildings

  • The Forum and Basillica were the most important public buildings in any town. The Forum tended to be a fairly uniform rectangular space where other public buildings were sited. The Basillica is always associated with a Forum, and it was used for judical purposes. 
  • No Forum of Basillica remains fully intact in Roman Britain, however the parts of these buildings that do remain are among the most substantial, non-military, relics.
  • The Forum-Basillica in London went under a major redevelopment in the early second century however this type of scale for public buildings was faily rare. This is evidence that London was used as an administrative sight. The Forum covered nearly two hectares of land and was up to three storyes high. This was the largest building of its type north of the Alps, showing the importance of London in the Roman empire. 
  • Roman towns would also have market halls. These generally were perminant rows of markets, where goods could be bought with Roman coinage. The remains of a market hall have been found at St Albans. Shops that specialised in crafts would also be alongside the market halls. The "heavier" industries, such as pottery making, were in the countryside. 
  • Bath houses ranged from the modest to the monumental (similar to the forum). A bath house found at Wroxeter is vast, being 122 metres long. Also a grand one found at Bath. Military brought the sophisticated system of aqueducts and grid underground sewer systems.
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  • There were a variety of temples in Roman Britain. This shows an interpenetration of cultures, a shift in beliefs, and perhaps a tolerance to different religions. This tolerance was essential as it helped to appease the Celtic people.
  • The grand temple of Sulis-Minerva at Bath, and that of Claudius at Colchester display very classical elements. The temple at Bath stands on a high platform with a columnar facade. Sulis-Minerva is a mix of both Celtic and Roman beliefs; Sulis was a Celtic deity, whereas Minerva was Roman. These grand, classical temples are actually very rare in Roman Britain. 
  • While there is evidence for a multiplicity of cults and dedications to Roman, Celtic, or hybrid deities, these are associated with a simple architectural form, consisting of a small, rectangular shrine surrounded by a "double square" plan. These simple temples are found to be widely distributed in the towns and countryside of Roman Britain in the late first/early second century. They are also found frequently across Gual. 
  • A temple at Antenociticus, near Hadrian's wall, displays both Celtic and Classical elements. It consists of a square structure surrounded by a verandah. This not only shows an interpenetration of cultures, but it also shows that there was Roman influence fairly far northwards, suggesting they did successfully Romanize most of the province. 
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  • There are 4 found in Britain, and could be described as independent units standing outside of the day-to-day administration of Roman Britain. Retired military veterans lived in a colony, and their wives and children would live in a separate settlement, usually near by. 
  • Colonias were very good for the security of the province, as they could be used as military reserves; having a large grouping of experienced legionaries was a great resource. For example, the twentieth legion at Colchester was released in its entirety for active service to defeat Caratacus (he was the leader of a revolt against the pro-Roman queen Cartimandua). The force decisively beat Caratacus, forcing to abandon even his own family. 
  • Colonias were also used to promote the Roman ways of governance, culture and law, especially to the British aristocracy, within the core area of the new province. At Colchester, a temple dedicated to the emperor Claudius was set up, a cult of widespread importance in the Roman empire. It was a focus of imperial loyalty, although it probably wasn't set up until after his death in 54. 
  • Had a town council called an Ordo. Members were origionally elected, however they gradually started to be appointed. A magistrate was elected anually, and was incharge of ceremonies, justice, etc. Very similar to the structure of Rome which had a senate. They also oversaw a justice, 2 duoriri, 2 quaestos and a group of priests.
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Types of Town

Civitas Capitals:

  • This type of town usually developed from pre-existing settlements that were re-built into a more Romany styled settlement. They would contain many different types of Roman citizens and natives, including those from Gual - evidence for a mix of cultures.
  • They were effectively the administration centres for local level government. They demonstrate traits of being planned and organised (many follow the famous Roman grid structure) however they weren't standardised across the province. There is an estimated 23 Iron Age tribal territories, in which between 11 and 16 became civitas capitals. Examples include Silchester and Exeter
  • They had a council called a "provincial council", where 1/2 members were elected and they had the right to speak directly to the emperor. 


  • They would contain both Roman and local citizens. The evidence for an existing one is St Albans. Similar to coloniae, however they contained some non-Roman citizens. Coloniae were based on Rome as a model for organisation, some municipia also incorporated local laws and practices. This would probablly have appeased the local people.
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  • The larger towns and cities would act as an administrative centre for their region. This resulted in a very organised system of local government, allowing the Romans to keep relitave control over the province. Eg) London - evidence is the huge reconstruction of the Forum-Basillica in the early second century. This organised structure and Roman elements of the town largely improved quality of life, appeasing the locals.
  • The locations of the towns were selected very carefully by the Roman army. They usually had trade consideration (many towns were set up near roads or rivers where supplies could be transported to and from the site), eg) York was chosen because of the river Ouse, which allowed troups and supplies to be transported to it. The majority of the towns also had defensive systems, either in the form of rivers or devensive town walls. London shows that artillery bastions were added in the fourth century. This shows that the Romans would adapt their defenses depending of the level of the threat that they were facing. Similarly, by the late fourth century a line of "saxon shore forts" were built on the east and south coast of the province. This shows that the Romans were not only successful in defending their towns from internal enemies, but also external ones.
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  • There is evidence to suggest that there was a large urban decline around the fourth century. Eg) magnificant baths at Wroxeter were abandoned by about 300. The Forum-Basillica at Leicster was destroyed by a devistating fire, but then never rebuilt. There is also evidence that York was completely abandoned until around 600. Towns became poorly administrated market centres and then when trade decreased even more, country estates had to start to become self sufficient. This huge decline suggests that without Roman influence, the towns could not run successfully. This could suggest that they had a highly sophisticated and organised system that was very advantageous, however it could not be kept up if they were not there. 
  • Although there are remains of extensive defensive walls around Lodon, they were not built at the beginning of Roman rule. This is strange, as defensive walls were used everywhere else in the Roman empire. This left London open to attack from Boudicca in 61; London and two other towns were ravaged by Boudicca, with an estimated 70 000 people massacred. This highlights a huge fault in the system of towns in Roman Britain - did they underestimate the threat from the native people? The rebellion was a large setback.
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