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Amphittieatres of Roman Britain:

A Study of their Classes, Architecture and Uses

by

Vronique Den iger

A thesis submitted to the Department of Classics

in conformity with the requirements for

the degree of Master of Arts

Queen's University

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

August 1997

copyright O Vronique Deniger, 1997


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ABSTRACT

The last decade has seen renewed interest in amphitheatre studies and tne publication of

several important monographs. However, neither older works nor the recent publications focus on

the amphitheatres of Roman Britain. The amphitheatres of this province have never been the subject

of a regional survey. This thesis is a study of the classes, architecture and uses of Romano-British

amphitheatres. Such a study is usefiil in providing an understanding of the architectural

characteristics of Romano-British amphitheatres, the manner in which they differed from and

resembled those in other parts of the Empire and of the types of activities for which they were used.

Chapter One centres on the military amphitheatre class. It opens with general information

on the sites of military amphitheatres and with an architectural study of the three monuments (the

Chester, Caerleon and Tomen-y-mur amphitheatres) belonging to this class. The information

provided in this section was obtained from archaeological reports, works on arnphitheatres and

works on Roman Britain. The chapter concludes with an examination of physical, epigraphical and

literary evidence, the aim of which is to gain insight into the function of these buildings.

Chapter Two focuses on urban amphitheatres. It begins with an architectural study of the

ten facilities of this category (the amphitheatres at Silchester, Dorchester, Cirencester, Chichester,

London, Richborough, Carmarthen, Aldborough, Caistr St. Edmund, Caerwent). h e information

found in this section also cornes from excavation reports, works on Roman Britain and works on

amphitheatres. This chapter likewise concludes with an exam ination of physical, epigraphical and

literary evidence, the purpose of which is to shed Iight on the function of urban amphitheatres.

Chapter Three focuses on rural amphitheatres, an enigmatic group of buildings. Five

monuments, including three positiveIy identified amphitheatres (those at Charterhouse-on-Mendip,

Frilford and Catterick) and two earthworks tentatively identified as amphitheatres (the Woodcuts
and Winterslow earthworks) are considered. The chapter begins with an overview of the

monuments' sites and a study of their architectural characteristics. Excavation reports constitute the

chief source of information. A brief discussion of various hypotheses as to their uses concludes the

chapter.
CONTENTS

ABSrnCT 1

*.-

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 111

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS iv

ABBRlEVLGTIONS viii

INTRODUCTION 1

CHAPTER ONE: Mn-IITARY AMPHITHEATRES 19

1. The Legionary Amphitheatres 20

The Chester Fortress Timber Arnphitheatre (Chester 1) 20

Stone Amphitheatres of CaerIeon and Chester Fortresses 28

II. The Auxiliary Amphitheatre at Tomen-y-mur 50

III. General Considerations 53

IV. Uses of MiIitary Amphitheatres 56

V. Nature of the Spectacles Staged in Military Amphitheatres 61

CHAPTER TWO: URBAN AMPHITHEATRES 84

1. First Century Urban Amphitheatres 86

Features of First Century Urban Amphitheatres 92

II. Second Century Urban Am ph itheatres 1O3

Features of Second Century Urban Amphitheatres 1O6

III. Third Century Urban Arnphitheatres 113

IV. Urban Amphitheatres in the Fourth Century 1 I7

V. Builders of Urban Amphitheatres 119

VI. Uses of Urban Amphitheatres 119


CHAPTER THREE: RURAL AMPHITHEATRES

1. Small Towns Possessing an Arnphitheatre

II. The Rural Arnphitheatres

III. Builders of Rural Amphitheatres

IV, Uses o f Rural Arnphitheatres


CONCLUSIONS

GLOSSAFtY

ILLUSTRATIONS

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CURRICULUM VITAE
1 wish tu express my thanks to my supervisor Dr. Anne Foley for the help and guidance stie has
provided me in writing this thesis. 1 wou1d also like thank Dr. Johannes vanderleest. of Mount
Ailison University. who was instrumental in the selection of the topic. as well as Dr. Ivan Cohen.
head of Mount Allison Universiq's department of Classics, for his encoura_eernent. 1 am also
indebted to bfr. Geoff Brown. assistant cuntor of the Dalhousie University Map Collection. for
creating the map showing British arnphitheatre sites which accompanies this thesis. Finally. 1 would
Iike to express my gratitude to rny mothet for her support, patience and assistance.

S..

Ill
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

1. Map of arnphitheatre sites in Britain. Map by Geoff Brown, Dalhousie University Map
Collection.

2. Structural types of arnphitheatres. (a) Type la amphitheatre: timber seating on earth banks; (b)
Type Ia arnphitheatre: stone seating on earth banks; (c) Type Ib arnphitheatre: earth banks
divided into large sections by radial walls; (d) Type Ib amphitheatre: earth banks divided
into small sections by radial walIs; (e) Type II amphitheatre: seating supported on radial
walls m f e d with vaults. Reproduced from Jean-Claude Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain:
essai sur la thorisation de sa forme et de ses fonctions (Paris: Centre Pierre Paris, 1988),
plate II(a)-(e).

3.(a) Diagram of an arnphitheatre.

3.(b) Restored section and elevation of the cavea of the amphitheatre at Pola. Reproduced from
Anthony Rich, A Dictionary of Roman and Greek Antiauities, 4th ed. (London: Longmans,
Green, and Co., 1874), 29.

4. Plan of Chester legionary fortress. Reproduced from F. H. Thompson, Roman Cheshire (Chester:
Cheshire Cornmunity Council, 1965), figure 4, facing p. 25.

S. Plan of Chester timber and stone arnphitheatres. Reproduced from F. H. Thompson, The Roman
Arn~hitheatreat Chester (Edinburgh: Department of Environment, 1972), 6-7.

6. Reconstruction of the Chester timber amphitheatre's seating and framing. Reproduced from F.
H. Thompson, "The Excavation of the Roman Amphitheatre at Chester," Archaeolopia, 105
(1976): 229, fig. 49.

7. Line drawing of the stone and timber amphitheatre on Trajan's Column. Reproduced from
George C. Boon, Isca: the Roman Legionarv Foriress at Caerleon. Mon. (Cardifi: The
National Museum of Wales, 1972), 95, fig. 6 1.

8. The three phases of the Caerleon amphitheatre: (a) Period 1; (b) Period II; (c) Period III.
Reproduced from George C. Boon, Jsca:the Roman Legionary Fortress at Caerleon. Mon.
(Cardiff: The National Museum of Wales, 1972), 90-91, figs 55-56.

9. Plan of the Tomen-y-muramphitheatre. Reproduced from Jean-Claude Golvin, L'Arn~hithStre


roman: Essai sur la thorisation de sa forme et de ses fonctions (Paris: Publications du
Centre Pierre Paris, 1988), plate X.3.

10. Plan of the Silchester amphitheatre showing the Roman timber and stone phases. Reproduced
from Michael Fulford, "Excavations on the Sites of the Amphitheatre and the Fomm-
Basilica at Silchester, Hampshire: an interim report," Antiquaries Journal, 65 (1985): 62,
fig. 9.
1 1. General plan of Richborough showing amphitheatre. Reproduced from B. W. Cunl iffe, ed.,
Fifth Report on the Excavations ofthe Roman Fort at Richboroueh. Kent (London: Report
of the Research Cornmittee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1968), 230, tig. 25.

12. Plan of the Dorchester arnphitheatre. Reproduced from John Wacher, The Towns of Roman
Britain (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1974), fig. 14(1).

13. Plan of the Chichester arnphitheatre. Reproduced from John Wacher, The Towns of Roman
Britain (London: B. T.Batsford Ltd, 1974), fig. 14(2).

14. Plan of the Cirencester amphitheatre. Reproduced from John Wacher, The Towns of Roman
Britain (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, I974), fig. 15(1).

15. Plan of the London amphitheatre. Reproduced from S. S. Frere, "Roman Britain in 1987,"
Britannia, 19 (1 988): 462, fig. 2 1.

16. Reconstruction of terracing on the seating bank in the timber phase of the Silchester
arnphitheatre. Reproduced from MichaeI Fulford, "Excavations on the Sites of the
Am ph itheatre and the Forum-Basil ica at Silchester, Hampshire: an interim report,"
Antiquaries Journal, 65 (1985): 67, fig. 12.

17. Gutline reconstruction of the original Roman layout (recess to Ieft and post trenches to right)
of the Dorchester amphitheatre. Reproduced from Richard Bradley, "Maumbury Rings,
Dorchester: The Excavations of 1908-1913," Archaeoloeia, 105 (1976): 52, fig. 15.

18. Plan of the Camarthen amphitheatre. Reproduced from J. H. Little, "The Carmarthen
Amphitheatre," Carmarthenshire Antiauarv, 7 (197 1): 63, fig. 1.

19. Aldborough amphitheatre. Reproduced from R. G. Col1ingwood, The Archaeoloev of Roman


Britain (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1930), 105, fig. 26(e).

20. Plan of Caistor St. Edmund showing location of amphitheatre. Reproduced from Eileen A.
Home, "Air reconnaissance, 1975-1977," Aerial Archaeolow, 1 (1977): 19, fig. 10.

21. Diagrammatic reconstruction of the seating arrangements on the northern half of the
Camarthen amphitheatre's cavea. Reproduced from J. H. Little, "The Carmarthen
Amphitheatre," armarthenshire Antiauarv, 7 (1971): 63, fig. 2.

22. Plan of Caewent. Reproduced fiom John Wacher, The Towns of Roman Britain (London: B.
T. Batsford, 1995), 380, fig. 170.

23. Plan of Caerwent amphitheatre. Reproduced from Michael Fulford, The Silchester
Arnphitheatre. Excavations of 1979-85 (London: Britannia Monograph Series no. 10,
l989), 182, fig. 78.
24. Hawkedon helmet Top, front. Bottom, from above. Reproduced from K. S. Painter, "A
Roman Bronze Helmet from Hawkedon, Suffolk," British Museum Ouarterl~,33 (1969):
123, figures 3-4.

25.(a)-(b) Chavagnes gladiator cup (mid first century A.D.), found at Le Cormier, Chavagnes-en-
Paillen, Vende, western France. (a) View of cup. (b) The two friezes on the cup's body.
Reproduced from Donald B. Harden, Glass of the Caesan (Milan: Olivetti, 1987), 169.

26. Bronze statuettes of gladiators. Leji, bronze statuette of a gladiator, from London (?). Righr,
bronze statuette of a gladiator, from London. Reproduced from J. M. C. Toynbee, A n in
Britain under the Romans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), plate XXXIa-b.

27. Mosaic fkieze showing Cupids as gladiaton, from the Bignor Villa, Sussex. Reproduced from
J. M. C. Toynbee, Art in Roman Britain (London: Phaidon Press, 1963), figs. 225-226.

28. Plan of Fdford Iron Age settlement and Roman Temple. Reproduced from R. Hingley,
"Location, Function and Status: A Romano-British 'Religious Complex' at Frilford,"
Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 4 (1985): 208, fig. 5.

29. Map of Frilford small town at the Noah's Ark Inn (1-5, occupation areas). Reproduced frorn
R. Hingley, "Recent Discoveries of the Roman Period at the Noah's Ark Inn, Frilford, South
Oxfordshire," Britannia, 18 (1 982): 307, fig. 5.

30. Plan of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre. Reproduced from R. G. Collingwood,


Roman Britain (London: Methuen and Co., Ltd, 1930). 105, fig.26(h).

3 1. Plan of the Frilford amphitheatre. Reproduced from R. Hingley, "Recent Discoveries of the
Roman Period at the Noah's Ark Inn, Frilford, South Oxfordshire," Britannia, 18 (1982):
308, fig. 6.

32. Map of the Winterslow region. Reproduced from Faith de Mallet Vatcher, "The Excavation of
the Roman Earthwork at Wintenlow, Wilts.," Antiquaries Journal, 43 (1 963): 198, fig. 1.

33. Plan of the Woodcuts "amphitheatre". Reproduced from R. G. Collingwood, Roman Britain
(London: Methuen and Co., Ltd, 1XO), 105, fig. 266).

34. Plan of the Catterick excavations showing the position of the amphitheatre bank. Reproduced
fiom Colm Moloney, "Cattenck Race Course," Current Archaeolom no. 148 (June 1996):
130.

35. Map of Charterhousesn-Mendip lead-mining area. Reproduced from D. R. Wilson, "Roman


Britain in 1970,I: Sites explored," Britannia, 2 (1971): 277, fg. 12.

36. The Wintenlow earthwork. Reproduced from Faith de Mallet Vatcher, "The Excavation of the
Roman Earthwork at Winterslow, Wilts.," Antiquaries Journal, 43 (1963): 197, plate 25.
37. Plan of the Catterick excavations showing the Neolithic burial cairn beneath bank of the
amphitheaire and the Iron Age and Roman enclosure. Reproduced from Colm Moloney,
"Catterick Race Course," Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1996): 13 1 .
-
AJA American JoumaI of Archaeolow

AntJ Antiauaries Joumal

Balsdon, Life and Leisure Balsdon, J. P. V. D. Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome.
London: the Bodley Head, 1969.

Boon, I_sca Boon, George C. Isca: the Roman Le~ionarvFortress at


Caerleon. Mon. Cardiff: NationaI Museum of Wales,
1972.

Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns Burnham, Barry C. and John Wacher. The SmaIl Towns
of RB Roman Britain. Berkeley: University of California Press,
1990.

Friedlander, Life and Manners Friedlander, Ludwig. Roman Life and Manners under the
Earlv Em~ire.4 vols. 7th ed. Translated by J. H. Freese,
Leonard A. Magnus and A. B. Gough. London: George
Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1928.

Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre Fulford, Michael. The Silchester Am~hitheatre:


Excavations of 1979-85. London: Britannia Monograph
Series no. 10, 1989.

Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain Golvin, Jean-Claude. L'am~hithtreromain: essai sur la


thorisation de sa forme et de ses fonctions. 2 vols. Paris:
Publications du centre Pierre Paris, 1988.

Grenier, Manuel. 3. II Grenier, Albert. Manuel d'archoio~ie~allo-romaine.


Volume 3,11: Ludi et circenses. Paris: ditions A. et J.
Picard, 1958.

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JRA

Journal of Roman Studies

MacDonald, The Architecture of the MacDonald, William L. The Architecture of the Roman
Roman E m ~ i r e E m ~ i r e II: an urban a ~ ~ r a i s a lNew
. Haven: Yale
University Press, 1986.

StiIlweIl, Richard, William L. MacDonald and Marian


Holland McAllister, eds. Princeton Enc~clooediaof
lassical Siteg. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
U n i v e r s i ~Press, 1976.
Todd, Roman Britain Todd, Malcolm. Roman Britain: 55 BC-AD 400.
London: Fontana Paperbacks, 198 1 (fourth impression,
1990).

Vil te, La dadiature Ville, Georges. La vladiature en Occident des o t i ~ i n e s


la mort de Domitien. Rome: cole Franaise de Rome,
1981
INTRODUCTION

It is the purpose of this thesis to study the architecture and functions of the amphitheatres

of Roman Britain. The eighteen monuments in Britain which are presently known or conjectured

to be amphitheatres can be divided into three classes: military amphitheatres, that is, those which

lie in the vicinity of a Roman fortress or fort and were used principally by the military installation's

garnison; urban amphitheatres, those found near the sites of large Romano-British towns; and rural

amphitheatres, found in the vicinity of small towns or in other rural settings.

The military sites at which arnphitheatres were constmcted comprise the legionav fortresses

of Deva (Chester, Cheshire, England) and lsca (Caerleon, Wales) and the auxil iary fon at Tomen-y-

mur (Wales). The major towns which possessed amphitheatres include Calleva Atrebotum

(Silchester, Hampshire), Durnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset), Noviornagus Regnensium (Chichester,

Sussex), Corinium Dobunnorum (C irencester, Gloucestershire), Moridunum Demetarum

(Carmarthen, Wales), Venta Icenorum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk), Isurium Brigantium

(Aldborough, Yorkshire), Venta Silurum (Caenvent, Wales), Londinium (London), and Rutupio

(Richborough, Kent). The sites of positively identified or conjectured rural amphitheatres include

Charterhouse-on-Mendip (Somerset), Catterick (Roman Cataractonium, Yorkshire), Frilford

(Oxfordshire), Winterslow (Wiltshire) and Woodcuts (Dorset) (al1 shown on figure 1).
Each of the eighteen monuments wilI be discussed in this thesis. Moreover, as the

construction and use of these buildings spanned practically the entire period of Roman occupation

(A.D. 49 to ca 4 1 O), the discussion of these buildings will cover the province's entire Roman period.

An architectural and functional study of the amphitheatres of Roman Britain, a province

which comprised England, Waies and southern Scotland, is needed as these monuments, unlike those

of other parts of the former Roman Empire, such as Gaul and North Africa, have not been the subject

of a regional survey. The literature on Britain's amphitheatres consists mostly of preliminary and

final archaeological reports and guides. This group of monuments is only briefly discussed in works

concerning Roman Britain and in those on amphitheatres.

Such a study will yieid an understanding of the architectural similarities and differences of

Britain's amphitheatres, of their general character and of the manner in which they differed from or

resembled those in other parts of the empire.

It will also provide some understanding of the types of entertainment available to and

enjoyed by Roman Britain7s residents and the role arnphitheatres may have played in Romano-

British society. This kind of information is frequently lacking in regional surveys and studies of

amphitheatres although it is vital as amphitheatres were primarily utilitarian buildings intended to

serve a pragmatic purpose, that of venue for gladiatorial combats and anirnals fights. These types

of exhibitions constituted an extremely popular form of entertainment in Rome and throughout much

of the Roman Empire.

The study of amphitheatres has been conducted for well over a century and has produced

diverse literature including catalogues, regional surveys, detaited architectura1 studies of monuments

and treatises on individual features or on characteristics of this building type. One of the earliest

seminal works is the catalogue of provincial amphitheatres by F. DrexeI which appears as an

appendix in Ludwig Friedlander's Darstel lueen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, pub1ished in the late
nineteenth century.' This Iist was the most comprehensive inventory of its time but is not strictly

a list of known amphitheatres; it includes sites at which amphitheatre remains have not been located

but for which there is literary, epigraphical or linguistic evidence suggestive of an amphitheatre.

Drexel's catalogue was initialty published before the existence of amphitheatres in Britain was

certain and many of the British sites which are listed as being potential amphitheatre sites have since

been discounted; the catalogue is therefore of little value in the study of British amphitheatres. It

was revised by G. Forni several decades ago but again, because of subsequent discoveries, is no

longer accurate with respect to British amphitheatres.

The first decisive contribution to the domain of amphitheatre architecture studies is Ejnar

Dyggve's Recherches SaIone, volume II, published in 1933. In this work, which includes a detailed

study of the amphitheatre at Salona (Solin, Croatia), Dyggve outlined a classification scheme for

amphitheatres based on the nature of their structure. He distinguished two structural types, "type

1" and "type II". The former type comprises amphitheatres whose seating was carried on earth banks

while the latter includes amphitheatres whose seating was supported on a series of radial walls,

interconnected by lateral walls and comrnonly vaulted. This classification continues to be used by

some scholars and has been appl ied by excavators to Britain's amphitheatres.?

Since the late nineteenth century several regional surveys have been published, notable

examples of which are Albert Grenier's survey of Gallic amphitheatres in his Manuel d'archologie

Gallo-Romaine, volume 3, part 2 (1958) and Jean-Claude Lachaux's Thtres et am~hithtres

d'Afiaue Proconsulaire (1979). Although regional in scope and mostly descriptive in nature, these

surveys provide useful general information on amphitheatres including some definitions of terms.

They therefore constitute a helpful introduction to this building type, enabling better comprehension

of more specialized works on amphitheatres and of the various excavation reports of British

amphitheatres. Britain is one of the regions for which no survey has been published.
The last decade has witnessed renewed interest in amphitheatres. In 1988, Jean-Claude

Golvin published the first comprehensive architectural and archaeological survey of amphitheatres

entitled L'Amphithtre romain: essai sur la thorisation de sa forme et de ses fonctions. This

rnonograph is divided into three parts: the first part focuses on the origins of the arnphitheatre; the

second part includes a description of 190 arnphitheatres grouped in types according to the nature of

their structure, the chronology of the typological groups and a discussion of their distribution

throughout the Roman Empire; the third part is comprised of detaiIed discussions of the technical

aspects of an amphitheatre's construction such as the dimensions of the arena and the cavea,shape

and function of the arena and the acoustics of the cavea. The typological scheme presented in this

work somewhat resembles that of Dyggve. Dyggve's "type 1" is redefined and divided into two

subgroups by Golvin, "type Ia" and "type Ib". Type Ia includes amphitheatres whose basic structure

was created by enlarging a pre-existing depression, such as a quany or vaIley, and those whose arena

was hollowed out of the ground and whose seating, which could be constmcted of timber or of stone,

was carried on banks composed of the fiIl obtained from the arena's excavation (figs. 2a and 2b).

Type Ib comprises monuments whose structure was also created by digging the arena out of the

ground but whose earthen seating embankments were subdivided into large or small sections

encased by radial walls (figs. 2c and 2d).

Golvin's Type II includes arnphitheatres whose cmea is supported on masonry walls placed

radially around the arena. These walls were very often roofed with vaults (fig. 2e). The most

famous example of an arnphitheatre of this structural type is the Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre

in Rome.

Golvin classifies Britain's amphitheatres according to the scheme he devised and this

scheme is used in this thesis. Golvin describes each British amphitheatre but only very briefly.
Moreover, since the focus of his work is on questions of origin and architecture, there is little

information on the functions which Roman Britain's amphitheatres may have served.

In 1989, Michae! Fulford published the final report of excavations conducted at the urban

amphitheatre at Silchester, Hampshire, England, from 1979 to 1985. In The Silchester

Am~hitheatre:Excavations of 1979-85, the architectural development of Silchester's amphitheatre

is outlined in detail. A brief discussion of the activities which may have been staged in the building

is also included as weIl as a comparison of the monument's various architectural features with those

of the ampliitheatres at Caerleon, Chester and Dorchester, which were al1 thoroughly excavated; the

other British monuments identified as amphitheatres generally receive littlc attention in this

discussion. The evidence considered in the discussion of the Silchester amphitheatre's use consists

principally of that uncovered at Silchester; little from the other urban amphitheatres of Britain is

examined and no general discussion of the uses of the island's arnphitheatres is undertaken.

a particularly significant one being David L.


Several articles have also been p~blished,~

Bomgardner's "A new era for amphitheatre studies" (1993), which presents a brief overview of early

scholarship on amphitheatres and gladiatorial practices and of recent developrnents in the field in

addition to a thorough review of Gotvin's book. Bomgardner presents recomrnendations for the

advancement of the field of amphitheatre studies, pointing out areas which require attention.'

The information on the architecture and the possible uses of the amphitheatres discussed in

this thesis comes from a variety of sources. Information on the three types of British amphitheatres

(military, urban and rural) was obtained from Fulford's final report on the Silchester amphitheatre

excavations and from Bomgardner's review of Fulford's report, "Amphitheatres on the fringe" while

that on the structural type of British arnphitheatres was found in Golvin's monograph and in various

preliminary and final excavation reports.


Detailed archaeological and architectural data on the thoroughly excavated amphitheatres

at Caerleon, Chester, Dorchester and Silchester was obtained from R. E. M. Wheeler and T.V.

Wheeler's final excavation report ("The Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon, Monmouthshire,"

published in 1928), George C. Boon's guide entitled k a : the Roman Lepionam Fortress at

Caerteon. Mon. (I972), F. H. Thompson's final excavation report ("The Excavation of the Roman

Amphitheatre at Chester," 1976), Richard Bradley's 1976 report entitled "Maumbury Rings,

Dorchester: the Excavations of 1908- 19 13" and Fulford's final report on the Silchester

amphitheatre's excavations. Thompson's final report was particularly valuable as it contains a

glossary of tenns relating to amphitheatres.

Archaeological and architectural information on the other British amphitheatres cornes

main ly from preliminary excavation reports, with some collected from general or special ised

monographs on Roman Britain such as Sheppard Frere's Britannia (3rd ed., 1987), John Wacher's

The Towns of Roman Britain (1974) and Barry C. Burnham and John Wacher's The Small Towns

of Roman Britain (1990).

As previously mentioned, most works focusing on amphitheatres contain only limited

information on the uses of these buildings. The origin, evolution and staging of amphitheatre

spectacles, which consisted mainly of gladiatorial combats and animal fights and hunts with some

executions of condemned criminals and other types of shows, is usually discussed in other

specialised works. The information in this thesis on the possible and probable uses of Britain's

amphitheatres is therefore drawn mostly from sources other than excavation reports which inctude

both ancient and modem works.

This is not to Say that excavation reports have not yielded relevant information. The final

excavation reports on the Caerleon, Chester, Dorchester and Silchester arnphitheatres have al1

provided some information relating to the use of the monument forming the subject of the report.
The author of each report reviews evidence possibly pertaining to activities staged in the

amphitheatre under consideration and speculates on the nature of the activities.

The guides which have been written for the Chester and Caerleon amphitheatres (F. H.

Thompson, The Roman Amphitheatre at Chester, Edinburgh, 1972; George C. Boon, Isca: the

Roman Legionary Fortress at Caerleon. Mon., 1972) have aIso yielded some information on the

potential uses of the two buildings. Boon's discussion of evidence pertaining to the uses of the

Caerleon amphitheatre and of the types of events which may have been held in the building has

provided particularly vital information.

The bulk of the modem information relating to the functions served by the various British

amphitheatres and to the nature of the events staged in them was drawn from works other than

guides and amphitheatre excavation reports. K. S. Painter's 1969 article, "A Roman Bronze Helmet

from Hawkedon, Suffolk", provided an overview of the regulations goveming the staging of

amphitheatre spectacles in the Roman Empire and the funding of these shows as weIl as an

invaluable list of Romano-British artifacts and artworks somewhat connected with gladiatoria1 and

beast fights. The artifacts mentioned by Painter, as well as others, are discussed in detail in J. M.

C. Toynbee's monographs on Romano-British art, Art in Roman Britain (1963) and Art in Britain

Under the Romans (1964), thereby making it possible to envision in this thesis the types of

gladiators who may have dueled and the types of animals which may have been pitted against each

other or against hunters in Britain's amphitheatres.

Scholarly works on the Roman army have also proven extremely helpful concerning the uses

of Britain's military amphitheatres as it has been suggested that they were really training facilities.

Particularly valuable works were R. W. Davies' "Roman military training grounds" (1974) and

"Training Grounds of the Roman Cavalry" (1968)' which both focus on military training
techniques and facilities, and Graham Webster's The Roman Imperia1 Armv (1979), which details

the recruitrnent, training and Iife of Roman soldiers.

Other modern works provided information helpful in attempting to reconstruct the nature

of the shows staged in Romano-British amphitheatres, that is, information on gladiators and

gladiatorial fights, animal fights, executions of condemned criminals, the funding of games and

staging regulations. There is a thorough account, based principally on ancient sources, of the origin

and evolution of gladiatorial contests and animal fights in Rome and discussions of other types of

spectacles occasionally staged in the city of Rome and in provincial centres in the second volume

of Friedlander's Life and Manners Under the Earlv Roman Em~ire.Moreover, a detailed catalogue

of the types of gladiators which have been recognized by scholars appears as an appendix to Life

and Manners Under the Early Roman Empire. Roland Auget's Crueltv and Civilization: The

Roman Games (1979), which focuses on the place of arnphitheatre spectacles in Roman society, also

includes a discussion of the various types gtadiators. Georges Ville's La dadiature en Occident des

origines la mort de Domitien, which reconstructs the evolution of gladiatorial practices from their

origins to the death of the emperor Domitian in A. D. 96 through the examination of ancient literary

and epigraphicat evidence, was also an excellent source of information on the presidency and

financing of amphitheatre shows and on the occasions on which spectacles would have been staged.

In order that the succeeding chapters might be more fully understood, it is necessary to

provide basic information on the amphitheatre and its principal functions. The arnphitheatre was

used as the venue for gladiatorial combats (munera) and beast fights and hunts (venaliones), forms

of entertainment which appear to have been in existence long before the creation of the first

amphitheatre and which were, until the appearance of amphitheatres, staged in other locations.

Gladiatorial fighting appears to have been derived from an Etruscan practice which entailed

men fighting to the death on the tomb of a deceased leader.5 The Romans are thought to have
become familiar with the custom through either Etruria or Carn~ania.~In the city of Rome,

gladiatorial games were initially staged by aristocrats at the funerals of relations but soon came to

be staged subsequent to funerals. The earliest extant record of a Roman gladiatorial exhibition is

that of the display staged by Brutus Pera's sons at his funerai in the Forum Boariurn in 264 B.C.'

By the first century B.C.,the late Republic, candidates for political office were staging gladiatorial

exhibitions to gamer voter support, transforming the funeral practice into public entertainment. The

Roman author Vitruvius, the leading architect of the Augusbn period (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), asserts that

throughout the Repu b1ican period, these spectacles were traditionally staged in the fora of Roman

cities;' in Imperial times, they were staged instead in amphitheatres, where these existed.

The earliest extant record of a venatio is of one offered by Marcus Fulvius Nobilior in 186

B.C. to celebrate his conquest of Aetolia? It was customary for triumphant generals to stage

venationes at their victory celebrations and for uedites to stage them at the ludi (public games staged

during the various Roman religious festivals) during Republican times. In Rome, during this period,

the Circus Maximus was the place in which they were typically staged.I0

In Imperial times, venationes were no longer staged as part of the ludi and were instead

mounted in conjunction with the munera. They were offered on the same day as the gladiatorial

combats and were held in the first part of the day, before the mid-day break (marurhum

'
spectac~tum).~

Campania, a region in which many of the oldest known amphitheatres are located, is said

by many scholan to have been the birthplace of the amphitheatre and that its inception appears to

date to the first century B.C., the earliest firmly dated monument being that at the Campanian city

of Pompeii (dated to between 70 and 65 B.C.by a dedicatory inscription over a doorway).I2

However, that the amphitheatre was actually a Campanian innovation is currently being

contested. It has been proposed that the concept for this type of building may have originated in
Rome from the wooden bleachers which were erected in such a way as to completely enclose the

oblong Roman Forum on the occasions of rnunera and that it was brought to Campania in the first

century B.C. by the Roman army veterans who had been settled in Pornpeii. It is thought that the

amphitheatre at Pompeii is a stone imitation of the timber structures constnicted in the Roman

Forum for gladiatorial combats and that the inhabitants of other Campanian cities emulated

Pompeii's veterans by building arnphitheatres."

While ancient sources do provide information of help in elucidating the origins of the

amphitheatre, Our knowledge of its architectural characteristics is due in great part to the

archaeological investigation of various monuments. The best extant ancient source on Roman

architecture, Vitruvius' De architectura, contains on Iy one mention of the word a m p h i t h e a m with

no other information."

Stated in extremely simple terms, an amphitheatre is an oval building consisting of an

elliptical central spce, known as the arena, surrounded entirely by tiers of seating which comprise

the cavea (fig, 3a).15

The arena was the principal element of the arnphitheatre (fig. 3a). It was an elliptical space

in which the spectacles, gladiatorial games and venationes, took place. It was IeveI and generally

fioored with sand (arena, the Latin word from which the term "arena" is derived), a material which

provided the gladiators with sure footing, absorbed the blood spilled during shows and was easily

renewed. Its elliptical shape allowed combatants to move easily in al1 directions and permitted

spectators to perceive the action to the greatest advantage. The spectators on the lowest tiers of seats

were protected from bounding animals or other dangers by a high wall which enclosed the arena

(fig 3a) and which was usually topped by a balustrade (bdteus). The arena wall was frequently

decorated in some manner as it served as the backdrop to the performances and was seen by al1

spectators.
There were frequently features in the floor of arenas, the most common of which was the

euripus, a drain which ran along the entire perimeter of the arena at the foot of the arena wall and

collected the rain water which flowed down from the cavea (fig. 3a). The water was, in many

amphitheatres, channeled from the euripus to the exterior through drains in the fioor of the main

entrances. ther features in the floor of arenas included central rectangular or square pits holding

animal cages and equipment for hoisting these cages to the level of the arena floor (pegmata) so that

animals could be released; complex and sometimes multi-level substructures designed to allow

animaIs and props to appear anywhere in the arena; or, occasionally, shallow basins connected to

a water supply which are alleged to have enabled in some buildings the staging of naunrachiae,

mock naval battles described in several instances in ancient literary sources. The pits, substructures

and basins were found in the more elaborate arnphitheatres of continental Europe and other regions

of the Roman Empire and are completely unknown in the amphitheatres of Britain.

The arena of an amphitheatre was accessible from the building's exterior. The main means

of access to this area were theportaepompae located on the building's long a i s (fig. 3a) and these

consisted of wide ramped passages closed by a gate at the inner end; they were ofien roofed with

vaulting which carried the cavea. These entrances, which were present in al1 amptiitheatres, were

used both by performers and by attendants to bring equipment into the building. Moreover, it was

through these entrances that the ceremonial procession (pompa) which paraded in the arena before

the shows entered.

In some amphitheatres, there were also secondary entrances communicating with the arena

(portaeposticae) (fig. 3a). These could be located at either end of an amphitheatre's short a.xis or

elsewhere along the perimeter of the arena wal1 and consisted of narrow doonvays blocked by doors

opening outward into the arena. In sorne cases, the portae posficae allowed people to make their

way from the exterior of the amphitheatre to the arena while in other cases the portae posricoe
provided access to the arena from an annular service corridor located beh ind the arena wall or smal l

chambers behind the arena walI (fig. 3a) which were generally either shrines (sacella) or animal

holding pens (carceres).

Neither the service corridor nor the chambers communicating with the arena were universal

components of amphitheatres but they were present in many of these monuments. The corridor,

when present, was generaily a narrow vaulted passage (about 1.5 m wide) and was accessible from

the passages of the porrae pompae as well as through portae posticae, if these were present. These

corridors served as waiting areas for performing gladiators and hunters from which they could

emerge when their turn to perform came. The scenes depicted on some well preserved 54th century

A.D. ivory diptyches also suggest that, on the occasion of venationes, the service corridors were also

used as places of refuge by hunters who would dart from the arena through the porfae posficae,

closing their wooden doors behind them to prevent pursuing animals from entering?

In those amphitheatres furnished with chambers serving as carceres, the carceres could

occupy a variety of locations behind the arena wall. They were in many instances placed on either

side of the arena gate of a porta pompae (main entrance), in which case they were designed to

communicate both with the entrance passage and the arena, allowing for animals to be introduced

in these pens through the doors off the entrance passages and to be released through the doonvays

communicating with the arena (fig. 3a). Beast pens were, in other instances, placed at various

points along the perimeter of the arena and designed to communicate solely with the arena, that is,

they were furnished with only one door which opened ont0 the arena (tig. 3a) and through which

animals were both placed into the pens and released in the arena. In some of the more elaborate

arnphitheatres possessing a service corridor, the carceres disposed along the perimeter of the arena

communicated both with the annutar service corridor to their rear, from which some beasts could

be loaded into the pens, and with the arena.


Amphitheatres often also possessed one or more small chambers which served as shrines

and the location of these rooms likewise varied. These recesses, which were commonly vaulted,

were most often located behind the arena wall on a building's short ais, and cornmunicated with

the mena. In some instances, the shrine was not located on the short axis but instead on the Iong axis

of the building, immediately against or at some distance from a side wall of a main entrance passage

and was similarly accessible from the arena. However, in a number of amphitheatres, particularly

those in the Danubian provinces of the Roman Empire, a shrine might instead be found outside the

monument, built against the exterior wall and flanking one of the two portae pompae. Whatever

their locations, shrines were frequently decorated with niches for statues, wall paintings or marble

veneer and many contained one or more altars.

These shrines could be dedicated to one, or two, of several deities associated with

amphitheatres including Hercules, patron of strong and courageous men, Mars, god of war, Diana,

patron goddess of the hunt (generally worshipped by the hunters or besiiurii who performed in

amphitheatres rather than by gladiators) but were most commonly dedicated to Nemesis, the goddess

of retribution, in which case the shrine was a Nemeseum. It is conjectured that the gladiators and

the priests who paraded in the pompa which preceded each spectacle made offerings in an

amphitheatre's shrine before the fighting began."

The arena, arena chambers and service corridor were al1 features connected with the

performers and the performances which took place in the amphitheatre. The cmea or auditorium

(fig. 3a) and its various components were features of an amphitheatre which were connected with

the spectators who came to watch the spectacles. The auditorium consisted of tiers of seating

ascending at an angle of inclination or rake suficient to offer a clear view of the arena to the

occupants of each seating row (generally about 25 degrees).


In many amphitheatres there lay at the very bottom of the cavea a wide platform (usually

3 to 4 rn wide) devoid of seating benches. This platform or podirtm was intended to accommodate

the individual seats of local officials and eminent guests and was shielded by the arena wall's

batteus ( f i g . 3b). In some monuments, chief officials were able to sit in boxes (tribunalia) placed

on the podium at either end of the arena's short axis. Tribudia, always reserved for spectators such

as the emperor in Rome or the duumviri in provincial towns, offered their occupants the best view

possible in arnphitheatres."

In the arnphitheatres whose cavea included apodium, the podium was separated from the

remainder of the cavea by apraecinctio or watkway. In the larger amphitheatres, the remainder of

the cavea was subdivided horizontally and vertically. Praecinctiones or wal kways subdivided the

auditorium horizontally into zones or levels (maeniana) assigned to particular social classes while

scataria, radial stairways descending at various points from the upper to Iower portion of a

nzaenianum or, when the cavea was not subdivided into maeniana, from the upper to lower portion

of the cavea subdivided the seating into wedge-shaped blocks (cuneo (fig. 3b). The more elaborate

amphitheatres also had, in many instances, a covered gallery at the top of the cavea, in which women

sat (fig. 3 b).

In the more elaborate amphitheatres, spectators could reach their seats by means of entrances

consisting of intemal staircases accessible from the building's exterior and which ascended, through

the structure of the cavea, to openings at the different seating levels (vomitoria) (figs. 3a and 3b).

Those monuments lacking vomitoria were usually provided instead with extemal staircases abutting

the facade which permitted spectators to climb to the uppermost portion (rear) of the cavea; once

in the auditorium, members of the audience descended scalaria to get to their seats.

It has been stated above that the basic structure of amphitheatres varied and that

consequently these buildings are classed into types according to the nature of their structure. The
most recent classification scheme is that devised by Golvin and, as this scherne is followed in this

thesis, it will provide a better understanding of the subsequent chapters to discuss it in more detail.

The following description of amphitheatre structural types is a summary of more detailed

discussions in Golvin's rn~nograph.'~

Golvin has identified two general structural classes, Type I and II. Type 1 is divided into

two related structural subtypes designated Type la and Type Ib which include several variants.

Amphitheatres classed as Type Ia include those whose entire structure was carved out of a natural

depression or incline, or whose arena was constructed by fonning a large depression in the ground

and whose cavea was supported on artificially created earth banks, much of the material for which

was obtained from the excavation of the arena. Buildings belonging to the related subtype, Type Ib,

were those whose earth banks were subdivided into sections encased by walls. The banks of Type

Ib amphitheatres were subdivided in order to minimize their shifting.

The front or inner dope of the banks of Type la and Type Ib amphitheatres was retained by

a wall of either timber or stone which also served as the arena wall but the rear or exterior slope of

the embankments was oflen not retained in any way. The seating of Type 1 amphitheatres could

consist of stone or tirnber benches lodged directly in the surface of the banks, of timber bleachers

supported on timber framing erected on the embankments or of stone benches supported on vaulting

resting on the embankments.

The ease and economy with which Type 1 amphitheatres could be constructed made

buildings of this structural type extremety popular. The Type Ia structure originated in the late

Republican period and facilities of this type continued to be constructed until the end of the second

century A.D. and perhaps as late as the third century A.D., while the Type Ib structure appears to

have originated at the end of the Republic and to have been perpetuated until the third century A.D.
Type 1 amphitheatres were built throughout much of Europe but proved to be especialIy

popular in Italy and the provinces of Gaul, Britannia (Roman Britain), Germania, .Voricum,

Pannonia, Moesia and North Africa. Because amphitheatres of this type were inexpensively

constmcted, the garrisons of military installations in frontier regions, inhabitants of small towns and

the inhabitants of cities and settIements of modest wealth who wished to have an amphitheatre bui I t

facilities of this type. However, this type of structure was suitable only for small monuments as the

embankments on which their seating rested were unstable when built up to a great height.

Amphitheatres belonging to the structural Type II are characterised by a cavea supported

on a substructure of masonry walls disposed radially around the arena and roofed, in many instances,

with vaults. It is in this rnanner that the truly monumental amphitheatres, including the Flavian

Amphitheatre or Colosseum in Rome and the arnphitheatres at Arles and Nmes in France are

constructed. Amphitheatres of this type appear to have been built as early as the Augustan period

(27 B.C.-A.D. 14) but the stnictural type was not fully canonised until the Flavian period (A.D. 69-

96), during which time the Colosseum, the monument which epitomises the structural type, was

constructed. From the Flavian period onward, Type II amphitheatres featured a wide annular

corridor on the ground level immediately behind the exterior wall which communicated with various

interna1 stairways and other circulation points enabling spectators to reach their seats.

Amphitheatres of the structural Type II were constructed mostly in the wealthier cities of

M y , Gaul, Hispunia and North Africa with a small number of exarnples built in Germania and other

Danubian provinces and Asia Minor. Construction of Type II amphitheatres ceased, as with Type

I arnphitheatres, in the third century A. D. as a result of economic decline.

Unlike Type 1 arnphitheatres, Type 11 amphitheatres could be buildings of great dimensions

constructed on several levels. Moreover, they were monumental buildings while Type 1

amphitheatres were generally simple, unadomed utilitarian buildings with little decoration on the
facade or outer wall. Type II buildings could be highly adorned; many possessed a facade or

exterior wall consisting of two or more levels of arcades constructed of dressed masonry (opus

quadrutum) or brick.

The great number and visibility of amphitheatre ruins (Golvin has catalogued 190 known

and conjectured amphitheatres) as well as their broad geographic distribution has led these buildings

to be commonly considered the embodiment of Roman civilisation. This building type made its way

into every region which fell under Roman domination from the late Republic onward.

The monument most widely considered to exempli@ amphitheatres is Rome's Colosseum.

This building is not representative, however, as relativeiy few cities could afford such lavish

buildings. The inhabitants of the Empire's less prosperous cities, smali towns or other settlements

who wished to have an amphitheatre built instead simple, utilitarian buildings with an earth bank

structure. It is this type of amphitheatre which was constructed in Roman Britain. The simplicity

of Britain's amphitheatres has given rise to the notion that the province's inhabitants were not

interested in arnphitheatres and did not enjoy amphitheatre shows; it may be because this view has

been widely held that British amphitheatres have received less scholarly attention than others. It is

hoped that this thesis will demonstrate that arnphitheatres and amphitheatre shows actually did enjoy

sorne degree of popularity in Roman Britain.

Notes

1.Friedlander, Roman Life and Manners, IV, appendix xxxvi, translated by A. B. Gough.

2.F. H. Thompson, "The Excavation of the Roman Amphitheatre at Chester," Archaeologia 105
(1976): 183; Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre, 179.

3.Katherine Welch, "Roman amphitheatres revived," JRA 4 (1 991): 27 1-28 1; David L.


