Towns in Roman Britain


Buildings in towns

Jewry Wall baths, and forum/basilica complex (Ratae Corieltauvorum/Leicester):

  • Exercise hall and changing area in bath complex
  • Parallel bathing chambers for men and women, which was expensive and unusual
  • The baths were an essential part of life because they are next to the basilica
  • All the town business would have happened here - public buildings would be nearby
  • Aqueducts supplied the water
  • Forum and basilica destroyed by fire in the 4th century and not replaced.

Courtyard house (Venta Silurum/Caerwent):

  • Underfloor heating (hypocaust)
  • Evidence of elaborately painted walls and mosaics

Macellum (Viroconium Cornoviorum/Wroxeter):

  • Permanent market hall
  • Rows of shops around the sides of courtyards, with space for temporary stalls in the centre
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Buildings in towns 2

Temple and adjoining shop (Venta Silurum/Caerwent):

  • Combination of both Roman and Celtic cultures
  • Typical of temples in little towns
  • Showed an acceptance of Celtic culture and religion
  • A square structure surrounded by a verandah
  • Contained a high central shrine lit by clerestory windows
  • The most common form of temple was the rectangular shrine like that of Antenociticus at Benwell
  • The temples of Sulis Minerva at Bath and Claudius at Colchester were very classical in style and were on a raised podium.

Theatre (Verulamium/St. Albans):

  • Entertainment builings are not common in Britain
  • Theatres were normally semi-circular but this was nearly a full circle
  • Used as a rubbish dump when the town became more abandoned.
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Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter)

Fourth largest city in Britain, developing later in the timeline than other cities.

Its bath complex is 122m long, one of the biggest in Roman Britain.

The bathing rooms were 46m, and the bath ruins still stand at 8m high.

There were around 5000 inhabitants in this town, which was built to be the civitas capital of the defeated Silures tribe.

The town had aqueducts and a macellum, and was built on the remains of an old fortress.

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Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury)

Started as an Iron Age settlement which was developed by the Romans.

Most of the buildings were made of stone, and it had a forum and basilica.

Three large floor mosaics have been found.

The town broke down after the Romans left.

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Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester)

Has leats (artificial waterways dug into the earth), to act as a sewage system.

Its public baths had a palaestra.

The basilica was divided in the late 3rd century for metal processing.

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Verulamium (St. Albans)

The land was owned by the Catevellauni before the Roman invasion.

Had leats and aqueducts, as well as a ponderarium, basilica, forum, three triumphal arches, and a theatre.

Was sponsored by Agricola, and was the only known municipium in Britain.

Ancient Watling Street ran through Verulamium.

Verulamium was destroyed by Boudicca in 61 AD.

The Romans left around 400-450 AD.

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Corinium Dubunnorum (Cirencester)

Second largest city in Roman Britain at 96 hectares. The population was around 10,000 to 20,000.

Originally a fort before becoming a town.

Had the remains of an amphitheatre which was one of the largest in Britain, seating 8000.

Cemetries lead around the roads, as in other Roman settlements.

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Londinium (London)

At 133 hectares, it was roughly ten times bigger than the average small town.

Started off as a trading place which became a 'boom town' is trade grew.

Was a major port because of its position on the Thames

Estimated population of 30,000.

The city was burned down by Boudicca in 61 AD.

Its forum and basilica were one of the largest structures north of the Alps when Emperor Hadrian visited in 122 AD.

The territory had been contested by the Catevellauni to the west and the Trinovantes to the east just prior to the Roman conquest.

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Camulodunom (Colchester)

20-22 hectares in size, originally the capital before London.

Started as a Roman fort, and was a permanent base for the Roman legions.

Built in a very regimented grid pattern, as an example Roman town, and a place for retired servicemen and their families to live, it was the first colonia in Britain.

It was burned down by Boudicca in 61 AD, including the infamous Temple of Claudius.

It stopped being the capital in 65 AD and gained a wall.

It had three theatres, and a temple to Neptune and Minerva.

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Types of town

Coloniae were towns for full Roman citizens (usually retired soldiers). There were only four coloniae in Roman Britain - Camulodunum, Lindum, Glevum, and Eboracum. They were useful to the Empire because they helped to keep provinces under control by not only creating settlements, but also having trained servicemen residing there at all times.

Municipia were like honorary coloniae. Their qualifications aren't exactly clear, but it seems that the population of municipia were geneally made full Roman citizens or given the slightly inferior status of Latin citizens. There is only one known municipium in Britain, Verulamium.

Civitas capitals were formalised developments of existing tribal territories, recognised by Rome and allowed to continue with their own native laws and government while paying tribute to Rome via its own administration. So each civitas capital was the administrative centre for that particular tribal territory. Usually they were developed from an existing fort, although this is not always true - for example no fort has been located at Calleva Atrebatum.

Sometimes tribal territories had to be created if there was a small dispersed population or confusion over tribal boundaries. Venta Belgarum is an example of this because it was created simply for tribes of the south east of Britain. This shows the importance of self-governing local communiies for Rome. Some settlements in a tribal zone were made vici, which allowed them to be self-governing areas within the tribal zone, but not separate from it.

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Tacitus' Agricola

"Agricola gave private encouragement and official assisance to the building of temples, public squares and private mansions"

"He praised the keen and scolded the slack, and competition to gain honour from him was as effective as compulsion"

"He trained the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts and expressed a preference for the British natural ability over the trained skill of the Gauls"

"In place of distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it"

"The Britons were gradually led onto the amenities that make vice agreeable - arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets"

"They spoke of such novelties as 'civilisation', when really they were only a feature of enslavement"

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