Bomgardner, "Amphitheatres on the fringe," JRA 4 (1991): 282-294; Katherine Welch, "The
Roman arena in late-RepubIican M y : a new interpretation," JRA 7 (1994): 59-80.
4.According to Borngardner (David L. Bomgardner, "A new era for amphitheatre studies," JRA 6
[ 19931: 379): ''No satisfactory survey of the British am phitheatres exists, although Ful ford [in his
rnonograph, The Sikhester Am~hitheatre: Excavations of 1979-19851 has provided a good starting
point for future discussions."

S.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 248.

6.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 249.

7.Valerius Maximus Factomm et dictorum mernorabilium libri novem 11.4.7.

8.Vitmvius De architectura V. 1.1-2.

9.Livy Ab urbe condita XXXIX.22.1-2.

1O.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 304; Friedlander, Roman Life and Manners, vol. 2, 62.

1 1-Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 304.

I2.Welch, JRA 7 (1994), 59, 65; Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 34.

13.WeIch, JRA 7 (1994), 68-80.

14.Vitruvius De architectura 1.7.1. The term amphifheatmmcame into use in the Augustan period.
It appears from the dedicatory inscription of the amphitheatre of Pompeii that before the Augustan
period, the term spectacula was used to denote an arnphitheatre (Welch, JRA 7 [1994], 61).
Vitruvius' reason for overlooking the amphitheatre in his work is unknown but Katherine Welch
(Welch, JRA 4 [199 11,277) has suggested as an explanation that the term spectaczrla, which was
ernployed in Republican times to denote an amphitheatre:

"...conveys the building's function, not its form; the activity which took place inside
was considered more important than the iconography of the structure itself. It may
be lack of iconographic specifici~in pre-Flavian amphitheatres (rather than the
absence of a canonical amphitheatre 'type') that explains Vitruvius' silence on such
buildings."

15.The following summary description of an amphitheatre's principal individual features and their
functions is based on the detailed discussions of these in Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 297-386.
A glossary rnay also be consulted at the end of this thesis for the definitions of the terrns related to
amphitheatres.

16.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 320, note 109 and 326-327.

19.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 75-76, 105, 109,2 l6-223,270-274.


CHAPTER 1

MILITARY AMPHITHEATRES

Only three military amphitheatres (amphitheatres built and used by soldiers) are presentl y

known among the eighteen monuments positively or tentatively identified as arnphitheatres in

Britain. Buildings belonging to the military class can be categorised as legionary amphitheatres

(those built in the vicinity of legionary fortresses) and auxiliary amphitheatres (those built near

auxiliary forts, forts which housed auxiliary troops). Two of the military amphitheatres recognised

in Britain are legionary buildings. One of these has been uncovered at Chester (Cheshire, England).

the site of the permanent legionary fortress of Deva. and the remains of another stand at Caerleon.

site of the permanent legionary fortress of lsca Silurum, in Monmouthshire, South Wales (fig. 1).

The third monument, an auxiliary amphitheatre, lies near the ruins of the Roman auxiliary fort at

Tomen-y-mur (original name unknown), in Merionethshire, North Wales (fig. 1). In this chapter.

the stmctural type, architectural characteristics and possible functions of these three amphitheatres

will be discussed in order to permit an undentanding of their appearance and uses and to enable

corn parison with their provincial civil counterparts.


The Legionary Amphitheatres

The legionary amphitheatres, which were arnong the ancillary arnenities built at Chester and

Caerleon, were erected within a few years of each other in the last quarter of the first century A.D.,

during the Roman pacification and consolidation of Wales and northern England. Their construction

followed soon after the foundation of the legionary fortresses at Chester and Caerleon, bases

established under the governorship of Sextus Julius Frontinus (A.D. 74-78).'

The Chester Fortress Timber Amphitheatre (Chester 1)

The first legionary amphitheatre constructed was a timber amphitheatre at Chester. The base

to which it was attached was a 24.33 hectare fortress, sited on a sandstone ridge overlooking the

river Dee, built between A.D. 74 and A.D. 79 to house Legio II AdiutrUc, previously posted at

L i n ~ o l n .In
~ their original f o m , Deva's installations consisted of timber buildings surrounded by

earth and timber ramparts, al1 of which were eventually rebuilt in stone by Legio XX Valeria Victrir,

the legion stationed at Chester upon the Second Legion's departure for the Mine in A.D. 86/87.'

The fortress' garrison was responsible for maintaining control of North and central Wales and of the

routes leading from the Midland plain to North Wales and southem Scotland.'

The amphitheatre, which was erected by Legio IIAdiutrU: upon its arriva1 from Lincoln,*

was, like the base itself, initially built of timber. It was situated outside the fortress ramparts, near

the southeast angle (fig. 4).6 Military amphitheatres were normally constructed outside

fortifications, as were civil amphitheatres, and were often sited near a fort's main gate or corner7 or

near the parade-ground (campus)which usually lay in the vicinity of military in~tallations.~

It has been possible to clear only the northern half of the site which Chester 1 occupied,

leaving the southern portion of the monument buried beneath the garden of a convent school, but

enough information has been recovered to reconstnict the building's history and appearance. Dating
evidence as welt as traces of the timber structure, encased within and beneath the earth seating bank

belonging to a second amphitheatre (Chester II), have been unearthed. Excavators have concluded

from physical evidence, an antefix stamped "LEGXX' (Legio X X Valeria Vicrrrr) dating to A.D. 86

or later and a worn us of Vespasian dated A D . 70 recovered frorn two pits of occupational material

(FI 3 and F14) left by the builders of Chester II in the eastem quadrant of the seating bank,9 that the

timber amphitheatre was built in A.D. 77-78.''

The long axis of Chester's timber amphitheatre lies on the roughly north-south orientation

characteristic of the fint century A.D. amphitheatre of Caerleon and the civic facilities found at

Dorchester and Silchester." A consistent orientation is, however, unusual for such buildings as their

alignment was determined mainly by the nature of the terrain on which they were buikt2 The

orientation of Chester's amphitheatre is also unusual as it paraltels that of the fortress itself;" onty

rarely were amphitheatres aligned upon street plans or nearby buildings."

The ground chosen for Chester's tirnber amphitheatre sloped slightly to the east, prompting

the builders to level the ground surface beneath its cmea with soi1 obtained from the shallow

excavation of the arena.'$ The cuveo, which consisted of tirnber seating carried entirely on a timber

framing substructure mortised ont0 a foundation of sill-beams irnbedded in the soit, was grounded

in this Ievelling Iayer.I6

Chester 1 has been classitied as a Type Ia structure by Jean-Claude GolvinI7although the

facility exhibited few of the structural characteristics of Type 1 amphitheatres aside from being

constmcted of timber as were, to varying degrees, many other Type 1 monuments." According to

Golvin, the structure of Type 1 amphitheatres is characterised by a deeply excavated arena enclosed

by banks, formed either by natural topographical features or of rnaterial obtained from excavating

the arena, which served to carry either seating tiers (built of timber or stone) or a substructure (built

of timber or stone) meant to support the seating.I9 Chester 1's arena was not lowered and the cmea
was constructed on level terrain, not on earth banks." However, this monument was clearly not a

Type II amphitheatre, that is, one whose cmea was supported on a structure of radiating masonry

walls.*'

The building's basic structure currently appears to have been unique among British

amphitheatre~.~
The seating of other British amphitheatres, including that of the second monument

constnicted at Chester, was normaIly supported on embankments composed of material excavated

from their arena or built on naturally inclined terrain, not entirely on any kind of man-made

freestanding sub~tructures.~
The sill-beam foundation of Chester 1 also presently appears to have

been a unique feature among amphitheatres although it was common for other types of timber

buildings such as granaries to be constructed on such a fo~ndation.'~

Chester 1 was elliptically shaped3 as was typical of most Roman amphitheatre~.'~Its arena.

whose dimensions were not altered when the stone successor was built, measured 57.8 m and 48.7

rn on its axes:' well within the range of cornmon dimensions of arenas." However, because of the

extreme narrowness of its cavea (6.6 m),29 its overall dimensions amounted to those of a smatl

amphitheatre30capable of fitting almost in its entirety into the arena of the Empire's largest

amphitheatre, the Flavian Amphitheatre in R ~ r n e . ~ '

The construction of Chester II directly on Chester 1's site as well as subsequent human

activity damaged or destroyed many traces of the tirnber building, leaving some of its features a

cornplete mystery or only partially reconstructible. This is the case with the arena which was

completely destroyed when it was deliberately lowered during the construction of Chester 11,

allowing only its dimensions and the fact that it was sunk to a shallow depth in the ground to be

known. It can probably be assumed that, like the arena floor of its successor and that of Caerleon's

amphitheatre, it was probably covered with some flooring material, such as sand, and drained by a

channel (euripus) ringing the edge of the arena.


Much more is known about the cavea owing to the survival of traces of its timber structure

in several areas of Chester II's earth seating banks. From these traces, which consisted of beam

trenches and post-holes, it was possible to conclude that the timber structure carrying Chester 1's

seating was fixed on the framework of intersecting sleeper or sill beams buried in the ground briefly

mentioned above." Some of these foundation beams were disposed radially around the arena (fig.

5) white others, laid end to end, connected the inner (front of cmea) and outer ends (rear of cavea)

of the radial beams (fig. 5).33

The timber beam traces uncovered in the area east of Entrance 3 (a seating entrance, located

east of the north Main Entrance, belonging to the later Stone amphitheatre) were especially

informative regarding the manner in which the sill-beams were placed into the ground? It was

possible to distinguish from a well-preserved lateral trench that it had been cut with rounded sides

and a flat bottom through the levelling layer of soi1 and slightly into the dark grey clay of the

original ground surface of the site.l5 The trench was about 0.90 m wide and contained a packing of

clay and stones around a sill-beam, about 0.25 rn square, which had been reduced to a dark

charcoally substance.-'6 Several beam trenches West of the north Main Entrance and at the west end

of the boundary wall also exhibited these char acte ris tic^.^'

The frarnework's radial bearns, of which there were an estimated 1 18, were about 7.9 m long

and. as the well-preserved radial beam dots near Entrance 3 attest, were spaced roughly 1.5 m away

from each other at their inner end, diverging from each other to a maximum distance of 1.8 m at

their outer end. They were connected to each other, about 0.6 m from their inner ends and 0.9 m

from their outer ends, by the lateral sill-beams which thus formed two concentric rows of beams

demarcating the front and rear of the cavea (fig. 5). Each lateral beam was long enough to iink six

radial beams, creating a polygonal rather than curved profile for the exterior wall of the cavea, which

would have been anchored on the extemal row of Iateral bearns?'


The builders, when constructing this horizontal framing, laid the radial beams, grooved to

half their depth to interlock the correspondingly grooved lateral beams, bottom-most. The lateral

beams ensured that the radial beams would not shift or tum over and that the pressure created by the

timber caveds exterior and arena walls would be directed into the gound?'

The main members of the timber structure which stood on this sill-beam foundation were

vertical timbers sunk directly into the radial beams to an unknown depth. Though their post-holes

were found in several locations, they were especially numerous and discernible between Entrantes

3 and 4 (the two vornitoria in the eastern quadrant of the Iater stone amphitheatre), where four rows

each consisting of four post-holes were uncovered- The section of one of these revealed that it had

been preserved 0.61 rn above its junction with a radial bean dot. Post-holes were found preserved

to this height in relatively undisturbed areas of the subsequent arnphitheatre's seating bank and this

has been taken to suggest that as the timber amphitheatre was being disrnantled, the arena of its

successor, Chester II, was being dug and the excavated material removed was being piled around

the timber amphitheatre's uprights to create seating embankment; the uprights were subsequently

sawn flush with the top of the bank."

From the post-holes, it was determined that the tirnber substnicture's posts rneasured 1 1.4

cm by 7.6 cm and were laid in rows of fve at approximately 1.5 m intervals from each other in the

radial beams." Within each row, a post was placed at either junction of the radial and lateral beam

to support the caveds arena and exterior (facade) walls while the other posts were evenly distanced

between thern.'*

The posts would not have been of unifom height but, instead, cut at differing heights to

accommodate inclined seating. The three rear posts of each row of uprights are thought to have been

about 3.0 rn tall and to have been connected at the top by a rail, probably of the same sectional
measurernents as the posts and notched to be fitted to them, to form a frame. The two inner posts

of each row are estimated to have been shorter, that nearest the arena only about 1.5 m in height.13

It is impossible to know precisely what system of framing would have been erected on the

main radial frames to support the seating benches although the depiction of a stone and timber

amphitheatre found in a scene on Trajan's column has allowed archaeologists to tentatively

reconstruct it. This scene illustrates Trajan's reception of a Dacian embassy in a walled town. In

the background, an amphitheatre several storeys in height can be seen. The lower level, which is

pierced by five arched entrance ways, is constructed of stone while the upper tiers consist evidently

of timber (fig. 7, line drawing of the amphitheatre depicted on Trajan's Column). Massive posts,

which constitute the substructure of the seating, can be distinguished. These posts are spanned by

diagonally laid braces which themselves support horizontal beams (fig. 7). These beams act as the

base for upper diagonal braces and beams forming the supporting framing upon which the seating

was fixed (fig. 7).55

I t is theorised that the radial frames of Chester 1's cavea wouId have been surmounted and

spanned by similar framing serving as the seating's support." It is depicted in the reconstruction

of the amphitheatre's timber cavea (fig. 6).

The conjectured framing, in order that the seating be inclined at the ideal angle of about 25

degrees, "would have stood at a height of about 2.2 rn at the front of the seating and at no more than

5.2 m at the rear, the greatest height at which the reiatively small cross-section of the posts wvould

still assure a sound structure:'

It is probable that braces, both within and between the radial frames of Chester 1's

substntcture, would have been required to stabilize the posts. It is conjectured that the bracing used

between radial frames consisted of scisson-bracing (braces which were disposed diagonally in a

cross-like fashion behveen beams). The bracing of the framing spanning the top of the radial frames
is thought to have been diagonal bracing like that of the stone and timber amphitheatre depicted on

Trajan's column (fig. 7). It is also proposed that within the radial frames, diagonal bracing angled

at 45 degrees to divert vertical force from a post to a structural member acting as a base (a timber

bearn in this instance), would most Iikely have been used as it would have been the most effective

in stabilising the structure. The use of diagonal braces within the radial frames would have

necessitated the presence of an additional horizontal beam at the frames' vertical midpoint to tie the

posts of each frame and to receive one end of the braces. The diagonal braces would probably have

been nailed against the sides of the frames at the rniddle and top bearn~.'~

The posts at the rear of the cavea's substructure would have supported the amphitheatre's

external or facade wall but little is known about its appearanceu9

Somewhat more can be said about the arena wall of the caveu which, while enclosing the

arena, would have supported a gangway and the lower portion of the seating. It is assumed that the

walkway was built at the height of about 2.2 m and was provided with a parapet (balteus) of an

estimated height of 0.9 m." The balteus was a standard amphitheatre feature intended to protect

those occupying the lowest seats from the hazards of gladiatorial and animal displays such as leaping

animals? With its parapet, the wall would have been about 3.1 m higH: the average height of

arena ~ a l l s . ' ~

It appears that there was no annular service corridor behind Chester I's arena wall although

a corridor was present in some timber-built amphitheatres, for example the first century A.D.

legionary amphitheatre at Vetera." The lack of service corridor in Chester's timber amphitheatre

is evident from the absence of a concentric wall behind that enclosing the arena.

Little is known about how spectators entered and circulated in Chester's first amphitheatre.

It was probably provided with entrantes, like al1 amphitheatres, though no traces remain to deduce

their number or design." It is assumed that there was a main entrance (portopompae),providing
access from the exterior of the building to the arena, at each end of the long avis where the porrae

pompae of its stone successor are located. Through these arena entrances, equipment would have

been brought into or removed from the arena and the pompa or inaugural procession which paraded

into the amphitheatre before a show began would have entered.56 The cavea must also have been

provided with vomitoria, entrances leading to the seating from the exterior of the building. No

evidence of such minor entrances has been found though it is assumed that the location of Chester

II's vornitoria reflects the location of the timber amphitheatre's seating entrances. The staircases of

the tim ber building's vomitoria would have been lodged between radial frames?

The nature of the seating is largely unknown although it is estimated that it consisted of

eight rows of wouden benches and that each seating place would have been about 0.60 m wide, the

minimum width advised by Augustan architect Vitruvius for individual seating spaces in theatres?

It is envisioned that, though divided into several cunei (wedge-shaped vertical zones of seating), the

seating would have been continuous from top to bottom of the c m and not divided into maeniana

(horizontal zones of seating separated from each other by horizontal walkways known as

praecinctiones) (fig. 6).

Chester 1's seating capacity is calculated to have been 2300 to 2500 spectators," a fraction

of the 50, 000 spectators estimated for the Empire's Iargest amphitheatre (Rome's Flavian

Chester 1's low seating capacity is not unique however. There were smaller
Am~hitheatre).~

buildings, such as the amphitheatre belonging to the military camp at Micia, in Dacia (Vitel,

Romania). The Micia amphitheatre's 6 m wide cavea, which surrounded an arena 3 1.60 m by 29.50

m on its axes, is thought to have held only 1000 spectat~rs.~'


Stone Amphitheatres of the Caerleon and Chester Fortresses
Chester's timber amphitheatre did not long remain Roman Britain's soie military

amphitheatre. Within a few years of its completion, a second legionary facility constmcted mainly

of stone and earth banks on a larger, more sophisticated plan, was erected outside the legionary

fortress at Caerleon. The fortress, a 20.5 hectare base Iocated near the mouth of the river Usk, was,

like Chester's fortress, founded in about A.D. 74 or 75 during Julius Frontinus' campaigns against

the Silures, a tribe situated in what is today South Wales.'j2 Its installations were initially constructed

mainly of timber and subsequently rebuilt in ~tone.~'It served from the time of its foundation until

the late third century A.D. as the base of Legio II Augustu, the Iegion which was moved from

Gloucester in about A.D. 75.65Its garrison assisted that of Chester's fortress in maintaining Roman

control of Wales?

Caerleon's arnphitheatre was erected shortly after A.D. 77-78, making its construction

almost contemporary with that of Chester's timber amphitheatre. The building date of the Caerleon

amphitheatre was provided by numismatic and ceramic evidence sealed within the building levels

of the structure i t ~ e l f . ~ ~

A second earth bank and stone arnphitheatre (Chester II) was subsequently built at Chester,

on the very site of the timber amphitheatre. This monument, which was of greater dimensions and

cornplexity than its timber predecessor, was built by the new occupants of the base, Legio XY

Valerio Vicfrix to replace the aging and perhaps unsound timber amphitheatree6' It has been

concluded from the ceramic evidence, which ranges in date between A.D. 70 to 1 10, sealed in the

seating bank and from the presence of an antefix bearing the Twentieth Legion's stamp datable to

A.D. 86 (the year of the legion's transfer to Chester) that the stone amphitheatre could have been

built during the last decade of the first century A.D." However, a turn of the century date is thought

most l ikely as it associates the amphitheatre's reconstruction in stone with that of the fortress, wh ich
is postulated, on the bais of inscriptional evidence, to have been undertaken in about or soon afier

A.D. 1 0 2 . ~ ~

Caerleon's arnphitheatre and the second amphitheatre built at Chester resembled each other

in several respects. The structura1 type and salient features of these two monuments will be

compared and discussed in detail below to provide an understanding of their design and appearance.

Caerleon's arnphitheatre, like Chester's, occupied an extramural position typical of military

amphitheatres: it was erected outside the fortress between the rarnpart's southwest gate and its

southwest corner, in an open area flanked to the east by the fortress wall, to West by a pre-existing

bath building (Bath H, marked on fig. 8a) and to the northwest by a road leading from the southwest

gate to the river Usk. The new monument's size required that the rear of the bath house be

remodelled and that the portion of the fortress' defensive ditch Iying nearest the amphitheatre be

partially filled to allow traffic to move around it."

Caerleon's amphitheatre was not, unlike its Chester counterpart, aligned with the fortress

but it was similarly oriented on a roughly north-south axis." Its orientation resulted in the alignment

of Entrance F, theportapornpae located at the northern end of the building's long a i s , on the base's

southwest gate?

The structure of Caerleon's arnphitheatre was formed by sinking the arena into the ground

and heaping the excavated soi1 around it. Owing to the ground's southward slope, it was necessary

for the builders to excavate the arena's northern portion more deeply. The southern half of the

seating, because of the inclined terrain, rested on a bank built up almost entirely of materiat removed

from the arena while the nonhem section of the seating rested on a less elevated embankrnent (fg.

8a). The exterior slope (rear) of the banks was retained by a massive buttressed stone wall."

The basic structure of Chester's second amphitheatre was also created by excavating the

arena and enclosing it with embankments of excavated material. However, because the ground on
which the facility was built was level, the seating banks were heaped to a uniform height (about

0.61 m)." Their rear slope was likewise retained by a buttressed masonry wall.

The embankrnents supporting the seating of the Caerleon amphitheaire and Chester II were

subdivided by several entrantes whose passage walls retained the earth banks. This characteristic

signifies that both buildings beIong to the structural subcIass Type Ib. A Type Ib amphitheatre is

one whose earth seating banks are subdivided into segments retained by radial w a l l ~ . ~ ~

Amphitheatres belonging to structural Type 1 are not unique to Britain. They were

constructed throughout the Empire, especially in the wooded regions (northern Italy, Gaul, the

Danubian provinces, Germany, Britain)." Type 1 arnphitheatres were favoured by builders as they

could be quickly and inexpensively built. Earth banks enabled the creation of a cavea without the

construction of any artificial substructures while a sunken arena meant that the seating was well

elevated relative to it without actually having been constnicted to a great height."

As has been mentioned above. Caerleon and Chester's Stone amphitheatres were provided

with an elliptical, sunken arena. That of the former monument, which rneasured 56.08 by 41.6 m

on its long and short axes (slightly smaller than Chester's), was more deeply excavated on its north

perimeter where the sloping ground was higher.'" Convenely the Chester amphitheatre's arena was

lowered uniformly to the surface of the bedrock, 1.5 m below the original ground surface of the

sitesT9 The floor of both arenas was initially covered with saWd. The arena of Caerleon's

amphitheatre was subsequently resurfaced with a variety of materials including packed earth and

broken bricks, small Stones and flagstones" while that of Chester II was repaved with flagstones

towards the end of the third century (the beginning of the amphitheatre's second phase), to cover the

thick layer of soi1 which had accumulated on the original floor during a protracted period of

neglect."
Both arenas were provided with a drainage system consisting of a continuous peripheral

gutter (euripus), the means of water evacuation most cornrnonly ernpioyed in arnphitheatres to

collect rain water which fell into the arena and dripped from the seatingg3and a closed drain, cut

into the floor, crossing the centre of the arena from one portapompae to another. The euripu in

the arena of Caerleon's arnphitheatre was a straight-sided stone-lined channel, built directly against

the foot of the wall surrounding the arena and originally covered with a timber lid." In the Chester

amphitheatre's arena, the 0.30 m wide and 0.23 m deep euripus was not a clear channel but a sand-

filled rumble drain (a gutter filled with rubble or other material intended to evacuate water through

the process of seepage) cut into the bedrock at a distance of 0.30 m from the arena wall and capped

with sandstone ~labs.~'It is assumed that Chester II's euripus, like that of Caerleon's amphitheatre,

encircled the arena though this is not presently verifiable."j

An amphitheatrelseuripus was typically connected to an axial drain which ran beneath the

ramp of a main entrance to carry water out of the buildingn and such was the arrangement seen in

the arenas of the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres. The former facilitylsaxial drain took the forrn

of 0.75 m wide and about 0.60 rn deep stone-lined channel, probably originally roofed with wood,

which followed a course from the northern porta pompe (Entrance F ) , passing beneath the ramp

of the southem main entrance (Entrance B) to the exterior of the building where it joined a drain

running southeastward towards the Usk (fig. 8a).88

The axial drain of Chester's second amphitheatre was a sand-filled rumble drain roofed with

stone slabs, equal in width to that of the Caerleon amphitheatre's arena. It originated at the

building's north Main Entrance and deepened progressively on its course to the southern haif of the

arena. Towards the centre of the arena, the drain's course deviated siightly to the West as it bypassed

a feature whose vestiges are interpreted by excavators as being those of a wooden platform. It is
thought that the channel probably resumed its original course once the feature was skirted although

this cannot be verified without excavating the arena's southern haIf?9

This feature appears to have been unique to the second amphitheatre built at Chester. Its

traces consist of four parallel rows of post-holes oriented north-south. The irregularly spaced holes,

which rneasure roughly 0.30 m in diameter, describe a rectangIe whose excavated portion is 3.0 m

wide and 3.9 rn long. It is clear that the four rows extend southward and lie buried beneath the

convent garen wall which bisects the amphitheatre's site. The structure attested by the post-holes

is thought to have been a timber platform almost 3.0 m wide and 6.0 m long but neither its true

nature nor its dimensions can be confirmed without clearing the southern portion of the site.g0

The structure was reached by means of a path leading from the northern Main Entrance

along the arena's long axis. This path, which ovedies the roofed axial drain and extends to the

supposed timber structure, was bounded by paral le1 sandstone borders spaced 1.22 m to 1.52 m. It

is believed by excavators to have been contemporary with the original arena floor and underlying

axial drain as the sand which was found to extend up to and between the stone kerbs is that which

constituted the initial surfacing of Chester Il's arena f l o ~ r . ~ '

The precise function of the central feature is unknown though it is judged by excavators to

have been in al1 likelihood a timber platform and it is speculated that it was intended for some

official purpose, serving perhaps as a stage for retirement and commendation cerem~nies.~'

The supposed platform in the centre of the arena of Chester's second arnphitheatre

constitutes the only central arena feature found in a Romano-Brit ish amph itl~eatre.~'Moreover, the

presence of a platforni in the centre of an arena is unparallelled although arnphitheatres constmcted

in regions other than Roman Britain were frequently furnished with central arena features taking the

f o m of underground rooms or subievels of varying complexity (epitomized by the multi-levelled

underground complex in the arena of Rome's Flavian Arnphitheatre), or square or rectangular open
basins? The underground chambers, usually accessible by means of underground rarnps or

staircases, often housed animal cages or pieces of decor which could be raised with the help of

hoisting equipment (pegmata) through hinged trap doors to the level of the arena when required

during various shows.''

It is thought that the small basins, measuring only a few metres in length and width, found

in the areiia of some continental amphitheatres served as an element of drainage or water supply

systems as they are usually connected to drains and gutters though they may occasionally have been

used to stage some sort of naumochiae (mock naval banles)? Larger basins, such as the 36.13 by

8.77 m example found in Verona's arnphitheatre, almost certainly served to flood arenas in order to

stage sham naval displays, attested in ancient sources, often in connection with the Flavian

Amphitheatre." However, the limited dimensions of arenas would have made large-scale displays.

such as those staged by Augustus in an artificial Iake built by him at the foot of the Junicufzinron

the West bank of the Tiber or by Claudius on the Fucine Lake east of Rome,impossible?'

It would not have been unexpected to find underground chambers or basins in the arena of

Caerleon's amphitheatre or that of Chester II. Such features have been recognised in both mil itary

and civil Type 1 arnphitheatres which were similar in many respects to those at Caerleon and

Chester. Central arena features are present, for example, in the civil amphitheatre of Coionia Upia

Traiana (Xanten, Germany), a colony established by Trajan at the beginning of the second century

A.D. near the legionary base of Vetera, and military facility at Carnunturn.

The arena of the amphitheatre of Coionia UIpia Traiana, a monument almost equal in

dimensions to Chester II constructed during the first half of the second century A.D., boasts a pit

16.0 m long, 6.0 m wide and 3.0 m deep connected at one end to a smaller but deeper room. The

pit's walls had originally been retained by timber framing and its roofing had also been of timber.

The morticed bearns and iron fittings of hoisting equiprnent were found in it, suggesting that the pit
probably served as a storage and animal holding area, probably accessible by rneans of an

underground corridor leading to it from one of the amphitheatre's ~ o r t apompae.*


e

The feature found in the arena of the rnilitary amphitheatre at Carnuntum is a second century

addition to the building. It is a depression, measuring 6.0 m long, 6.0 rn wide and 4.0 m deep, which

was connected both to a channel running from the euripus and to a drain leading to the

amphitheatre's exterior through an entrance at one end of the short axis. It was probably intended

to be a water basin.''"

As was typical, the Caerleon amphitheatre's arena and that of Chestefs second amphitheatre

were enctosed by a wall which retained the front of the seating banks while supporting the bottom

of their seating. Both arena walls were built of local Stone in opus incertum,''' an inexpensive

rnasonry technique commonly employed during the Julio-Claudian and subsequent periods in Roman

Britain, Hispania, Afiica and in the Danube provinces of Pannonia, Dacia and Moesia to construct

Type 1 amphitheatres, especially Type Ib b~ildings.'~'The masonry of Chester's arena wall is a well-

preserved example of opus incertum. The wall is constructed of small, roughly coursed and

mortared blocks of local sandstone of varying length facing a core of mortared rubble.'03

The 1.2 m thick arena wall of Caerleon's amphitheatre, which was built against the lower

edge of the building's earth embankment, is thought to have stood, including the balteus, to a total

height of 3.7 m,'@' very much exceeding the typical height of arena walls.'05 Chester Il's arena wall,

which was only half the thickness of the Caerleon amphitheatre's arena wall (varying from 0.6 1 to

0.9 1 m), is thought to have been about 3.6 m high, including its baifeus (estirnated at 1.22 m in

height).Io6 Its lower 1.37 m portion retained the vertical face of the cutting created by the excavation

of the arena while its upper portion was freestanding. 'O7 The gangway assumed to have fronted the

lowest seat of Chester II's cavea is thought to have rested directly on the top of the seating bank,

2.41 m above the level of the arena.'''


The baheus of both amphitheatres was made of stone topped with a coping. These

balustrades served to protect spectators closest to the arena as they stood or sat. The coping blocks

of the Caerleon amphitheatre's balustrade bear the sockets of a raiIing.'* The coping Stones of

Chester II's balteus were narrower than the arena wall, which implies that the wall decreased in

thickness, probably at the level of the gangway, by means of an offset."* Such a feature would not

have k e n unusual as arena walls were often ernbellished with mouldings marking the level of the

podium (terrace behind the areria wall on which seats of honour were placed) or the upper portion

of the balteus."'

The arena wall of both legionay amphitheatres was plastered. The rough local sandstone

used for the arena wall of Caerleon's amphitheatre was covered with a smooth coat of hard mortar."'

The Chester amphitheatre's arena wall was, with the exception of the stone jambs of the entrantes

communicating with the arena, initially srnoothed with two thin coats of white lime plaster washed

with reddish-brown paint imitating marble. II3 The arena wall was subsequently coated with a thick

Iayer of lime and Sand plaster whose decoration cannot be ascertained."'

The arena wall plaster and mouldings constitute some of the only embellishments which

Britain's legionary arnphitheatres possessed. Typically, the arena wa11 was the most decorated and

carefully treated feature of an amphitheatre as it served as a backdrop or setting to the displays

staged in the arena. The most commonly employed decorative scheme consisted of plaster covered

with paint, most frequently red paint such as was used in the civil amphitheatre at Chichester. Other

painting schemes included curvilinear designs and veining imitating marble, the latter of which was

used at Chester II. Mouldings were employed to a lesser extent and could appear as a comice at the

level of thepodium, as an embellishment at the top of the balteus or as a mock plinth at the bottom

of the arena ~ a 1 l . l ' ~


The lack of a concentric wall behind the arena wall in both Caerleon and Chester's stone

amphitheatres indicates that neither possessed a service corridor. This is characteristic of al1 British

amphitheatres, with the possible exception of the civil amphitheatre at Dorchester. Presence or

absence of a service corridor appears to have been determined by a building's designer. Several

continental amphitheatres resembling Britain's stone legionary amphitheatres in structural type,

construction materials and general plan were provided with service corridors, among them the

legionary building at Vinunissa and a civil example at Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The 1.69 m wide

corridor of the former continental amphitheatre was built when the monument was converted from

a timber and earth structure to a stone and earth building in A.D. 70; it communicated with the arena

through eight small doors symmetrically placed in the arena ~ a 1 1 . " The
~ service corridor of the

latter foreign arnphitheatre, which was also bounded by an arena and rear wall of stone, was about

1.80 m wide and was already present in the building's initial, early second century phase."'

While a corridor was not present behind the arena wall of either British masonry legionary

amphitheatre, there was a feature, in the form of a small masonry chamber, at the rear of Chester II's

arena wall. Located directly west of the north purtapompae, it consisted initially of a space 3.6 rn

wide and 4.2 m long enclosed by 0.6 1 m thick masonry walls of sandstone blocks laid in mortared

courses (fig. 5). An especially well-preserved stretch at the room's West corner indicates that the

walls were about 2.4 m ta11.'18

This chamber was accessible only from the arena by means of a door 1.52 m wide in the

arena wall, at the foot of which was a stone siIl. During its initial period of use, the room was roofed

by the walkway at the front of the seating. Some effort was made to decorate this alcove. Three

post-holes found at the base of the rear wall suggest it may have been faced with dado. Furthermore,

traces of orange painted plaster have been detected on the walls in the eastern corner as well as in
material accumulated on the floor. The floor itself was originally covered with boards supported

on four joists whose shallow grooves have been detected in the bedrock.ll9

A probable cuit purpose for Chester II's chamber has been deduced from its furnishings

which include the 0.46 m high and 0.23 rn wide base of a bench against the southwest waIl and a

moulded stone plinth about 0.34 m long and 0.25 m wide standing roughly in the centre of the room

near the rear wall. The phth's dimensions match those of a sandstone a h , bearing the inscription

"To the goddess Nemesis, Sextius Marcianus, the centurion (set this up) afler a vision," which was

found in the chamber on a higher, third century l e ~ e l . " ~

The inscription suggests that this room served as a shrine (saceifum) dedicated to the

goddess Nemesis (Nemeseum). Though several deities are associated with amphitheatres, including

Hercules, Mars and Diana, Nemesis was the patron goddess of arnphitheatres and the principal deity

honoured by fighters. She embodied divine retribution directed at those who arrogantly believed

that they would emerge victorious from a contest and was probably propitiated in this capacity by

participants in gladiatorial shows and venationes (collectively known as munera) before they entered

the arena, as inscriptions from such amphitheatres as those of Verona., Tarragone and Cologne

suggest.12' The cult of Nemesis is especially widely attested in the Danubian provinces of Noriczrm,

Pannonia and Dacia where both military and civil amphitheatres have yielded shrines and

dedications. These amphitheatres include the civil and military amphitheatres of Carnwrtunz and

Aquincum (Budapest) in Lower Pannonia, and the civil amphitheatres at FfmiaSolvu (Steiermark),

Scarbantia (Sopron) and Savaria (Szombathely) in Upper Pannonia and at Lnpio Traiana

(Sannizegetusa) in Dacia. '=

Not al1 amphitheatres possessed shrines nor, where such existed, did they always occupy the

same location. They were most frequently placed at the arena end of the portae posticae (entrances

located on the short axis of amphitheatres) as is the case in the Gallic amphitheatres of Lugdunum
(Lyon) and Forum JuZii (Frjus). Otherwise, they were located, like Chester II's Nemesezrnz, at one

end of an amphitheatre's long a i s , adjacent to a main entrance, or even built against an

amphitheatre's facade, immediately outside a main entrance as was the case at the military

amphitheatre of Cumuntum and at the civil facilities of FZuvia Solva and Upia Traiana.Iu

The Chester amphitheatre's Nerneseum was altered folIowing the episode of neglect which

preceded the building's second phase, during which time the room's southwest waIl collapsed,

causing seating bank material to spi11 ont0 the chambef s floor. The late third century repairs, which

mark the beginning of the alcove's second period of use, inctuded the laying of a new stone slab

floor, the raising of the door siIl and the reduction of the doorway's width. The room's continued

use as a Nerneseum is attested by the presence of the first period altar and two column bases, thought

to have once supported altars or cult figures, at the new floor level.'"

Just as the front of the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres' seating banks was revetted by

a stone arena wall, their rear was also retained by a thick stone wall. A rear retaining wall was not,

however, a universal characteristic of Type 1 amphitheatres and many well-known buildings of this

structural type, such as the legionary arnphitheatre at Verera'" and the urban civil amphitheatres at

Silchester, Cirencester and Dorchester, lacked an outer ~ a l l . " ~

The exterior walls of the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres measured 1.4- 1.8 m and 2.7

m in thickness respectively12' and were similarly constructed in opus incerlum utilizing local

sandstone.I2' Both outer walls were plastered, that of the Caerleon monument with a coat of hard

cernent in which false masonry joints were scored and filled with red paint to imitate brick dust

moriar,ID that of Chester's second amphitheatre with a coat of undecorated cement.I3O

The facade of neither amphitheatre is estimated to have exceeded the height of 10.0 m but

it is thought that the facade of each would have been of sufficient height to have provided an

inclination of 25 degrees for the seating and to have allowed it to be carried over the raking barre1
vaults covering the passages of the portae pornpae and portae posli~ae.'~'The unimposing

appearance of the Chester and Caerleon amphitheatre facades was characteristic of Type I

amphitheatres as their earth banks could not be heaped to a very great height for reasons of stability.

The outer walls of the srnallest monuments of this structural type often did not reach the elevation

of the exterior walls of the Chester and Caerleon arnphitheatres.I3*

In order to strengthen the outer walls of the Caerleon and Chester monuments, their builders

reinforced them with buttresses. The exterior of Caerleon's amphitheatre, which appears to have

been in particular need of them, was bolstered by buttresses built on three separate occasion^."^

Initially, only the external and interna1 faces of the structure's outer wall, where the embankment

canying the seating was more massive, was strengthened in this way (fig. 8a). The external braces

were spaced at about 4.0 m intervals centre to centre and the twelve braces built on the intemal face

of the wall were staggered between those on the outer face. The unbuttressed portions of the facade

were decorated with pilasters to harmonize its appearance. Twelve larger buttresses, 1.2 m wide and

1.5 m deep, were inserted between the pilasters embellishing the outer wall between the western

portapostica (Entrance H) and the northernportapompae (Entrance F) during the building's second

phase (Period II; fig. 8b). During the amphitheatre's last phase (Period III), more massive buttresses

were added along the southeast and northwest sectors of the facade where, in some cases, they

partially encased their predecessors (fig.

The external face of the facade of Chester's Stone arnphitheatre was reinforced by about

sixty but tresse^.'^^ Some flanked the minor entrantes and the more important north Main Entrance

and east Entrance (fig. 5).IJ6 Though most of the facade is badly preserved, the three most well

preserved stretches revealed that the buttresses, about 1.22 m wide, were generally spaced at 3.0 m

intervals centre to centre and projected by about 0.9 m.')'


It was common for Type 1amphitheatres such as the Caerleon and Chester monuments to

have buttressed outer walls. The buttresses served to reinforce the facade against the lateral pressure

of the earth banks which carried the seating. Examples of continental arnphitheatres whose structure

was strengthened in this way include the civil and military amphitheatres at Carnunturn and the civil

amphitheatres of Aquincum and Avenricum (Upper Germany), ail Type 1b bui Idings in their final

f o m .138

The buttresses of Chester and Caerleon's amphitheatres may also have served a subsidiary

decorative purpose. TypicaIly, the facade of amphitheatres classified as Type 1 was plain, the on ly

interesting features being the entrance d o o r ~ a y s . ' The


~ ~ buttresses bolstering the Chester and

Caerleon amphitheatres would have added visual interest to their facades. The construction of

pilasters on the facade of Caerleon's facility, where no buttresses were initially necessary, seems to

confirrn that buttresses provided aesthetic appeal. The scored and painted cement which covered

the Caerleon amphitheatre's facade, the plain plaster on the facade of Chester's second amphitheatre

and the arched doorways of the entrances would also have enlivened the appearance of the

monuments' exterior.I4O

As time progressed, alterations were made to the exterior of Caerleon's amphitheatre. A

semi-circular flight of masonry steps was built against the southern stretch of the outer wall, mid-

way between Entrance C and Entrance B (south portapompae), during the building's third period.

It was constructed to provide access to the cuneur or seating block which could no longer be reached

from the vomitorium to its north (Entrance C) (fig. 8c).I4'

A roughly rectangular room was also built against the outer wall immediately West of

Entrance F during this phase. The position of this room, which contained a bench on the West walI

and a platfom in the northeastern corner, corresponds to that of the Nemeseuni at the legionary

amphitheatre of Cmuntum. Its position, fumishings and the discovery of a dedication to Nemesis
inscribed on a Iead plate in the northern half of the arena prompt the supposition that this exterior

room may have been the Caerleon amphitheatre's Nemeseum. la

Retained between the buttressed external walls and arena walls of Caerleon and Chester's

amphitheatres were the earth banks which carried the seating. The cavea of Caerleon's amphitheatre

was smaller than that of Chester's monument. The cmea of the former facility varied in width from

12.3 m to 13.6 m due to the irregular layout of the outer wall and that of the latter was uniformly

18.8 m wide.I4l With the ccrvea, the Caerleon amphitheatre's total dimensions were 8 1.4 m and 62.7

m while, with the cavea, the Chester facility measured 95.6 m and 86.4 m ~ v e r a l l . ' ~80th

monuments can be considered to have been almost medium-sized amphitheatre~.'~~

n i e material used for the seating banks of both buildings was obtained by excavating their

arenas. The embankments of Caerleon's arnphitheatre were composed of gravel. those of Chester's

second amphitheatre were made of sandy s o i P In neither case did the arena yield enough fiIl to

elevate the seating to its desired height and angle. The Caerleon facility's banks stood at a height

of 5.70 ml4' while the soi1 rernoved from the arena of Chester's amphitheatre created a bank only

about 0.60 m high. However, Chester II's embankments, which overlay the remains of its

predecessor's cavea, were of suficient elevation to carry the gangway located behind the arena wall

and the lowest row of seating over the Nemese~m."~

It was originally thought that the seating benches of Caerleon's arnphitheatre, despite their

insuficient depth, had actually rested directly on the gravel bank~."~However, evidence found at

the site of both Caerleon and Chester's arnphitheatres suggests that the seating of these buildings

would in reality have been supported on superstructures of timber anchored in the earth banks.

Traces of timber were detected on the seating bank of Caerleon's monument as an ash layer and,

more recently, as two rows of post-holes (fig ga).'"


The evidence of the Chester amphitheatre's timber seating structure is indirect. The

presence of a concentric walI imbedded in the seating bank at a distance of 2.1 m from the inner face

of the external wall, combined with information on the seating of the Caerleon monument and the

depiction of the stone and timbet amphitheatre on Trajan's column, is an indication that Chester II's

cavea was actually built of timber."'

The post-holes detected in the northem portion of the Caerleon structure's seating bank have

permitted plausible reconstructions of the seating of the British legionary amphitheatre. These holes

(0.30 by 0.30 m sectional dimensions), which were ananged in hvo rows, were aligned with the

buttresses added to the exterior wall, between the pilasters, during the second and third phases of

the amphitheatre. They are the vestiges of posts postulated to have been main members of the

seating's f r a r n e ~ 0 r k . I ~ ~

The framework to which the posts are thought to have belonged is conjectured to have

resembled the framing forming the upper storey of the stone and timber amphitheatre depicted on

Trajan's Column ( f i g . 7). The uprights of the timber level of the Trajan's Column amphitheatre

appear to be lodged within the first storey's stone wall. Such a framework, in an actual stone and

wooden amphitheatre, would likely have been prone to shaking and swaying during the building's

use and this would have weakened the masonry wall in which it was anchored. The successive

addition of massive buttresses to the Caerleon amphitheatre's exterior wall rnay be a consequence

of strain caused by a timber seating framework resembling that of the timber and stone amphitheatre

shown on Trajan's C o l ~ r n n . ' ~ ~

The wooden framework conjectured to have carried Chester II's seating may have been of

a similar design incorporating the concentric masonry wall imbedded in the seating bank as an

important structural element. This 2.1 m thick and 1.22 m high wall was crudely coristructed of a

core of rubble bonded with clay and faced with roughly shaped blocks and lacked foundations. It
appears to have been continuous and is assumed to have acted as a sleeper wall bearing one end of

the beams of trusses supporting the rear seating rows of the cavea. These beams would also have

been tied to the building's exterior wall. It is proposed that the posts of these trusses would have

been housed in the external wall and would have been linked to each other with beams, forming

framing similar to that envisioned for Caerleon's amphitheatre and to that shown in the relief of the

stone and timber arnphitheatre on Trajan's Column (fig. 7)'"

It was not unusual for masonry amphitheatres to be provided with a cavea built partially of

timber. Wooden seating structures were most frequent in Type 1 buildings but are not unknown in

Type II amphitheatres. Foreign Type 1 masonry amphitheatres whose auditoria were made of wood

include the civil arnphitheatre at Colonia Upia Traiana, in its first phase (early second century), and

the military amphitheatre at Micia (built in the first haif of the second century). The timber seating

of both these continental monuments was supported on a frarnework consisting of several concentric

rows of posts probably linked to each other with horizontal ties and cross-bra~ing.'~'

Well-known examples of Type II amphitheatres whose seating rnay have consisted partly

or entirely of wood include Rome's Flavian Amphitheatre and the amphitheatre of Burdigala

(Bordeaux). The seating of the former was divided into several maeniana including a topmost

gallery; the majority of the seating was built of masonry but the upper gallery is known from an

inscription to have been of timber." The latter amphitheatre, thought to have been erected at the

beginning of the third century A.D.,appears to have been provided with seating entirely of tirnber,

anchored on the unvaulted radiating masonry walls constituting the cmeds substr~cture.~~'

The seating capacity of Caerleon's amphitheatre and Chester II very much exceeded that of

Chester 1. The Caerleon facility's seating is thought to have consisted of 15 rows (gradus), divided

into eight cunei by the building's eight symmetrically placed entrances, which could have

accommodated approximately 6000 people.lJ8 The Chester arnphitheatre's cavea is estimated to


have consisted of 23 rows of seating which may have accommodated up to 7000 people.Is9 As many

as twelve entrances would have divided the Chester monument's auditorium into cunei.

Roman Britain's masonry legionary amphitheatreswere both provided with several entrances

which would have allowed perforrners and equipment to be brought into the arena and spectators

to reach their seats. Those of Caerleon's facility included two portae pompae (Entrances F and B),

two portae posticae or short axis entrances (Entrances D and H), and four vomitoria or seating

entrances, one in each quadrant between the four principal entrances (Entrances E and C in the

western quadrants, G and A in the eastern quadrants) (fig. Sa). The northern half of Chester's stone

amphitheatre is known to have had six roughly symmetrical ly placed entrances, a porta pompae (the

northern Main Entrance), a porta postica (the East Entrance), and four vomitoria (two in each

excavated quadrant) and would probably have had the equivalent in it southern, unexplored half.

Portae pompae were an almost universal feature of am phitheatres. These principal

entrances granted access from a facility's exterior to the arena and usually took the form of long and

partially vaulted passages enclosed by side wa@


sl'. ' The main entrances of Caerleon's amphitheatre

consisted of inclined rarnps 4.8 m wide, bounded by parallel side walls and roofed over their outer

haif with barre1 vaults, several courses of which survive, whose angle of inclination (rake)

corresponded to that of the passage f i ~ o r . ' ~These


' vaults were constructed of tu fa alternating with

bands of tiles and stone other than tufa.I6' The passage walls were constructed of local sandstone

coated with plaster treated in the same manner as that on the facade.'" The ramps appear to have

been partially resurfaced during later periods but the design of these entrances was never

rn~dified.'~~

It appears that the outer end of the Caerleon amphitheatre'sportaepompoe would have been

blocked by barriers, some sockets of which were found in the stone jambs of Entrance F's outer
end.la A surviving pivot stone suggests that the doonvays ont0 the arena were fitted with gates.lM

probabiy opening inward as was typical ofportapompae gates.I6'

The Chester amphitheatre's excavatedportapompae (north Main Entrante) was of a funnel-

shaped design, narrowing from a width of 5.26 m at its outer opening to 3.3 1 m at the arena wall.

I r sandstone side walls were 1.66 m thick and ended in terminais 1.8 m from the arena wall. In the

space present between the arena wall and the end of each side wall, a flight of steps perpendicular

to the passage had originalIy existed. Only the lowest steps of the east flight survive but they

provide an indication that the flight reached the level of the gangway behind the arena wall and that

this entrance, unlike the Caerleon arnphitheatre's main entrances, provided access to both the arena

and the cavea. No direct evidence for the nature of the roofing has been found but it is thought that

the outer half of the passage was roofed with a raking barrel vauIt as were the main entrances of

Caerleon's amphitheatre. It is surmised that the southemporrapornpae would have been of similar

design. '68

The doorway at the arena end of the Chester amphitheatre's main entrance passage appears

to have been fitted with a double gate the existence of which is implied by a lead socket in either end

of the doonvay's sill. In antiquity, each socket would have housed an imn pivot supporting a timber

leaf wide enough to block the opening of the staircase to the gangway when the double gate was

open. Both pedestrian and wheeied trafic, the latter attested by depressions wom in the siIl, entered

the arena through this e n t r a n ~ e . ' ~ ~

As has been mentioned above, both Caerleon's arnphitheatre and Chester II also had portae

posticae at either end of the short a i s . They provided access to the arena and to tribunalia, boxes

located directly above the entrances in which senior oficers would have been seated.I7O

The Caerleon amphitheatre's short mis entrances (D and H) al1 originally consisted of a

steeply inclined passage roofed with a raking barrel vault, which led from the amphitheatre's exterior
to a small vaulted chamber (3.0 m square) communicating with the arena beyond it. Staircases on

either side of each entrance's passage would have allowed spectators to ascend to the tribunafiaand

seating during the building's first phase (fig. 8a). The northern staircase in each entrance passage,

which was wider than its southern counterpart, would probably have provided access only to the

boxes. h e boxes' occupants would have entered the arena in the procession (pompa) preceding the

games. The southern staircases would have been used by al1 other spectators to reach the various

seating rows (fig. 8a).17'

The Caerleon amphitheatre's short axis passages and chambers were initially constructed

of a variety of materials. Sandstone and tufa were employed for the walls and vaults respectively

white mortared courses of bricks were used to veneer the staircase faces of the chamber walls. Brick

was a k o used to constmct the archways above the chambers' rear entrances and above the lower

opening of the staircases. Traces of the amphitheatre's characteristic plaster were detected on a

staircase wall in Entrance H.'"

Little is known about the appearance and design of the Caerleon monument's fribztnalia

except that they would originally have been carrie4 by the vaults roofing the charnbers beneath them

and that they were probably demolished in subsequent modifications made to the entrances. It is

probable that their occupants would have been shielded by awnings.In

The Caerleon amphitheatre's short axis entrances sustained extensive alterations, beginning

with the raising of the ramps and the removal of the vaults in the Antonine period (Period II),

undertaken in an attempt to prevent rain-water from pooling at the bottom of the ramps. The

problem persisted, forcing the building's custodians to completely fiIl the entrance passages, with

the exclusion of the chambers, with earth in Severan times (Period III)."I

The chambers remained in use during the amphitheatre's third period. The rear wall of

Entrance D's chamber, which was decrepit by this time, was even rebuilt. The new wall featured
a large half-domed niche reminiscent of the niches found in the short axis chambers which served

as shrines in the Gallic civil arnphitheatre of Augrcstomagus Silvanectum (Senlis). This room is

consequently considered a second possible location for the amphitheatre's Nerne~eum."~

The Chester amphitheatre's short axis entrance (East Entrance), which almost certainly had

a counterpart at the west end of the short a i s , resembled in design and in function the Caerleon

arnphitheatre'spor~aeposticue. Like theporfapornpae, the short axis entrance was a funnel-shaped

sloping passage leading from the exterior of the building to the arena. It narrowed from an outer

width of 7.2 rn to 3.9 rn and was enclosed by 1.22 m thick lateral walls of coursed and mortared

sandstone blocks revetting the earth embankments on either side. The floor of the passage was

originaIly covered with several layers of sand and rubbIe sealed by a lightly metalled surface.

Where the floor would have been too steeply inclined, a flight of steps was inserted. As in

Caerleon's amphitheatre, there was a chamber at the inner end of the passage which could be entered

from the passage to its rear or from the arena (fig. S).'"

The Chester amphitheatre's short axis chamber measured 2.85 m in length and narrowed

from 2.4 m at the rear to 1.8 m at the arena wall. The arena was accessible through a 0.9 m wide

doorway framed by monolithic sandstone jarnbs and a stone sill. In antiquity, this opening would

have been closed by a door whose pivot socket and latch and boIt grooves remain in the sill and

southern doorjam b.'77

The outer portion of Chester II's East Entrance was probably never vaulted because of its

great width but it is thought that the inner end would have been roofed with a sloping stone barre1

vault which would have carried a tribzmul as did the vaulting of the Caerleon amphitheatre's portae

posticae. IT8

Only architectural fragments attest to the existence of Chester Il's box which appears to

have collapsed in the mid-fourth century A.D. Among the pieces recovered are those of a stone
column, glass, roof tiles and a comice moulding. It is conjectured that the tribunal was covered by

a pyramidal tiled roof borne on stone columns positioned at the front corners. It has also been

theorised that the glass shards may have belonged to large sheets constituting the box's side walls,

at the rear end of which would probably have been doors.In

Access to this box and the gangway on either side of it would have been gained by two

flights of stairs carried on walls lining the inside of the passage walls. These steps, six of which

survive in situ on the south flight, rose on either side of the chamber at the inner end of the passage

(fig. 9.'"

The chambers tocated at the inner end of the portae posticae of Britain's stone and earth

masonry legionary amphitheatres have been identified as carceres, animal holding-pens, in which

animais could be placed before their release in the arena. The beasts would have been brought to

the chambers through the passages of the short zxis entrances. Though commonly found in

arnphitheatres throughout the Empire, pens were present in few British amphitheatres. Moreover,

even fewer British amphitheatres possessed any short axis chambers. They have been found only

in the civil amphitheatres at Silchester and Dorchester. However, unlike those of the Chester and

Caerleon amphitheatres, the Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres' chambers were accessible

from the arena only and are thought to have served as something other than curceres."'

Carceres were not always located on the short axis of amphitheatres and were often disposed

around the arena at some distance from entrances, in which case they were accessible only from the

arena as in the military and civil amphitheatres of Camuntum and the civil amphitheatre of Colonia

UIpiu Traiana.In Curceres are also found flanking the inner end ofportaepompae where they were

often accessible both from the arena and the entrance passages, as in the arnphitheatre of Colonia

In more elaborate amphitheatres, pens could be located at the rear of service


Ulpia Traian~."~

corridors or beneath the arena f l o ~ r . ' ~


Both of Britain's legionary amphitheatres were provided with vomiioria though their design

differed somewhat. These minor entrances al1 served as entrances providing access to the seating,

the iypical function of vomitoria. However, the four seating entrances of Caerleon's amphitheatre

(Entrances E, C, G, A) also acted as service entrances to the arena.

The Caerleon amphitheatre's vomitoria were initially of uniform design, each consisting of

a ramp or perhaps a flight of Stone or wood steps descending from an opening in the facade to

ascending stain located toward the inner end of each passage. This staircase led to a v e y short

landing at the level of the seating, from which a second steep flight descended to a 1 .O m wide

wooden door, attested by pivot holes in the siils of Entrances C and G, communicating with the

arena. Is5

The outer end of these secondary entrances was originally roofed with barre1 vaults Iike

those of the amphitheatre's axial entrances, an inner arch of which has survived in situ in Entrance

C.Iw The vaults, whose angle of inclination corresponded to that of the entrance ramps, originally

carried the seating but were removed during the Antonine period, when the building's custodians

began raising the ramps in an attempt to counteract the pooling of water at the juncture of the ramps

and the stain to the seating.'"

However, the attempts to prevent flooding m u t have failed. The vomiforia ramps were

finally raised to the extemal ground level in Severan times."' By being raised, they were converted

into roadways leading directly to the gangway at the bottom of the seating. A new staircase, which

would have allowed spectators to ciimb directly to the cuneus to its north, was built in the outer half

of Entrance C's passage.lS9 To facilitate access to the seating block south of Entrance C, the serni-

circular staircase previously described was erected against the facade between Entrances C and B;

moreover, the inner end of Entrance E's passage, whose Ievet was raised to that of the ground

outside the amphitheatre, was blocked by a retaining wall and a small chamber communicating with
the arena was built. It is probable that the new recess would have been roofed by a timber gangway.

It may have served as a c a r ~ e r . ' ~

Chester Il's excavated vornitoria (num bered 1 to 4, from West to e s t ) were al 1 identical in

design and were never modified. Unlike the Caerleon amphitheatre's vomitoria, they comrnunicated

only with the seating. They consisted of passages 7.8 1 m long and 1.8 m wide bounded by 1.8 m

thick opus incertum walls extending from the exterior to only roughIy half the width of the seating

(fig. 5, entrances marked "Entrance to seating"). These passages appear, from the scanty remains

of a staircase in Entrance 3 (the northeast seating entrance) and the better preserved staircase of

Entrance 1 (the west seating entrance), to have enclosed stairs ascending to the caveu. The original

height attained by the stairs is not known but, on the assumption of a 25 degree angle for the seating

and a height of 3.6 m (the height of the arena wall) for the stairs, it is thought that they would have

permitted spectators to ascend to the walkway fronting the lowest tier of seating.19'

The Auxiliary Amphitheatre at Tomen-y-mur


Together, CaerIeon and Chester's amphitheatres served legionaries from the last quarter of

the first century A.D. into the Iate third century. They were among the Empire's smaller and less

elaborate amphitheatres, iacking such features as service corridors and subterranean chambers in the

arena. Yet they constitute the province's most sophisticated amphitheatres and appear especially

elaborate when compared to Britain's third known military amphitheatre, that of the auxiliary fort

of Tomen-y-mur. The Tomen-y-mur facility is considered to be the oniy example of an auxiliary

amphitheatre identifled in Britain though it is deemed to have undiscovered counterparts.'92

The auxiliary fort of Tomen-y-mur was placed on the slope of a mountain pass in the former

county of Merionethshire, in northwestem Wales, where it probably served as a station on the main

Roman route fiom North to South Wales, which passed nearby.Ig3The fort's occupants are unknown
but it is certain that the post experienced two phases of Roman occupation, the first beginning

probably in the late first century when the region's network of Roman forts and roads was being

established. At this tirne (ca A.D. 75-85), the fort covered 1.7 hectares, making it large enough to

accommodate a mixed detachment of cavalry and infantry (cohors quingenaria equitata) or an

infantry unit (cohors miliarapedita~a),and consisted of earth ramparts topped by a timber palisade.

During the second phase of occupation (ca 120- l4O), its area was reduced to 1 -34 hectares, covering

the southeast end of the original fort, and it was enclosed with new stone defences. Its evacuation

in about A D . 140 coincided with that of other Welsh auxiliary forts.lw

h e date of Tomen-y-mur's arnphitheatre has not yet been established. Either of the fort's

phases could have witnessed the monument's constru~tion.'~~


If the first period, the auxiliary

amphitheatre's apparition wouId have been roughly contemporary with the construction of Chestefs

timber amphitheatre and with that of Caerleon's amphitheatre. If the second phase, the auxiliary

facility would have been buiIt towards the end of the first structural period of Caerleon's

amphitheatre. However, it is more probable that the Tomen-y-mur amphitheatre's construction

coincided with that of the fort itself, as was the case at the Roman bases of Chester, Caerleon,

Segusium (Suse) and Cemenelum (Cimiez) in the Alpes Cottiae and Alpes Maritirnae respectively,

Augusta Raurica (Augst) and Vindonissa in Upper Gemany, Vetera in Lower Germany and

Carnunfurn in Upper Pannonia.'%

Tomen-y-mufs facility differed considerably from its legionary counterparts in size, plan

and construction but not in location nor basic structural type. Like the Chester and Caerleon

amphitheatres, it occupied a usual extramural location. It lay beyond the parade-ground, which was

situated northeast of the fort.I9' It also shared the nonh-south orientation typical of Britain's early

arnphitheatres.
It measured overall about 50 m by 44 m on its a ~ e s ,roughly
'~ the size of the arena of its

legionary counterparts. Its small size is however not unparalleled and it was even somewhat larger

than the military amphitheatre of Micia (43.6 m by 4 1.5 m).200

Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre appears today as an oval level area surrounded by an earth

bank. Though it has not been excavated, it is certain that the embankments comprised the cavea,

proving the monument to be a Type 1 structure (fig. 9).

The arena measured 3 1.5 m and 25.5 m on its axes."' It was practically equal in size to that

of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre (32 m by 24.4 m), a civil facility attached to a rural

It was presumably surrounded by a wall, made probably of tirnber rather than Stone.
c~rnrnunity.~~

which retained the front of the seating bank.'03 Though the precise features of the arena are not

known at this tirne, it is dificult to envision that it was furnished with more than drainage channels.

Underground curceres or bains are pmbably unlikely as these features were present neither in the

province's more sophisticated Iegionary amphitheatres nor in the civil amphitheatres. The probable

lack of arena features and its rather small size lead to the conclusion that the displays mounted there

would have been on a simple and small scale.

Little is known of the cmeds nature other than the embankments' original dimensions.

They would originally have been 9.0 m wide and 3.0 m or more h i g h P It is possible that the

seating arrangements resem bled those of the Micia am phitheatre. The auditorium of Micia's faci l ity

was. in the tirst quarter of the second century A.D., 6.0 m wide and consisted of earth banks bearing

a timber framework of posts and perhaps cross-bracing which would have carried wooden

benche~.~~~

Two porfae pompae appear to have been the Tomen-y-mur am phitheatre's on [y entrantes

(fig. 9).206
The monument's seating capacity has not been estimated but it is possible that it could have

held more people than Micia's amphitheatre, which is thought to have accommodated 1000

spectaton." Nevertheless, the Tomen-y-mur amphitheatre's capacity would have been very limited

compared to that of most arnphitheatres, perhaps as Iittle as Iess than half that proposed for Chester

1, the province's smallest legionary amphitheatre.

General Considerations
It is commonly considered that military arnphitheatres differed architecturaIIy from their

civil equivalents and that this is evident among Britannia's amphitheatres. It is clairned that the

arena of military amphitheatres occupies a larger area of the structure in proportion to the seating

than does the arena of civil amphitheatre~.~

This trait as well as the plain appearance of military amphitheatres are said to recall those

of ludi, gladiators' training schools. Ludi were often planned like mal1 amphitheatres. Their arena

typically occupied a proportionally large area of the building and was surrounded by relatively

~ ~ arena of gladiatorial ludi was used solely for the purpose of training gladiators
narrow ~ a v e a . 'The

in handling weapons and in combat techniques. The seating was not intended for a public audience

but for gladiators enrolled in the schooI to watch and study exercises taking place in the arena."'

Several such training amphitheatres have been positively or tentatively identified including

three in Rome, the Ludus Magnus, the Ludus Dacicus and the Ludus Matutinus, al1 built under the

Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96)."' Of the three, the Ludus Magnus, Rome's most important

gladiatorial school, has revealed the most valuable information about ludi Its excavation exposed

clearly the distinguishing characteristics of a ludus. This building, which measured 63 m by 42 m

overall, was found to have a cavea only 6.2 m wide and a limited seating capacity of about 3000

people.212
However, the evidence regarding the alleged architectural differences between military and

civil amphitheatres is inconclusive. Military and civil amphitheatres cannot always be

architecturally differentiated. Britain's legionary amphitheatres possessed arenas which were clearly

larger than those of the province's civii amphitheatres,"' yet there are foreign examples of civil

amphitheatres fumished with proportionally large arenas and narrow seating such as the amphi-

theatre at Lardenne (a Type Ib building), near Tolosa (Toulouse), and that of Augustoritum

Lemovicum (Limoges) (a Type II building)."'

It has moreover been remarked that northern Europe's Type 1 military and civil

amphitheatres cannot actually be distinguished architecturally from each other. The monuments

found at the military sites of Deva, Augura Rawica, Noviomugus Ba~avorum(Nijmegen, in Upper

Germany), Vindonissa, Carnuntum and Micia parallel many of the small civil amphitheatres such

as Britain's Cirencester, Dorchester and Chichester amphitheatres, with respect to their dimensions,

simple design, inexpensive construction materials (for example, earth and timber), and building

method~.?'~

It has furthemore been suggested that the arena and seating of rnilitary amphitheatres may

not have been influenced by gladiatorial ludus prototypes but by the nature of the events and the size

of the audience projected for the buildings. For example, while the auditorium of Caerleon's

amphitheatre is considered to have been narrow and its capacity deemed to have been low (about

6000), it could have comfortably accommodated the fortress' entire garrison, the building's principal

~sers?~

The daim that military amphitheatres resembled hdi has engendered the belief that they did

not serve, like their civil counterparts, as entertainment facilities in which munera were staged but

as Zudi, training schools or grounds in which soldien received professional ams-instruction and

participated in combat dril Is.~''


It has moreover been speculated that military amphitheatres resembled gladiatorial lui

because the professional drill-instructors responsible for training military recruits were originally

gladiatorial i n s t ~ c t o r s . ~Gladiatorial
'~ instructors were initially inducted in the army in 105 B.C.,

following the heavy Iosses inflicted on the troops of Gnaeus Mallius and Quintus Caepio by the

Cimbri (a Germanic people) at Orange, to help train the inexperienced men recruited to rebuild

military ~trength."~Valerius Maximus, a historian of Tiberius' reign (A.D. 14-37), relates that the

first instnictors hired were those obtained by Publius Rufus Rutilitus (one of the consuls in 105 B.C.)

from the gladiatorial school owned by Aurelius Scaurus in Capua by:

Arnzorum tractandorum meditatio a P. Rutilio consule. Cn. Maflii collega, ntilitibus


est tradita. Is enim. nuflius ante se imperatoris exentplum secutus ex ludo Cn.
Aurefii Scauri dactoriblrs gladiatorum arcessitis vitarrdi atque inferendi ictus
subtiliorem rationern legionibus ingeneravit virtutentque arti et rursm a m virtuti
miscuit...."O

The professional trainers brought gladiatorial training techniques which appear to have been

beneficial to the troops. The exercises adopted by the army included the use of wooden stakes as

tall as a person, at which soldiers practiced combat techniques with wooden foils and wickenvork

shields."' Once the recruits had acquired rudimentary arms-handling techniques, they progressed

to training using standard weapons and finally to the arnzatura, individual combat in which wo

soldiers confronted each other."

Literary evidence suggests that the link between gladiatorial schools and the Roman army

persisted, at least sporadically, into the later Empire. The gladiatorial training of soldiers is attested

during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-1 17) in a passage of Pliny's Pmegyricus (written to thank

Trajan for an appointment to the consulship in A.D. 100). In this passage, Trajan is praised precisely

for not allowing his troops to be exercised casually by "some paitry Greek trainer" (Graecufus

magister) and for overseeing their training himself instead.= The armatura continued to be
practiced, though not universally, in the late fourth century, according to Flavius Vegetius Renatus.

a contemporary author who assembled a military manual entitled Epitoma de rei militaris."'

Uses of Military Amphitheatres

The legionary amphitheatres of Chester and Caerleon and the smaH auxil iary am ph itheatre

of Tomen-y-mur have a11 been designated military hdi because of the link between the army and

gladiatorial training schools and of their resemblance to these schools. They are conjectured to have

been used mainly for arms and combat practice, tactical demonstrations and occasionaIly for

gladiatorial shows," or almost exclusively for arms pra~tice."~

The construction of military amphitheatresat the sarne tirne or soon afler forts and fortresses

has been construed as indicating that they served as important pieces of military equipment, that is,

training schools."' Their small size and low seating capacity has also led to the conclusion that

these buildings were used only by the garrisons to which they belonged and, consequently, only for

military activities. This opinion has been expressed in connection with both Caerleon and Tornen-y-

mur's amphitheatres. Caerleon's amphitheatre is estimated to have seated about 6000 spectators.

erroneously considered to be roughly the strength of a Roman legion by a scholar who consequently

hypothesised that only the legion stationed at Caerleon made use of the amphitheatre and did so

mainly for training purposes."' Likewise, the extremely small size of Tomen-y-mufs monument,

which would have precluded the attendance of a large audience and the staging of large-scale

gladiatorial displays in its arena, is said to underscore its presumed military purpose and that of

Britain's legionary arnphitheatre~.~~~

The function of military amphitheatres as mere training grounds is, however, as disputed

as the alleged architectural differences between military and civil amphitheatres. It has been

proposed that military amphitheatres may have been used equally as training grounds and
entertainment f a c i t i t i e ~or
, ~more
~ importantly as entertainment facilities and less importantly as

drill location^.^'

Others speculate, in connection with military amphitheatres within and outside Britain, that

they were not at al1 military training facilities but, Iike their civil counterparts, served primarily as

venues for diversions such as gladiator combats, beast shows and festival celebration~.~~

A further non-training function has been suggested for one of Britain's military

amphitheatres, that at Chester. The presence of a feature conjectured to have been a timber platform

in the centre of Chester II's arena has been taken to imply that this amphitheatre rnay have served

as a setting for official ceremonies as well as for amusements, Legionaries would have been

assembled to witness official processions and military business such as retirement or cornmendation

c e r e r n ~ n i e s . ~This
~ notion is presently specuiative but it is plausible that Britain's military

amphitheatres rnay periodically have been used for such forma1 activities.

Though the debate regarding the function of Britain's military arnphitheatres cannot be

resolved, there is archaeological and literary evidence to suggest that they rnay in reality have been

multi-function buildings and that they rnay have served least importantly as training locations.

That they were used for amusement, as the setting for munera as were civil amphitheatres,

is implied by the presence of chambers in Caerleon's amphitheatre. These chambers, which have

been identified as carceres, rnay be indicative of the staging of venationes, shows in which animals

were pitted against each other or against huntsmen, in the legionary facility.'14 Such displays rnay

also have taken place in Chester's second amphitheatre, which also possessed short axis chambers.

Animal shows are considered a possibility for the Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre as well. The

auxiliary facility's srnaIl size has led to the suggestion that it rnay served as a " c o ~ k p i t " . ~ ~

Use as entertainment facilities is also indicated by the existence of a Nemeseum in Chester's

second arnphitheatre and by the presence of the lead plaque bearing a dedication to Nernesis in the
arena of Caerleon's amphitheatre. Nemesis was a deity widely worshipped by gladiators and the

attestation of her cult in Britain's military amphitheatres certainly implies that gladiatorial combats

could have taken place in these buildings.

The decoration of Britain's Stone and earth legionary amphitheatres, though modest and

consisting mainly of wal1 plaster, may also indirectly indicate that the province's militas.

amphitheatres served an entertainment purpose. Al1 walls exposed to view were systematically

coated and those of Caerleon's building especially embellished with false masonry joints scored in

the cement and filled with red paint. Particular attention was paid at Chester II to the plaster of the

arena wall which was colour-washed to imitate marble. It should be recalled that an amphitheatre's

arena wall, visible to al1 spectators, acted as the backdrop to shows and was consequently usually

either finished with coats of painted plaster or architectura1 details such as mouldings. The

decorative scheme of Chester II's arena wall suggests that it acted as the backdrop to events other

than mere drills.

Ep igraphical evidence recovered from the military am phitheatres of Carnun~umand

Lambaesis (Numidia) provides further indication that Britain's military amphitheatres actually served

as the setting for entertainments. An inscription from the box facing that belonging to the Iegion's

legate at the amphitheatre of Carnuntum clearly States that it was assigned to the quaiuorviri,

magistrates of the nearby m z i n i c i p i ~ m . Inscriptions


~~ on the seating of the upper rows of the

amphitheatre at Lambaesis designate them as belonging to six w i a e (voting groups) from the local

cornm~nity.~'The presence of civilians and the allocation of permanent seating to them strongly

suggests that munera were actualIy staged in the amphitheatres of Carnuntum and Lambaesis. It can

be deduced from this that amusements also took place in Britain's military amphitheatres.

The seating capacities of Britain's miIitary amphitheatres appear to support the findings at

Carnuntum and Lambaesk. Though it has been claimed that Caerleon's amphitheatre would have
been only large enough for a l e g i ~ n , ~it ' would actually have been able to contain many more

spectaton than the 5200 to 5600 men estimated to have made up a Roman legi~n."~Caerleon's

arnphitheatre couId easily have accommodated spectators not stationed at the base, perhaps civilians

coming to watch munera. The seating capacity of Chestef s second amphitheatre, which may have

been as great as 7000, clearly demonstrates that others, in addition to the Iegionaries, were expected

to make use of the building. Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre may also have been able to welcome

some civilians: the Iarger of the two units proposed as the fort's possible occupants, the cohors

rniliara peditata, would have been 1056 strong, leaving perhaps a few spaces available to other

viewer~.~~O

It is therefore possible that rnunera, which civilians would have been perrnitted to attend,

were staged in Britain's legionary and auxiliary amphitheatres. Likelihood of this increases when

the small settlements (vie[]whose traces have been found outside the East gate of Chester's fortress.

southwest of Caerleon's fortress and in the vicinity of the auxiliary camp at Tomen-y-mur are taken

into acco~nt.'~'

Artifacts providing more concrete evidence for the staging of nrunera in British military

arnphitheatres and for the type of show mounted have been recovered from Caerleon's amphitheatre

and the fortress site. The first consists of a reused facing-stone engraved with five figures,

incorporated in an external buttress of the amphitheatre- The central shape is reminiscent of the

trident used by a retiarius, a gladiator who fought with this weapon and a net. The objects

immediately flanking the supposed trident are unfamil iar but are thought to perhaps represent the

flanged amour worn by retiarii on the left shoulder. These enigmatic symbols in tum are flanked

by palm-branches, the emblem of vi~tory.~~'

The second artifact consists of the Iead tablet recovered from the arena, bearing an

inscription invoking Nemesis and tentatively translated: "Lady Nemesis, 1 give thee this cloak and
boots. Let him who wore them, not redeern them, Save by the life of his sanguineus." Though the

inscription's precise meaning is still debated, it has been suggested that sanguineu rnay be a horse's

epithet derived from its reddish colour, and that Nemesis is being given control of another person,

perhaps a com petitor in a munus gladiatorim (gladiatorial exhibition), by the author of the curse

through his rival's bel~ngings.'~~

The cursed man's possible possession of a horse implies that he was a mounted gladiator,

either a lightly armed eques or a heavily armed and helmeted andabuta, or that he was an essedarius

(a gladiator who fought h m a chariot), or finally that he was a mounted h ~ n t e r . ' The
~ possibility

that the individual was an essedarius appears the least likely when the presence of wolf bones in the

arena of CaerIeontsamphitheatre, of boar, bear and deer bones on the fortress' site and the d i f f c u l ~

in manoeuvring a chariot in this small arena are considered. The intended victim of the curse might

welf have been a mounted gladiator or a participant in venationes."'

Thus it seerns probable that Britain's military amphitheatres were intended to serve as

entertainment facilities.

Britain's military amphitheatres probably also fulfilled a training function in conjunction

with their entertainment uses but there is evidence to suggest that it rnay have been their Ieast

important and least frequent function. Fortresses and forts are known, from both Iiterary and

archaeological testimony, to have been provided with several types of training faciIities other than

arnphitheatres. These include the parade-ground (campus), located outside almost every base, and

the infantry and cavalry drill halls (bmilicae exercitoriae) constructed within a fort's ~ a l l s . ~ ' ~

These facilities are ail listed in Vegetius' military manual. This author mentions the campus

as the site of sword drills at the stake2" as well as that at which battle f~rrnations"~and
vaulting onto

wooden horses were pra~tised.''~ He also states that, when especially severe weather made it

impossible to train on the parade-ground, exercises were held in infantry and cavalry drill halls,
buildings covered with tiled, shingled or thatched roofs; as soon as the weather altowed, soldien

were once more on the campus:

missibilia quoque vel plumbatus iugi perpetuoque exercitio dirigere cogebantur


usque adeo. ut tempore hiemis de tegulis vel seindulis. quae si deessent, certe de
cannis, uiva vel d m o et porticus tegerentw ad equites et quaedam velut basilicae
adpedites, in quibus ternpestate vei ventis aere turbato sub tecto amis erudieba~ur
exercitzrs. ceteris autern etiarn hibernis diebus, si nives tantumpluviaque cessarent.
exerceri cogebantur in campo. ne intermissa consuerudo et animos rniZitum
debiIitaret et ~ o r p o r a . ~ ~

Vegetius does not mention the amphitheatre as an exercise ground but emphasises that the campus

was the locale of choice for weapons training and other exercises.

Parade-grounds have been found near the Chester, Caerleon and Tomen-y-mur bases. In the

first case, the campus was located outside the east side of the fortress; at Caerleon, it was near the

northwest angle of the rampart; at Tomen-y-mur, an uncompleted campus lay to the northeast of the

fort.3' The two legionary fortresses also possessed exercise-halls within their ramparts.'" It can

be deduced from Vegetius' manuat that the training exercises conducted at the three sites wouId have

taken place primarily in their respective parade-grounds and drill-haIls, pcrhaps onIy infrequently

in their amphitheatres.

Thus, it appears probable that Britain's military amphitheatres performed several functions

and that they served most importantly as amusement facilities and perhaps Iess importantly as

training grounds. They may also have played another though incidental and secondary role, that of

expressing Roman prestige and culture on this frontier of the Empire.33

Nature of the Spectacles Staged in Military Amphitheatres


From the archaeological and literary evidence already discussed, it has been possible to

identify to some extent the uses of Britain's military amphitheatres. The drills which were perhaps

conducted in them occasionally have been described and it is clear that both gladiatorial combats
and beast fights and hunts were probably staged in their arenas. However, circumstances governing

the staging of these shows as well as their nature and frequency remain to be addressed.

Gladiatorial and animal fights (rnunera) were subject to stringent Imperia1 control

throughout the Empire. In Rome itself, they were held solely and only occasionally by the Emperor,

in conjunction with religious festivals. officia1 cetebrations or occasions of their choice such as the

inauguration of the Colosseum in A.D. 80 by TitussLW Outside Rome, the most prestigious

amphitheatrical displays were official shows (munus publicum) staged by municipal magistrates,

local priests and the provincial priests of the Imperia1 cuit by requirement of their office while less

important games were staged by wealthy private individuals, at their discretion, as a gift to their

c ~ r n r n u n i t y .However,
~~ in an effort to prevent private citizens from ruining themselves financially

and various individuals from using shows to gain public favour, Imperial approval was required to

stage al1 shows, and the number of combatants and expenses was officially restricted?' Provincial

shows were also staged for commercial gain by Zanisiae (gladiatorial trainers) who toured with their

troupe of gladiators while yet others were occasionaIly held by governors or visiting emperors?

It is supposed that some of the rnunera staged in Britain's m ilitary amphitheatres would have

been mounted using provincial funds?' They therefore would probably have been offered by the

govemor and would have been held to celebrate religious holidays or other special occasion^.^^

However, as provincial funds would have been limited and Imperial restrictions in effect, the

displays would have been simple and i n e x p e n s i ~ e . ~Well-trained


~ (and therefore expensive)

gladiators would only rarely have been hired and, when obtained, would have probably fought only

in simulated combat.26'

It appean that, in the second and third centuries, military garnisons were permitted to stage

their own shows and consequently some legions possessed their own entertainer~.'~' It can be

deduced from an inscription from the lower Rhine and another scratched on a late second century
beaker found at Colchester, Engiand, that legions could own both gladiators and besriarii. The first

inscription mentions an ursarius (bear fighter) belonging to the Thirtieth Legion based near Xanten:

URSA RIUS LEG[ionis] lYXX Uflpiae] V[ictricis] S[everianae] A[Ze~andrinae].'~~ The second

inscription, etched on a beaker bearing the figures of gladiators after it had been fired, describes a

retiuriw (net-fighter) as: VALEflNUS LEGIONISXXX ("Valentinus of the Th irtieth Legion")?

It is possible that the legions stationed at Chester and Caerleon, like the Thirtieth Legion, may have

possessed gladiators and hunters for the purpose of staging the occasional camp show. These

military shows could have been supplemented by the displays sporadically offered by the provinciaI

govemor.

ft can be inferred from the engraved slab recovered from one of the buttresses of Caerleon's

amphitheatre that retiarii and possibly their traditional opponents, the secutores, may have been

among the gladiators who may have fought in Britain7srnilitary arenas. As alluded to previously,

the retiarius' main arms consisted of a net (iaculum), which he threw to ensnare his adversary, and

trident w i n a ) ; he also carried a short dagger and was almost completely exposed, wearing for

protection only a short tunic and a wide belt (bufieus), leg bandages and a sleeve on the left a m

connected to a winged shoutder-piece (galerus). Conversely, the secutor was both heaviIy armed

and better protected. His weapon was the sword and his amour included a shield, greave and

visored helrnet?

Because of the great expense in mounting gladiatorial exhibitions, it is probable that

gladiatorial displays would have constituted only a small proportion of the munera staged in British

military arnphitheatres and that venafiones and perhaps acrobatic displays would have been more

frequently ~een.~' The presence of chamben, which may have been beast-pens, in both of the

province's Stone and earth legionary amphitheatres as well as the presence of wolf bones in

Caerleon's amphitheatre and of those of other animals on the fortress' site almost certainly hint at
the staging of wild beast hunts and fights. The inscription on the lead strip found in the Caerleon

amphitheatre's arena is similarly suggestive of venationes. Anirnals destined for the arena would

have been easily obtainable in the province and could have included indigenous beasts such as

wolves, wild cattle, bears and boar~.'~'

Venationes often included the exposure of condemned victims, either bound to stakes or

unrestrained and nearly unarmed, to animais (damnafioad be~tias)'~'and it is theorised that such

killings may have been among the events held in Caerleon's a m ~ h i t h e a t r e .This
~ ~ ~ punishrnent,

which had in Republican times been reserved for deserters, was administered to people convicted

of criminal offenses in Imperia1 times." Britain's Saint Julius and Saint Aaron, who are postulated

to have died in Caerleon's amphitheatre during systematic persecutions conducted by the emperors

Decius (249-5 1) or Valerian (253-260), may have perished in this mariner."'

Mention of the nature of the rnilitary arnphitheatres' users has already been made. Members

of Chester, Caerleon and Tomen-y-mur's garrisons would have been the principal though not

necessarily the sole people to use these monuments. Some civilians could have witnessed spectacles

alongside the soldiers. The epigraphical evidence from the Carnuntum and Lambaesis arnphitheatres

clearly indicates that members of the surrounding civil population were permitted to enter such

buildings and it is conceivable that the situation was parallelled in Roman Britain.

However, information regarding precise seating allotment has not yet been recovered on any

British rnilitary amphitheatre site though more can be inferred from the legionary arnphitheatres than

from the unexcavated monument at Tomen-y-mur. It is certain that Chester's legionary legate wvould

have been seated in the relatively ornate and cornfortable box above the East Entrance of the stone

amphitheatre. Caerleon's legate would have occupied one of the boxes presumed to have existed

above the short axis entrantes D and H. A coping-stone which had originally belonged to Chester

II's arena wall, bearing the inscription "SERANO LOCUS' ("a place for sera nu^"),^" implies that
first row seats in Chester's amphitheatre, and perhaps in the other military amphitheatres of the

province, were assigned to important members of the base's garrison just as the front row in civil

amphitheatres was assigned to senators, magistrates and municipal o f i c i a f ~ .It~is conceivable that

the upper tiers of seating in the British military amphitheatres would have been allotted, as at

Lambaesis, to civilian members of the audience while soldiers occupied the lower portion of the

cavea.

Though venaiiones would probably have been less expensive to stage than gladiatorial

combats, it is probable that al1 munera would have been costly and held only occasionalIy in

Britain's rnilitary amphitheatres. This is perhaps reflected in the scarcity of artifacts, such as coins

orjewellery, lost during the use of Chester and Caerleon's fa~ilities.~"It is clear however that the

legionary buildings were utilized ofien enough to warrant maintenance and repairs, the fast of which

were effected on Chester's second amphitheatre during the last quarter of the third century, perhaps

as part of restorations which inctuded repairs to the fortress' north wall in about 300.275

The use of Britain's legionary amphitheatres was not continuous however. A break in use

was experienced by Caerleon's amphitheatre late in the second century, probably as a result of the

absence of several detachrnents of Legio IIA~gurra."~


Repair to the monument, which had become

decrepit, were effected at the beginning of its third phase, afier the fortress itself had undergone

widespread rebuilding.'" The period of neglect experienced by Chester's second amphitheatre

appears to have begun much earlier and lasted longer than that of its legionary counterpan: the

building's tirst structural phase ended in the rnid-second century, dilapidation followed and was

finally halted by repaio initiated only in the last quarter of the third century, perhaps in connection

with other Constantian (A.D. 293-306) renovations undertaken at the fortress site.278

Use of Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre probably ceased upon the desertion of the auxiliary fort

in about A.D. 140 but it is certain that both Chester and Caerleon's monuments served their original
function for a protracted time; however, neither legionary amphitheatre remained in use until the end

of the province's Roman occupation (CU A.D. 4 10). Coins of Victonnus (d. ?270, CO-emperorto the

usurper Postumus) and Carausius (d. 293, usurper who controlled Britain and part of Gaul) and early

fourth century pottery recovered from the Chester amphitheatre's East Entrance destruction layers2"

suggest that the building did not serve the fortress' gamson beyond the third century. The occupants

of the base were deprived of the entertainment facility long before their departure, thought to have

occurred in the mid-fourth century or perhaps even as Iate as 383 when Magnus Maximus revolted

against the western Emperor Gratian.?'"

The abandonment of Caerleon's amphitheatre may have been brought about by the transfer

of nearly the entire Second Legion to Richborough late in the third century (perhaps in A.D. 296)."'

Layers associated with the Severan alterations in the vicinity of Entrances B, C, D and H have

yielded many coins, the last dating to 296."' Upon the cessation of its intended uses, the

amphitheatre began to decay and be demolished but most of the building was still standing in 1 188.

when Gerald the Welshman noted it upon passing through C a e r l e ~ n . It~ ~is~oniy in the early

fourteenth century that Stone robbing befell itmZw

Notes

1 .Todd, Roman Britain, 100- 104.

2.V. E. Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., ed. Michael G. Jarret (Cardiff:
University of Wales Press, 1969), 33,35-37; Sheppard Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1987), 87; F. H. Thompson, "The Excavation of the Roman Amphitheatre at
Chester," Archaeolorria 105 (1 976): 182.

3.Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 1 1, 13,38.

4.Todd, Roman Britain, 100, 103- 104.

S.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1 W6), 181- 182; F. H. Thompson, "The Amphitheatre of the
Legionary Fortress of Deva (Chester): Excavations of 1965-1969," Actes du IX' Con~rs
lntemational d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaine& ed. D. M. Pippidi (Bucharest: Editura
Academ iei, 1974),
356-357.

6-Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976), 128.

7.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 409.

8.R. W. Davies, "Roman Military Training Grounds," Roman Frontier Studies 1969, ed. Eric Birley
and others (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1974), 21.

1O.D. R. Wilson, "Roman Britain in 1960," JRS 5 1 (196 1): 166.

1 1 .FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,177,

12.GoIvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 408.

13.FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,177; Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed.,
fig. 1s-

14.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 41 1.

15.Thompson, Actes du I X Congrs International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines, 356.

17.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 88.

1 SJbid, 98-101. Literary sources attest that timber was already employed to construct
entertainment facilities during Republican times. Timber framing carrying temporary wooden
seating was erected in Rome's Forum Romanum from the third century B.C. to Augustan times for
the gladiatorial fights staged there (Welch, JRA 4 [1991]: 274-275 and 276, note 5). A notable
ancient mention of the temporary seating buiIt in the Forum can be found in Plutarch Virae
parallelae: Cairn Gracchus XII.5-6. Plutarch states that, on one occasion, Gaius Gracchus
demolished such seating, which had been built by magistrates planning to stage a gladiatorial
exhibition, so that plebeians could watch the fight without having to pay for admission.
Ternporary or permanent timber seating was also erected elsewhere outside and within the
city of Rome, It is recorded that a wooden arnphitheatre hastily put up by the freedman Atilius at
Fidenae colIapsed under the weight of spectators in A.D. 27 and that Nero built a timber
amphitheatre in Rome's Campus Marlius in A.D. 57 (Tacitus Annuls IV.62 and XII13 1).
Tirnber became a widely used material in the construction of Imperia1 amphitheatres,
especially in the wooded provinces of Italy, Gaul, Germany, Britain and Dacia, where it was
combined with earth banks to create Type 1 structures (Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 98). It
presently appears that the earliest known timber and earth (Type 1) amphitheatres are those which
were built at Rmellae (Roselle) and Segrrsium (Suse), in northern Italy and at Cemenelum (Cimiez),
in southern France, al1 of which date to the Augustan period (Ibid,98). Several, including those of
Vindonissa(Windisch, Switzerland), Vefera(Birten), Juliobona (Li1lebonne), Aquae Neri (Nris-les-
Bains), Noviomagtrs Bamorum (Nijmegen) and the rnilitary amphitheatre a
Austria) were constnicted during the Julio-Claudian period (Ibid, !
arnphitheatres of this type were buiIt between A.D. 50 and 150, among ,
Augusta Raurica (Augst), Herdoniae (Ordona), Deva (Chester), Du
Noviomagus Regnensium (Chichester), Moridrrnum Demermm (Cam
Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester), Porolis~
Atrebarum (Silchester), Micia (Vetel), Isorbriganrium (Aldborough) and th
at Aquincum (Budapest) (Ibid, 99.). It appears that few earth and timl
constnicted after the first half of the second century A.D., the time at which
was erected. The second century was the time during which most of these r
in Stone (Ibid, 99).

19.Golvin, L'Amohithtre romain. 75; Grenier, Manuel 3. II, 71 1-712. '


amphitheatres with a cavea composed of a timber frarnework standing
include the Vindonissa arnphitheatre (built in the first quarter of the firs
Cumuntum amphitheatre (built during the second half of the first century A
timber structure canying the seating consisted of radiating rows of po!
(Thompson, Archaeologia 105 [1976], 141- 142).

2 1 .Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 157; Grenier, Manuel. 3. II, 712.

22.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,179.

23.Ibid. Fulford States that Chester's first amphitheatre was a completel:


because the presence of bedrock on the monument's site precluded Roman t
the arena (Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 179). The obstacles posed by I
were evidently overcome by the builders of Chester's second amphitheatri

26.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 298.

28.Ibid, 137; 224; Grenier, Manuel. 3. II, 565: average arena dimensions
for the long axis and from 35 to 50 m for the short axis.

29.Wilson, JRS 5 1 (196 l), 165; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), 224

30.The civic arnphitheatre at the British site of Caenvent, whose total dirn~
serves as an illustration of a srnall amphitheatre in William L. MacDonald,
Roman Empire, 1 14.
3 1 Golvin, L'Amohithtre romain, 174, 176. The arena of the Flavian Arnphitheatre or Colosseurn
(built A.D. 72 or 75 to 81) measures 79.35 rn by 47.2 m.

32.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1W6), 135-136.

33.Thompson, Actes du IXc Congrs International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines, 356.

34.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 W6), 135.

3SJbid, 138,223; idem, Actes du IXe Coners International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines,
356.

39.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1W6), 223.

40.lbid., 139,225 and 225, note 1.

4l Jbid. 139,224; idem, Actes du IX' Coners International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines.
356.

42.Thompson, Archaeolorzia 105 (1W 6 ) , 223.

44.Boon, h, 95. A plate of the scene (Cichorius Plate LXXIII, scene 50) appears in Frank Lepper
and Sheppard Frere, eds., Traian's Column: A New Edition of the Cichorius Plates (Gloucester:
Alan Sutton, 1988).

46Jbid, 141- 142. Spectators were provided with the best view of the proceedings in an arena when
seating was inclined by about 25 degrees. Consequently, the seating of many amphitheatres, such
as the first century A.D. timber legionary amphitheatres of Vetera (Birten, Germany) and Vindonissa
(Windisch, Switzerland), was constructed at such an angle.

48Jbid.. 225-226, 227. It is probable that rnost arnphitheatres whose seating was supported on a
tirnber structure wouId have been bolstered with bracing. In the case of the Vindonissa and
Carnuntum amphitheatres, it is postulated that cross-bracing would have been inserted between and
within the rows of posts bearing the seating (Ibid, 14 1- 142).
5 1.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 3 14,

52.Thompson, Archaeologia IO5 (1 W6), 224

53.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 3 14.

54.lbid, 326-327; Grenier, Manuel, 3,11,578-579.

56.Golvi11, L'Amphithtre romain, 323-324.

57.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), 227-228.

58.ibid, 142 and 142, note 5; Vitruvius De architectura V.6.

59.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 W6), 228.

6O.GoIvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 343.

61 .Paul MacKendrick, The Dacian Stones Speak (Chape1 Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1979, 1 12.

62,Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 29; G. C. Boon, "fsca,"PECS, 415;
George C. Boon and Colin Williams, Plan of Caerleon: Discoveries to December 1966 (Cardiffi
National Museum of Wales, 1967), 2; Tacitus Agricola 17.

63.Boon and Williams, Plan of Caerleon: Discoveries to December 1966, 2. An inscription on a


marble slab incorporated in a fortress building suggests that reconstruction of the base was
undertaken as early as A.D. 100.

64.Nash-Wiliiams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 1 1-12.

65.Boon, PECS, 4 15.

66.R. E. M. Wheeler and T. V. Wheeler, "The Roman Amphitheatre at Caerleon, Monmouthshire,"


Archaeologia 28 (1 928): 146-147. A Vespasianic coin dated to 77-78 was found in the monar of
the core of the amphitheatre's facade. Pits near Entrances A and C (the vomitoria located in the West
half of the building), which were buried when the amphitheatre was built, yielded fint century A.D.
sherds thought to have been manufactured generaily between A.D. 60 and A.D. 80. Sherds of
Sarnian and other types of pottery dating to the Flavian period, many bearing the stamps of the
Flavian potten Patricius, Coius and Rufinus, were found in the building levels of the monument's
eight entrantes. Layers associated with minor repairs made to vomitoria C, A and G immediately
after the building's completion have yielded two coins of Domitian (81-96) as well as Flavian
pottery, dating to A.D. 80-90. Excavaton have concluded from this dating evidence that the
building was constructed in or before A.D. 80.
69Jbid., 149, 182; Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 38.

70.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeolo~ia28 (1928), 1 12- 1 13.

7 1.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,179.

72.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 128.

73.Boon, Isca, 92.

74.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), 230.

75.Golvin, L'Arnohithtre romain, 140.

77.Thompson, Actes du IXe Congrs International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines, 357;
Golvin, L'Arn~hithtreromain, 75.

79.Thompson, Actes du IXeCongrs International d'tudes sur les Frontires Romaines, 357; idem,
Archaeologia 105 (1 976), 230.

80.Thompson, Archaeolo~ia105 (1976)' 150; Boon, Isca, 93.

8 1 .Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 1 15.

82.Thompson, Archaeoloeria 105 (1976)' 150-15 1. The period of neglect which intervened between
the Chester amphitheatre's two phases of use began in the mid-second century A.D. The installation
of the new arena floor inaugurates the beginning of the faciiity's second and final phase. Third
century A.D. pottery and late third century coins sealed beneath the flagstone surface indicate tha
the second phase began in the last quarter of the third century.

83.Grenier, Manuel. 3. 11, 571.

84.Thornpson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), I5 1-1 52.

85 .Ibid.

87.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 334.

88.WheeIer and Wheeler, Archaeoloaia 28 (1928)' 1 15.


92.Ibid. Neither in prelirninary excavation reports nor in the final excavation report do the
excavators of Chester's amphitheatre suggest that the feature whose post-holes survive in the centre
of the amphitheatre's arena may have been temporary. As Dr. Anne Foley has suggested, it is
however possible that the structure was a temporary one, erected only when needed.

93.FuIford, Silchester Arnphitheatre, 1 87.

94.Golvin, L' Amohithtre romain, 33 1-332.

95.Ibid, 330-333. The pulley and trap door arrangements present in the arena of particularly
elaborate amphitheatres were employed to achieve certain dramatic effects, wh ich are mentioned
in several instances by ancient authors. Such effects inspired the fictional description of a spectacle
found in Apuleius Metamorphoses X.30-35 (this second century A.D. fictional work is also
commonly referred to as the Golden Ass). The show, set in Corinth, is described as opening with
a dance of young boys and girls, followed by a re-enactment of the Judgement of Paris. The re-
enactrnent's decor consists of a timber-built hill, representing Mount Ida, covered with greenery and
trees. On the slope, there is even a spring from which water wells. Once the tableau's action is over,
the ground opens and the hill is swallowed up.

96.GoIvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 334-335.

97Jbid, 335. For example, there is mention in Dio's Hidoria Romana LXV1.25.3 that the arena of
the Flavian Arnphitheatre was flooded to stage, among other events, a mock battle depicting that
between the Corcyrians and the Corinthians, during the inaugural games held by Titus in A.D. 80.

98.Golvin, LYAmohithtreromain, 334-335; Augustus' namachia (a re-enactment of the battle cf


Salamis, staged in 2 B.C.): Suetonius De vita Caesarum- Divus Az18r(stus XLIII.1 and Ovid A r s
Anzatoria 1.1 7 1- 172; Claudius' naumachia (staged in about A.D. 52): Suetonius De vira Caesurum:
Divus Claudius XXI.6.

99.Grenier, Manuel. 3. II, 579-583.

1OO.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 85, 136.

101 Jbid., 129; Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 ( 1W8), 1 1 8; Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105
(1976), 146, 181.

102.Golvin, L' Amohithtre romain, 142,272.


1O4.M. V. Taylor and R. G. Collingwood, "Roman Britain in 1926," JRS 16 ( 1926): 2 1 7: Wheeler
and Wheeler, Archaeolo~ia28 (1928), 1 15; Boon, Isca, 96.

lOS.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 214. Three metres is considered the average height of arena
wal Is.

106.Thompson, Archaeoloaia 105 (1 976), 144, 148.

107Jbid

109.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 (1 928), 1 18-1 19.

1 1O.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1 976), 147- 148.

1 1 1 Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 3 19.

1 12.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 1 t 8.

1 13.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976), 146; R. G. Collingwood and M. V. Taylor, "Roman


Britain in 193 1 ,"JRS 22 (1932): 205.

1 14.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976), 146; Collingwood and Taylor, 22 (1932), 205.

1 1S.GoIvin, L'Amohithtre romain, 3 18-319.

1 I6.lbid, 79-80.

1 17.Grenier, Manuel, 3. II, 580.

1 18.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), 166- 167.

1 19.Ibid., 167.

1 20 Jbid , 169: "DEAE NEMESI/ SEXT..MARCII ANVS. 7 7 I S V ' .

121.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 337, note 173; Thompson, ,4rchaeoloeia 105 (1976), 1 69.

122.Thornpson, Archaeologia IO5 (1976), 169.

123.GoIvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 339-340.

124.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1 976), 169-1 70.

125.Grenier, Manuel. 3. 11,578.

126.Fuifordt Sikhester Arnphitheatre, 186; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976). 156.


l27.800n, 92; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 W6), 157.

128.WheeIer and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 928), I 1 5; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 976). 1 57,
181.

129.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 1 18. This plastering technique appears to be
unique to the site and was otherwise employed only on the masonry tower in the southem corner of
the fortress.

130.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 976), 1 8 1.

131.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 1 16, 121;Thompson, Archaeologia 105 ( 1W6),
23 1; Boon, Isca, 94. The lower courses of the barre1 vaults and their facing arches found in siru in
Entrances B and F of Caerleon's amphitheatre have allowed both the vaults' angle of inclination and
the height of their outer arches (7.5 m) to be determined.

132.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 3 8 1.

133.A series of buttresses was added during each of the three building phases (Periods 1-111)
identified in the remains of the amphitheatre. The date of al1 three phases has been established. The
end of Period 1 is marked by a layer of ash or charcoal detected on the seating bank and directly
above the original floor of minor Entrances C and E and Entrance H (fig. 8a) (Wheeler and Wheeler,
Archaeologia 28 [I 9281, 1 17, 130, 134, 139). This layer is thought to be the result of a late first
century or early second century A.D. fire which also swept through a settlement southwest of the
fort (Boon, Isca, 53). The destroyed settlement was partially converted into a parade-ground.
Refuse containing pottery datable to A.D. 125-1 50, deposited before the parade-ground's gravelling,
has led excavators to assign the date of A.D. 140 to the ground's construction. The parade-ground
evidence, combined with the discovery of an extremely worn early coin of Hadrian in the surface
of a new floor identified as being a Period II alteration to Entrance D, suggests that the amphitheatre
was also rebuilt in about 140, thus commencing its second period (Wheeler and Wheeler,
Archaeologia 28 [1928], 136; Boon, Isca, 44-45).
The third phase of Caerleon's amphitheatre followed an episode of decay and is marked by
extensive renovations. Late second and early third century coins including two rninted by the
emperor Elagabalus (2 18-222) found in Period III strata in or near the building's entrances as well
as bricks bearing the titIe "AlVT(NNMA)",a title commonly worn by military units only between
the deaths of the emperor Geta (A.D. 212) and Elagabalus, which survived in situ in Period III
alterations to Entrance D suggest a date of 212-222 or soon after for the beginning of this structural
phase (Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeolo~ia28 [I928], 137- 138, 149- 150, 159- 160).

134.Boon, Isca, 92; Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 928), 1

135.Collingwood and Taylor, JRS 22 (1W),205.

136.Thompson, Archaeolo~ia105 (1 976), 23 1.

137Jbid., 158-159. The spacing of the Chester amphitheatre's pien has prompted Nigel Sunter,
whose architectural reconstruction of the monument appears in F. H. Thompson's final excavation
report, to conjecture that they would have supported the masts of a velarium (awning) (Thompson,
Archaeologia 105 [1976], 232). He points out that the buttresses' spacing corresponds closely to that
of massive posts identified as the masts for a velarium placed against the exterior wall of the theatre
at Saint-Bertrand (Ibid). He aIso points out that the spacing of the Chester arnphitheatre's buttresses
corresponds to that of the VemIumium (St. Albans) theatre's externat buttresses, which are also
conjectured to have supported the masts of an awning (Ibid). Sunter theorises that it would have
been necessary to fix the masts of an awning in buttresses rather than in corbels, as was the usual
practice, at the Chester amphitheatre because the local Stone would not have been of the proper
strength for making solid corbels (Ibid). He also conjectures that the masts would have been fixed
in sinkings at the tops of the buttresses and attached to the wall with iron straps at about one third
of their height (Ibid). Sunter proposes that the front of the awning could have been carried by a
rope-tension ring held in place by radial ropes tied to the externa1 masts, the arrangement which may
have been used to support the Flavian Amphitheatre's awning, or on posts lodged in the arena wall's
balteus (Ibid.). The Chester amphitheatre is presently the only British amphitheatre for which an
awning has been proposed.

138.Golvin, L'Arn~hithtreromain, 145.

140.Thompson, Archaeolo~ia105 (1 976), 234; Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 928), 1 18.

14 1. Wheeier and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 130.

143.Boon, Isca, 93; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976), 1 8 1.

144.B00n, Isca, 93; Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 173; Thompson,
Archaeologia 105 (1 976), 181.

145.MacDonald, The Architecture of the Roman Empire, 1 14, cites Beth-Shean's amphitheatre,
which measures 1 I O m by 65 m overall, as an example of medium-sized amphitheatre.

146.Taylor and Collingwood, JRS 16 (1926),2 1 7; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 W6), 16 1 .

147.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928), 1 16; Boon, 93.

148.Thompson, Archaeoloeia IO5 (1 976),230.

149.R. G. Collingwood and Ian Richmond, The Archaeolo of Roman Britain, 2nd ed. (London:
Methuen and Co Ltd, 1969), 1 17.

150.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1928)' 1 1 7; Boon, Isca. 93-94.

151.Thornpson, Archaeoloeia 1 O5 (1W6), 163, 183.


154.Thompson, Archaeologia IO5 (1 976), 160, 163.

1%.Grenier, Manuel. 3.11, 585; Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976), 142.

156.Corpu.s hscriptionum Latinmm inscription VI.2059 in P. J. Meier, "Amphitheamm FIaviurn,"


Paulvs Realency lo~adieder C tassischen A ltertumwissenschaft. 1958 ed,, 25 19: "summum
maenianurn in figneis"; Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 928), 1 17.

157.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 W8), 1 17; GoIvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 2 14-2 15.

158.Graharn Webster, The Roman Tmuerial Arrnv (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1979), 202.

159.Thompson, Archaeolorzia 105 (1W6), 185. The seating capacity of Chester's second
amphitheatre was estirnated by using the middle row as the mean, allotting Vitmvius' recornmended
seating width of 0.6 1 m per person and taking into account the breaks in the seating banks created
by the entrances.

16O.GoIvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 324.

161.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeolo~ia28 (1 928), 12 1.

162.Boon, Isca, 96.

163.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 ( 1928), 121- 122.

I67.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 323.

168.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1 976), 170- 171, 1 73.

169.Wilson, JRS 5 1 (196 1), 166; Thompson, Archaeologia 105 ( 1976), 172.

170.Thompson, Archaeolonia IO5 (1976), 173.

171 .Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 ( 1928), 135; Boon, Isca, 97.

172.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeologia 28 (1 928), 135, 139.

174.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 (1928), 136, 138, 142, 153.


175Jbid, 137-138; Boon, Isca, 100; Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 8 1.

178fiid, 176, 179. It is thought that voussoirs found on the entrance passage floor are the remains
of this vaulting.

18Ofiid-, 176, 174; D. R. Wilson, "Roman Britain in 1967," JRS 58 (1968). 184.

181.Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 189.

1 82.GoIvir1, L'Am~hithtreromain, 329.

183.Ibid, 330, table 4 1.

1 85.Boon7Isca, 97.

186.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 (1 928), 128.

187.Ibid., 122- 123; Boon, Isca, 97-98.

1 88.Boon1 Isca, 97-98.

189.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 (1 928)' 132.

190.lbid., 134. The modifications to Entrance E are conternporary with the renovation of the
chamber at the inner end of short axis entrance D. It will be recalled that the excavators of
Caerleon's arnphitheatre considered Chamber D's new features to be rerniniscent of the features of
the Senlis amphitheatre's shrines and theorised that Chamber D might actually have been the
facility's Nemeseum. It is conceivable that Chamber D had originally been a beast-pen which \vas
converted into a shrine only in the third century, when it was renovated. h e conversion of this short
axis chamber would have lefi the arnphitheatre with only one beast-pen and it may be for this reason
that the chamber at the inner end of Entrance E was added.

191.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1 976), 180.

192.R. G. Collingwood, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain (Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1930). 106; C.
A. Ralegh Radford, Proceedin~sof the Llandudno and District Field Club, 17 (193 1-3), quoted in
C. A. Gresham, "The Roman Fort at Ton~en-y-mur,"Archaeoloeia Cam brensis 93 (1 938): 198.

193.Gresham, Archaeologia Cambrensis 93 ( 1 938), 192,202.


194.Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in WaIes, 2nd ed., 1 12- 1 13; Golvin, L' Am~hithtre
romain, 86; Gresham, Archaeoioeia Cambrensis 93 (1938), 208.

19S.Go1vin7 L' Amphithtre romain, 86.

196Jbid, 154.

197.Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 1 13.

198.Gresham, Archaeologia Cam brensis 93 ( 1 938), 198.

199Jbid.

200.GoIvin7 L'Amphithtre romain, 90.

201 .CoIIingwood, The Archaeolom of Roman Britain, 106.

202.Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 9.

203.Golvin' L'Amphithtre romain, 99.

204.Gresham, Archaeologia Cambrensis 93 (1 %8), 198.

205.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 90.

206.Gresham, Archaeoloeria Cambrensis 93 (1 938), 198- 199.

207.MacKendrick, The Dacian Stones S~eak,1 12.

208.Collingwood and Richmond, The Archaeoloev of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 1 17; Borngardner,
-6 (1 993), 38 1;Davies, Roman Frontier Studies 1 969,2 1.
JRA

209-GoIvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 154; 1. A. Richmond, "Trajan's A m y on Trajan's Column,"


P a ~ e r of
s the British Schoot at Rome 13 (1 935): 3 1.

21 0-GoIvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 152.

2 t 3.Fulford7 Silchester Amphitheatre, 187.

2 I4.Boon, Isca, 1 37, note 342; Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 123, 190.
2 1S.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 155.

2 l6.Boon, Isca, 99.


2 17.Collingwood and Richmond, The Archaeolom of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 117; 1. A. Richmond,
review of The Legionarv Fortress at Caerleon. Monmouthshire, by V. E. Nash-Williams, in JRS 3 1
(194 1): 2 15; Davies, Roman Frontier Studies I969,2 1

218.CoIlingwood and Richmond, The Archaeolo~yof Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 1 17; R, W. Davies,
"Fronto, Hadrian and the Roman Amy," Latomus 27 (1968): 85.

219.WeIch, JRA 7 (1994), 63; The Cambrid~eAncient Histow, vol. 9,2nd ed., ed. J. A. Crook and
others (Cambridge: Cam bridge University Press, 1994), 37-3 8.

22O.Valerius Maximus Facm-um et d i c z m m mernorabilium Zibri novem 11.3.2: 'The practice of


weapons handfing was taught to soldiers by the consul Publius Rutilius, col Ieague of Gnaeus
Mallius. For he, having had the example of no generat before him, sent for the instructors from
Aurelius Scaurus' schoot of gladiators and introduced the most exact method of evading and
inflicting blows. He united courage with skill and ski11 with courage ..."

221 .Flavius Vegetius Renatus Epitoma de rei d i t a r i s 1.1 1 in G- R. Watson, The Roman Soldier,
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), 172, notes 1 16- 1 17.

222.Vegetius Epitoma de rei miliraris 1.13 in Watson, The Roman Soldier, 1 72, note 1 17; Watson,
The Roman Soldier, 57.

223.Pliny Panegyricus 13.5.

224.Vegetius Epitoma de rei militaris 1.13 in Watson. The Roman Soldier, 172, note 1 17: praeterea
iilo exercitii genere, quod armaturam vocanf et a campidoctoribu traditur, imbuendus est riro; qui
usus vef exparre servatw. ('Wext, the recruit should be instructed in that kind of military exercise
which they cal1 a r m u r a and which is taught by drill-masten. This practice is retained in part.")

225.Collingwood and Richmond, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 20, 24, 1 17, 1 19;
Richmond, JRS 3 1 ( 1 94 1), 2 15; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299.

226.Davies, Roman Frontier Studies 1 969-2 1.

227.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 156.

228.Richrnond, JRS 3 1 (194 l), 2 15; Boon, lsca, 99 and Boon and Williams, Plan of Caerleon:
Discoveries to December 1966,6. Estimates of a legion's strength Vary but do not exceed 5600 men.

229,Richmond, JRS 3 1 (1 94 1), 2 15; Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in WaIes, 2nd ed., 174.

230.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 154; J. J. Wilkes, Dalmatia (Cambridge, Massachusetts:


Harvard University Press, 1969), 3 83.

23 1.Webster, The Roman Im~erialA m y , 20 1-202.

232.Boon, Isca, 99; Grenier, Manuel. 3. 11, 586; Thomas Wiedemann, Emperon and Gladiaton
(London: Routledge, 1992), 44.
233.Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1 976), 143, 154.

234.Boon, Isca, 99. It has not been proved that the short axis chambers of the Caerleon and Chester
amphitheatres served as carceres but it is considered certain that they would have by Jean-Claude
Golvin, author of the most exhaustive study of amphitheatres (Golvin, L'Am hi thtre romain, 329
and 329, table 41). It is possible that these recesses rnay instead have been shrines or changing
rooms or storage rooms, as has been suggested in connection with the short axis chambers of
Dorchester's am phitheatre. Whatever function these rooms served, it would have been related to
the staging of shows. Their presence suggests that spectacles of some kind would have taken place
in the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres.

235.Webster, The Roman Imperia1 Armv, 219.

236.5. Kolendo, "La rpartition des places aux spectacles et la stratification sociale dans l'empire
romain," Ktema 6 (1 98 1): 3 12.

239.Boon' Isca, 99; Webster, The Roman Im~erialArmv, 202.

240.A Dictionarv of the Roman Em~ire,1991 ed., S. v. "Legions," 23 1.

241.Chester: D. F. Petch, "Deva,"PECS, 270; Caerleon: Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in


Wales, 2nd ed., 29; Tomen-y-mur: Gresham, Archaeologia Cambrensis 93 (1938), 172. It is
possible that soldiers' partners may have been among the civilian members of the audience.
Women, many of whom would in al1 likelihood have been concubines or (following the A.D. 197
Imperia1 edict permitting soldiers below the rank of centurion to marry) wives, are known from
inscriptions to have resided in vici (Todd, Roman Britain, 198; T. W. Potter and Catherine Johns,
Roman Britain [Berkeley: The University of Califomia Press, 19921, 73). Moreover, there is
evidence that the wives of centurions, who held the legal right to marry before the edict of A.D. 197,
were allowed to live within frontier forts (Todd, Roman Britain, 198). Thus, sorne women may also
have Iived within the legionary fortresses of Chester and Caerleon and the auxiliary fort at Tomen-y-
mur and may have attended shows staged in the bases' amphitheatres. The builders of Chester's
second amphitheatre and its counterparts at Caerleon and Tomen-y-mur may have foreseen that
these buildings might be used not oniy by the soldiers but also by their mates when determining the
facifities' dimensions.

242.Boon, Isca, 100, 137, note 345,


246.R. W. Davies, "Training Grounds of the Roman Cavalry," The Archaeolo~icalJournal 125
(1968): 76.

247.Vegetius Epitoma de rei militaris 1.1 1 in Watson, The Roman Soldier, 17 1, note 1 12: palorum
enim wzrs non solurn militibw sed etiam gZadiatoribus p l i m u m prodest. nec umquam m t h r e n a
aut campus invictum a m i s vinirn probavit, nisi qui diligenter exercitafusdacebatur adpalum. ("The
use of stakes is very beneficial not only ta soldiers but also to gladiators. Neither the arena nor the
field ever proved a man to be invincible in combat unless he was carefully trained and instructed at
the stake.")

248.Vegetius Epitoma de rei militaris 1.26 in Watson, The Roman Soldier, 179, note 161:
producendi ergo tirones sunt semper ad campum et secundum matriculae ordinem in aciem
dirigendi, ita ut primo simplex et extenta sit acies, ne quos sinus. ne qum habeaf curvaturas. ut
aequali Zegiiimoque spatio miles distet a milite. ("Therefore, recmits should always be Ied out to
the parade-ground and be arranged in a line in the order of the roll, in such a way that at the
beginning there should be a single and extended line, that it have neither any curves nor any bends
and that soldier be distant from soldier by an equai and proper distance.")

249.Vegetius Epiioma de rei militaris 1.18 ia Watson, The Roman Soldier, 1 75, note 135: equi
lignei hieme sub tecto. aestate ponebantur in campo;... ("Wooden horses were set up under cover
in winter and on the parade-ground in sumrner;...")

25O.Vegetius Epitoma de rei milifaris 11.23 in Watson, The Roman Soldier, 174, note 130: "They
were also compelled to throw their missile weapons or their loaded javelins in continual and constant
practice to such an extent that in wintertime they built halls for the cavalry and certain halls like
basilicae for the infantry, roofed with tiles or shingles, or if these should be lacking, with reeds,
rushes or thatch, in which, in stormy weather or when there was too much wind. the army received
arms instruction under cover. But even in winter, if the snow or the rain had stopped, they were
forced to drill on the parade-ground, lest the interruption of the routine might weaken both the spirits
and bodies of the soldiers."

251.Chester: Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed.? 40; Caerleon: Boon and
Williams, Plan of Caerleon: Discoveries to December 1966, 6; Tomen-y-mur: Gresham,
Archaeologia Cambrensis 93 (1 %8), 198.

252.Chester: Nash-Williams, The Roman Frontier in Wales, 2nd ed., 36; Caerleon: Boon and
Williams, Plan of Caerleon: Discoveries to Decem ber 1 966,s.

253.Wiedemann, Emperors and Gladiators, 45. It has been suggested that the remote Numidian
amphitheatres of Gemellae and Mesarfelta were in pari intended to display the power of Rome to
the local population by Jean Baradez in "Deux amphithtres indits du limes de Numidie:
Gemellae et MesarfeIta," Mlanges d'archoloeie. d'~iera~hieet d'histoire offerts J. Carco~ino
(Paris: Hachette, l966), 55-69, quoted in Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 155.

254.%alsdon, Life and Leisure, 250; Suetonius De vita Caesarum: D i v u Titw VII.3.

255.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 330-332.


256.Ibid., 332; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 266.

257.Wiedemann7 Em~erorsand Gladiators, 45; Georges Ville, La rrladiature, 2 1 1.

258.Golvin, L'Arn~hithtreromain, 266; Webster, The Roman Im~erialAnnv, 202,

259.Webster, The Roman lm~erialAnnv, 20 1-202.

262.Ville, La gladiature, 2 14. Ville terms these shows "munus de garnison."

263.Corpu.r Inscri~tionumLafinarum XIII.8639 in Wiedemann, Emoerors and Gladiators, 54.

264.Cor~usInscripiontm Latinanm VII. 1335.3 in ibid, 45; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299.

265.Friedlander, Roman Life and Manners, vol. 4, 1 7 1 - 172, 174.

266.Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299.

267.Boon, Isca, 138, note 35 1.

268.Ville, La dadiature, 5 1; Friedlander, Roman Life and Manners, vol. 2, 72.

269.Boon, Isca, 137, note 350.

27 1.The brief mention of their mawdom is made in Gildas De excidio et conquesfu Britanniae 1O
(trans. J. A. Giles in Six Old Enplish Chronicles, [London: George Bell and Sons, 189 11): "God,
therefore, who wishes al1 men to be saved, and who calls sinners no less than those who think
themselves righteous, magnified his mercy towards us, and, as we know, during the above-named
persecution, that Britain might not totally be enveloped in the dark shades of night, he, of his own
free gift, kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and of
martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered with and destroyed by the
barbarians, would have still kindled in the minds of the beholders no srnall fire of divine charity.
Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of Carlisle, and the rest, of both sexes,
who in different places stood their ground in the Christian contest." The passage from this fifth
century A.D. work unfortunately divulges neither the location nor the manner of the saints'
execution. It is the presence of chapels dedicated to the saints (founded perhaps as early as the ninth
century A.D.) in the area which has led to the identification of Caerleon as the possible site of their
death (Boon, Isca, 137, note 350).

273.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 349.


274.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,19 1 .

275.Thornpson, Archaeologia 105 (1 W6), 182.

276.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 ( 1 W8), 149, 153.

277.Todd, Roman Britain, 185.

278.Thompson, Archaeologia 105 ( 1 W6), 182.

279.Ibid

280Jbid.; Todd, Roman Britain, 235.

28 1 .Boon and Williams, Plan of Caerleon: Discoveries to Decem ber 1 966,3.

282.Wheeler and Wheeler, Archaeoloeia 28 ( I928), 1 5 1.

283 .Ibid.

284.Ibid
CHAPTER 2

URBAN AMPHITHEATRES

WhiIe the occupants of only three of Roman Britain's military bases enjoyed the luxury of

an arnphitheatre, at l e s t ten of the province's towns (communities exhibiting coordinated town

planning, ofken referred to as large or major towns) were provided with such an entertainment

facility. These towns included eight of the approximately fourteen known and postulated civitutes

(self-governing native districts) capitals:' Calleva Afrebatum (Silchester, Hampshire), Durnovaria

(Dorchester, Dorset), Noviornugtrs Regnensiunz (Chichester, Sussex), Corinium Dobunnontm

(C irencester, G loucestershire), Moridunum Dernetarum (Carmarthen, Carmarthensh ire, Wales),

Yenla Icenorum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk), Isurium Briganfium (Aldborough, North Yorkshire)

and Venta Silururn (Caerwent, Monmouthshire, South Wales). Londinium (London), the province's

financial and commercial centre and probable capital, and the prosperous port of Ruiupia

(Richborough, Kent) complete the list. In this chapter, the rernains of these urban civil

amphitheatres and their reconstmction wiIl be discussed, in order to understand the character of the

entertainment facilities at the disposal of the town inhabitant, the manner in which they differed

from Britain's military amphitheatres and the purposes which urban am phitheatres served.
Not al1 of the amphitheatres addressed in this chapter have been investigated to the same

degree, resulting therefore in varying amounts of information on each monument. The Sikhester

and Dorchester facilities have been thoroughly excavated, the former from 1979 to 1985 and the

latter frorn 1908 to 19 13. The Dorchester amphitheatre excavation results were not published until

1976.

The majority of British urban amphitheatres have undergone only partial excavation. This

group includes the amphitheatres of Chichester (excavated in 1935), Cirencester (exploratory section

in 1 848, excavations in 1962-1963 and 1966), Carmarthen (1 968, 1970), Caenvent ( 1901- 1903),

London (1988-present) and Richborough (1 849). Clear interim reports have been published for al1

but the Richborough arnphitheatre, whose excavations were related in a confused and consequently

largely unreliable account.

Two town amphitheatres have yet to be excavated, the Aldborough and Caistor St. Edmund

monuments, although the remains of the former had been surveyed and planned by 1930 while the

dimensions and basic plan of the latter structure have been established using aerial photographs

taken in 1977.

While their military counterparts were probably al1 erected toward the end of the first

century A.D., the construction of Britain's urban civil amphitheatres spanned the first three centuries

of the province's Roman occupation. Their appearance was usually contemporary with that of other

important town features and arnenities including street grids and public buildings such as fora,

barilicae and baths, hinting at the popularity and importance of amphitheatres and the amusements

staged in them in Romano-British urban life. As was done for other public works, wealthy local

aristocrats would have financed the construction of amphitheatres from their own pune.l
First Century Urban Amphitheatres

In the second half of the first century A.D., six of the ten currently known urban

amphitheatres were built. They were erected at Silchester, Dorchester, Chichester and Cirencester,

al1 of which towns were civifus capitals or on the verge of becoming so and were therefore

experiencing rapid urban development, and at the growing trading centres of London and

Richborough.

Silchester, a Romano-British t o m which experienced unusually early urban development,

may have been the fint to acquire such a facility. The town had begun as an important Iron Age

tribal centre belonging to the Atrebates. Incorporated in the client king Cogidubnus' realm afier the

Roman conquest, the centre had already begun to develop into a town in the Claudio-Neronian

period. In the 70fs, the client king Cogidubnus died, allowing the Romans to divide the kingdom

into three new civifafes, including that of the Afrebates. Silchester was made the capital of the

district of the Atrebates. A forum, basilica and bath-house were immediately constructed in the

town and a new grid of streets was laid out to replace a preceding street ~ y s t e m . ~

Silchester acquired its amphitheatre as it was undergoing the initial phases of its Roman-era

development. The monument's construction is broadly dated to the third quarter of the first century

A.D. by local and Roman pottery ofNeronian or possibly early Flavian character found beneath or

in the bottom layers of the seating banks.' Excavators consider that it was most probably built

during the reign of Nero (54-68).' if such is the case, its construction predates the constitution of

the civitas of the Afrebates,

The construction of Dorchester's amphitheatre may have been roughly contemporary or

followed very soon afierwards. The monument's date has not yet been firmly established6but it has

been suggested that it was built in the Claudio-Neronian period (A.D. 41-68).' It had been theorised

that the facility might have been erected by the garrison of a nearby fort founded immediately aller
the Roman invasion (AD.43) but it is now considered improbable that the amphitheatre was of

military originS8 It might have been associated with the small Roman-era settlement which had

developed on the site of Dorchester: before the capital of the civikxs of the Durotriges was founded

(in about A.D. 70).1 It is also possible that the amphitheatre was buiIt to serve the capital rather

than the preceding settlement, in which case it would have been constructed at the time of the

capital's foundation or later." Whatever the precise building date, it is clear that the amphitheatre

was built before the last quarter of the first century.

London, the most important trading centre and eventually the largest town of Roman Britain,

was provided with its arnphitheatre at perhaps the same time as was Dorchester. A precise building

date of A.D. 70 has been established for the facility by a tree-ring in a beam found in the eastern

portapompae." The amphitheatre's construction coincided with the growth experienced by London

following its sacking by Boudicca in A.D. 60. Many of the town's first buildings, scarcely a decade

old at the time of the sack, had been destroyed and were being rebuilt when the amphitheatre was

erected.I3 Moreover, the town was supplanting Colchester (Carnulodunum) as provincial capitalI4

and much of the wide-scale development taking place this time was brought on by the city's

increased importan~e.'~

Chichester, Cirencester and the port of Richborough (probable Ianding site of the Roman

army in A.D. 43) were provided with the last amphitheatres known to have been built in the first

century A.D. The town of Chichester had not long been in existence when its amphitheatre was

constructed. The centre had originated as a civilian settlement (vicus) associated with a Roman fort

founded immediately after the invasion, When the Roman army was withdrawn from the region in

the early Flavian period, the civitus of the Regnenses was created and Chichester was made the

district capital. The vicm subsequently undenvent three decades of urban development during which

time a Street grid was imposed on the site and aforum, busilica and bath built. It is evident that the
amphitheatre was bui lt during this campaign of public works. Numismatic and ceram ic evidence

indicates that it was erected between A.D. 70 and 90.16

The town of Cirencester, the capital of the civitm of the Dobunni, had also just begun to

develop when its amphitheatre was built. Like Chichester, the district capital at Cirencester had

been preceded by an early Roman fort and small civilian settlement. Upon the Roman military's

withdrawaI frorn the region in the mid 701s, the civitus of the Dobunni was created and the v i m

made its capital- This prompted an intense public works carnpaign and within two or three decades,

a regular grid plan had been imposed on the site of the vicus and fort and aforum, basilica. shops.

houses and the amphitheatre had been built." The amphitheatre was probably constructed towards

the end of the century and it presently appears that it was the Iast urban civil amphitheatre built in

the first c e n t ~ r y . ' ~

The construction of Richborough's amphitheatre, a largely unknown monument, appears to

have taken place shortly before that of Cirencester's monument. Formerly thought to have been

built in the third century A.D. and to have belonged to a contemporary Saxon Shore fort partly

founded on the port's town,I9 the Richborough structure is now considered to have been put up in

about A.D. 85 when remaining early Roman military installations were demolished and the nearby

The amphitheatre was constructed as the developing


civilian settlernent undenvent impro~ements.~~

town's streets were being resurfaced and new shops, workshops, outlying temples and a triumphal

monument (the quadrrj50ns) marking the completed conquest of the province by the governor

Gnaeus Julius Agricola in 84 were being buik2'

Al1 of the flrst century urban civil amphitheatres were built outside the town centres, just

as their military counterparts were sited outside fort rarnparts. Their large dimensions prohibited

them f r ~ mbeing constructed within the main planned area of the towns, requiring them instead to

be located on the outskirts and to be excluded when walls were thrown around the towns in the
second and third centuries A.D." The monuments were in al1 cases Iocated less than a kilometre

from their towns: Silchester and Dorchester possessed the least and most distant amphitheatres

respectively (70 m northeast of the fortifications and 800 m outside the south gate); the

amphitheatres of Chichester, Cirencester and Richborough al1 lay 300 to 550 m outside the t o w n ~ . ~

London, whose amphitheatre was found to lie within the Roman city walls constitutes an

e~ception.~'At the time of its construction (A.D. 70), the amphitheatre lay, as did its first century

counterparts, on the city's o u t s k i r t ~ .A~ Roman fort known as the Cripplegate Fort was founded in

about A.D. 100 at a distance of 30 m to the northwest of the amusement facility." When the city

fortifications were constructed at the.end of the second century A.D., dense habitation required that

the northwest sector, in which the amphitheatre lay, be enclosed within the defences."

AI1 six fint century urban amphitheatres were, like the province's military amphitheatres,

inexpensively constructed buildings. They were Type I structures, meaning that their auditoria were

either constructed of heaped fiIl, often obtained from the excavation of the arena, or formed out of

natural or pre-existing artificial land feaures. The majority of these earIy urban arnphitheatres (the

Silchester, Dorchester, Chichester and Cirencester monuments) were specifically Type Ia structures,

like Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre.'%eir seating embankments were continuous and not divided

into sections by radial walls. The Richborough amphitheatre may have belonged to the Type Ib

structure category, which includes the Stone and earth legionary amphitheatres of Chester and

Caerleon, as it exhibits signs of having had entrances leading into the arena on the short axis.

Timber was the primary material used, other than earth fill, to construct the early

amphitheatres. The facilities at Silchester and Dorchester were built entirely of timber and earth

while those of London and Cirencester were probably almost completely constructed in iimber and

earth. Stone was much less commonly employed in the first century and was used to construct the

arena and passage walls of only two buildings, the Chichester and Richborough amphitheatres.
The monuments were buiIt, where possible, on terrain which would allow them to be easily

and inexpensively constructed. Sloping ground, natural depressions and even pre-existing man-

made features were selected by resourceful builders as building locales. Sloping ground was chosen

for the Silchester and Chichester amphitheatres and their arenas were excavated (to a depth of 2.1

m and 1.20 m respectively) to provide fill, mostly grave1 in both cases, for the embankments. The

incline (which fell west-east) proved to be especially advantageous at Silchester, contributing much

of the required height to the West seating bank.2g The spoil obtained from the excavation of the

arenas of the Silchester and Chichester monuments was supplemented with fiIl derived from other

locations: at Silchester, the east seating bank was topped off with soi1 removed perhaps from the

site of a hollow to the east of the amphitheatre whiIe both embankrnents of Chichester's amphitheatre

received additional fiIl probably obtained from the sites of shallow depressions on the northwest and

southeast sides of the

The builders of London's amphitheatre took advantage of a natural depression, originally

a shallow Stream valley. They hollowed the arena out of the valley bottom to an unspecified depth,

disposing the spoil around it to construct seating embankments.''

The designers of the Dorchester and C irencester amphitheatres avaiied themselves of pre-

existing artificial features, a Neolithic henge and a Stone quarry respectively, to form the basic

structure of the amphitheatres. The Neolithic henge, a chalk-cut monument known as Maumbury

Rings, offered the builden of Dorchester's facility an area enclosed by a roughly circuiar earthwork

pierced by a single entrance to the north? It was converted into an amphitheatre by excavating the

arena from the chalk floor of the enclosure to a depth of 3.0 rn, annihilating an interna1 ditch and

dozens of Neolithic shafts, and by dumping the chalk rubble thus obtained on the Neolithic b a ~ ~ k . ~ ~
At Cirencester, a quarry floor was re-utilised as the amphitheatre's arena; the quarry's walls

were employed as the backing of the inner (arena) slope of the limestone rubble and turf seating

em ban kments.''

There is little information on the nature of the Richborough amphitheatre's site. However,

it may be that the monument's builders also chose to place it where there was advantage to be drawn

from the topography. It is evident from a site map that the southeastcrn portion of the arnphitheatre's

auditorium was constructed on a mound-like feature," perhaps a pre-exiting feature re-used to

provide height to the seating bank.

Britain's first century urban amphitheatres are variousIy oriented. Silchester, Dorchester and

Chichester's monuments lie on an approximately north-south orientation as do their roughly

contemporary military counterparts and those of Cirencester, London and Richborough lie on an

almost or actual east-west a l i g n m e n ~The


~ ~ orientation of an amphitheatre was generally dictated

by the terrain on which it was buiIt, a principle which is evident in the Silchester and Chichester

amphitheatres, whose long axes are perpendicular to the fa11 of the ground, and at Dorchester and

London, where the amphitheatres' orientation was determined by recycied henge and the natural

depression utiiised to create the structure of the respective buildings. The orientation of

Cirencester's amphitheatre, conversely, parallels that of the town's Street grid," a rare occurrence.

First century amphitheatres varied greatly with respect to their overall dimensions although

they c m al1 be considered either small or medium-sized monuments. The small amphitheatres are

those of Silchester (about 90 by 75 m overall with an arena of 43 by 42.2 m) and Richborough (80

by 66.4 m overall with an arena 60 by 49.8 m) (figs. IO and 1 I).38The facilities at Dorchester (1 03.5

by 100 m overall with an arena of 58.8 by 52.8 m), Chichester (perhaps 120 by 100 m overall with

an arena 55.5 by 45 m), Cirencester (1 09 by 1O 1 m overall with an arena of 49 by 4 1 m) and London

(?IO2 by 84 m overall with an arena of 62 by 44 m) can be considered almost or actual medium-


sized amphitheatres and exceed in overall size the legionary amphitheatres of Caerleon and Chester

(figs. 12, 13, 14 and 15 respe~tively).'~

As the total dimensions demonstrate, Dorchester's amphitheatre was of an anornaious shape.

Rather than being elliptical, as was typical of amphitheatres, Dorchester's monument was alrnost

perfectly round on its exterior perimeter, the result of the Neolithic earthwork's original shape." The

amphitheatre's buitders partially compensated for this however by hollowing out the arena on a

roughly oval plan?

Silchester's facility was also somewhat irregular in layout, possessing in its initial, first

century phase (Silchester 1), a nearly circular arena. The reason for this unconventional design is

not known though it is clear from subsequent efforts to convert the arena's circular shape to an

eiliptical one that its initial shape was not desirable. Tliough rare, other exarnples of roughly round

arenas can be cited and include the first century A.D. arnphitheatres of Juliobona (Lillebonne) in

Gaul and Lucus Feroniae in M y , the second century amphitheatres at Frilford in South Oxfordshire

and at Micia and the second or third century A.D. amphitheatre at Ptolemais in Egypt."

Features of First Century Urban Amphitheatres


Britain's early urban amphitheatres were simple in design and possessed, in most cases, only

the most essential features. These features, bath those intended to serve the contestants and staging

shows (arenas, service chambers or shrines and access to the arenas) and those intended for use by

the spectators (seating, circulation routes within the buildings) wilI now be examined.

It has already been stated that their arenas usually lay below ground level. Gravel, the arena

flooring material in the Chichester, Dorchester and London amphitheatres, appears to have been the

surfacing material commonIy used."


Drainage arrangements resem bl ing those of Caerleon and Chestefs am phitheatres. a typical

feature of arnphitheatres do not appear to have been common in fim century urban arenas although

some of these buildings may have had drainage provisions of some sort. The arena of Dorchester's

facility appears to have been equipped with a shallow axial gully which survives partially in front

of the building's north porta pompae.4 The Chichester and C irencester arenas appear to have been

entirely devoid of drainage provisions. Arena drainage arrangements also seem to have been absent

from the Silchester amphitheatre although a drain, lined and roofed with timber and filled with

mbble (rumble drain), in the north main entrance of the building would probably have discharged

water from the arena to the falling ground outside the building?

First century arenas do not appear to have been provided with either subterranean features

(carceres or basins), such as were commonly built in some continental amphitheatres, or other

central features like the conjectured timber platform located in the arena of Chester's amphitheatre.

As was typical of amphitheatres, Britain's early arenas were surrounded by walls. These

acted as both barrien and as retaining walls for the earth banks constituting the caveae. Timber

appears to have been the preferred building material and is known or is conjectured to have been

used for the arena walls of Silchester, Dorchester, London and Cirencester's facilities.

The arena walls of London and Cirencester's amphitheatres have not left traces but are

nevertheless considered to have been made of timber on the basis of the presence of post-holes or

traces of timber in main entrance passages? In both the Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres,

however, vestiges of the arena revetment walls of the buildings' initial phase survived in the forrn

of post-holes and imprints and have provided enough information to reconstruct them and to reveal

that they were of similar construction. It is not implausible that the first phase arena walls of

London and Cirencestef s amphitheatres were of analogous construction.


At SiIchester, excavations at the arnphitheatre's northern and southern poriae pompae as well

as in six other areas on the perimeter of the arena have revealed deep post pits (0.5- 1.1 rn deep) at

1.25 to 1.60 m intervals, sorne containing partially preserved timber posts. It was possible to deduce

from the better preserved posts that the uprights which would have supported the arena wall

measured between 0.22 and 0.26 m square. These posts, estimated to have numbered 1 10 to 120,

wouId have been linked by horizontal boards, one of which left a shallow imprint in the earth

embankment face forming a wall of the north entrance passage."

It is conjectured that the Silchester amphitheatre's initial timber arena wall, estimated to

have been about 3.5 to 4.0 m high, required struts anchored in the ground sudace at the rear to

counteract pressure from the earth bank (fig. 16):' The strut arrangement may well have been

similar to that effected when the arnphitheatre was rebuilt in Stone in the early third century A.D.

(Phase III). To accommodate stnits, which are attested by four well or partially preserved bearn

slots, the builders responsible for the Phase III refurbishment cut a 2.2 m wide and 2.1 m deep trench

into the inner face of the ernbankments, concentric with the edge of the arena and irnmediately

behind the arena waI1; they inserted the 1.5 m long struts, tied them at right angles to the rear of the

arena wall and then buried them.J9

The arena wall of Silchester's first timber amphitheatre would have been surmounted by a

timber balteus screening the lowest tier of seating which would probably have stood 3.2 m above

the arena floor (fig. 16)."

While the Silchester amphitheatre's arena was ringed by a single wall, that of Dorchester's

amphitheatre was actually surrounded by two concentric timber walls, an outer wall which sewed

to revet the chalk face exposed by the Iowering of the arena and to support the rubble bank forming

the auditorium and an inner wall which demarcated the arena. This arrangement, which is
unparallelled among Britain's arnphitheatres, is attested by the presence of two post trenches 0.6 1

to 0.91 rn apart containing deep post-holes.w

The outer (revetment waII) trench was composed of straight segments and had housed an

assortment of round and square posts, which ranged generally between 0.12 and 0.30 m in diameter

or in cross-section and lay about 0.91 m apart. The trench was packed with chalk rubble. The

arrangement of the uprights in straight segments suggests that the posts of each section were

connected by long horizontal tie beams. The resulting fmework of posts and beams, which would

have had to be at least 4.6 m high to reach beyond the top of the chalk face, appears to have been

sheathed with vertical planking (not horizontal as in Silchester's fint amphitheatre), the 0.10 m wide

indentations of which were presewed in the packing of a western portion of the outer trench."

Although the estimated 225 vertical rnembers of the outer wall were lodged in very deep

post holes (typically 0.67 to 0.76 rn deep), the wall required bolstering in at least three locations.

To this end, additional posts were inserted between the main uprights in the three weak areas while

a 2.4 m wide trench, reminiscent of that dug behind the arena wall of Silchester's amphitheatre in

the third century, was dug into the banks immediately to the rear of the revetment wall, exposing the

surface of the natural chalk beneath the banks. Long thick braces (typically over 2.0 m long and

0.30 m in diameter) were lodged in shallow slots in the natural chalk surface and were attached to

the rear of reinforced wall sections. The beam slots survived and were found to extend towards the

embankments and terminate in large post-holes, indicating that the beams originally would have

been pinned down with posts; it is probable that they would have been buried (fig. 17). It is

conjectured that the posts pinning the struts might have helped to retain a timber structure of some

sort, perhaps apodium (fig. 17).53

The inner wall enclosing the arena of Dorchester's amphitheatre is a somewhat

misunderstood and poorly presewed feature. No other British amphitheatre is presently known to
have had such an arrangement. The post-holes in the wall trench revealed that this inner palisade was

made up of deeply sunk circular and square posts disposed at approximately 1.5 m intervals in

straight stretches. It appears that many of the posts were replaced at least once by simiiar timbers

during the building's operation?'

Richard Bradley, the author of a report on the amphitheatre's excavations, considers it

unlikely that the inner wall's purpose was to support a podium, as did the double timber wall

surrounding the arena of the Verera military amphitheatre, because its posts were not aligned with

those forming the outer wall." He points out, moreover, that it would probably not have been

possible to replace the posts of the inner palisade, had it supported apodium. Bradley suggests that

the inner wall may instead have been a safety b a ~ i e r . ' ~It is known that barriers, which consisted

of posts bearing netting, grilles or palisades, were placed in front of the arena wall in some

amphitheatres to act as an obstacle to particularly agile anirnals; their traces have been found in the

amphitheatres of Lyon and Syracuse and in Rome's Colosseum."

Bradley also conjectures that the 0.6 1 to 0.9 1 m wide space enclosed by the inner wall would

have served as a service corridor as it was accessible through breaks between the arena wall and

inner palisade at the north portapompae (fig. l2)? No other British arnphitheatre shows evidence

of having had anything resembling this arrangement but some continental amphitheatres do, the

closest parallel being the first century A.D. timber military amphitheatre at Vetera." The arena of

the Vetera facility was ringed by two concentric walls of posts sunk in continuous trenches which

enclosed a 2.5 m wide ~orridor.~'

As indicated above, the use of stone was unusual in the early urban amphitheatres although

not unknown. This material was employed for the arena walls of the Chichester and Richborough

monuments. The Chichester amphitheatre's 1.20 m thick arena wall consisted of roughly dressed

flint nodules set in rnortar (opus incertum) on deep foundations 1.35 m wide white that of its
Richborough counterpac which was 1.05 rn thick, was also built Iargely of flint, mixed with chalk.

The height of neither amphitheatre's arena wall has been established but it is certain that the exposed

face of both walls had been plastered. At Richborough's facility, the plaster was a thick coat of

coarse mortar while at Chichester's amphitheatre the plaster, which survived as fragments scattered

in the arena, consisted of rough plaster Iaced with brick fragments and painted several bright colours

mottled and streaked with white, a scheme reminiscent of the plastering on Chester II's arena ~ a 1 1 . ~ '

It will be recaIled that arnphitheatres were often furnished with service chambers placed

directly behind the arena wall. Such chambers have been found at each end of the short axis of two

of the first century urban amphitheatres, those at Silchester and Dorchester. They were accessible

onIy from the arena, not from the buildings' exterior as were the short axis chambers of the Caerleon

amphitheatre and Chester's second amphitheatre, and are therefore conjectured to have served as

something other than beast p e n ~ Their


. ~ ~ possible functions, discussed briefly below, may bear on

the nature of the shows staged in the early amphitheatres of British towns.

The h o chambers of Silchester's arnphitheatre are attested as roughly rectangular 3.0 long

and 3.0 m wide post-hole outlines at the east and West end of the building's short a.xis, beneath the

walls and floors of the third century masonry ~ h a r n b e r s . The


~ ~ lack of exterior access to these

alcoves would have made the incarceration and reIease of animals dificult and implies that they may

have served as shrines or perfomers' waiting rooms and temporary storage rooms."

In Dorchester's amphitheatre, the two short axis chambers, hollowed out of the chalk face

surrounding the arena at each end of the short axis by the builders who converted the henge,

survived in much better condition than the Silchester amphitheatre's alcoves (fig. 12). Both short

axis recesses were larger than their Silchester equivalents, measuring over 3.0 rn in length and

narrowing in width from roughly 6.0 m at the rear to 4.0 m at the front. Trenches tenninating in

large deep post-holes, interpreted as having been the trenches oftimber walls lining the sides of the
recesses, were found at the foot of the chambers' side walls while a row of four post-holes was

discerned crossing the width of the west chamber. One of the east alcove's side walls and both of

of the West alcove's side walls featured chaik-cut niches. The absence of an additional entrance at

the rear of each chamber is considered to preclude their use as carceres. A cult purpose is

considered more likely for the chambers, whose position and niches are reminiscent of the short axis

shrines of the Senlis amphitheatre. The Dorchester amphitheatre chambers may also have served

as waiting rooms or changing rooms?

Dorchester's amphitheatre also possessed, unlike its provincial counterparts, a third chamber

which lay at the southern end of the building's long axis, on the location of what shouId have been

and later became the building's southern porta pompae (fig. 12). Its attributes and purpose are

unknown although it is clear from the room's chalk floor, which was overlain by the later entrance

ramp, that it was rectangular in plan and measured 4.3 m in length and 6.7 m in width.'j6

Portae pompae, a typical feature of amphitheatres, constituted the only means of access

from the exterior to the arena in most of Britain's early urban amphitheatres, the sole known

exception being Richborough's amphitheatre which appears also to have possessed short mis

entrances. The excavated portae pornpae at Silchester, Dorchester, London and Cirencestefs

monuments demonstrate that the main entrances usually consisted of long unroofed ramps lined with

retaining walls. Large post-holes and post remains indicate that the walls lining the entrances of

Silchester and London's amphitheatres were of timber while those of Cirencester's first amphitheatre

consisted of drystone walling, which was partially preserved, probably bolstered with timbeP7 The

entrances of Dorchester's amphitheatre are exceptional in this respect as they appear to have been

devoid of walls screening the exposed chalk banks." Entrance passages were wide (3.4 to 3.6 m at

Silchester, 4.3 m at Dorchester and 4.6 m at Cirencester) and would probably, judging from the large

post-holes and shallow dots found on the line of the arena wall in the Silchester amphitheatre and
on the line of the safety barrier in the Dorchester amphitheatre, have been provided with gates

framed by large doorposts and thresholds at the arena ~ p e n i n g . ~ ~

Although amphitheatres were typically provided with aporrapompoe at each end of the long

axis," Dorchestefs amphitheatre only possessed one such entrance during its initial phase. It lay

at the north end of the monument's long axis, on the location of a pre-existing gap in the Neolithic

earthwork (flg. t 2). This unorthodox though not unparalleled design characteristic (the late first

century A.D. civil amphitheatre ofAvenricum in Upper Genany was also fumished with a single

portapompae) was subsequently rectitled with the replacement of the chamber at the south end of

the long axis by a second porta pompae (fig. l2)."

Richborough's amphitheatre is the only fint century urban amphitheatre known to have had

subsidiary entrances communicating with the arena in addition to the main entrances. They were

located at each end of the short axis (oriented north-south), as were similar entrances in the

province's stone legionary amphitheatres. While the south subsidiary entrance is imperfectly known,

that at the north end of the axis was found to have consisted of a 2.7 m wide rarnp flanked by stone

walls, terminating at 1.8 m wide opening into the arena?

The arena of each urban amphitheatre was overlooked by banks of fiil which would have

carried the seating. Although al1 the embankments of al1 the urban amphitheatres were retained at

the front by an arena wall, they appear to have lacked. with one exception, rear walls (a feature of

both the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres)? The absence of rear walls was not unusual in Type

I amphitheatres and notable examples include the military amphitheatre of Vetera, the first phase

(second century A.D.) of the civil amphitheatre of Colonia Ulpia Traiana (Xanten) and the second

century mil itary amphitheatre at Micia in D c ~ c i a . ~ ~


The oniy early urban amphitheatre provided with a rear retaining wall of sorts was that of

Silchester. The wall however was merely a turf rampart reinforced by a heap of soi1 against its

external face. This mound of earth helped preserve the rarnpart to a height of about 2.0 rn (fig. 16).75

The cmeae of Britain's first century urban amphitheatres were of variable dimensions. The

banks of the Cirencester, Dorchester and London amphitheatres were the widest, rneasuring

respectively roughly 30 m, 22.5 m and 20 m? The Silchester amphitheatre was provided with 14

m wide banks which narrowed to 10.5 m at the entrancesn while Richborough's amphitheatre

appears to have possessed, judging from the monument's overall and arena dimensions, banks of

about 10 rn in width. The original height of the seating banks of most of the monuments is not

known, though the surviving elevation of the banks of the Silchester, Dorchester and Cirencester

amphitheatres (6.57 m, 9 m and 7.5 m respectively) demonstrates they would al1 have been built up

to a height of several metres to provide a clear view of the arena?

The apparent lack of a rear revetment wall at the Dorchester, Chichester, Cirencester,

London and Richborough amphitheatres signifies that only the inward slope of the banks, not their

full width as in the Caerleon and Chester arnphitheatres, could have been utilised to support

~eating.'~The Silchester amphitheatre's turf rampart may have allowed the full width of the

building's seating banks to be devoted to seating a~rangements.~'

It is postulated that the seating arrangements of the first town amphitheatres would generally

have been constmcted of timber, like those of the province's legionary amphitheatres, although not

al1 monuments have yielded supporting evidence, owing to poor preservation or insuficient

exca~ation.~'
Physical evidence for seating includes large quantities of iron nails recovered from

the embankment fil1 which had accumulated in the Chichester arnphitheatre's arena8' and shallow

terraces on the initial surface of the Silchester amphitheatre's seating embankments.


Seven shallow eroded terraces, rising at an angle of 15 to 17 degrees and varying in height

from 0.06 to 0.15 m and in width from 0.55 to 1.1 m, have been distinguished on the inward siope

of the Silchester amphitheatre's banks (fig. 16, profile of tenaces indicated by dotted lines).

Although only seven have survived, the earth banks would have been wide enough to accommodate

twelve terraces 1.1 rn wide, the lowest resting immediately behind the arena wall at a height of

about 3.2 m above the arena, the highest positioned at a height of about 6.57 m (the surviving height

of the original seating bank). It is conjectured that the surface of each terrace would have been

covered with gravel and that each riser would have been retained by a timber or wattle revetment.

This conclusion has been drawn from the discovery of shallow gravel deposits at the foot of each

terrace, assumed to be remnants of the terrace surfacing dislodged upon the rernovaI of the terrace

revetments perhaps during subsequent building reno~ations.'~

The angle of the initial Silchester amphitheatre's seating arrangements is unusually shallow

for amphitheatre seating and is said by the monument's excavators to recall the angle of the standing

platforms in modem soccer stadia. n e excavators have proposed that the cavea of Silchester 1 rnay

have been designed to accommodate standing spectators rather than seated spectators. The width

of the tenaces would have been sufficient to allow for two rows of people to stand on each t e r r a ~ e . ~

It may be that other first century urban amphitheatres were furnished with a terraced

auditorium. This type of arrangement appears to have been a common feature of urban

amphitheatres in the second century A.D.: Silchester's arnphitheatre was refurbished during the

century and retained terraces; the Cirencester amphitheatre also underwent alterations which

included the construction of platforms, possibly intended to accommodate standing spectators, on

its embankments; finally, a new amphitheatre with a terraced ccrveu, also perhaps meant for a

standing audience, was built at C a n ~ a r t h e n . ~ ~


There is almost no evidence bearing on the assignation of seating in Britain's early urban

amphitheatres and what pertinent information there is cornes from the short a ~ i chambers
s of

Dorchestets monument. This evidence consists of the traces of timber side walls or screens found

at the foot of the side walls and in the floor of the short axis chambers. It is theorized that the posts

of the timber screens and the posts planted in the middle of each chamber would have supported a

a i b d on the level of the lowest tier of seating, fiom which Dorchestets Ieading magistrates could

have watched the spectacle^.'^ It is possible that tribunolia may have been present in other early

town amphitheatres, for example above the short axis chambers of Silchester's facility.

The manner in which spectators reached their seats in the early town amphitheatres has not

been firmly established. Evidence of interna1 means of access to seating areas such as were found

in the stone legionary amphitheatres of Caerleon and Chester has been recovered neither in the

thoroughly exarnined amphitheatres of Silchester and Dorchester nor in their lesser known

counterparts. The presence of heaped soi1 against the exterior face of the Sikhester amphitheatre's

rear turf walI has generated speculation that this f i I I may not only have bolstered the turf rampart

but may also have carried ramps ascending to the back of the ca~ea.~'
The apparent lack of intemal

access to seating in Dorchester's amphitheatre has also prompted the conclusion that spectators

reached thsir places from the rear of the embankment."

Although seating estimates have not been made for most of the early town amphitheatres,

it seems clear from the estimated holding capacity of Silchester's first am ph itheatre (7250 standing

spectators or 3640 seated people), one of the smaller early British urban amphitheatres, that most

would probably have been able to accommodate audiences of severaI thousand.


Second Century Urban Amphitheatres

Although the second century witnessed the demise of Dorchester and Chichester's

monuments before its close, there are indications of abiding and perhaps even heightened interest

in amphitheatres in British toms, now nearing an unprecedented peak in prosperity." This interest

is manifested in two ways. Firstly, al1 of the better known first century amphitheatres (those at

Silchester, Dorchester, London and Cirencester) exhibit signs of at least one partial or extensive

rebuilding. Of the remodelled buildings, the London and Cirencester amphitheatres undenvent the

complete replacement of tirnber structural elements with stone (Cirencester's arnphitheatre was

actually rebuilt twice in stone in the second century) while those of Silchester and Dorchester were

partially rebuilt in timber and underwent design im provements.

Secondly, construction of at least one new and perhaps three amphitheatres was undertaken.

The amphitheatre whose construction is firmly attributable to the second century, thanks to a datable

pottery sherd found in the fil1 of a seating bank, is that at Cannarthen, a town which was emerging

at this tirne as the capital of the newiy created civiias of the Demetae?" It is postuiated that the

amphitheatre located outside Aldborough, a settlement which ernerged as capital after the creation

of the civifas of the Brigantes early in the second century, was also erected during this p e r i ~ d . ~ '

Finally, the third amphitheatre which rnay weIl have been built in the second century is that

belonging to the district capital at Caistor St. Edm~nd.~'

The first arnphitheatre to be converted from a timber and earth structure to one of stone and

earth was that at Cirencester, closely followed by the rebuilding of London's facility. A denariur

of Trajan in circulation in A.D. 104 recovered from the seating embankment provides an early

second century date for the former building's remodelling (Period II) while that of the latter is

thought to have occurred in about A.D. 120." In both buildings, the arena wall and entrance passage
walls were completely rebuilt in masonry and new features, which will be discussed in detail below,

were added.

The Cirencester am phitheatre's Period II arena and passage walls survived the equal ly

extensive late second century stone rebuilding (Period III) only as footingsg4but the new walls of

London's amphitheatre were sufficiently preserved to demonstrate that these were constructed of

stone and brick and would have been 3.6 to 4.2 m high?'

The remodelling of the Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres entailed repairs and the

regularisation of their anomalous layout rather than a complete reconstruction in more durable

building materials- Renovations appear to have been conducted first at the Dorchester amphitheatre.

They were undertaken to repair erosion damage in the north main entrance and to the arena wall and

safety barrier. Such a large quantity of debris had washed down from the chalk banks in the northern

entrance following the conversion of the henge into an amphitheatre that the passage's width had

to be reduced and new side revetment walls, whose traces survived as two rows of square post-holes,

built. Repeated episodes of erosion, probably contemporary with the damage incurred by the north

entrance, necessitated several recuttings of the trenches of both the arena revetment wall and of the

safety screen in some sectors and the insertion of new posts.%

The repairs perfonned on the Dorchester amphitheatre culrninated in the construction of the

southem main entrance, dated potentially to the early part of the second century by a coin of Hadrian

and a contemporary brooch in the entrance's bottom filling. The new entrance, which now rendered

the amphitheatre's plan orthodox, consisted of a 15 m long steeply inclined passage widening from

3.0 m at its outer end to 6.7 m at the arena and seemingly lacked both side revetment walls and a

gate."

The remodelling of the Sikhester amphitheatre (Silchester II) was undertaken several

decades later, taking place perhaps in the middle of the century, and may have been prompted by
the decay of the now roughly one hundred year old arena wall t i m b e r ~ .Whatever
~~ the cause of the

renovating, builden converted the arena's circular plan into a more typical roughly elliptical shape

by cutting back the seating banks and the underlying natural ground to Iengthen the long axis and

by building a new stretch of arena wall in front of the old arena wall at each extremity of the short

ais.* The exposed earth face on either side of the north porrapompae was screened by a new arena

wall which consisted, like the new sections on the short axis, of small (generally less than half the

size of the building's Phase 1 uprights) closely set posts driven deeply in a trench and which may

have been anchored with struts penetrating the seating bank at its rear.Im Although no supporting

evidence survived the third century stone rebuilding of the Sikhester amphitheatre, it is believed that

the uprights constituting the new segments of the arena wall would have been connected to each

other with horizontal braces, not planking, and that the space between the old and new arena walls

on the short a i s would have been filled with ~ o i l . ' ~ '

Less extensive alterations were also made to the Silchester amphitheatre's entrances and

seating bank and entailed the narrowing of the nonh entrance's arena gate to 1.2 m and the cutting

of a new open drainage channel (not a rumble drain as in the previous phase) in the passage, the

replacement of the south entrance's gate posts and the heightening of the seating banks.'02

While the Silchester, Dorchester, London and Cirencester amphitheatres were being

refurbished, those of Carmarthen (fig. 18). Aldborough (fig. 19) and Caistor St. Edmund (fig. 20)

were presumably being constructed or about to be so. The amphitheatres of this new generation

were, like the urban facilities erected in the previous century, economically built Type 1 structures.103

The builders of Carmarthen's monument were especially able to minimize labour and expense by

situating it on a hillside, cutting a semi-circular hollow to forrn its northern seating bank and using

the fiIl thus extracted to compose the now badly eroded southern bank.lM Investigation of the

Carmarthen amphitheatre's northem seating bank has revealed no rear retaining wall which may
imply, when what is know about the Chichester, Cirencester and Dorchester facilities is taken into

consideration, that second century amphitheatres were just as modest as their first century

counterparts and Iacked external wal 1s.

Like the majority of the urban amphitheatres built during the first century, those erected

during the second century were located on the outskirts of their respective towns and were left

outside the defences.lo5 Carmarthen's monument was built only 150 m east of the presumed position

of the town wall's east gate, Caistor St. Edmund's amphitheatre lay 250 m south of town's

fortifications.'" Their orientation varied: Carmarthen's monument lay on a roughly northeast-

southwest orientation dictated by the contour of its hillside location; the amphitheatres of

Aldborough and Caistor St. Edmund were oriented roughly east-west and north-south respe~tively.'~'

The overall and arena dimensions of the second century amphitheatres are comparable with

those of their civil predecessors and of the province's military amphitheatres. The visible remains

of Aldborough's arnphitheatre, the largest of this second generation of urban amphitheatres, are of

dimensions roughly equal to those of Dorchester's amphitheatre. The Carmarthen and Caistor St.

Edmund monuments are of much less imposing dimensions, measuring respectively about 9 1 by 67

m (roughly the size of the Silchester amphitheatre) and 58 by 52 m. The arena of Aldborough's

arnphitheatre closely matched that of Dorchester's monument in both shape and dimensions while

that of Carmarthen's amphitheatre was an elliptical space rneasuring 50 by 30 m; the Caistor St.

Edmund amphitheatre was furnished with a slightly more though not unusually rounded arena

measuring 38 by 32 m on its axes.'08

Features of Second Century Urban Amphitheatres


The excavations conducted at the Silchester, Dorchester, London, Cirencester and

Carmarthen amphitheatres have yielded information on the features which performen and spectators
would have found in urban amphitheatres in use during the second century A.D., including their

arenas, possible beast pens or shrines, seating arrangements and entrantes. These will now be

exam ined.

The arenas of second century urban amphitheatres do not appear to have differed rnarkedly

from those of the first century amphitheatres. The only significant difference is the presence of

complex drainage arrangements in the Carmarthen arena and of an even more sophisticated

arrangement in the refurbished London arena. The arena of Carmarthen's amphitheatre, the only

urban amphitheatre erected in the second century to have as yet been excavated, was found to have

had a floor covered with coarse sand and to have been ringed by a shallow 0.35 m wide euripus; it

was enclosed by a 1.30 m thick revetment wali constructed of stone (like the arena walls of the

Chichester, Cirencester and London amphitheatres) on a clay and pebble foundation. The eriripus

was not however connected to an axial drain, as was that of the contemporary phase of London's

amphitheatre, but constituted an element of a drainage system which included a rubble-filled drain,

intended to carry water frorn the hillside, descending the surface of the northern seating embankment

and terminating beneath the arena fioor. Additional drainage was provided by a rubble drain,

identical to that on the hillside, located directly beneath the arena wall and found to traverse the

arena opening of the east porta p ~ m p a e . ' ~

During its rebuilding, the London amphitheatre was provided not only with a euripus but

also an axial drain which channelled water into a nearby Stream. Both the euripus and the axial

drain were cfear (not filled with rubble or sand) and lined and roofed with timber (found in excellent

condition). The arrangement was made far more sophisticated than the similar arena drainage

system of the second phase of the Chester arnphitheatre by the presence of a large easily accessible

silt trap consisting of a timber-lined tank on the course of the axial drain.'"
Arena wall decoration appears to have been uncommon in town amphitheatres in use during

the second century. The only signs of such ornamentation were found in association with the late

second century masonry arena wall of Cirencestef s amphitheatre and revealed that it was covered

with a thick coat of soft pink mortar painted in the same manner as the plaster on the arena wall of

the Chichester arnphitheatre."'

The lack of service corridors in al1 the excavated examples of urban amphitheatres

functioning in the second century, with the possible exception of Dorchester's facility, appears to

have been offset in several buildings by chambers opening ont0 the arena. These chambers were

of two types, the first being recesses located at each end of an amphitheatre's short axis and the

second being rooms fianking a principal gateway into the arena.

Chambers of the first type are known to have been a feature of the Silchester and Dorchester

arnphitheatres in their previous phase and are thought to have been used during the second century

although the use of those in Dorchester's arnphitheatre appean to have ceased before the mid-second

century abandonment of the amphitheatre."' Evidence frorn the western short axis chamber of

Silchester's amphitheatre suggests that the chambers were probably not affected by the alterations

carried out in the building: access was provided by gaps in the new timber wall and the rooms

appear to have remained unaltered until their wall posts were pulled up when the building's third

century reconstruction in Stone took place."'

Chambers abutting a porta p o m p e are represented in three amphitheatres, those of

Silchester, London and Cirencester. A single chamber, possibly built into the bank appears to have

been inserted on the east side of the Silchester amphitheatre's south arena gateway when the gate

posts were replaced.'" It is now attested only by a 0.70 m gap between the east gate post and the

arena wall which could have accornmodated a small door providing access to the arena beside the

double-leaved gate of the porta pon~pae."~ Although its purpose remains a mystery, the
amphitheatre's excavator supposes that it rnay have served as a beast pen as did similarIy placed and

designed chambers in continental and African amphitheatres.Il6

The vestiges of the pair of chambers framing the east arena gateway of the London

amphitheatre, constructed during the stone remodelling of the building, are better preserved and

reveal that the rooms were rectangular, possessed doorways onto the arena and that they rnay have

served divergent functions. The northem chamber rnay have been a changing room or even a shrine,

like the room located to the West of the north main entrance of Chester's amphitheatre, while its

south counterpart, whose stone threshold is marked by grooves evocative of a sliding door, rnay have

been an animal pen."'

The Cirencester amphitheatre was also furnished with a pair of small chambers, which

closely resembled those of London's amphitheatre, flanking the arena erid of the northeast porta

pompae during its later second century rnasonry rebuilding. One was accessible so1ely from the

arena and consequently rnay have served as a shrine while the other couId be entered from both the

arena and the entrance passage and rnay therefore have been an animal cage."'

It appears that in the majority of the British urban amphitheatres in use in the second century

portae pompae continued to constitute the only rneans of access to the arena. Richborough's

amphitheatre is known to have had short axis entrances. A second exception rnay be the

amphitheatre of London, on whose site a nanow lane Iocated roughly on the southern portion of the

building's short axis and providing access to the space forrnerly constituting the arena is considered

indicative of a break in the seating embankment perhaps vestigial of a short axis arena entrance (fig.

15, lane on the west side of St. Lawrence Jewry); a third exception rnay be the building at

Aldborough, whose north bank is marked by a hollow located roughly on the short axis (fig. 19).Il9

AI1 excavated main arena entrances shared essentially the same design: the entrances

consisted of unroofed ramps or roadways bounded by revetment walls (timber in the Silchester
amphitheatre, stone in the London, Cirencester and Camarthen amphitheatres), an exception being

the excavatedporlaponipae of Cirencester's amphitheatre, which seems to have been vaulted over

its outer half.I2O

Half of the urban amphitheatres in use during the second century which have been excavated

(those of Silchester, Cirencester and Carmardien) have yielded the remains of seating arrangements.

In al1 three cases, the arrangements appear to have consisted of terraces retained with low stone or

timber revetment ~ a l l s . ' ~ '

The tenacing of the Silchester arnphitheatre's second phase differed only slightly from the

fim century arrangement which it superseded. The timbers of the preceding terraces appear to have

been removed and the banks slightly steepened by the spreading of a new Iayer of soi1 to receive

about eleven new and similarly constructed terraces; no more than eleven platfoms could have been

built as the turf rampart and rear of the cavea had been eroded by this time. The new profile of the

cmea indicates that the lowest of the new terraces would have rested at a height of 2.7 m above the

arena. '"
The Cirencester amphitheatre's terraces, which were constructed during the building's early

second century stone reconstruction, differed somewhat in makeup from those of the Silchester

facility. Each shalIow terrace, remains of which were uncovered on the southeast em bankment, was

retained by a low wall of Iimestone blocks set in the clay of the bank.Iu

The Cmarthen amphitheatre's tenaces, which survived only on the northwest seating bank

and rneasured about 0.76 m in width, were faced with low timber revetment walls, about 0.25 m in

height. These palisades were intenected by beams about 0.25 m square sunk radially into the

surface of the bank at 1.30 m intervals (fig. 18, features marked "grillage"; fig. 2 1). The frames

created by the revetment walls and the underlying intersecting radial beams were packed with grave1

levelled to constitute the terraces (fig. 21).'24


There are conflicting views regarding the purpose of the Silchester, Cirencester and

Carmarthen tenaces. It has been suggested in the case of each amphitheatre that they were meant

to accommodate standing spectaton.lS It has also been assumed, however, that the terraces of the

Cirencester and Carmarthen facilities served as the foundation on which seating benches were

b~ilt."~Further excavations would have to be conducted in order to understand fully the design of

each am ph itheatre's cuvea.

Spectator provisions are supposed to have consisted of timber benches in the London and

Chichester arnphitheatres."'

lt is presently impossible, owing to the paucity of information, to know whether or not the

auditoria of town amphitheatres operating in the second century A D . would have been divided into

maeniana and cunei. There is equally little evidence bearing on seating assignments other than the

possible traces of tribunalia, which would have been reserved for leading town magistrates. in the

Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres.

Information regarding access to seating and the circulation of spectators in these facilities

is also scant and has been recovered only at the Silchester and Cirencester arnphitheatres. It is

considered possible that during the second century there may stilI have been ramps at the rear of the

Silchester amphitheatre's embankrnents serving as points of access to the cavea. The Silchester

amphitheatre' internal circulation may however have been improved during the second century as

a result of alterations made to the facility: the extension of the seating banks by 1.5 m to reduce the

length of the arena's short axis may have afforded the construction of an internal gangway directly

behind the new arena wall, on the level of the lowest tier of seating.12*

Spectatorsattending shows staged in the Cirencester amphitheatre between the early and late

second century reconstructions might have been able to reach its terraced cavea from within, by

means of a staircase located at the end of the southeast side wall of the eastern arena entrance which
ascended at right angles from the entrance passage.'"> After the building's second stone

reconstruction (Period III), however, Cirencester's inhabitants would have been obliged to enter the

amphitheatre in a different manner as the entrance passage stairs had been replaced by a charnber.13'

Most urban arnphitheatres in use during the second century would probably have been large

enough to contain al1 adult citizens of their respective towns, as probably had been the case for first

century fa~ilities.'~'This is evident with regards to Silchester, whose population is estimated at

about 4000 and whose small amphitheatre is conjectured to have been able to hold 3640 seated or

7250 standing s p e ~ t a t o r s . 'It


~ ~is even more noticeable with Camarthen, a very modest cantonal

capital occupying only about one third of Silchester's area which possessed an amphitheatre capable

of having contained up to 4500-5000 seated spectators.'"

The greater size of the arnphitheatres of Roman Dorchester, London and Cirencester, al1 of

which towns equalled or exceeded Roman Silchester in area, would have allowed them to contain

a much higher number of spectaton."' By comparing London's arnphitheatre to other well-studied

counterparts similar in size, a spectator capacity of 8000 has been estimated for the facility of

Roman Britain's capitaLU5

The amphitheatre serving the inhabitants of Caistor S t Edmund, a particularly small civiras

capital whose walled area covered only 14 hectares,IJ6would have had a relatively feeble, though

nonetheless probably adequate, seating capacity by comparison to its larger counterparts. The

building's seating capacity has not actually been caIculated but it is safe to assume that its seating

capacity would have at least equalled if not exceeded that of the much smaller military am phitheatre

at Micia in Dacia, which is thought to have held about 1000 people.


Third Century Urban Amphitheatres
By the middie of the second century A.D., Dorchester's arnphitheatre had ceased to function

as an entertainment facility. It becarne an adjunct to a nearby town cemetery and was subsequently

reoccupied for an unknown p u r p o ~ e . 'By


~ ~the end of the second century, the facility attached to the

cantonal capital of Chichester had also lapsed into disuse, falling prey in the third century to stone

robben who mined its masonry to replace the town's earth rarnparts with more reliable defences."'

However, the abandonment of urban amphitheatres was not universal. Several continued to be used

during the third century as is evidenced by periodic repairs, alterations and even one instance of a

complete rebuilding. It is during this century that Sikhester's amphitheatre was finally converted

from an earth and timber structure to one of earth and rnasonry. It is also perhaps during this century

that construction of a new masonry amphitheatre within the town walis of Caerwent, the two-century

oId cantonal capital of the Silures, was begun though it was never finished.

The London amphitheatre is the facility which appears to have undergone the least drastic

alterations. They entailed mainly the repeated resurfacing of the arena floor and the repair of drains.

one instance of which is dated to A.D. 243 by a drain timbefs tree-ring.139

More extensive modifications were undergone by Cirencester's amphitheatre and these are

characterised by the cornplete rebuilding of the arena wall in rnasonry on a slightly different curve

and the replacement of the masonry main entrance passage walls with tirnber revetments, attested

by post-h~les.'~~

Silchesteis amphitheatre was, as has been alluded above, finally rebuilt in stone and soon

thereafter underwent slight modifications to correct drainage problems. The reconstruction (Stone

Phase 1; fig. 10, stone walls shown in black), which gave the amphitheatre its final plan, is dated to

the first half of the third century (before A.D. 260) by typological cornparison of its masonry with

that of the town's early second century A.D. forunl-bmilica, late second century gates and late third
century defensive wall. In about the middle of the century, a date implied by a somewhat worn coin

of Philip 1 (A.D. 244-249) associated with this phase, the secondary alterations were effected (Stone

Phase II).[4'

The work done at the Silchester amphitheatre early in the third century entailed both the

perfecting of the building's layout as well as the replacement of timber palisades with stone walls.

To perfect the layout, builders converted the crudely elliptical arena of the previous phase to an

ellipse measuring 45.5 m by 39.3 m on its axes and resembling that of the CaerIeon and Chester

amphitheatres' arenas. In addition, the north and south entrances, which had previously been

somewhat misaligned, were almost perfectly aligned on the long axis although the imperfect

alignment of the short mis chambers was not entirely corrected.'''

The timber revetment enclosing the arena was replaced with a 0.8-0.9 m thick wall of

mortared flint courses, embellished only with an occasional string-course of ironstone, anchored on

1.2 m wide and 0.5 m deep foundations, while the timber side walls of the entrances were replaced

with equally thick flint-built walls.'" The north and south entrance passages were lengthened to

12.0 m and widened to 5.2 and 3.8 rn respectively.'" The north and south entrance doonvays into

the arena, now 3.2-3.5 rn and 2.7 m wide respectively, retained timber gateposts and gates.IJS The

rebuilding also affected the short axis alcoves, now the monument's only chambers, which were

transformed into flint-built apsidal and vaulted rooms roughly 2.0 m wide and 2.5 m deep accessible

solely from the arena through 1 .O m wide d o o ~ a y s . ' ~ ~

The refurbished Silchester facility was equipped with more complex drainage provisions

than its timber predecessors although they proved to be inadequate and were soon slightly altered.

They included triangular drains (weep-holes) formed with tile fragments spaced 1.6 to 2.8 m apart

in the masonry course overlying the foundations of both the arena and passage wails. Water would

have been able to flow through these small openings into a shallow 0.25-0.5 m wide gravel-filled
eur@us placed within a metre from the foot of the arena wall and to be channelled out of the

building by shallow drains at the foot of either side wall in the north main entrance."'

The secondasr alterations (Stone Phase II) were intended to improve the arena and entrance

drainage provisions. They entailed the deliberate raising of the arena surface, especially

immediately against the arena wall, with sand, clay, grave1 and debris and the insertion of a new

shallow gravel-filled euripus, whose lid of boulders was partially preserved, on a variable course

very close to the arena wall (fig. IO, feature marked "late drain").'J8 The new Ievel of the arena

floor necessitated the pronounced raising of the south entrance passage's floor, a slight heightening

of the north entrance passage's floor and the recutting of the gullies, which were converted into

rumble drains, at the foot of the latter entrance passage's side w a l l ~ . ' ~ ~

The early third century rebuitding of Silchester's amphitheatre may have been the occasion

at which the auditorium's terraces were replaced with actual seating benches. This modification ta

the catea is evidenced by the dumping of fiIl obtained from digging for the stone wall foundation

trenches on the seating banks, which steepened them to an angle of 25 degrees, a desirable angle of

inclination for seating. Too little evidence survives to reconstruct the design of the new seating

arrangements although it is obvious from the level of bearn slots running from the rear of the stone

wall into the bank that the lowest tier of seating, which would probably have been protected by a

balteus perhaps 1.0 rn in height, would have been about 2.75 m above the arena floor. It is

speculated that the auditorium could have accommodated eleven or twelve rows of benches and that

these would not have been lodged directly into the surface of the seating bank but supponed on

radial rows of short studs. The conjectured seating provisions would have reduced the

amphitheatre's audience capacity to 3000 people.IM

It is almost certain that Silchester's amphitheatre would have been provided with tribunalia

in the third century as its timber predecessors had been. These would have been placed at a raised
level above the short axis alcoves, whose vaults could have projected up to 0.3 m above the level

of the Iowest tier of seating depending on the thickness of their crown.ls'

At an imprecise date in the third century, perhaps as repairs and renewals were being carried

out at the London, Cirencester and Silchester amphitheatres, construction of the new rnasonry

facility at Caerwent in South Wales was uridertaken.'*~isamphitheatre, the last known to have

been buiIt in Roman Britain and among the last to be erected throughout the Empire,153is highly

uncharacteristic of the province's amphitheatres with respect to its location and structural nature.

It was a late addition to Caenvent, a town which had been in existence since the first century A.D.

and had emerged as a district capital in Hadrianic times.'"

The arnphitheatre was not located outside the town but within the defences, specifically in

the northern sector (fig. 22).'" Its intra-mural situation differs markedly from that of the London

amphitheatre however as it was built in a developed area (on the site of several buildings and of a

road running north-south), not on the edge of a built-up area.'" A level site was selected for the new

amphitheatre, which rneasured about 59 m by 52 m (it was almost as srnall as the Caistor St.

Edmund amphitheatre) and was oriented east-west.I5'

Contrary to al1 of Roman Britain's amphitheatres but Chester's initial timber amphitheatre,

the roughly elliptical space designated for the arena of Caerwent's amphitheatre was never

excavated nor does it appear that its cavea was constituted of earth banks. However, the building's

apparently unfinished state prevents a clear understanding of its structural artributes and type."'

The remains of the 0.60 m thick wail surrounding the 43.5 m by 36.3 m arena are the most

substaniial vestiges of the amphitheatre and indicate by their complete absence on one segment of

the northern circuit that the monument may never have been ~ompleted."~

The arena may have been intended to be accessed through four entrantes (as may also have

been the case at the first century amphitheatre of Richborough and the second century London
amphitheatre)ofwhich only the eastern main axis entrance and the southem short a i s entrance were

partially preserved (fig. 23). The east pompompae is attested by a 3-9 rn wide doonvay exhibiting

a door pivot in situ on the southem side while the portapostica is marked by a short length of wall

foundations about 6.0 m south of the surviving porta pompae extending towards the arena from

remains of the building's external wall.'"

Traces of the Caerwent amphitheatre's external wall consist only of a short section on the

south side at a distance of 7.5 m fiorn the arena wall, making it impossible to reconstruct the cavea

(fig. 23).16'

Urban Amphitheatres in the Fourth Century

The late third century, which marked the beginning of the decline of Roman Britain's towns,

saw the cessation of urban amphitheatre construction in Roman Britain as it did elsewhere in the

Empire owing to dwindling private patronage.I6* However, physical evidence, consisting of artifacts

as well as indications of maintenance or alterations, at the amphitheatres of Richborough, London,

Cirencester and Siichester suggests that spectacles may have been staged in sorne town

amphitheatres until the mid-fourth century, after which time they were abandoned.

The poor quality of the account of the Richborough amphitheatre's nineteenth century

excavation means that evidence which may be indicative of Iate third and early fourth century use

is perhaps tenuous although it shouid not be entirely dismissed and rnay prove to be reliable in the

future. This evidence consists of thirteen late third century coins and thirteen fourth century coins,

the latest belonging to the reign of Arcadius (d. A.D. 408). The presence of a coin of Constans (320-

350) in a grave overlying the west entrance may signi@ that use of the facility had continued until

the middle of the century."j3


Cirencester's amphitheatre appears to have remained in operation as an amusement facility

until the late third or early fourth century A.D. In the fifth century, when the town was being

abandoned, a large timber building was constructed in the arena. The arena doorways of the

charnbers flanking the northeast portapompe were blocked, the arena gateway narrowed and the

entrance passage shortened and narrowed, The monument's excavators surmise that the

amphitheatre was converted into some form of refuge for the few remaining citizens of

Ciren~ester.'~

Continuation of the Silchester amphitheatre's use untiI the middle of the fourth century is

demonstrated in a more definite fashion by two coins, identified respectively as a Constantian coin

of A.D. 324-330 and a coin minted during the reign of the usurper Magnentius (350-353), found on

the surface seating the alterations made to the arena in the late third century. This numisrnatic

evidence implies that the building had served residents almost until the capital's decline in the fiflh

century A.D. Before the end of the Roman period, the monument had begun to deteriorate, the west

side wall of the north main entrance collapsing into the as yet unsilted passage, and fell prey to stone

robbers. The remains of the monument were put to a very diRerent use in the Medieval period when

a hall-like building was constructed in the arena?

London's amphitheatre may have served continuously in its originaI capacity for as long as

Silchester's facility, despite the desertion of the city sector in which it was located. This is implied

by the repeated renewal of arena drains and relayings of arena floor surfaces until the end of Roman

activity on the site of the monument and by the presence of numerous Roman coins of the A.D. 340-

370 period in the latest Roman-era deposits." The entertainment venue was finally abandoned,

robbed of its stone towards the end of the fourth century, perhaps to build the bastions in the City

Wall or to complete the riverside Wall, and was gradually buried beneath deep deposits upon which

were erected Saxon timber structures in the tenth or eleventh century.I6'


Builders of Urban Arnphitheatres
It is possible that native aristocrats and other wealthy individuals would have financed the

construction of urban amphitheatres as they would have that of other urban amenities." Among the

few Romano-British inscriptions attesting patronage, none records the giA of an arnphitheatre to a

town. There is, however, an inscription which indicates that there were individuals willing to fund

the construction of amusement facilities. This inscription was found at Brough-on-Humber in 1937

and States that Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius, an uedile (junior magistrate) of the vicur of Petuaria

(Brough-on-Humber), funded the building of a new proscuenium (stage building) for the town's

theatre in about A.D. 140.'69

Nothing is known about the individuaI architects and builders responsible for erecting the

t o m amphitheatres. It is however possible that Roman military architects may have designed some

of sorne of these facilities. There were trained architects, engineers and surveyors in the Roman

legions and these professionals did participate in civilian building during tirnes of peace, especially

in areas where the local population lacked the necessary technical e~pertise."~It has been theorised

that Silchester's amphitheatre may have been designed by an architect attached to a legionary

detachment temporarily posted at Silchester.'" It is conceivable that military construction

professionals might have been involved in the construction of other town amphitheatres, if only

those belonging to towns of military origin.

Uses of Urban Arnphitheatres


The inhabitants of the British towns whose amenities included amphitheatres would have

made use of these venues principally for entertainment purposes. The spectacles staged in these

facilities would probably have been funded both through officia1 agencies, including town
magistrates (duoviri and aediles) and priests of the provincial imperial cult (seviri Augusmies) and

private agencies and perhaps also, on rare occasions, by a visiting emperor.In

The most important arnphitheatre displays would have been those organised by the priests

of the imperial cult, Throughout the empire, individuals holding this office, who were rich

merchants, were required to stage spectacles and these entailed great personal expenditures on their

part?

The gladiatorial and animal games which municipal magistrates were required to fund by

law (munera publica) would have been dose in stature to those staged by priests. Such games

would have been among the many and expensive duties of British municipal magistrates' who would

have been members of local aristocracies, and would have been financed largely from their personal

wealth with small subsidies from the coffers of their respective towns.'" The organisation of

amphitheatral shows as an obligation of high civic office would probably have been stipulated in the

foundation charter of British civitas capitals, just as it was in the extant charter of the late

Republican colony of Urso in Baetico (the region of Andalusia in Spain).'"

Privately funded games (mimera Zibera), of lesser importance and lavishness than officia1

displays, would have been mounted by a variety of individuals. Some shows would have been

donated freely as community gifts by wealthy b e n e f a ~ t 0 n . I Others


~~ would have been given by

municipal oficials and high priests, in addition to the compulsory munera publica, on occasions of

their choice in response to the public expectation of such generosity and would thereby have

acquired a semi-oficial nature? Spectacles may also have been staged periodically by candidates

for public office, a situation for which there may be circumstantial evidence at the luxurious founh

century villa at Bignor (Sussex) in the f o n of a dining-room floor mosaic depicting Cupids in the

guise of gladiators and t r a i n e r ~ . ' ~ ~


It is conceivable one or more of the emperors who paid visits to Roman Britain may have

treated the inhabitants of some t o m to a gladiatorial or animal exhibition. There are sporadic

ancient references to spectacles staged by travelling emperors in other regions of the Empire.In

However, not al1 of the imperial visitors to Britain would have had the luxury of mounting games.

Several, including Constantius Chlonis, who came in A.D. 296 and again in A.D. 306,Ia0his son

Constantine"' and the western emperor Constans, who came in A.D. 343,"' came to the province

to conduct military operations and would in al1 likelihood not have been concerned with holding

games. However, those who visited before the third century might have had the opportunity to stage

spectacles. Hadrian visited the island in the surnmer of AD. 122, following a tour of GauI and the

German province, to inspect the troops and improve the province's defence and adrninistrati~n.'~~

He may have had the time for sorne diversions. His visit was followed by the stay of Septimius

Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta. They came to Britain with reinforcements in A.D. 208 to

repel incursions by northem tribes foilowing the revolt of Clodius Albinus in 196 and remained on

the island for three years.IM A visit to Silchester by Severus is incidentally conjectured to have

occasioned the Stone rebuilding of the town's amphitheatre.'85

It is also possible that spectacles might have been staged for a visiting emperor. Shows

given in an emperor's honour were, in other regions of the Empire, staged by supporters or

prominent individu al^^^^ and it is conceivable that the same would have been done in Britain. There

are some mentions of shows staged for a travelling emperor in the ancient sources.'s7

Displays would have been held for a variey of occasions. Most often, they would have been

staged to celebrate religious festivals and cornrnemorate important dates and events, such as the

emperor's birthday, in the official calendar.'" Games would probably also have been held by the

high priests of the imperial cult in London, the city serving as the cult's seat and meeting place of

In
the provincial council following the revolt of Boudicca, at the council's annual a~sembly.~~'>
addition to exhibitions marking oficial events, individuals acting in a private capacity would also

have held some shows on occasions of their own contrivan~e.'~

The shows which took place in Britain's town amphitheatres would have been subject to

strict official guidelines. A11 individuals financing exhibitions in a public or private capacity would

have had to observe restrictions on their frequency and number of participants, which were initially

implemented by the emperor Augustus, as well as spending limits enacted in A.D. 176 or 177 by the

Roman senate. The limitations were intended, as mentioned above, to curb excessive politicai

ambition and to minimize the financial burden experienced by municipal oficials. Anyone wishing

to exceed the prescribed restrictions was required to apply to the Senate in Rome. Moveover,

permission for use of an urban arnphitheatre would also have had to be sought from the local curia

(town council) by the persons holding garnes.l9I

Evidence from diverse sources makes it possible to conclude that displays staged in Roman

Britain's amphitheatres could have included both munera and venafiones and also to gain some

insight into the nature of these shows. This evidence includes certain architectural anributes of the

amphitheatres, artifacts including works of art ranging in date from the first to the fourth century

A.D., epigraphical evidence and faunal remain~.'~'

That gladiatorial shows were among the entertainments staged in Britain's urban

amphitheatres is strongly implied by the presence of chambers believed to have served as shrines

and changing rooms in some facilities. At the Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres, these

chambers were the short axis alcoves which were accessible from the arena. In the London and

Cirencester amphitheatres,there were no short axis recesses. There were however chambers located

at one end of the main axis, flanking either side of a porta pompae, one of which, in each building,

is believed to have been used as a shrine or changing room.


There is additional, more conclusive, physical evidence bearing on the performance of

gladiators in Britain's urban arnphitheatres From the first century A.D. onward. A particularly well-

known piece of evidence is a bronze helmet exposed by plougliing in April 1965 at Hawkedon,

Suffolk (fig. 24a-b). Although it was damaged and does not corne frorn the site of an amphitheatre,

its great weight (2.3 kilograrns) as well as its marked resemblance to bronze gladiatorial helmets of

Campanian manufacture housed in the British Museum's Department of Greek and Roman

Antiquities and to Campanian gladiatorial helmets found at Pompeii reveals that it was a gladiatoriai

rather than legionary helrnet.'93

The helmet consists of a cap edged by a wide neck-guard (fig. 24b). Its front edge is arched

to foIIow the curve of the wearer's eyebrows and is marked by rivet holes reminiscent of those of

the well-preserved Pompeian helrnets, indicating that the helmet would originally have had a face

mask whose eye holes might have been covered with grilles (fig. 24a). Its type suggests that it is

of Campanian manufacture and that it dates to the fkst century A.D.'"

Other indications of the presence of gladiators in British towns are in the form of a graffita

on a piece of Samian Ware from Leicester, Leicestershire (Ratae Coritrzorum, the capital of the

civitas of the Coritani), two mould-blown glass cups (a nearly complete specimen from Colchester

and a fragmentary exarnple from Leicester) bearing the names and figures of gladiators and various

glass cup fragments from other British sites.

The Leicester pottery sherd's inscription, a well-known piece of Romano-British epigraphy,

reads "Verecunda the dancer: Lucius the g l a d i a t ~ r . " ' It


~ ~is conjectured that the entertainers were

visiton to Roman Leicester and that they had been hired to perform there by a wealthy individual.'"

Of the glass cups, the Colchester exarnple, which was recovered in pieces fiom the Nemnian

level (A.D. 54-68) of the town, is the better preserved. It is one of at least ten shallow straight-sided

cups and beakers bearing gladiatorial and chariot racing scenes recovered in Britain and is firmly
dated to the first century AD.by the pottery associated with similar cups from Colchester and from

Belgian and Gennan sites. The Colchester cup, which was probably manufactured in a Gaulish

workshop, is Iight green and decorated with an upper zone inscribed with the names C h w ,

Hories, Petraites (or Tetraites), Pmdens, Proculus, Caambus, Spincuita and Columbus and a wider

lower zone portraying the named gladiators, who may well have been the gladiatorial celebrities of

the time, in action (for a similar vesse1 from a site in western France, see fig. 25).'"

The incomplete glass cup from Leicester and the fragments of four similar vessels found at

Topsham in Devon, Hartlip in Kent and at Southwark also appear to portray contemporary

gladiatorial favourites. The Leicester cup, which was created from the rnouId used to fabricate the

Colchester glass beaker, bears several of the original figures as well as the names [Cacum]btrs,

Spiculus, Columbus and Cala[mzrs]. Gladiator names (Penaites and Hermes) are also present on the

fragments of the four cups, which were al1 produced from one mould and embellished with an upper

band of chariot racing and a lower band of fighting gladiators. It may be that al1 these glass vessels,

including that from Colchester, were peddled as souvenirs of exhibitions staged in the province.19'

Some conclusions may be drawn from other examples of gladiator representations on British

artifacts about the types of gladiators who performed in the province's urban arenas. The frequent

occurrence of Samnis (a type of gladiator otherwise known as a secutor when paired with a retiariw)

and retiarius portrayals among the ftgured pottery, sculpture and other forms of art depicting

gladiators implies that these may have been the combatants with whom the inhabitants of Romano-

British towns were most familiar. These fighters are shown alone or d ~ e l l i n g . ' ~ ~

The depictions of the Samnis as a lone figure comprise two bronze figurines from London,

now in the British Museum and London Museum respectively. The first of these figures, whose

provenance is unknown, stands shieldless in a frontal pose with the visor of his helmet lowered (fig.
26, Ieft).m The second, originally uncovered in the London WaIl, holds a shield on his lefi a m ; his

right a m is drawn back as though about to strike but his sword is missing (fig. 26, right).*Ot

A retiarius is depicted singly on a crudely and locally sculpted Stone capital from an

ornamental tomb at York (the Roman colony of Eburacum). The gladiator is shown arrned with his

traditionai net and trident and is flanked on the lefl by a soaring eagle.'02

Scenes of a Sumnis or secutor and retiuriirs duelling constitute the more numerous

depictions of these gladiators. Among the examples of this scene is the well-known late second or

earIy third century "Colchester Vase", the colour-coated vesse1 decorated with barbotine relief work

which bears the name of "Valentinus of the Thirtieth Legion". Roman York has yielded a fragment

of red-gloss South Gaulish ware, dated to the second half of the second century A.D., showing a

similar scene. The sherd was decorated before firing with an etched frontal figure of a (now

headless) belted and kilted retiarius lunging to the right and holding his trident horizontally across

his abdomen. The retiarius' opponent, now lost, points a sword at his breast.lo3

Samnites and retiurii are depicted in a very different manner in the polychrome mosaic

gracing the triclinium (dining-room) floor of the fourth century A.D. villa at Bignor, Sussex. The

gladiatorial scene, which occupies only the long narrow frieze connecting a lunette containing a bust

of Venus to a large rectangular panel, consists of eleven winged Cupids, nine of which are dressed

and equipped as Samnites and retiarii while the remaining are costumed as trainers or lanistae (fig.

27). The Samnites al1 Wear a short tunic and a visored helrnet, a guard on the right a m , bindings

on the left leg and carry a curving rectangular shield and sword. The retiarii wear a kilt, belt,

flanged arrnour on the left a m and wield a trident and, in one instance, a net. Most of the figures

are arranged in Samnis-retiarius pairs engaging in mock fights under the direction of the lanistae

(fig. 27)?
Several more portrayalc of gladiaton among works of Romano-British art, especially pottery

made in the area of Castor on Nene (Castor ware) and at Colchester,205imply that gladiators of types

other than the Sarnnk or secutor and the retiarius may have performed in the arenas of British t o m s

although their specific type cannot be deduced from the depictions. A notable artifact is the second

or third century imported ivory figurine from South Shields (Arbeia), County Durham, which had

originally served as a knife handle. The gladiator, whose head is bare, is equipped with a short

belted tunic, guard on the right a m , sheath on the lefl leg and a large cylindrical shield decorated

with incised lozenges which protects him from his head to his knees?

Unidentifiable duelling gladiators constitute a part of the decoration on a jar manufactured

in the area of Castor (Durobrivae) in the Iate second or early third century. Of these fighters, who

are cnidely rendered in barbotine relief work, one wields a straight sword while his opponent holds

a curved s~ord.'~'

The large number of horse bones found at the Silchester amphitheatre208may indicate that

among the other types of combatants who appeared in Britain's urban civil amphitheatres there may

have been mounted gladiator~.'~Equifes appear to have been the mounted gladiators who

performed the rnost in Roman arenas and it has been proposed that they appeared in Silchester's

am~hitheatre.~"Their equipment is known from the tomb reliefs of Scaurus at Pompeii, which

depict fighting equites wearing tunics and long coats of mail, with guards on the right a m , visored

helmets and carrying srnaIl round shields and spears."'

It has also been suggested that the essedarii may have appeared more regularly than equites

in British urban amphitheatres, holding a special appeal because of their British origins."' This type

of gladiator, whose narne is derived from the terrn for a Celtic war-chariot (essedum),seems to have

been introduced in Rome by Julius Caesar after his 55 B.C. excursion to Britain, whert he

encountered fighten in chariots.*13 Inscriptions found in Mediterranean and eastern regions of the
Roman Empire imply that essedorii acted both as chariot driver and combatant in the arena and

Their attire, equipment and mode of fighting is largely unknown


usually duelled other e~sedarii.~'~

but it is thought that they wouId have been lightly armoured for ease of movement and that

encounters would have consisted of fighting from the chariot (erninw or fighting at a distance),

perhaps with a spear or other Iong range weapon, leading to the deposing of one warrior from his

chariot (cornminus or fighting hand to hand) and his slaying, perhaps by means of a dagger.*I5

However, the possibility that essedarii cornmonly fought in urban am phitheatres appears remote.

Most town amphitheatm were fumished with a relatively small arena which would probably have

made the manoeuvering of chariots difficult.

The mounting of gladiatorial exhibitions was extremely costly and such displays would

consequently probably have been infrequent in Roman Britain just they were in the city of Rome?

Romano-British gladiatorial displays may even on occasion not have been fights to the death but

sham fights with blunted weapons in order to reduce the fees owed to the owners of the hired

gladiators."'

Performers might have been obtained through several means. They may have been hired

from travelling lanistae, from a state team such as those known to have been under the control of

procuratores funziliurunz gluciiatorum in later im perial times or from privately run companie~."~

An inscription from Ancyro (Ankara) in G ~ l a t i a which


"~ indicates that recruitrnent of gladiators was

conducted in Britain hints that it may even have been possible to hire native cornbatants. The

inscription states that an official named L. Didius Marinus held the office (perhaps in A.D. 204 or

205) of procurator in charge of gladiators recruited and trained in Gad, Britain, Spain, Germany and

Ruefiu.'lo It is currently not possible to determine whether perfonners would have been stationed

permanently in each town boasting an amphitheatre.


The rarity of fourth century gladiator depictions and the dearth of fifth century depictions

suggest that the staging of gladiatorial shows may have become very rare or have ceased towards

the end of Britain's Roman occupation. Two factors may have contributed to this, the decline of

British towns and the vehement Christian opposition to gladiators prevalent throughout the

Empire.*' Christian influence had brought about imperial prohibitions of the sentencing of convicts

to the arena and of Christians to giadiatorial schools and also the abolishment of the imperial

gladiatorial schools in A.D. 399.=

The prohibitive costs of mounting gladiatorial games may have meant that the shows viewed

by the inhabitants of Romano-British towns would most often have been venationes, depictions of

which appear on both Nene vailey and Colchester pottery, perhaps supplemented occasionalIy by

acrobatic displays." The design of some town amphitheatres, namely those of Silchester,

Cirencester and London, does imply the planned staging of animals games. The amphitheatres of

Silchester, Cirencester and London arnphitheatres al1 appear to have been furnished with one

chamber abutting a main entrance whose design and position strongly suggest use as a carcer or

animal cage.

The nature of the animal displays probably rnounted in British town amphitheatres can be

inferred to some extent from literary references, faunal remains and venatio scenes on Romano-

British pottery.

Several species of animals suitable for the beast fights and hunts existed in Britain, one of

which was the brown bear. This animal, now extinct in Britain, is known from a mention by the first

century A.D. poet Martial to have inhabited Scotland and may also have dwelt in other remote

regions of the island;" Britons were obviously familiar with the creature, carving many miniature

figurines out of Yorkshire jet during Roman times." That the bear, which was exported for use in

Rome's Flavian Amphitheatre as well in other foreign centres from Domitian's reign onward,
appeared in Britain's town amphitheatres is implied by the presence of the rernains of at least one

bear on the site of London's fa~ility."~

British t o m dwellers may have seen bears utilised in several ways in venationes. Firstly,

they may have been pitted against other animals, a practice which is described by Martial."'

Secondly, bears rnay have confionted besriarii, a practice which is also described by Martialz8 and

depicted in several instances on Romano-British pottery. Notable pottery depictions of fights

between hunters and bears inctude encounters involving a whip-wielding hunter on the "Colchester

Vase" and on a fragrnentary barbotine beaker from Colchester as well as a confrontation between

a bear and a hunter armed with a whip and a scourge on a Castor wre barbotine beaker from

Purlieus in the Nene valley regiodZ9

As these depictions demonstrate, hunters wouid probably have used several types of

weapons against bears in the arena. They also indicate that besriarii would have fought with varying

amounts of protective gear. The "Colchester Vase" bear hunter wears only a belt and a m guards

while his counterpart on the fragmentary beaker from Colchester is protected by studded pants, a

belt, leg braces and a left a m guard.

Spectators viewing animal games in the amphitheatres of British towns rnay also have

witnessed, before the Constantinian prohibition of the sentencing of criminals to the arena, bears

mauling criminals to death, a well-liked spectacle described in several instances by MartiaI.lSO

Criminals condemned to death ad bestim would have been given or sold to individuals staging

entertainments by the provincial governor, who alone had the authority to sentence criminals to

death?' The convicts could have been exposed, fettered or unfettered, to the bears or forced to

participate in gniesome mythical enactments similar to those described by Martial.

It may be surmised from the discovery of a bull's remains in the London amphitheatre and

some cattle bones in the Silchester amphitheatre that bulls may also have been employed in the
venationes mounted in British urban are na^.^' The bulls in question would probably not have been

wild, like those used in the builfights staged in Rome, since such bovines were extinct in Roman

Britain but may well have been domesticated animais.=' Domesticated cattle would have been

easily obtained in southern Britahzw Bulls destined for the arena could also have been imported

but it is difficult to conceive that patrons would have been willing to incur the expense of irnporting

such animals when domesticated bulls would have been locally available.

Boars and wild sows, which were considered suitable prey for bestiarii and abounded in

almost every region of the Roman Empire including Britain, would also have been obtainable for

shows in town arnphitheatres.l5 Although it cannot be proved that these animals were indeed used

in British urban menas, the popularity of boar hunting in the province, attested by both bronze votive

figurines and a dedicatory inscription on an altar to the hunting deity Silvanus, may have brought

about the staging of venariones involving boars and wild s o ~ s . ~ ~

It is possible that deer indigenous to Britain, two hundred of which were exhibited by the

ernperor Gardian 1 (A. D. 159-238) in one of the twelve exhibitions staged during his aedileship,

may also have been used in British venationes.ll' The deer might have been chased by dogs, several

breeds of which existed at the time in Britain,z8 in the arena or pitted against each other. as was

witnessed by Martial in Rome." They might also have been the quarry of bestiarii as is depicted

on the Nene valley vesse1 which also shows a hunter wielding a whip against an advancing bear.

The deer hunter, who is wearing a jerkin and pants, lunges at his fieeing prey with a ~ p e a r . ~ ~ '

Venationes may also have entailed hare hunts similar to that portrayed in a frieze

embellishing a colour-coated vesse1 from The frieze, which depicts a hound chasing

a hare, ais0 features a hunter aiming his spear at a leaping lion. This suggests that the citizens of

towns possessing amphitheatres may have had some opportunities to witness venationes boastin
exotic, imported animals. The depiction of a leopard confronting a hunter on another Colchester

ware fragment invites the sarne conclusion.'s2

The beast-fighter who would have appeared in British t o m amphitheatres could have been

mounted hunters like that pictured on yet another pottery fragment from Colchester as well as

hunters perform ing on f ~ o t . * ~ ~

Christianity did not affect the staging of animal hunts and beast fights as extensively as it

did gladiatorial games. Venationes continued to be held in both the Eatern and Western Empire

into the sixth century A.D. The consuls of the Eastern Empire were in fact required by legislation

enacted by the eastern emperor Justinian (5 18-565) in A.D. 536 to mount venationes in addition to

other types of entertainment.'u It is therefore possible that the British urban amphitheatres which

exhibit signs of use in the fourth century were actually used as venues for animal games.

It has been mentioned that acrobatic displays may have been another type of entertainment

probably frequently staged in British urban arnphitheatres. Evidence for such an assertion is

unfortunately scarce, consisting rnainly of scenes found on Nene valley pottery. One such scene is

found on the body of the late second or early third century Castor ware jar which also depicts a pair

of gladiators duelling with swords and consists of a female acrobat leaping from the back of an

unidentifiable mammal ont0 that of a spotted par~ther.'~'

It may be concluded that the spectators who watched the shows staged in urban

amphitheatres would have included town residents and guests. This is implied by the size of the

monuments which, although on average lesser than that of amphitheatres in other regions of the

Roman Empire,246would have been sufticient to accommodate the greater part of their respective

towns' adult population as well as some vi~itors?~'

The dimensions of the Carmarthen and Dorchester amphitheatres lend especially strong

support to this hypothesis as they appear unnecessarily large for the towns to which they were
attached. Carmarthen's am ph itheatre, which was r~ughlyequal in size to the Si lchester

amphitheatre and would have been able to contain 4500-5000 spectators,'" sas rneant to serve a

town covering an area of only 13 hectares.24 Sirnilarly, the Dorchester amphitheatre, which appean

to have been somewhat larger than London's amphitheatre (a venue probably capabIe of holding

8000 people), served a town whose walled area covered 28 to 32 hectares (only about one quarter

of Roman London's 133.5 hectare walled area).m The choice of Dorchester's amphitheatre as the

venue for the Queen's 1952 visit to the c o u n v ' substantiates the notion that this facility and other

urban amphitheatres served a widely dispersed audience.

It can be concluded that Britain's urban amphitheatres, although of the same structural type

and construction materials as their military counterparts in the province, were usually more simple

in plan and lacked exterior retaining walls even when built or rebuilt of masonry and fiIl. They

would have served primarily as the setting for exhibitions, especially venuliones with some mzrneru

and perhaps also acrobatic displays.

It has been asserted that gladiatorial displays and animal hunts and therefore arnphitheatres

were never popular in Britain3' but this may be disputed. The presence of amphitheatres at sites of

over half of the approximately fourteen known district capitals suggests otherwise. Furthemore.

it should be noted that their earth construction made them easily destructible and that many may

consequently have been completely destroyed while others lie buried in badly ruined States.

Remains of these monuments continue to corne to light, the most recent discoveries being those of

the London amphitheaire in 1987 and of the rural civil amphitheatre at Catterick in 1995. Finally,

the existence of several amphitheatres atached to rural communities, the subject of the following

chapter, also implies that arnphitheatres and the entertainments for which they served as settings held

a wide appeal in Roman Britain.


Notes

l.Wacher, Towns of RB, 22.

2.Potter and Johns, Roman Britain, 80, 81.

3.Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 275-276.

4.Michael Fulford, "Excavations on the Sites of the Arnphitheatre and Forum-Basilica at Silchester,
Hampshire: an interim report," AntJ 65 (1985): 68, 75.

6.Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 326.

7.Richard Bradley, "Maumbury Rings, Dorchester: The Excavations of LgO8-19 13,"


Archaeolo~ia105 (1976): 74. Artifacts recovered from the site's deepest Roman strata are
considered by Bradley to point to an early construction date. They inchde two coins dating to the
reign of the emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54), the base of an iron projectile point and native pottery
of a type produced in the Claudian period (Bradley, Archaedogia 105 [1976], 73-74). The
artifacts found in the filling of the amphitheatre's eariiest structural features can be dated to the
second half of the first century A.D. and suggest that the amphitheatre cannot have been buiIt any
later than the early Flavian period (Ibid., 74).

8.Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 326. Richard Bradley, who published a report of the 1908-1913
excavations of the Dorchester amphitheatre, proposed that the amphitheatre might have been
military in origin. Bradley emphasised in the report that objects of a military nature and items
typically found in a Roman rnilitary context were recovered from the strata associated with the
earliest phases of the arnphitheatre (Bradley, Archaeoloeia 105 [1976], 76). He also reviewed the
arguments presented by scholars for an early Roman military site at Dorchester but conceded it is
currently impossible to prove that there was an early fort (Zbid.).

9.Bradley, Archaeolo~ia105 (1976)- 75.

1O.Origins of D u m o v a ~ :Wacher, Towns of RB, 3 15-3 18; B. W. Cunliffe, "Durnovaria,"


PECS,287.

12.Nicholas Bateman, "The London Amphitheatre, " Current Archaeology no. 137 (February
1994): 166.

13.Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 88, 90.

14.Potter and Johns, Roman Britain, 80.

15.Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 76.


16.Creation and development of Roman Chichester: B. W. Cunliffe, "Noviomagus Regnensiu~,"
PECS, 633 and Wacher, Towns of RB, 30-3 1; date of Chichester's arnphitheatre: G. M. White,
"The Chichester Amphitheatre: Preliminary Excavations, " AntT 16 (1936): 157.

17.Creation and development of Roman Cirencester: Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 304.

18.Date of Cirencester's amphitheatre: Wacher, T o m s of RB, 299. The date of the Cirencester
amphitheatre's initial construction has not yet been firmly established, though it is certain that it
preceded the early years of the second century A.D., at which tirne the building was rebuilt in
Stone.

19.B. W. Cunliffe, ed., Fifth R e ~ o ron


t the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richboroueh. Kent
(tondon: Report of the Research Comrnittee of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1968), 248.
The third century building date was proposed on the basis of the unclear account of partial
excavations undertaken in 1849 (John Ward, Romano-British Buildinrrs and Earthworks [London:
Methuen and Co. Ltd, 19111, 228) on the sites of the Saxon Shore fort and amphitheatre.

20.B. W. Cuniiffe, "Rutupia," PECS,778.

22.Wacher, T m of RB, 51,53. It was extremety rare for arnphitheatres to be built within towns
(Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 408). They were usually built outside urban centres and close
to a main road (Ibid., 409). Jean-Claude Golvin, the Ieading authority on arnphitheatres, argues
the great area occupied by an amphitheatre made it impractical to construct such a building in the
middle of a town (Itiid., 409). He points out that space was required not only for the structure
itself but for a peripheral circulation zone, which usuaIly took the form of a roadway (Ibid.,409).
In the t o m s whose amphitheatres lay within the fortifications (for example, Pompeii, Aosta and
the Colonia Ulpia Traiana), the amusement facility usually lay on the edge of the developed area
and not in the middle of it (Ibid., 409).

23.Silchester amphitheatre: Fulford, AntJ 65 (1985), 39; Dorchester amphitheatre: Wacher,


Towns of RB, 318; the Chichester amphitheatre lay 457 m southeast of the town's east gate
(Wacher, Towns of RE!, 247) and that of Cirencester, 549 m southwest of the town ( J. S. Wacher,
"Cirencester 1962: Third Interirn Report," AntJ 43 [1963]: 23); Richborough's monument lies
today about 390 m southwest of the third century A.D. Roman fon (Cunliffe. ed.. Fifth Report on
the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborou~h,230, fig. 25).

24.Bateman, Current Archaeoloq no. 137 (February 1994), 165, 167.

25. "The London Arnphitheatre," compiled by eds., Current Archaeoloey no. 109 (April 1988):
49.

26.Potter and Johns, Roman Britaiq, 80; Bateman, Current Archaeology no. 137 (February 1994),
165.

27.Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 240, 249.


29.Fulford, Silchester Arn~hitheatre,161; White, Antl 16 (1936), 149, 153.

30.FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,161; White, AntJ 16 (1936), i53.

31.Bateman, urrent Archaeology no. 137 (February 1994)- 166.

34.Wacher, Towns of RB, 299.

35.Cunliffe, ed., Fifth Report on the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborough, 230, fig. 25.

36.Silchester, Dorchester and Cirencester amphitheatres: Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,179;


Chichester amphitheatre: White, Antl 16 (1936), 149; London amphitheatre: Bateman, Current
Archaeolo~no. 137 (February 1994), 166; Richborough arnphitheatre: Ward, Romano-British
Buildings and Earthworks, 228.

37.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,179.

38.Total and arena dimensions of Silchester's arnphitheatre: Fuiford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,5,


161; total and arena dimensions of Richborough's amphitheatre: Ward, Romano-British Buildings
and Earthworks, 228 and Cunliffe, ed., Fifth Re~orton the Excavations of the Roman Fort at
Richboroueh, 248.

39.Dorchester arnphitheatre's overall and arena dimensions: Collingwood and Richmond, The
Archaeologv of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 119; Chichester amphitheatre's overall and arena
dimensions: Wacher, Towns of RB, 61, fig. 14 and White, Antl 16 (1936), 156; Cirencester's
overall and arena dimensions: Wacher, Towns of RB, 299; London amphitheatre ' s arena
dimensions: S. S. Frere, "Roman Britain in 1987," Britannia 19 (1988): 461. The overall
dimensions of London's amphitheatre have not been firmly established. If a segment of curving
wall discovered 20 m south of the arena wall in 1985, tentatively identified as being a remnant of
an outer wall erected when the amphitheatre was rebuilt in masonry in the second century A.D.,
Gurrent Archaeoloev no. 109 [April 19881, 49 and Frere, Britannia 19 [1988], 461) actually
belongs to the building's facade, its overall dimensions can be calculated as 102 by 84 m.

42 .Bomgardner, JRA 4 (199 1). 285; FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,161.

43. Chichester: White, An0 16 (1936), 152; Dorchester: Bradley, Archaeolo~ia105 (1976), 38;
London: Frere, Britannia 19 (1988), 461.
44.Bradley, Archaeolo ia 105 (1976), 42, 51, 54.

46.The presence of a row of post-holes and partially surviving posts in the east porta pompae of
London's second century stone arnphitheatre has Ied to the conclusion that the city's initial, first
century amphitheatre was probably entirely constructed of timber (Bateman, Current Archaeolo~
no. 137 [February 19941, 166). The discovery of traces of timber and drystone walling in the
northeast porta pompae of Cirencester's early second century stone amphitheatre have also been
attributed to an initial building largely made of timber; its arena wall, a11 traces of which were
eradicated by the rebuilding of the monument in stone, is assumed to have been made of timber
(Wacher, Towns of RB, 299 and John S. Wacher, "Cirencester 1963: Fourth Interim Report, "
AntJ 44 [1964]: 18).
47.FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,23, 25, 27.

54.Ibid., 45, 46. Bradley assigns the inner palisade to the first phase of the amphitheatre (Ibid.,
44-45, 92) but points out that it might have been added following the monument's construction
rather than at the tirne of its construction (Ibid., 53, note 1).

57.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 3 17-3 18.

58.Bradley, Archaeolo~ia205 (1976), 53. Bradley's interpretation is supported by others, namely


Jean-Claude Gohin (GoIvi., L'Am~hithtreromaiq, 87), John Wacher (Wacher, Towns of RB,
2nd ed., 326) and Michael Fulford (Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,183).

59.Bradley, A m 105 (1976). 53; Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 183.


60.Fulford, Silchester Am~hithcatre,183.

6 1.Chichester: White, AntJ 16 (1936), 152, 156-157; Richborough: Cunliffe, ed.. Fifth Report
on the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborou~h,248.
62.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatrg,181.

64.Ibid., 189-190: though little physical evidence indicating a cuit purpose has been recovered
frorn Silchester 1's chambers, their location on the building's short axis recalls the location of
recesses positively identified as shrines in the amphitheatre of Senlis.

67 .Cirencester amphitheatre's entrances: Wacher, T o m s of RB. 299; London arnphitheatre's


entrances: Batemm, Current Archaeoloa no. 137 (Febmary 1994). 166.

69.Silchester arnphitheatre's entrances: Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 21. 23-24. 25:


Dorchester amphitheatre's entrances: Bradley, Archaeologia 105 (1976). 42; Cirencester
arnphitheatre's entrances: Wacher, Towns of RB, 299.

70.GoIvin. LiAm~hithtreromain, 324.

7 1.Bradley, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976), 52, 58, 74.

72.Ward, Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks, 228.

73.The lack of an outer retaining wall is certain for the Dorchester amphitheatre (Bradley.
Archaeologia 105 [1976], 50), the Chichester amphitheatre (White, An0 16 [1936], 155) and the
Cirencester amphitheaue (Thompson, Archaeologia 105 [1976], 156). Evidence suggesting that
the London arnphitheatre. in its initial tirnber phase, and the Richborough amphitheatre were
provided with externa1 walls has not yet been found.

74.Thompson, Archaeoloeip 105 (1976). 156; Golvin. L'Amphithtre romain, 90; Grenier,
Manuei, 3. n,
579-580.

76.Cirencester amphitheatre: Wacher, Toms of RB, 299; Dorchester arnphitheatre: Collingwood,


e Archaeoloev
-- of Roman Britain, 119; London amphitheatre: Current Archaeoloey no. 109
(April 1988), 49.

77.SiIchester arnphitheatre: Fulford, Silchester Arnphitheatre, 163.

78.Height of Silchester arnphitheatre's banks: Bomgardner, JR44 (1991). 284; height of


Dorchester amphitheatre's banks: Collingwood, The Archaeoloev of Roman Britain, 119; height
of Cirencester amphitheatre's banks: Wacher, And 43 (1963), 23.
81.Severe erosion of the chalk banks appears to have removed al1 traces of the Dorchester
amphitheatre's conjectured t h b e r seating (Bradley, Archaeolo ia 105 [1976], 50). Excavations
at the London amphitheaire have been conducted especidly on the arena and have not yet revealed
evidence for seating arrangements (Bateman, Current Archaeologv no. 137 [Febniary 19941, 166).

83.Fulford, AntJ 65 (1985), 63; Bomgardner, 4 (1991), 284; Fulford, Sikhester


Am~hitheatre,162-163.

84.Fulford, Silchester Arn~hitheatre,163; idem, AntJ 65 (1985), 68. If spectators actually had
been required to stand in Silchester 1 in order to have a good view of the arena, one can only
conclude that the activities staged in the arena would have been of relatively short duration and not
day-long programmes like the spectacles staged in Rome, Pompeii and in other ltaiian cities (these
shows are described in Ville, La nladiature, 389-395). Whatever the purpose of Silchester 1's
terraces, the arrangement cannot have been entirely satisfactory. It is evident that the cavea's
angle inclination was steepened and that timber seating benches were constructed when the facility
was rebuilt in the early third century A.D.
Our understanding of Silchester's 1's cavea is hindered by the lack of precise parallek and
by Our limited knowledge of arnphitheatre seating arrangements. The seating of amphitheatres is
usually partially or entirely lost and, where it partially survives, is poorly preserved (Golvin,
L'Am~hithtreromain, 362). It is therefore not presently possible to confirm that amphitheatres
designed to accommodate standing spectators were acually constructed but it should be noted that
Jean-Claude Golvin rnakes no suggestion in his discussion of arnphitheatre caveae that spectators
would have been unabie to sit in some facilities (Ibid., 341-367).
Of the amphitheatres in mainland European, North Africa and the Near East listed in
Golvin's L'Am~hithtreromain, the facility whose cavea bears the most resemblance to that of
Silchester 1 is the military amphitheatre at the North African site of Gemellae. This facility, which
was constructed during the reign of Hadrian, was of the same structural type as the Silchester
amphitheatre and was similarly a small monument (Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 90). Its arena
measured 72 by 52 m and its cavea was only 6 m wide; the building's overall dimensions were 84
by 64 m (Ibid.). Its cavea was comprised of 8 or 9 platforms built of unbaked mud brick (Ibid.),
which were of greater height than the terraces of Silchester's amphitheatre (they were 0.50 m high)
but they were of about the sarne width (1.2 m wide) (Ibid.). It is assuxned, however, that these
platfom were benches (Ibid.), not standing platforms.

85.Silchester arnphitheatre's second century terraces: FuIford, Silchester Am~hitheatre, 170;


possible function of Cirencester amphitheatre's terraces: Thompson, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976),
156; date of Cirencester amphitheatre terraces: Wacher, AntJ 43 (1963), 25 and idem, An0 44
(1964), 18; possible function of Carmarthen amphitheatre's terraces: Thompson, Archaeolo~ia105
(1976), 156. As has been noted above, it cannot be established that the platforms of these British
arnphitheatres would have been rneant to accomrnodate standing spectators. Jean-Claude Golvin
claims the tenaces of the Cirencester and Carmanhen amphitheatres would have carried seating
benches (Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 87).
87.Fulford. Silchester Am~hitheatre,164.

88.Bradley, Archaeoloeia 105 (1976). 52.61. If rnernben of the audience were obliged to ascend
ramps in order to enter the Silchester and Dorchester amphitheatres, as has been suggested, this
would not have been unusual. Spectators were required in many amphitheatres, particularly in
those classified as Type 1 stmctures, to descend from the top (rear) of the cavea in order to reach
their seats. Extenial staircases or rarnps permitted people to ascend to the top of the caveu.
Arnphitheatres whose cavea was accessed in this manner include the amphitheatres at Pompeii,
Lepcis Magna, Luceria, Augustomagm Silvanecturn, Alba Fucens , Herdoniae, Carsulae, Forum
Julii. Paestum, Augusfa Treveronun, F o m Comelii, Eporedia, Albingaunum, PtoZemais,
Ulissipira, Thaenae, Uthina and many of the facilities built of earth banks and timber (Golvin,
L'Am~hithtreromain, 379-380).

89.Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 298.

90.Development of Carmarthen: Wacher, Towns of RB, 390-391 and Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd
ed., 305; date of Carmarthen amphitheatre: J. H. Little, "The Camanhen Arnphitheatre, "
Camarthenshire Antiauary 7 (1971): 60. Roman Carrnarthen had originated as a fort, established
in the 70s, and a very modest civilian settlement. The fort was deserted during Hadrian's reign
and the civitas of the Demetae was created.

91.Development of Aldborough: Wacher, Towns of RB, 34 and idem,Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 402;
conjectured date of Aldborough amphitheatre: Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 108. When
Aldborough was made a capital in Hadrianic times, it was already a well-developed centre. It had
originated as the vicus of a fort built by Agricola and had quickly become prosperous. When the
amphitheatre was built, the town already boasted many amenities.

92.Although both this capital and its district, the civitas of the Iceni, had been in existence since
the crushing of the revolt instigated by their leader Boudicca in A.D. 61, Roman repression had
prevented pronounced civil development from taking place before the second century. It is only
during the second century that a f o m . b d i c a , temples and bath were built (S. S. Frere, "Venta
Icenonun," PECS, 965; Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 245). It is not unreasonable to suppose
that the amphitheatre's construction is contemporary with that of the capital's other public
buildings.

93.Date of Cirencester amphitheatre's first Stone reconstruction: Wacher. An0 43 (1963), 25 and
idem, AntJ 44 (1964), 18; date of London amphitheatre's reconstruction: Bateman, Cutrent
,4rchaeoloa no. 137 (February 1994), 166.

94. Wacher, AntJ 44 (1964), 18. Dating evidence for the Cirencester amphitheatre's second
masonry rebuilding consists of a coin of Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161) and a coin of Marcus
Aurelius (AD. 161-180).

95 .Bateman, urrent Archaeoloey no. 137 (February 1994), 166.

97.Ibid. , 74.
98.Fulford. Silchester Amohitheatre, 167. A maximum lifespan of 120 years has been calculated
for the arena wall's timbers using the results of tests conducted on oak stakes by scientists studying
the rate of wood decay.

99.Fulford1 AnU 65 (1985), 65; idem, Silchester Amphitheatre, 29.

l-Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,29, 35, 168.

103.Golvin1 L'Amphithtre romain, 87, 91; G. S. Maxwell and D. R. WiIson, "Air


Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-84," Britannia 18 (1987): 44.

104.Little1Carmarthenshire Antiquarv 7 (1971), 58.

105.Wacher, Towns of RB, 51, 53.

106.Carmarthen amphitheatre: G. D. B. Jones, "Moridunum," PECS, 595; Caistor St. Edmund


arnphitheatre: MaxwelI and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 42.

107.Carmarthen arnphitheatre: Little, Carmarthenshire Antiquary 7 (197l), 58, 6 1, fig. 1;


Aldborough arnphitheatre: Collingwood, The Archaeolonv of Roman Britai~,105, fig. 26(e);
Caistor St. Edmund: Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 44.

108.AIdborough arnphitheatre's overall and arena dimensions: Golvin. L'Amphithtre rom ai^,
9 1; Carmarthen amphitheatre's overall and arena dimensions: Wacher, Towns of RB, 392 and
Little, Carmarthenshire Antiquary 7 (1971). 58; Caistor St. Edmund amphitheatre's overall and
arena dimensions: Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 44.

11O.Bateman. Current Archaeology no. 137 (February 1994), 167.

111.Wacher, A M 4 3 (1963), 25; idem,Towns of RB, 248.

1 13.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,3 1, 35.

116.Golvin,
.
_ hitheatre
a-
romain, 329.

117.Bateman. Current Archaeoloey no. 137 (February 1994), 166.


118.Wacher, Towns of RB, 299.

119.PostuIated short axis entrance in the London amphitheatre: Bateman, Cunent ArchaeoIogv
no. 137 (February 1994), 171; gap at one end of short axis of Aldborough amphitheatre:
Collingwood, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain, 105, fig. 26(e).

120,The vaulting of the Cirencester arnphitheatre's portae p o q u e is attested by an hnpost lodged


about 5.0 m away from the arena doorway in a passage wall of the northeast entrance (Wacher.
A n 0 43 [1963], 25). Excavation of the northeast main entrance of Carrnarthen's amphitheatre
reveaied that its passage was 6.1 rn wide (LittIe, Carmarthenshire Antiquary 7 [1971], 59; Wacher,
Towns of RB, 392).

121.Sikhester II's cavea: Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre, 170; caveae of Cirencester and
Carmarthen amphitheatres: Thompson, Archaeologia 105 (1976)- 156.

L23.Wacher, Towns of RB, 299; P. D. C. Brown and Alan D. McWhirr, "Cirencester, 1966,"
-
AntJ 47 (1967): 188.

124.Thompson, brchaeologia 105 (1976), 156; Little, Carmarthenshire Anti~uary7 (1971), 59-60;
Wacher, Towns of RB, 392.

125.Possible use of the Silchester amphitheatre platforms: Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,170;


possible use of the Cirencester and Camarthen amphitheatre terraces: Thompson, Archaeologia
105 (1976)- 156.

126.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 87.

127,Seating of Chichester amphitheatre: White, An0 16 (1936), 153; seating of London


amphitheatre: Bateman, Current Archaeolo~vno. 137 (February 1994)- 166.

128.FulfordTSilchester Amvhitheatre, 36, 170.

130.Wacher, AntJ 44 (1964), 18; Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 299.

132.Fulford, Sikhester Am~hitheatre,163; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 252-253.

133.Spectator capacity of Carmanhen amphitheatre: Liale, Camarthenshire Antiquary 7 (197 l),


60. The walled area of Carmarthen covered 13 hectares (Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 3051,
that of Silchester covered 34 hectares (G. C. Boon, "CallevaAtrebam, " PECS, 186).

134.Roman Dorchester's t o m walI enclosed 28-32 hectares (Cunliffe, PECS, 287), that of London
enclosed 133-4 hectares (Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 249) and that of Cirencester included about 100
hectares (Wacher, " Conniurn Dobunnom, .= ,
240).
"

135.Bateman. Current Archaeolo~yno. 137 (Febmary 1994), 167.

136.Frere, PECS,965.

137.Bradley. Archaeolo& 105 (1976). 61-62. 63, 92. The incorporation of the building into a
nearby burial ground is attested by three burials in the nonh main enIrance.

138.White. AntJ 16 (1936). 157; Wacher, Towns of RB, 248.

139.Bateman. no. 137 (February 1994), 167.

140.Wacher, 43 (1963), 26; idem, AntJ 44 (1964), 18.

141.Fulford, And 65 (1985). 71.

142.Fulford. Silchester Am~hitheatre,170.

147.Fulford, AntJ 65 (l98S), 69-70, 73; idem, Silchester Amphitheatre, 47.

148.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,49.

149.Fulford. AntJ 65 (1985), 71; idem,Silchester Arnphitheatr~,49, 51.

1SO .Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 47-48, 175.

15l.&id., 175.

152.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 139.

l53.&id., 274.

154.Wacher- Towns of RB, 375-376.

155.T. Ashby. A. E. Hudd and A. T. Manin, "Excavations at Caerwent, Monmourhshire, on the


Site of the Romano-British City of Venta Silurum, in the years 1901-1903," Archaeologia 59
(1904): 105.
157.Ibid.. 108; Ward, Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks, 230.

158.Ward, Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks, 230; Wacher, Towns of RB, 386.

159.Ashby, Hudd and Martin, ,kchaeoIo~ia59 (1904), lO4- 105.

160.lbid-, 105; Ward, Romano-British Buifdings and Earthworks, 230.

161.Ashby, Hudd and Martin, Archaeolo~ia59 (1904), 105; Wacher, Towns of RB, 386.

162.Golvin, L*Arn~hithtreromain, 274.

163.Cunliffe, ed., Fifth Re~orton the Excavations of the Roman Fort at Richborourrh, 248-249.

164.Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 322. The date of the latest activity in the arnphitheatre was
provided by 5th or 6th century pottery found in the arena.

165.Fourth century coins recovered from the arena: Fulford, Silchester Amnhitheatre, 55-56, 58;
date of Roman Silchester's decline: Boon, PECS, 187; Medievai use of Silchester's arnphitheatre:
Fulford, AnkJ 65 (1985), 77.

166.Bateman, Current Archaeology no. 137 (February 1994). 167.

168.It is postulated that the aristocrats of Roman Britain would have paid for many town amenities,
as was the practice in other parts of the Empire (Potter and Johns, Roman Britaiq, 74-75).

169.Wacher, Towns of RB, 393, 397; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 295; Potter and Johns, Roman
Britain, 75.

170.Watson, The Roman Soldier, 143-144.

171.Bomgardner, JRA 4 (199 l), 292.

172.Wacher, Towns of RB, 40-41; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 265-266; K. S. Painter, "A


Roman Bronze Helmet from Hawkedon, Suffolk," British Museum Ouarterlv 33 (1969): 128;
Ville, La gladiature, 2 11.

173.Baisdon, Life and Leisure, 331; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 265. Vast surns were spent
on spectacles by aristocrats and officiais. In the mid-second century B.C., elaborate gladiatorial
shows were said to cost at lest 30 talents (720 000 sesterces) (PoIybius Histmiae XXXI.28). The
splendor and cost of games increased continually as the Republic drew to a close. Julius Caesar
is said to have mounted a gladiatorial show in which 320 pairs of gladiators fought in his dead
father's honour in 63 B.C. (Plutarch Vitae Paralfelae: Caesar V ) .Titus AM~US Milo, in his bid
for the 53 B.C. consulship, staged gladiatorial games which cost, according to Cicero, one million
sesterces (Cicero Epistzdae ad Quinnunfatrem III.9.2). The cost of shows staged by individuals
other than the emperor was restricted during the later empire by the senatorial decree of 177/178
but spectacles were nonetheless expensive ventures. Individuals mounting shows following the
decree were pennitted to expend as much as 200 000 sesterces (Balsdon. Life and Leisure, 297).

174.Wacher, Towns of RB, 39-40; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 265.

175.WacherTTowns of RB, 38-39. Each of Urso's duovin' and aediles was obliged to contribute
a minimum of 2000 sesterces for the arnphitheatral entertainment, to be supplemented with a sum
of 2000 sesterces for each duovir and 1000 sesterces for each aedile from the public treasury
(Painter, British Museum Ouarterly 33 [1969], 128).

176.Golvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 265; Painter, British Museum Ouarterly 33 (19691, 128.
There is no actuaI record of such benefaction in Roman Britain but there are inscriptions which
bear indirecdy on the fundhg of gladiatorial spectacles in the province. The first is a third century
A.D. inscription from Normandy which records many details of the life of T. Sennius Sollernnis.
a wealthy municipal officiai from W i a Lugdunensir who was offered an apppointment with Legio
M Victnk, the legion which Hadrian brought with hirn to Britain in A.D. 121, by Tiberius Claudius
Paulinus, the eady third cenniry A.D. governor of Lower Britain (Frere, Bntannia, 3rd ed., 165;
Todd, Roman Britaiq, 202). The inscription informs us that Sennius Sollernnis staged gladiatorial
games on several occasions in Gaul (Todd, Roman Britain, 202). One may conciude from this that
there would have been individuals with sufficient wealth and interest to fund mnera or venariones
in Roman Britain.
The second inscription is the tablet sec up by Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius to comrnernorate his
donation of a theatre stage building at Petuaria. It confirms that there were people wealthy enough
to engage in patronage in the province and that some would have f m c e d projects connected with
public entertainment.

177.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 33 1; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 265.

178.Frere, Britamia, 3rd ed., 299-300; description of mosaic: J. M. C. Toynbee, A n in Roman


Britain (London: Phaidon Press, 1963), 200.

179.Ville, La nladiature, 212. For example, in A.D. 66 Nero is said to have entertaincd the
Parthian king Tiridates in Puteoli by staging games cornprishg both giadiatorial fights and animal
hunts in the local amphitheatre (Dio Historia Romana LXIII. 1-3)while Titus, four years later, is
said to have mounted several exhibitions throughout Syria in which Jewish prisoners were burned,
exposed to the beasts or forced to perform as besriarii or gladiators (Josephus Flavius De bello
Judaico VII.2.23-24, 3.37-39, 5.96).

180.Eutropius Brevarium ab urbe condira IX.2 1-22; X. 1.

181.Todd, Roman Brtain, 2 19.

182.Ammianus MarcelIinus XX.1; A Dictionary of the Roman Ern~ire,1991 ed., S. v. " Constans,
Flavius Julius," 106.

183.Scriptores Hisroriae Augusme: de vita Hadriani IX-XI; Todd, Roman Britain, 139-140.
184.Dio Hisraria Romana WMVII. 11-15. Severus fell il1 in Britain and died at York in A.D. 2 11.
His sons immediately returned to Rome.

187.Ibid. Examples of such shows include the gladiatorial spectacles staged in A.D. 69 in honour
of the emperor Vitellius by his supporters Fabius Valens (Tacitus Historiae II.67.2; II.70,l; m.32)
and Aulus Alienus Caecina (Tacitus Hisforiae K67.2) in Cremona and Bolonia respectively.

188.Webster, The Roman l u e r i a l Amy, 201; Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 330.

189.Wiedemann, Em~erorsand GIadiator~,44-5.

190.Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 331; Ville, La nladiature, 212.

191.Golvin, L'Am~hithtre romain, 266; Balsdon, Life and Leisure, 331; Painter. British
Museum Quarterly 33 (1969), 128.

192.There are unforninately no Iiterary references to British amphitheatres or to British spectactes.


However, ancient descriptions of shows staged in Rome, particularly of shows featuring beas
imported from Britain, do provide some hint of what British shows may have been Iike.

193.Painter, British Museum Ouarterlv 33 (1969). 122-124, 126, 129. Its deposition at Hawkedon
is somewhat enigmatic. The site's proxhity to Camulodunum (Colchester) has prompted the
conjecture that the helmet's owner would probably have perfomed in the town of Camulodunurn,
the seat of the imperial cult in Britain before the Boudiccan rebellion. It is also theorised that
Boudicca's followers may have been responsible for the helmet's deposition at Hawkedon: they
may have seized it along with other gladiatorial equipment when they sacked Colchester or they
may have liberated gladiators, one of whom would somehow have Ieft his helmet behind at
Hawkedon (Painter, British Museum Ouarterly 33 [1969], 129). Massive foundations at the foot
of a hillside at Colchester are, incidentally, thought to have perhaps belonged to an amphitheatre
(Wacher, Towns of RB, 108-109; Golvin. L'Amphithtre romain, 91).

195.Corpus h c n ~ t i o n u mL a t i n a m VIL 1335,4 in Painter, British Museum Ouarterlv 33 (1969),


126.

196.Wacher, Towns of RB, 357. Although no evidence for entertainment facilities has been found
at Leicester, Wacher believes that the town may have had an amphitheatre and theatre.

197.5. M. C. Toynbee, Art in Britain under the Romans (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964)- 378.
199.The Samnite is conjectured to have been the oldest type of gladiator and was typically
equipped with a large oblong shield, a guard on the right a m , a greave on the leR leg, a visored
and crested helmet and a short sword. The Samnite class is believed to have evolved into two
more specialized types, the secutor. who traditionally banled the retiariirrr, and the hopfornachus,
who usually fought a gladiator known as a Thraex (Thracian)(Friedlander, Poman Life and
Manne-, vol. 4, 174-175; Roland Auget, Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games &ondon:
George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 19721, 47). The terrns Samnis and secutor are ofien used
interchangeably by scholars,
..
200.Toynbee, Art in Bntain under the Romans, 118-1 19 and plate XXX1,a.

201.fiid., 118-119 and plate XXX1,b.

202.Wacher, Towns of RB, 174; Toynbee, Art in Britain under the Romans, 146.

203.Toynbee. An in Roman Britain, 188, item 149 and plate 183.

204.lbid., 200, item 191 and plates 225-226.

205.1. A. Richmond, Roman Brtain (London: Jonathan Cape. 1963). 129; Wacher. Towns of RB,
108.

206.Toynbee, Art in Roman Britain, 149, item 53.

O7.Ibid., 190, item 156.

208.Fulford, Sikhester Am~hitheatre,187, 189. Fulford admits that the horse bones found in the
arena may have been brought with spoil fiom outside the arena but emphasises that the fil1 would
probably have been obtained in the amphitheatre's vicinity. He considers that presence of these
faunal remains in the amphitheatre is significant and that it reflects activities conducted in the
facility. It is considered unlikely that the bones would have been food refuse as Romans
customarily did not consume horse-meat (Fulford, -e, 137).

209.David L. Bomgardner. review of The Silchester Amphitheatre. Excavations of 1979-1985,


by Michael Fulford, in N A 95 (199 1): 363.

2 11.Friedlander , J
R l ~ i f e vol. 4,
, 178.

2 12.Bomgardnert JRA 4 (199 i), 292-293.

2 13.Caesar. De bel10 Gallico N .24 and 33; Cicero, Epistulae ad famifiares VI1.lO. 2.
2 16.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,191.

2 17.Webster, The Roman Tm~erialArmv, 202.

2 18.Painter, British Museum Ouarterlv 33 (1969), 128.

2 19.Gustav Wilmanns, fiern~lainscn@tionurnLutinamm (Berlin: Weidmann, l873), 434.

220. Cornus Inscn'otionunt Latinarum, m.6753 in Painter British Museum Ouarterly 33 (1969), 126
and 130, note 9.

221 .Christianity was establishing itself in Roman Britain in the fourth century A.D. (Todd, Roman
Britain, 226).

222.Friedlandeq Roman Life and Manner~,vol. 2, 80.

223. Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299.

224.Martial Epigrammaton libri: Epigramrnaton liber (de Spectaculis liber) vii .1-4: 'Qualiter in
Scythica religatus npe Prometheusl arsiduam nimio pectore pavit avern,1 nuda Caledorr io sic
viscera praebuit ursol non falsa pendens in cruce Laureolusl. .." ("Just as, tied on a Scythian rock,
Prometheus fed the untiring bird with his too prolific hem, so Laureolus, hanging on no fake
cross, offered his exposed insides to a Caledonian bear."); Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,137.

225.Toynbee, A l (London: Tharnes and Hudson, 1973)- 99.

226. Bateman, Current Archaeolagy no. 137 (February 1994), 166-167. The director of the
London arnphitheatre excavation, Nicholas Bateman, reports that large quantities of animal bones
have already been recovered on the site and are now being examined. The remains of at least one
bear have been identified arnong these and Bateman is convinced that the animal perished in the
arena.

227.A bear battles a rhinoceros in Martial de Specraculis xxii.

228.Martial recounts the famed bestiarius Carpophorus' slaying of a bear with a spear in de
Spectaculis xv .

229.The "Colchester Vase" fight between a hunter and a bear in Toynbee, Art in Roman Britain,
190; fragmentary beaker decorated with a hunter using a whip against a bear in idem, An in
Britain under the Romans, 412.

230.Martial witnessed the fatal mangling of criminals cast respectively in the roles of a robber
narned Laureolus (Martial de Spectaculis vii), Daedalus (Martial de Spectaculis viii) and Orpheus
(Martial de Spectaculis xxi. xxib) by bears. The victim portraying Laureolus was first crucified
before being exposed to a Caledonian bear. Those portraying Daedalus and Orpheus appear to
have been exposed to bears without having been fettered.
23 1.G.Jemison, bnimals for Show and Pleasure in Ancient Rome (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1937), 169; Wiedemann, Em~erorsand Gladiators, 44.

232. Bull remains in London's amphitheatre: Bateman, Current Archaeology no. 137 (February
1994). 166-167; cattle bones in Silchester's amphitheaue: Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 137.
The bu11 rernains found at London's amphitheatre are among the numerous anima1 bones retrieved
on the site. Bateman is of the opinion that the animal died in the arena (Bateman, Current
Archaeology no. 137 February 19941, 166-167). There is Iess certainty regarding the origin of
the cattle bones found in the Silchester amphitheatre. It is considered possible that they may have
been from food refuse rather than being the remains of animals killed in the arena (Fulford,
Sikhester Am~hitheatre,137).

233. Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,138.

235.Toynbee, Animals in Roman Life and AQ, 133; Martial writes about a pregnant sow whom
he saw give birth as she died at the hands of a hunter in Martial de Spectaculis xii, xiii and xiv.

236.Toynbee. /!nimals in Roman Life and Art, 134. The bronze boar figurines have been found
at a number of locations including Aldborough, Colchester, Wattisfield in Suffolk and Findon in
Sussex. The dedication to Silvanus is cut on a third century A.D. altar and States that the altar was
erected by Gaius Tetius Venirius Micianus, prefect of the Sebosian squadron, to fulfil a vow and
give thanks to the god for a successful boar hunt.

237.Scriptores Historiae Augzutae: Gordiani Tres 111.6-8. The two hundred stags exhibited by
Gordian 1 are described as having had antlers shaped Iike the palm of a hand (. ..cervi pafmu~i
ducenti miris Britannis, ...). A painting of the show was apparently displayed in the house once
owned by Gnaeus Pompeius in Rome.

238.Large hounds, terriers and perhaps also bulldogs could be found in ancient Britain (Todd,
Roman Britain, 44).

239.Martial describes seeing a doe eIude hunting dogs in the arena and stop in front of the
emperor's box as thaugh to plead for her life (Martial Epigrammran !ibn IV.30) and does battle
each other (Martial Epigrammaton libn IV.35 and 74).

240.Toynbee, Art in Britain under the Romans, 412.

244FriedIander. Roman Life and Manners, vol. 2, 81.

245.Toynbee. A n in Roman Britain, 190. item 156 and plate 193.


246.Fulford, Silchester Amrihitheatre, 187.

247.It would not have been unusual for people to travel to a town to watch gladiatorial games. It
is known that the inhabitants from neighbouring towns travelled to Pompeii to attend gIadiatoria1
shows. It is recorded by Tacitus that during an exhibition staged at Pompeii's arnphitheatre in
A.D. 59, a fight which caused many casuaities erupted between the town's inhabitants and those
of the nearby town of Nuceria ( e s t of Pompeii) (Tacitus Annak X I V . 17).

248.According to John Wacher, the seating capacity of Carmarthen's amphitheatre would have
been equal to the population of Roman Cirencester (Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 305).

249.Roman Carmatthen's walled area: Wacher, Toms of RB, 2nd ed., 305.

250.Walled area of Roman Dorchester: Cunliffe, PEC$, 287; walled area of Roman London:
Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 249.

25 1.Collingwood, The Archaeolonv of Roman Britain, 119.

252.Fulford, Silchester Am~hitheatre,193.


CHAPTER 3

RURAL AMPHITHEATRES

Not al1 inhabitants of Roman Britain's rural regions would have been obliged to travel to a

town to go to an amphitheatre. Three small towns or villages, al1 located in England, are known to

have possessed an amphitheatre: Charterhouse-on-Mendip (Somerset), Catterick (northern

Yorkshire) and Frilford (south Oxfordshire). The total of currently known rural amphitheatres rnay

be as high as five if the enigmatic earthworks tentatively identified as amphitheatres at the sites of

Winterslow (Wiltshire, England) and Woodcuts (Dorset, England) are also counted. '

None of these eroded and plow-damaged monuments has been fully excavated although each

has been subjected to the spade to some extent. The Charterhouse-on-Mend i p am ph itheatre, whose

rernains have survived to a considerable height despite erosion, was trenched in several locations

in 1909: both entrantes were cfeared; the outer slope of the north bank and the inner slope of the

south bank with an adjoining part of the arena were sectioned on the building's minor axis. The

northeast section of Catterick's amphitheatre, discovered during the archaeological investigation of

the inside of the modem racetrack, was cleared along with a srnaIl adjoining area of the arena in

1995. Frilford's amphitheatre, which is missing the rear ofthe seating embankment on the south,

east and north, was first identitied in aerial photographs in 1977' and was trenched in 1981 on a trial
basis in two locations, in the western portion of the seating bank and a small adjoining part of the

arena and in and around what proved to be a charnber communicating with the arena on the south.

The downhill half of the Winterslow earth enclosure, whose uphill half has been almost completely

erased, was extensively excavated in 1959 while that at Woodcuts, one bank of which has also

completely disappeared, was excavated in 1884- 1885 by General Pitt-Rivers,

The settlements with which these various monuments were associated are also largely

unexplored. In the case of the Winterslow earthwork, the ancient settlement to which it belonged

has not yet been Iocated. The four ancient agglomerations which have been recognized are known

only from small-scale excavations, field surveys and aerial reconnaissance.

The paucity of information on the settlements as well as the poor state of preservation and

limited excavation of the positively and tentatively identified country amphitheatres rneans that this

group of monuments is the least known of Roman Britain's amphitheatres, chronologically.

architecturally and functionally. Nevertheless, these rural amphitheatres will comprise the subject

of this chapter and will be discussed with respect to their structural type, architectural characteristics

and uses to the degree allowed by existing information. Where possible, their features and uses will

be compared with those of Roman Britain's military and urban amphitheatres and continental

exam ples.

Before proceeding to examine this group of British amphitheatres, it is necessary to explain

what is meant by "rural amphitheatre" in this chapter. There is some divergence among scholars

conceming what constitutes such an amphitheatre in Roman Britain. It has been suggested by David

Bomgardner that this category of monument is typified by the Frilford amphitheatre, a facility

located next to a small rural settlement and a ~ h r i n e .According


~ to this view, therefore, the "rural

amphitheatre" class comprises only amphitheatres associated with rural sanctuaries and only one

such amphitheatre is currently known in Britain. However, a broader conception of the rural
amphitheatre category is also current, according to which rural arnphitheatres are those monuments

associated with a small town or other type of rural agglomeration; the settlernents in question might

be of predominantly Roman character (for example, Charterhouse-on-Mendip and FriIford) or of

native character (Woodcuts).J It is the latter definition of rural amphitheatres which has been

adopted for this chapter.

"Small towns," of which eighty or more are currently known, may be distinguished from

major or large towns not by their size (some small towns were as large as small district capitals and

nurnbered 2000-4000 inhabitants) but by their morphology, level of amenity and function.' Un li ke

major towns, on which a regular street grid was imposed soon after their foundation, srnall towns

generally developed in a haphazard fashion, ofien along a road or road junctiom6 Most had few if

any official buildings such as a forum or a basilics, other than the occasional nransio (a rest house

operated for the imperial post).' Urban amenities such as public baths and water supply systems

were also relatively rare, although there are exeption~.~


Some small towns boasted urban facitities

but these were usually comrnunities which had developed around shrines (for example, Bath or

Frilford) or settlements at which it was possible to make use of an infrastructure created by the

Roman army (for example, Catterick)? Moreover, unlike those of actual towns, the houses found

in small towns were generally srnaIl and modest and were frequently attached to shops or

w~rkshops.'~

The functions of small towns atso differed from those of Britain's actual towns. Small

towns were not generaIly intended to be administrative and political centres and most never served

as such although a few were made district or civitas capitals in the third and fourth centuries A.D.

Instead, their chief function, attested by the nearly ubiquitous presence of shops and workshops, was

econornic. They served as hubs of rural economic activity and catered to the needs of the inhabitants

of surrounding villas, villages and farmsteads. Many small towns even became industrially or
economically specialised, evolving into manufacturing centres, extraction centres or market

centres."

Other types of rural agglomerations may be distinguished in Roman Britain. These are

collectively classified as peasant settlementst2and can be divided into villages, defined as "small

nucleated agricultural settlement~,"'~and single farmsteads."

History and Description of the SrnaIl Towns Possessing an Amphitheatre


The rural centres which boasted monuments known or conjectured to have been

amphitheatres varied in their inhabitants, origin and type. The settlements of Charterhouse-on-

Mendip, Catterick and Frilford, the three communities which possessed earthworks confirmed as

amphitheatres, were al1 predominantly Roman agglomerations. The region surrounding the

Winterslow structure was also Roman in character, as attested by signs of occupation including the

remains of a villa on a ridge south of the earthwork; no ancient nucleus has yet been Iocated in the

immediate vicinity of the earthwork however.I5 The settlement to which the Woodcuts earthwork

belonged is identified as a native homestead.l6 Each site will be described in more detail below.

The village of Charterhouse-on-Mendip constituted the centre of the Roman Mendip mining

industry and was, like the lead and silver mines to the village's southeast, of pureIy Roman

foundation. Roman presence in the area, whose beginning is traditionally ascribed to Claudio-

Neronian period (A.D. 43-68) by pottery and a lead pig traditionally dated to A.D. 49, was first

rnilitary in nature, as the existence of a 1.2 hectare fort south of the township and lead ingots bearing

the "Legio II" stamp attest. Initial rnilitary presence and control of the mines probably decreased

once supervision of extraction operations was transferred to appointed imperial agents and

subsequently perhaps to private prospectors, who rnanaged a thriving industry until the second half

of the second century A.D."


Due to limited excavation of the Roman civiiian settlement of Chartethouse-on-Mendip, its

exact foundation date as well as its chronology and precise layout are unknown aIthough aerial

photographs and excavation results have made it possible to gain some understanding of its

amenities and level of prosperity. An irregular street grid plan describing several lots covering an

area of 12.1 hectares has been discerned north of the ancient mining area and Iengths of deep and

well constnicted drains, implying the existence of a bath-house, have been uncovered. Excavations

have also yielded domestic items, for example, pottery of good quality, and many intended for

penonal adornment such asfibulae (brooches) and gems. The date of the amphitheatre's addition

to the small town's facilities is unknown although the presence of several Roman pottery sherds,

including Sarnian ware in a seating embankment and on the floor of the monument's east entrance,

are indicative of a Roman date. The township appears from numisrnatic evidence to have been

inhabited into the fourth century AD.'*

Roman Catterick (Cataractonium), was also a small town which developed near a Roman

fort. The fort, founded by Agricola in A.D. 80, was situated south of the river Swale on Dere Street,

the road from York (Eburacum) to Corbridge (Corstopiturn), Northumberland, and remained a

military installation with some interruptions perhaps as late as the fourth ~ e n t u r y . ' ~

The civilian settlement of Catterick began to develop in the last 40 years of the second

century A.D., to the east and southeast of the fort and north of the river Swale, where shops and

houses were built. Ceramic evidence including Samian ware from the arena indicates that it is also

during this period of initia1 growth, towards the end of the second century, that Catterick was

furnished with an amphitheatre. The hamlet continued to develop throughout the Roman period but

remained srnaIl (the area enclosed by the fourth century defensive wall covered only 6.3 hectares)

and was finally deserted in the fifih century before the main Anglo-saxon migrations to the ares?
The small town of Frilford, unlike Charterhouse-on-Mendip and Catterick, did not originate

from Roman military presence but instead developed around and in association with a Romano-

Celtic temple founded on a deserted native site, which probabiy marked the boundary between the

territories of the Dobunni and the Atrebates, at the crossing of the river Ock." Traces of native

occupation, which appears to have ended in the mid-first century B.C., consist of the vestiges of a

stake wall structure (Site A) underlying the Romano-Celtic temple which became the focal point of

the small Roman t o m , a series of pits (Site B) and a penannutar structure (Site C) to the south of

the Romano-Celtic temple (fig. 28).a The precise nature of the native site has not been determined

though it has been proposed by sorne that the occupation was of a domestic nature3 and by others

that the buildings were of ritual significance."

The remains of the Roman religious centre at Frilford consist of a main Roman road running

northeast to southwest north of the river Ock, a secondary road branching eastward from the main

thoroughfare, an enclosed temple cornplex, the amphitheatre and five areas of habitation (Areas 1-5)

covering a 30 hectare area (fig. 29).x

Roman occupation at Frilford appears from ceramic evidence to coincide with the beginning

of Britain's Roman period and to have begun in three areas, within the temple precinct, in the space

between the precinct and the amphitheatre and in the area north of the temple precinct (fig. 29, Areas

1 and 2). Construction of the Romano-Celtic temple lying at the precinct7scentre, which appears

to have been used into the fifth century, is dated to the late second or early third century while

development of Areas 3-5, residential areas scattered along the West side of the main Roman road,

seems to have ocrurred during the third and fourth centuries A.D. (fig. 29). The precise construction

date of the amphitheatre, one of the small town's amenities which may also have included srnall

stone-walled and tile-roofed shrines, a bath-house and a courtyard building resembling a forum-

basilics (Areas 1 and 2), is unknown although there is slight evidence to indicate an initial timber
phase, tentatively dated by excavators to the first century A D . to correspond with the initial timber

phases of the Silchester and Dorchester arnph itheatres."

The ancient character of the region around the Winterslow earthwork, which lies on the

southern edge of the Salisbury Plain, is virtually unknown. No agglomeration has yet been located

in the conjectured amphitheatre's immediate vicinity but the scattered signs of habitation and the

Roman road connecting Winchester to Old Samm (Sorviodmum),a Roman settlement situated about

9 km west of the earthwork (on the outskirts of modem Salisbury), indicate that thete was a Roman

~ pottery found in the Winterslow earthwork confimis that the structure is of Roman
p r e ~ e n c e .The

construction but does not provide a precise date."

The Woodcuts earthwork lies immediately outside an ancient settlement identified as a

native homestead which was inhabited from the first century A. D. until the time of Constantine."

No date has been proposed for the monument although it too has yielded Roman p~ttery.'~

The Rural Amphitheatres


Roman Britain's positively identified and conjectured rural amphitheatres were generally

sited on the outskirts of or at some distance from their respective settlements, as was the case with

most of their urban counterparts. The Charterhouse-on-Mendip facility was built to the west of the

township, less than 200 m from the nearest edge of the settlement, while that of Catterick lay about

900 m south of the Roman agglomeration (beneath what is now the race course) and West of the

Agricolan f01-t.~'

The Woodcuts monument is situated immediately adjacent to the homestead." Although

its extramural location is typical, its situation on an ancient unsurfaced road leadinp to the

homestead is considered anomal ou^?^


The Frilford amphitheatre lies 120 m eastward of the walled temple precinct on the edge

of an area of habitation (Area 1) (fig. 29)?4

As can be expected, orientation of rural amphitheatres varied. The long axis of both the

Charterhouse-on-Mendip (fig. 30) and Frilford facilities lies on an est-west alignment (fig. 3 1).

The Winterslow earthwork is oriented northeast-southwest (fig. 32) whiIe its Woodcuts counterpart

is oriented northwest-southeast (fig. 33). The orientation of the Catterick amphitheatre has not yet

been established owing to insufflcient excavation (fig. 34).

AI1 the monuments positively or tentatively identified as rural amphitheatres can be

categorized as Type 1 structures, characterised by an arena sunk into the ground, enclosed by seating

banks composed from spoil derived frorn the arena's excavation. None has yet proved to have banks

segmented by anything other than portae pompae. Consequently, they al1 appear to have been Type

la, Iike the majority of Britain's urban amphitheatres, rather than Type lb structures.

In at l e s t three instances, rural amphitheatre builders sought out natural topographical

features which would offer structural advantages, as did the builders of several of the urban

amphitheatres,to economize on effort and building materials. Those who constructed Charterhouse-

on-Mendip's amphitheatre chose to situate the structure on a patch of ground sloping from the

northwest to the southeast at the foot of Black Down (fig. 3 9 , burrowing into the natural sand to

create the arena and disposing the excavated sand around the arena to form the embankments of the

cuvea. Construction of the arena, which Iies 0.47 m below the present ground surface, did not yield

the complete amount of fil1 necessary for the banks, forcing the builders to use mining waste and

also sand obtained from an area to the north bank's rear, where there is a wide ditch which was

buried by material eroded from the bank?

The Frilford amphitheatre was constructed at the bottom of a shallow dry valley running

southward towards the river Ock (fig. 29),a topographical situation which closely resembles that
of London's amphitheatre. The arena was sunk into the ground, its floor Iying about 1.5 m below

the present ground surface, to provide the yellow and white clay which was combined with rubble

to form the banks meant to support the structure's seating?

The bui1ders of the conjectured amphitheatre at Winterstow also chose a valley location,

building the monument on the wall of a dry valIey. This valtey lies near the foot of the northwestern

dope of the steep down on which the modem village of Winterslow is located ( f i g . 32). The

earthwork's siting on an incline meant that the uphill seating embankment, which has been almost

entirely eroded, would not have had to be built to as great a height as the downhill bank since the

incline would have provided much of the needed elevation. To bring the downhill bank up to the

height of its uphill counterpart, the builders were obliged first to spread a layer of fil1 to create a

levelling platform counteracting the incline (fig. 36, "primary platform"). Upon this layer, subsoil

derived from quarrying of the space conjectured to have been an arena was heaped in a crescent (fig.

36, "secondary core"). However, as the soi1 extracted from the conjectured arena was insufficient,

the Roman builders added a large volume of grey clay obtained from an unknown source to

complete the bank (ftg. 36, "fina1bank")."

The Catterick amphitheatre and the Woodcuts earthwork were built on level ground, the

former on a large natural deposit of grave1 which provided the material for the seating embankments,

and the latter, as previously mentioned, across an ancient unsurfaced r ~ a d . ~Although


' they were

not able to take advantage of a natural incline to create the monument's structure, the builders of

Catterick's amphitheatre were able to utilise a large Neolithic cairn (35 m in diameter) to compose

part of the building's structure, incorporating it into the northeast portion of the 40 rn wide cavea

(fig. 34, amphitheatre bank; fig. 28, cairn beneath bank)." It appears that those who constructed the

Woodcuts enclosure formed the cavea's banks with the fiIl obtained frorn the arena's e~cavation.'~
The positively identified and postutated rural amphitheatres range widely in dimensions.

The largest of the five monuments are the Catterick arnphitheatre and the Winterslow structure. The

former, which may have been the largest of the province's amphitheatres, is estimated to have had

an overall diameter of 140 m while the latter earthwork measures 108 m in total length on the main

axis:' equalling the Cirencester amphitheatre's overall length. Both buildings, assuming that the

Winterslow enclosure is an amphitheatre as is the Catterick monument, can be considered to be

"mediumn-sizedamphitheatre~.'~

The Frilford and Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatres and the Woodcuts enclosure,

assuming that al1 three were amphitheatres, can be considered "small" ex ample^.'^ Arnong these.

the Frilford facility is the largest (overall dimensions 67-69 m by 67-69 m, arena roughly 45 by 45

m), followed by that at Charterhouse-on-Mendip (total dimensions roughly 70 by 6 I m, arena about

32 by 24.4 rn) and the Woodcuts "amphitheatre," which is presently the smal lest of al1 the bui Id ings

confirmed or conjectured to be amphitheatres in Roman Britain (overall dimensions about 40 by

36 m, "arena" about 21 by 15 m)?

As can be deduced from the dimensions of their ruins, not al1 of the rural arnphitheatres were

of the typical elliptical shape. The Frilford amphitheatre is a nearly circular building furnished with

a similarly shaped arena," which is reminiscent of the Silchester amphitheatre's initial arena, while

the Woodcuts structure, although provided with an elliptical arena, is sornewhat rounded overall

(figs. 3 1 and 33 respectively).

Although severely damaged, some of the original features of the five monuments known or

conjectured to be rural arnphitheatres are still evident and can provide a Iimited understanding of

the original appearance of the buildings. These features include the arena and its adjuncts, the

entrances and the seating embankments.


As stated above, the arena of each rurai amphitheatre was sunk below original ground ievel.

As is common among Romano-British rnilitary and urban arnphitheatres and as was typical of

amphitheatres in general, the arena floor of sorne of the country amphitheatres was surfaced. Sand,

the most commonly ernployed arena flooring material, served as the surfacing of the Charterhouse-

on-Mendip arnphitheatre's arena.& The arena floor of Catterick's arnphitheatre appears to have been

finely cobbled."

Excavations have not brought to light any features in the arena floor, either drains or the

central features which are characteristic of continenta1 amphitheatres, in any of the monuments. It

may be that Britain's rural amphitheatres were devoid of central arena featurts as were their urban

counterparts.

The arena of each building would presumably have been surrounded by an arena wall

retaining the front of the seating banks. The only arena wall to have been preserved is that of the

Frilford amphitheatre, a stone and mortar wall almost 1.O m thick and still standing at a height of

0.40 m on the southwestern and eastem perimeter of the arena." IIt is thought that this wall was

preceded by one of timber belonging to the amphitheatre's timber phase, whose vestiges were

revealed in a cross-section of the bankSJg It is conceivable that one or more of the four other

monuments known or thought to have been rural arnphitheatres possessed, Iike Dorchester's

amphitheatre, a timber wall rather than a stone wall.

Thus far no evidence of a service corridor has been detected in any of the monuments and

only the Frilford amphitheatre has yielded traces of a charnber behind the arena wall. The presence

of this chamber in the Frilford facility hints that some country amphitheatres may have been as

sophisticated in their design as the more elaborate of the province's urban amphitheatres (for

example, the Silchester, London and Dorchester arnphitheatres).


This chamber is located at the southern end of the Frilford amphitheatre's secondary suis

(fig. 3 1). It cornmunicated only with the arena, as did the short a i s chambers of the Silchester and

Dorchester amphitheatres. It was a rectangular recess built into the earth bank and lined with walls

constnicted in the same fashion as the arena wall. Excavations revealed a roughly rectangular mass

of stone, possibly the rernains of an altar plinth, in the centre of the floor. This room is thought by

the monument's excavator to have been a Nemeseum or an animal holding pen.jO

The arena of Roman Britain's rural amphitheatres would have been accessed through the

portae p o m p e . Such entrances have been located in the Charterhouse-on-Mendip and Frilford

amphitheatres (figs. 30 and 3 1). Moreover, two openings leading from the exterior of the monument

to the space enclosed by its banks are evident on the main a i s of the Woodcuts earthwork (fig. 33)

and one has been detected at the southem end of the earth bank excavated at Winterslow?

Only the main axis entrances of Charterhouse-on-Mendip's facility have been comptetely

cleared. Like the entrances of the province's urban amphitheatres, those of the Charterhouse-on-

Mendip amphitheatre consisted of passages bounded by the seating banks although they were

narrower than those of its urban counterparts; they both measured about 2.5 m in width originally."

Searns of charcoal were detected in the silt which had accumulated at the bottom of the western main

e n t r a n ~ eperhaps
, ~ ~ evidence of timber palisades like those which faced the entrance passage walls

of the Silchester and Cirencester amphitheatres.

None of the monuments positively or tentatively identified as rural amphitheatres has yet

yielded evidence of subsidiaiy points of access to the arena or to the seating banks, such as existed

at the Caerleon and Chester amphitheatres. Although traces of secondary entrances may be

uncovered in the future, the majority of Britain's urban amphitheatres were devoid of such entrances

and it is conceivable that the rural amphitheatres likewise lacked secondary entrances.
The precise design of the seating anangements in Britain's rural amphitheatres is an almost

complete mystery. The poor state of some remains and the limited scope of the excavations

conducted in each structure mean that onIy the basic characteristics of each monument's cavea can

now be known.

It is evident from their remains that the auditoria of the monuments were of differing width.

Those of Frilford's arnphitheatre (fig. 3 1) and of the Woodcuts earthwork (fig. 33) would have been

extremely narrow, roughty 1 1-1 2 m and I O m respectively (equal in width to the cmea of Caistor

Those of Charterhouse-on-Mendip's structure are roughly 18 m wide


St. Edmund's arn~hitheatre).~

(fig. 30)." n i e seating banks of the Catterick amphitheatre (fig. 34) and the Wintenlow enclosure

(fig. 32) would have been unusually wide, their rernains measuring respectively 40 m and 36 rn at

their widest point.s6

It can also be deduced from their remains that the seating banks of each rural amphitheatre

would have stood several metres in height to provide a clear view of the arena. The amphitheatres

of Chaterhouse-on-Mendip and Catterick provide a clear illustration of this: the sandy embankments

of the former monument currently stand to a maximum height of 4.5 m and the excavated portion

of the latter's seating bank has survived up to 2.0 m high in places."

It is possible that none of the five structures known or thought to be rural amphitheatres

possessed a rear retaining wall. The excavator of Frilford's amphitheatre has conctuded from his

investigations that the facility's cmteo never possessed an external wall." None of the other

monuments has yet yielded traces of an external wall. If rural amphitheatres were indeed generally

devoid of a rear wall, tiers of seating would have covered only the inner face of the seating banks.

In these respects, the rural amphitheatres would have resembled their urban counterparts.

Conclusive evidence of the seating structures has been recovered in none of the monuments.

The traces of charcoal found on the outer slope of the Charterhouse-on-Mendipamphitheatre's north
embankment may be vestiges of the facility's ~ e a t i n g . It
~ ~is postulated that the seating of the

Frilford amphitheatre would have been made of timber and it is conceivable that the seating of the

other structures known or theorised to be country amphitheatres would have been made of timber.

Some of the country amphitheatres may have been furnished with tribunals or boxes at each

end of the arena's short axis, as were the Iegionary amphitheatres of Caerleon and Chester and

perhaps aisu the urban arnphitheatres of Sikhester and Dorchester. This is implied by the existence

of the alcove at the south end of the Frilford amphitheatre's secondary axis, which could have

supported a raised structure of some kind6" as did the short axis chamben of Chester's second

amphitheatre and of Caerleon's facility.

The rnanner in which spectators would have gained access to the auditorium of the various

monuments is unknown although it is conceivable that there would have been ramps on the rear

slopes of the seating banks.

Seating capacity has not been calculated for any of the confirmed amphitheatres or for the

earthworks of Winterslow and Woodcuts but it is possible to compare some of these monuments

with amphitheatres of comparable dimensions for which seating estimates have been proposcd to

obtain a very approximate idea of their holding capacity. The Frilford and Charterhouse-on-Mendip

amphitheatres fa11 between the timber legionary amphitheatre of Chester (Chester i) and the Stone

legionary arnphitheatre of Caerleon both in overall and cavea dimensions and consequently could

perhaps have accommodated between 3500 spectators (the maximum seating capacity of Chester

1) and 6000 spectators (the maximum seating capacity of Caerleon's amphitheatre). The Woodcuts

enclosure, which was slightly smaller than the Type la amphitheatre at Micio in Dacia overall but

fumished with embankments wider than those of the Micio facility, might have been able to hold

as many spectators or more than its Dacian counterpart which is thought to have held about 1000

people.
Builders of Rural Amphitheatres

The circumstances surrounding the building of rural arnphitheatres are a mystery. There is

no definitive answer to such questions as who wouId have approved and funded their construction,

how many were erected and why particular srnall towns possessed such a facility when most appear

not to have had an amphitheatre. Only a few tentative suggestions may be made.

It is conceivable that the Roman military detachment which initially managed the

Chaterhouse mining operations constmcted the site's amphitheatre but it is equally likely that some

of the small town's inhabitants were responsible for the monument. It is possible that the Catterick

amphitheatre may have been a rnilitary structure although its construction date, which coincides with

the expansion of the civilian settlernent, would supgest that it was instead a civic building. The

construction of the Frilford amphitheatre was almost certainly a civilian project. There is virtualty

no trace of the builders of the Woodcuts and Winterslow monuments other than Roman pottery and,

at the Winterslow site, an iron pike of a type commonly found in both Romano-British domestic and

mi 1itary ~ontexts.~'

ln sorne intances, the construction of rural amphitheatres could have been financed by local

oficials or other wealthy individuals. There is slight epigraphic evidence of the existence of local

magistrates in some British rnilitary vici (civilian settlements attached to Roman forts) classified as

small t o m s and of patronage in rural areas. An inscription on an altar from the viczrs outside the

fort at Old Carlisle in Cumberland, England, mentions one such type of magistrate, the nlagisrer.

The dedicatory insciption set up by Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius, to document his gifi of a theatre stage

building to the vicus of Peruoria, States that he was the community's aedife aunior magi~trate).~'

The Petuaria inscription, while implying the existence of small town officials, also

demonstrates that such individuals could have financed building projects. It is possible therefore
that local officials might have funded the construction of one or more of Britain's rural

amphitheatres. Wealthy individuals senring in a private capacity might also have done the same!'

Uses of Rural Amphitheatres


It is currently impossible to establish the purposes which the amphitheatres in Britain's

country areas served. Scholarly opinion is divided. Some, speaking of these buildings in generaI.

simply state that it is not known if they served the same purpose as the urban arnphitheatres?

Convenely, it has been asserted that they would have been used for gladiatorial and animal fightsbS

The scholars speaking of individual monuments also disagree, proposing a variety of functions for

individual monuments. However, until further excavations are conducted, discussion of their uses

remains speculative. Various hypotheses as to the function of each country arnphitheatre will be

disrussed below.

The excavator of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip arnphitheatre, while acknowledging that the

excavations yielded nothing which could provide some indication of the building's use, proposed

that it was in al1 likelihood used by the residents of the settlement for recreational purposes. He

suggested that gladiatorial fights and cock-fighting (in other words, munera and venationes, types

of displays usually staged in arnphitheatres) would have been staged in the building.'

Should the Charterhouse facility, whose construction date has not been established, have

been built by the garrison of the Claudia-Neronian fort which lay to the south of the smali town's

location, it could first have been utilised for troop entertainment and perhaps periodically for

training drills. It is also possible that people from the surrounding countryside could have attended

the occasional spectacle alongside the garrison of the early fort or the residents of the rnining

~ettlement.~'
The Catterick arnphitheatre's excavator does not speculate regarding the building's use but

it is possible that it would have served functions similar to those proposed for the Charterhouse-on-

Mendip facility. It is conceivable that both soldiers and the population of the small civilian

settlement made use of it. Its 40 rn wide cavea would also have enabled the facility to accommodate

visiting spectators.

The use ofthe Frilford amphitheatre is currently k i n g debated. Its apparent connection with

the sanctuary (it is located 120 m from the temple precinct), an arrangement which is presently

unique but reminiscent of the GalIic rural sanctuaries boasting theatre-amphitheatres, has prompted

the excavator to speculate that Frilford's amphitheatre may have served functions similar to those

of the hybrid faciIities found in Gallic sanctuarie~.~


Their function remains somewhat obscure but

the rural Gallic theatre-amphitheatres are thought to have been the setting of some of the events of

the religious festivals celebrated in the sanctuaries, perhaps dramatic performances, rhetorical

contests, beast fights or sports of some kind.'j9 It has also been proposed that the Frilford

amphitheatre was used in the sanctuary's ri tu al^.'^

A further alternative may be proposed. it has been suggested that some Gallic rural

sanctuaries "...should be seen as having been founded (or re-founded) deliberately as places where

urban-style amenities rnight be enjoyed by the rural populace, thanks to the generosity of local

notables, as attested by inscriptions."" Likewise, it may be that the Frilford amphitheatre was a

facility belonging to the sanctuary complex but intended to be used by visitors to the shrine for

recreational purposes, not for the sanctuary's cuit activities.

Another possibility, considered to be unlikely by the am ph itheatre's excavator," is that the

Fdford amphitheatre belonged to the settlernent rather than the temple complex. That it formed part

of the sanctuary cannot be a forgone conclusion since this arrangement rernains unique. The

settlement which developed around the temple complex may have been wealthy enough, as a result
of the economic activity generated by the sanctuary, to permit the construction and operation of an

amphitheatre. If, therefore, the facility was connected to the settlement rather than to the temple

cornplex, it would probably have been used mainly for gladiatorial fights and venafionesas were the

province's urban amphitheatres.

Some architectural and faunal evidence was uncovered on the site of the Frilford

arnphitheatrewhich may be indicative of muneru or venutianes, the types of entertainrnents typically

staged in amphitheatres. The architecturai evidence is the chamber located behind the arena wall

at the south end of the secondary axis (fig. 3 1). It may have served one or more of several functions

(shrine, animal holding Pen, storage room, changing room), al1 of which would have been linked to

the staging of gladiatorial or animal shows. Its presence signifies that the building was meant to be

used for amphitheatral displays at least on occasion, regardless of whether it was attached to the

sanctuary or the settlement.

The faunal remains consist of bones which were recovered in the vicinity of the south

cham ber.'3 Their presence is h ighly suggestive of venuriones.

The purposes of the Winterslow and Woodcuts earthworks are even more obscure than those

of the positively identified rural amphitheatres. The excavations conducted at their sites yielded no

helpful artifacts or architectural evidence. The apparent absence of military installations or

sanctuaries in the vicinity of the structures suggests that, if they were indeed amphitheatres, they

would probably have served mainly as venues for beast shows or gladiatorial fights.

It seems that in the Wintenlow enclosure, if it was an entertainment facility, gladiatorial and

beast shows would have taken place alongside another though rather peculiar activity for the setting,

that of retrieving water. Excavations revealed a well on the northeast side of the surviving bank.

It had been dug when construction of the embankment was in its third and tinal stage (fig. 36)." The

well was refilled at a later time with material derived in part from the face of the embankment
immediately to its south.'' The monument's excavator is of the opinion that the presence of the well

would not have precluded its use as an entertainment venue.76

There is nothing to indicate the frequency of use of the buildings which were or may have

been rural amphitheatres nor to indicate the length of their use but it may be assumed that shows,

if they did take place at these various monuments, would probably have been modest exhibitions

staged to celebrate religious holidays and other designated occasions.

It may be concluded that the buildings which have been positively identified as rural

arnphitheatres resembled in size, structure and basic building materials their provincial military and

urban counterparts. They currently seem to have most closely resembled the urban amphitheatres

in their simplicity of plan, and apparent lack of external walls and secondary entrances. As the

Frilford amphitheatre's mortared masonry arena wall and chamber demonstrate, rural arnphitheatres

could have exhibited a degree of refinement close to that of the urban amphitheatres despite having

been located in remote areas.

Notes
1.The excavator of the Winterslow monument was the fint to suggest that the structure might be an
arnphitheatre (Faith de Mallet Vatcher, "The Excavation of the Roman Earthwork at Winterslow,
Wilts.," AntJ 43 [1963]: 197). The excavator of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre
concluded that the Woodcuts earthwork was either an arnphitheatre or theatre (H. St. George Gray,
"Excavations at the 'Amphitheatre' Charterhouse-on-Mendip, 1909," Proceedines of the
Somersetshire Archaeoloaical and Natural Historv Societv 55 [19 1O]: 135) while R. G.
Collingwood identified the Woodcuts enclosure as an am phitheatre (Co Il ingwood,
of Roman Britain, 106).

2.Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 44.

3.Bomgardner, .IRA 4 (199 1), 291. Bomgardner does not explain why h e has adopted this definition
nor does he elaborate on his conception of rural amphitheatres, saying only that:

"Fulford's discussion of a "legionary" and "civil" amphitheatre classification


should perhaps have taken account of another category: a "rural" arnphitheatre type,
as represented by the Frilford arena next to a small rural settlement and shrine. The
dominant feature of this complex would seem to be the shrine which probably made
use of the amphitheatre in its rituals (Bomgardner, .IRA 4 [199 1],29 l)."

It may be that he is basing his definition of British "rural" amphitheatres on that of GaIlic
rural amphitheatres. Gallic rural arnphitheatres, which were actually buildings incorporating the
characteristics of both theatres and amphitheatres (they are known as "theam-amphitheatres"), were
facilities found at rural sanctuaries (Anthony King, Roman Gaul and Germany [Berkeley: The
University of California Press, I990],80). The Gallic rural sanctuary typically consisted of a temple
standing in a sacred enclosure which was surrounded by facilities such as baths and hostels and even
fora in addition to a theatre-amphitheatre or, in some instances, a theatre (J. F. Drinkwater, Roman
Gaul: The Three Provinces. 58 BC-AD260 &ondon: Croom Helm, 19831,179; King, Roman Gaul
and Germanv, 80, 144).
It may be conduded from the omission of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre and
Woodcuts and Winterslow monuments from Bomgardner's brief discussion of the British rural
arnphitheatre class that he does not classifi them as rural amphitheatres (the Catterick amphitheatre
does not figure in the discussion as it had not yet been discovered). He does not propose how he
would classi@ these buildings.

4.Burnharn and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 22; Collingwood, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain,
106; Painter, British Museum OuarterIy 33 (1 969), 126; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299,

5.Bumharn and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 1 ; Wacher, Towns of RB, 2nd ed., 19-20; Potter and
Johns, Roman Britain, 68.

6.Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 4.

9.lbid. The small town of Catterick was laid out on a Street plan which followed the layout of an
Agricolan fort and also made use of a water system which had supplied the Roman fort and its virus.

12.Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 257.

13.Martin Millett, The Romanization of Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992),
205,

14.Frere, Britannia. 3rd ed., 257.

16.Richmond and Collingwood, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 176.

17.Richmond, Roman Britain, 1 19; Bumham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 209.
18.Burnham and Wacher, SrnaIl Towns of RB, 208-209, 21 1; Gray, Proceedings of t h e
Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Societv 55 (19 1 O), 122, 134- 135.

19.J. S. Wacher, "Cataractonium," PECS. 208.

20.Colm Moloney, "Catterick Race Course," Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1996): 130;
Wacher, PECS, 208; Millett, The Romanization of Britain, 152, table 6.4 and 154, table 6.5.

2 1.Bumham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 181 ;Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1 987), 47.

22.R. Hingley, "Location, Function and Status: A Romano-British 'Religious Cornplex' at the
Noah's Ark Inn, Frilford (Oxfordshire)," Oxford Journal of Archaeolow 4 (1 985): 203.

24.Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 181; Hingley, Oxford Journal of Archaeologv 4
(1985), 203.

25.Bumham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 181; Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 47.

26.Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 182; HingIey, Oxford Journal of Archaeoloev 4 -

(1985), 204-205,207; R. Hingley, "Recent Discoveries ofthe Roman Period at the Noah's Ark Inn,
South O~fordshire,~~Britannia 13 (1 982): 307-

27.Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 197; M. Todd, "Old Sarum," PECS, 644.

28.Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 206.

29.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeolofjcal and Natural History Societv 55 ( 19 1 O),
135; Collingwood and Richmond, The Archaeologv of Roman Britain, 2nd ed., 176; R. G.
Collingwood and J. N. L. Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 2nd ed. (Oxford: The
Clarendon Press, I968), 223.

30.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeolo~icaland Natural Historv Society 55 ( 19 1O),


135.

3 1.Location of Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre: D. R. Wilson, "Roman Britain in 1970,I:


Sites Explored," Britannia 2 (1971): 277; location of Catterick arnphitheatre: Moloney, Current
Archaeoloey no. 148 (June l996), 128.

32.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire ArchaeoIogical and Natural Historv Society 55 (1 9 1O),
135.

33.Vatcher, Antl 43 (1963), 207-208: Vatcher concludes from the structure's presence on the
ancient road that it rnay have served as something other than a venue for spectacles. An
entertainment purpose for the earthwork should not however be dismissed as the roadway may no
longer have been in use at the time of its construction.
34.Hingley, Britannia 13 (1982), 307, fig. 5; idem, Oxford Journal of Archaeolo~y4 (1985), 205,
210.

35.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeolonical and Natural Historv Society 55 (19 IO),
125- 126, 128.

36.HingIey, Britannia 13 (1 982), 306-308.

37.Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 197, 199,206.

38.Catterick arnphitheatre: Moloney, Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1W6), 128- 129; Woodcuts
earthwork: Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 207.

39.MoIoney, Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1996), 130.

40.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural Historv Society 55 (19 1 O),
135. It has been suspected that a mound may have existed on the site of the Roman earthwork and
that it was incorporated in the monument's bank by the Roman builders but this remains to be
verified (A. Hadrian Allcroft, Earthwork of England, [London: MacmiIlan and Co., Limited, 19081,
592).

4 1 .Dimensions of Catterick amphitheatre: Moloney, Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1996), 129;
dimensions of Winterslow enclosure: Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 199,

42.Medium-sized amphitheatres are typified by the Beth-Shean amphitheatre which measures 1 10


by 65 m overall (MacDonald, The Architecture of the Roman Em~ire,1 14).

43.The Caerwent amphitheatre is representative of small arnphitheatres (MacDonald,


Architecture of the Roman Em~ire,1 14).

44.Total and arena dimensions of Fril ford amphitheatre: Hingley, Oxford Journal of Archaeo logv
4 (1985), 205; overall and arena dimensions of Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre: Bumham
and Wacher, Small T o m s of RB, 209; overall dimensions of Woodcuts earthwork: Collingwood,
The Archaeolow of Roman Britain, 106, fig. 26 Cj); arena dimensions of Woodcuts earthwork:
CoIlingwood, The Archaeologv of Roman Britain, 106.

45.Maxwell and Wilson, Britannia 18 (1987), 47.

40.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural Historv Society 55 (19 IO),
128.

47.Moloney, Current Archaeologv no. 148 (June 1996), 130.

48.Hingley, Oxford Journal of A r c h a e o l o ~4 (1985), 205-206.

50.Ibid., 206; idem,Britannia 13 (1 982), 307-308.


5 1 .Main entrances of Frilford's amphitheatre: Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 182;
possible main entrance of Wintenlow earthwork: Vatcher, And 43 (1 963), 199.

52.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire ArchaeoIo ical and Natural Historv Societv 55 (1 9 1O),
129, 130-13 1.

54.Width of Frilford arnphitheatre's auditorium: Hingley, Oxford Journal of Archaeolorrv 4 (1 985),


205; width of Woodcuts structure's banks: ColIingwood, The Archaeoloev of Roman Britain, 106,
fig. 266).

55.Burnharn and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 209.

56.Width of surviving embankment of Winterslow structure: Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1 963), 199.

57.Present height of Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre's seating banks: Gray, Proceedings of


the Somersetshire Archaeolo~icaland Natural Historv Socie- 55 (19 IO), 135; present height of
Catterick amphitheatre's seating banks: Moloney, Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1W6), 128.

58.HingIey, Britannia 13 (1 982), 307.

59.Charcoal deposits on north bank of Charterhouse-on-Mendip amphitheatre: Gray, Proceedings


of the Somersetshire Archaeolo~icaland Natural Historv Society 55 (1 9 1O), 133.

60.Burnham and Wacher, Smai l Towns of RB, 1 82.

6 1 .Winterslow earthwork iron pike: Vatcher, AntJ 43 (1963), 2 13.

62.Burnham and Wacher, Small Towns of RB, 39. It is considered possible that the vicus of
Petuaria was the district capital of the Parisi, in which case Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius would have
been a rnember of the capital's council rather than a smali town administrator (Burnham and
Wacher, Srnall Towns of RB, 39).

63.Patronage was certainly practised in the rural areas of Gaul. inscriptions recovered from the sites
of several Gallic rural sanctuaries attest that many of their urban facilities (for example, bath-
houses, hostels, theatres) were donated by local dignitaries (Drinkwater, Roman Gaul: The Three
Provinces. 58 BC-AD 260, 18 1).

64.Painter, British Museum OuarterIv 33 (1969), 126; Frere, Britannia, 3rd ed., 299.

65.Collingwood, The Archaeolow of Roman Britain, 106.

66.Gray, Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Societv 55 (1 9 1 O),

67.The possibility that Roman Britain's rural amphitheatres served not only the inhabitants of the
settlements to which they were attached but also those of the surrounding countryside appears ail
the more probable when one considers that Gaul's rural theatre-amphitheatres were intended to be
used by both the residents of the small t o m s in their vicinity and visitors. niey were consequently
large enough to hold more people than lived in the centres with which they were associated (Grenier,
Manuel. 3. II, 562).

68.Hingley, Oxford Journal of Archaeoloqy 4 (1 98S), 2 1 1.

69.0lwen Brogan, Roman Gaul (London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd, 1953)' 79, 202-203. These
structures consisted of a large nearly circular orchestra, toward the back of which was a narrow
stage, and a roughly semi-circularcmea. The orchestra was surrounded by a high wall which served
the same functions as an arena wall. Examples of Gallic sanctuaries at which there were such
buildings include Sanxay, les Tours-Mirandes, Chassenon, Champlieu, Genainville and Druvant
(GoIvin, L'Amphithtre romain, 236).

70.Bomgardner, JRA 4 ( 1991), 29 1.

7 1Drinkwater, Roman Gaul: The Three Provinces. 58 BC-AD 260, 181.

72.Hingley, Oxford Journal of Archaeolorn 4 (1985)- 21 1.

73.Hingley. Britannia 13 (1 982), 308. The animals to which these bones belonged are not identified
by the excavator.

76.Ibid., 207. Vatcher States:

"The well was...linked with the bank, the construction of both proceeding at the
same time, as was shown so clearly in the section. For a structure of this type,
which possibly involved the congregating of many people, a water-supply
immediately to hand would have been almost a necessity. The fact that the well
was placed on the bank indicates the possibility that the arena had to be clear for
entertainment, while water was available for the spectators (Vatcher, AntJ 43
[1963],207)."
CONCLUSIONS

The province of Roman Britain, which was comprised of England, Wales and southern

Scotland, is currently known to have had sixteen arnphitheatres but may have had at least eighteen,

if one includes the ambiguous earthworks at Winterslow, Wiltshire, and Woodcuts, Dorset, both of

which are conjectured to have been amphitheatres. The province's arnphitheatres can be categorized

into three classes according to the type of site with which they were associated.

The first class, military arnphitheatres, comprises buildings associated with Roman military

installations. Three military sites have been found to have had an amphitheatre, the Roman

legionary fortresses at Chester and Caerleon and the small auxiliary fort located at Tomen-y-mur

in Wales. Amphitheatres which belonged to legionary bases are designated legionary amphitheatres

and those attached to auxiliary forts are termed auxitiary am phitheatres. Military amphitheatres are

not unique to Britain; they were constructed throughout the Roman empire.

The second class of amphitheatre which can be identified, the urban class, comprises

arnphitheatres built in the immediate vicinity of or within large towns of differing types such as

district capitals and important commercial or administrative centres. The Roman towns which are

presently known to have boasted an amphitheatre are the district capitals of Silchester, Dorchester,

Chichester, Cirencester, Carmarthen, Caistor St. Edmund, Aldborough, Caenvent, the port town of
Richborough and London, the probable capital of Roman Britain. The amphitheatres of this class

were civil buiIdings.

Rurai arnphitheatres, which constitute the third class of Romano-British amphitheatres, were

facilities constructed near small towns or in other rural settings. The amphitheatres at Charterhouse-

on-Mendip, FriIford and Catterick belong to this class as do perhaps the enigmatic earthworks at

Winterslow and Woodcuts. The amphitheatres belonging to this class were also civil facilities.

The military cIass is presently the least represented of Britain's three amphitheatre classes,

if one assumes that five rurai amphitheatres, rather than only three, have been found. The military

amphitheatres were built and used by the soldiers occupying the bases to which these monuments

were attached. The legionary amphitheatres at Chester and Caerleon were constructed in the last

quarter of the first century A.D. and consequently were among the first amphitheatres of any class

built in the province. The auxiliary arnphitheatre at Tomen-y-mur rnay also have been constructed

in the Iate first century A.D. aIthough a second century date is also possible for the monument.

The earliest military amphitheatre built in Roman Britain was a timber structure erected

outside the ramparts of the legionary fortress at Chester. It was built between A.D. 76 or 77 and

A.D. 78 by the legionaries of Legio II Adiutrk, the builders and first occupants of the fortress. The

northern half of the structure, which lay near the southeast angle of the ramparts, has been

thoroughly investigated but its southern half remains unexcavated.

This timber amphitheatre (Chester 1) is uncharacteristic of Roman Britain's amphitheatres,

not because of the construction material used (timber was used to sorne extent in most of Britain's

amphitheatres as well as in many continental facilities) but because of the nature of its structure.

Chester 1's structure consisted of a shallowly excavated arena surrounded by wooden seating which

was supported on timber frarning anchored on a grid of Iateral and radial beams imbedded in the

ground. The seating of al1 other Romano-British amphitheatres, with the exception of Caerwent's
monument, was supported on embankrnents cornposed of earth obtained from the excavation of their

arena, not on free-standing substructures. The earth bank amphitheatres of Roman Britain are

actually examples of a commonly constmcted type of amphitheatre, labeled Type 1 by Jean-Claude

GoIvin. Golvin classifies Chester 1 as a Type 1 monument though its features do not seem to

correspond with the characteristics of Type 1 amphitheatres.

Chester I was fmished with an unusually narrow cavea (6.6 rn wide) and was consequently

a small monument (about 71 by 62 m overall, equal in size to the rural amphitheatre at

Charterhouse-on-Mendip) and among the smaller of the Romano-British amphitheatres. It was

elliptically shaped, as was usual of amphitheatres, and it appears from the remains which have been

excavated to have possessed a porta pompae at each end of the long axis, as was also typical of

amphitheatres, as well as subsidiary entrantes. Its cavea has been reconstructed as having had eight

rows of benches which could have accommodated between 2300 and 2500 spectators. The specific

layout of the seating is unknown however.

The military amphitheatres which were built following the construction of Chester 1 differ

markedly in structure from it. hey a11 consisted of a deeply excavated arena surrounded by earth

embankments on which the seating was constructed. The first of these subsequent military facilities

to be buiIt was the Iegionary arnphitheatre of Caerleon. [t was constructed shortly afier A.D. 78 by

the base's occupants, the legionaries of Legio II Augusta, and was situated outside the southwest

rampart of the fortress. The next facility to be built was that erected on the site of Chester 1 in about

A.D. 100 by legionaries of Legio XX Valeria Victrix, the fegion which had been stationed at the

Chester base in A.D. 86 or 87. Chester 1 was tom down to allow for the construction of this much

Iarger successor (Chester II).

The buiIding date of the amphitheatre near the auxiliary fort at Tomen-y-mur is not known.

The monument may have been built between A.D. 75 and 85, the first occupation phase of the fort,
or between A.D. 120 and 140, the second phase of occupation at the fort, but the former time period

seerns more of a possibility as military arnphitheatres throughout the empire were generalty put up

as construction of the bases to which they belonged proceeded.

The legionary amphitheatre at CaerIeon and the second structure built at Chester share

several characteristics. Both were Type Ib structures, that is, the embankments constituting their

structure were subdivided by radial walls. The radial walls subdividing their banks were actually

the waIIs of their entrance passages. The banks of both buildings were also retained by a stone and

mortar wall enclosing the arena and by a thick, buttressed stone and mortar exterior wall.

Both monuments were elliptical in layout and had multiple minor entrances in addition to

the standard portae pompae. Caerleon's amphitheatre had eight entrances in all, a pair ofportae

pompae, two short axis entrances and four vomioria (entrances leading to the cavea) while Chester's

second amphitheatre appears to have had a total of twelve entrances including two short axis

entrances and eight vomitoria in addition to the portae pompae. Most of the entrances in both

amphitheatres were originalIy roofed with vaulting which carried the seating of the cavea over the

entrance passages.

Neither masonry and earth legionary amphitheatre has yielded indications of a service

corridor around the arena but both had small charnbers or recesses comrnunicating with the arena

located at the arena end of their short mis entrances. in addition to these chambers, which were

probably carceres (animal pens), Chester II also had an alcove to one side of its northern porta

pompae which has been identified, on the basis of its fumishings, as a shrine to Nemesis

(Nemeseum). Such shrines were frequently present in amphitheatres. An artifact suggestive of the

presence of a Nemeseurn has been found in Caerleon's amphitheatre though the shrine's location has

not been certainly identified. Both a room built against the monument's exterior wall and one of the

short axis alcoves opening ont0 the arena are considered to be potential locations for a shrine.
There is evidence that Chester II also had a feature, perhaps a timber platforrn, at the centre

of its arena, the only feature found in the arena cf a British arnphitheatre other than drainage

provisions. Although central arena features were not uncommon in continental and Nonh African

amphitheatres, there is no parallel for a platform. Arena features were usually pits. water basins or

underground structures of varying compiexity used for equipment storage or as holding areas for

animats.

Caerteon's arnphitheatre was somewhat smaller than its Chester counterpart. Both of these

legionary buildings were of relatively modest dimensions though neither was unusually small for

a legionary amphitheatre. The Caerleon amphitheatre's cavea may have had about fifieen rows of

benches capable of accommodating about 6000 people while Chester II's cavea may have had as

many as 23 rows of benches which could have accomrnodated about 7000 spectators. There is

evidence among the remains of both buildings which indicates that their seating was made of timber,

supported either by timber posts or framing lodged in their earth embankments and tied to their stone

walls. The specific iayout of their seating is currently unknown although it is obvious that the cavea

of each building was divided into wedge-shaped sections of seating (cune~]by the entrances.

Chester II and Caerleon's amphitheatre currently appear to have been the most elaborate

amphitheatres of Roman Britain both in plan and physical appearance. AI1 other Romano-British

amphitheatres, with the exception of Caerwent's facility, seem to have been devoid of a rear wall

and few had secondary entrances in addition to the main entrances. Moreover, few of the province's

urban and rural arnphitheatres had charnbers communicating with the arena.

Though the masonry and earth bank amphitheatres at Caerleon and Chester seem

sophisticated in comparison with most British amphitheatres, they paralleled legionary

amphitheatres found elsewhere in the empire.


The oval arnphitheatre located northeast of the small auxiliary fort at Tomen-y-mur in Wales

contrasts sharply with its masonry and earth bank legionary counterparts. This facility, which was

constructed by the anonymous occupants of the fort, was extremely small both in cornparison to the

legionary amphitheatres and in absolute terms. It measured about 50 m by 44 m overail and it was

furnished with an arena measuring only 3 1.5 by 25.5 m. This monument does not constitute the

smallest amphitheatre known however. Other examples of small buildings include the military

amphitheatre at Micia in Dacia and the earthwork tentatively identified as a rural amphitheatre at

Woodcuts, Dorset, England.

The Tomen-y-mur amphitheatre has not yet undergone excavation, making it presently

impossible to reconstruct its original features and appearance with certainty. It appears that its earth

banks were continuous and not subdivided by radial walls, thereby characterising this amphitheatre

as a Type Ia structure. It seemingly lacked an exterior retaining wall, secondary entrances and

chambers opening ont0 the arena. The layout of the seating is unknown though it is conjectured that

the embankments would have supported wooden benches. The amphitheatre's dimensions would

probabty have allowed the building to accommodate 1000 spectators and perhaps more.

The purpose of Roman Britain's military amphitheatres is debatable. The prevailing view

is that amphitheatres of this class, both in Britain and elsewhere, were intended to be used

principally as military training facilities. The proponents of this theory daim that military

amphitheatres resemble amphitheatre-shaped gladiator training schools (ludi) in their proportions

and that the design of military amphitheatres was actually inspired by that of gladiatorial training

facilities. They argue that this is probably a consequence of the routine use of gladiatorial trainers

and gladiatorial drills to train recruits in essential fighting techniques and that military

amphitheatres, like hdi, were used for training purposes.


The theory that Britain's miIitary amphitheatres served as training facilities cannot be

substantiated however. Military amphitheatres resemble civilian amphitheatres as much as they do

Zudi. Moreover, ancient literary sources indicate that there were several types of military facilities

which were intended and used for military training purposes but do not mention amphitheatres

arnong them.'

There is some evidence which implies that Britain's military amphitheatres were actually

intended and used for entertainment purposes. The Stone and earth bank legionary amphitheatres

at Chester and Caerleon were provided with features which connote gladiatorial fights (rnzmera)and

animai hunts and fights (venationes). One of these features is the Chester amphitheatre's shrine of

Nemesis, the goddess of retribution who was worshipped by gladiators and who was propitiated by

them before they engaged in combat. The other features are the short axis chambers found in both

Iegionary amphitheatres. Their location and accessibility from both the exterior of the buildings and

from the arena suggests that they coutd have been used as animal pens; their possible use as beast

pens in turn implies that animal games were staged in these buildings. The discovery of wolf bones

among the remains of Caerleon's amphitheatre seems to corroborate the architectural evidence for

the staging of shows in the Caerleon and Chester facilities. Moreover, epigraphical evidence

recovered in the legionary amphitheatre of Carnuntum in Upper Pannonia and in the military

amphitheatre of Lambaesis in Numidia indicating that civiiians were allocated seats in these

buildings also suggests that military arnphitheatres were used for entertainment purposes.

Spectacles staged in Britain's military am phitheatres would have consisted of glad iatorial

fights and animal shows. They would have been subject to the imperial regulations goveming the

scale and cost of provincial munera and vemtiones. Sorne of these shows would conceivably have

been games staged by the provincial govemor using provincial funds. It is also possible that the

legions stationed at Chester and Caerleon owned their own gladiators and arena hunters (bestiurii),
as did a legion stationed on the Rhine, and may consequently have been able to mount their own

shows occasionally. RegardIess of who mounted the military arnphitheatre shows, they would have

been staged only on religious hotidays and other official or special occasions as was the practice

throughout the empire.

Artifacts uncovered in the excavation of Caerleon's arnphitheatre suggest that semores and

retiarii may have been among the types of gladiators who fought in Romano-British military

amphitheatres. The wolf bones also uncovered in Caerleon's amphitheatre indicate that wolves rnay

have been captured for venationes in addition to several other types of suitable indigenous fauna.

While there is evidence indicative of both rnunera and venafiones, it is probable that venafioneswere

more frequently staged as these spectacles were typically less expensively staged than gladiatorial

fights.

Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre was the tirst military arnphitheatre to be abandoned. It

appears to have falIen into disuse by about A.D. 140 upon the abandonment of the auxiliary fort to

which it belonged. Use of the Chester and Caerleon amphitheatres continued wih some interruption

into the third century A.D. They were both abandoned late in the third century.

The soldiers posted at Chester, Caerleon and Tomen-y-mur were not the only people in

Roman Britain to enjoy access to an amphitheatre. The inhabitants of several large towns (centres

which exhibited town planning) were able to go to the amphitheatre. The towns which boasted an

amphitheatre included the district capitals of Silchester, Dorchester, Chichester, Cirencester,

Carmarthen, Caistor St. Edmund, Aldborough and Caenvent as well as the port of Richborough and

London. It is believed that many more major towns rnay have had an amphitheatre.

The first of the urban amphitheatres, those built at Silchester, Dorchester, Chichester,

Cirencester, London and Richborough, date to the second half of the first century A.D. and the

construction of the facilities at Silchester, Dorchester and London appears to predate that of the
province's first rnilitary amphitheatre (Chester 1). The construction of the first urban am ph itheatres

appears to have been contemporary with that of the principal public buildings and other urban

amenities of the towns to which they belonged, suggesting that the inhabitants of these centres

considered amphitheatres to be desirable if not essential facilities and that they had developed a taste

for gladiator and animal shows very early under Roman domination.

The first century A.D. urban amphitheatres were al1 constructed on the outskirts of, or at

some distance from the centres to which they belonged and consequently all, with the exception of

London's amphitheatre, stood outside the defensive walls which were erected around the towns later

in the Roman period. Their extramural location parallels that of the military amphitheatres.

The structure of these monuments was formed of earth banks like that of their military

counterparts. All, with the possible exception of Richborough's facility which may have been a

Type Ib building, were Type Ia structures Iike the auxiliary amphitheatre at Tomen-y-mur.

Most of these civil amphitheatres were elliptical in plan but those of Silchester and

Dorchester were anomalous in layout. The Silchester amphitheatre's arena was almost perfectly

round and the Dorchester amphitheatre was itself nearly circular. Moreover, only onepoflapompae

was initially present in the Dorchester facility. In addition, the arena of Dorchester's am phitheatre

was enclosed not only by an arena wall but aIso by a tirnber palisade, conjectured to have been a

safety screen and to have enclosed a service corridor, in front of the arena walf, The irregularities

present in both the Dorchester and Silchester monuments were partially corrected during later

building phases.

The first town amphitheatres appear to have lacked a rear or exterior wall, resembling in this

respect the province's auxiliary amphitheatre. The front of the seating banks of each urban

amphitheatre was, however, retained by a wall surrounding the arena. In most of these monuments

(those of Silchester, Dorchester, Cirencester and London), the arena wall was constructed of timber
as was the arena wall of Chester 1. Chichester and Richborough's amphitheatres were provided with

an arena wall of mortared stone. The entrance passages of those arnphitheatres whose arena walI

was of timber were usually lined with timber palisades or screens while the walls of the entrance

passages of the Richborough and Chichester amphitheatres seem to have been constructed of

mortared masonry.

The first century urban arnphitheatres were of more modest design than their legionary

equivalents. All, except Richborough's amphitheatre, are known to have been provided only with

parrue pompae as entrances. Few appear to have had an arena drainage system and only two

facilites (those of Silchester and Dorchester) are cunently known to have had cham bers beh ind the

arena wall which communicated with the arena. These chambers were. in both buildings, accessible

only from the arena; there were no entrance passages leading to them from the exterior of the

buildings as were present in Chester II and in Caerleon's facility.

Seating would in al1 likelihood have been of timber and would have consisted of benches

or wide platforms, the most welI preserved examples of which were fourid on the earth banks of

Sikhester's arnphitheatre. The early urban amphitheatres appear to have lacked entrances leading

to the seating and it is conjectured that some of these buildings would instead have had ramps at the

rear of the earth embankments to aIIow spectators to climb up to the auditorium.

The first-century town arnphitheatres varied widely in their dimensions and included several

buildings larger than Chester's second amphitheatre. The seating capacity of these buildings would

consequently have varied as well. The Silchester amphitheatre is the only urban facil ity for which

a seating estimate has been hazarded; it is estimated that it could have accommodated 3640 or 7250

people, depending on whether they were seated or standing on the auditorium's terraces.

Urban amphitheatres continued to enjoy popularity in the second century A.D. This is

evidenced by the repairs and modifications which were made to most of the structures built in the
first century. The timber walls of the London and Cirencester amphitheatres were repiaced with

mortared stone walls and new features, including chambers (a shrine and a beast pen) on either side

of one main entrance of each facility, were also added. Moreover, the constmction of new

amphitheatres took place. An amphitheatre was erected in the immediate vicinity of Roman

Carmarthen, a new!y created cantonal capital, and it is probable that the amphitheatres of the district

capitals of Aldborough and Caistor S t Edmund, centres which were only beginning to experience

civic developrnent during the second century, were also constructed during this century.

AI1 three of the town facilities built or possibly built in the second century were also Type

1 buildings. Those at Carmarthen and Caistor St. Edmund appear to have been Type Ia structures

like the majority of the town amphitheatres built in the preceding century and the auxiliary

amphitheatre at Tomen-y-mur. Aldborough's amphitheatre may have had secondary entrances in

addition toportaepompae (this needs to be verified through excavation) and may consequently have

been a Type Ib building Iike the stone and earth legionary arnphitheatres.

As was typical of arnphitheatres, the three new structures were al1 constructed outside their

respective towns. They were elliptical buildings and al1 seem to have been of modest design without

any unusual features. It appears that al1 Iacked an exterior retaining wall as was typical of the first

century amphitheatres. They would certainly not have lacked an arena wall however. Only the

arena wall of the Carmarthen arnphitheatre, which was constructed of stone bound with mortar, has

been found as this building is the only second-century monument to have been excavated. There

are no indications that any of these buildings had an annular service corridor or arena chambers.

It appears that seating provisions in al1 urban amphitheatres in use in the second century

A D . would have been either timber benches or would have consisted of platforms retained by timber

or stone palisades. Further excavation is needed in many of these buildings to determine the manner

in which the seating was constructed and laid out.


The seating capacity of none of the amphitheatres operating in the second century, other than

Silchester's, has been calculated. Despite sorne alterations to Silchester's facility in the second

century, its seating capacity would have equalled that of the preceding phase.

Town dwellets of the third century A.D. must have attended gladiatorial and animal shows

regularly. This is attested by the effecting of repairs or alterations on many of the monuments

erected in the two preceding centuries. The timber walls of Silchester's amphitheatre were even

completely rebuilt in stone, as had occurred at Cirencester's and London's facilities in the previous

century. Moreover, during this century, the construction of yet another amphitheatre, the Caerwent

monument, was undertaken although the structure was never completed.

The Caerwent structure, the last of the presently known urban amphitheatres to have been

constructed, is uncharacteristic of the province's amphitheatres in both its location and the nature

of its basic structure. It was built within the town walls on previously occupied city blocks and its

scant remains suggest that it was not designed to be a Type 1 structure.

Use of several of Roman Britain's urban amphitheatres continued into the fourth century.

It appears that the last of these facilities to have been abandoned were those of London and

Si lchester.

As urban amphitheatres were civilian facilities, it is certain that they would have served

primarily as venues for gladiatorial combats and animal shows. These exhibitions would have been

funded and staged by municipal magistrates and priests, by wealthy individuals in a private capacity

and perhaps even by a visiting emperor, on various official and special occasions.

The urban amphitheatre shows staged, which would have been subject to various imperial

restrictions as were other provincial shows, would probably have rnost often been venufiones. Many

indigenous species of animals could have been utilised for these exhibitions including bears, boars

and wild sows, deer and dogs. Several examples of venatio scenes featuring these animals are
known in Romano-British art. Cattle, some bones of which were found in the London and

Silcherster amphitheatres, and wolves, some remains of which were uncovered in Caerleon's

arnphitheatre, may also have been used and perhaps occasionally some exotic imported animal such

as the lion. Venationes would probably have consisted of fights between animals, fights between

hunters and animais and perhaps the execution of convicts.

Gladiator combats rnay have been Iess common but must not have been unusual as they have

lefi their mark on Romano-British art, Several representations of gladiators, particularly Samnites

or secutores and retiarii, are known. Moreover, a helmet found at Hawkedon, Suffolk, identified

as a gladiator's helmet, constitutes concrete evidence of the passage or presence of gladiators in

Roman Britain.

The third class of amphitheatre identified in Britain, the rurat class, which includes

monuments associated with srnaIl towns or other types of rural settlements, is the most enigmatic.

Three monuments are known to have been rural arnphitheatres. They are located at Charterhouse-

on-Mendip, Catterick and Frilford. Two other earthworks, at Woodcuts, Dorset and at Winterslow,

Wiltshire, are conjectured to have been amphitheatres though this remains to be confirmed.

Little is known about these structures as they have generally undergone only Iimited

excavations. They seem to have resembled their urban counterparts and the province's auxiliary

arnphitheatre. They appear to have been Type Ia structures like the majority of urban amphitheatres

and likewise seem to have been devoid of a rear retaining wall. It can be inferred from the presence

of a mortared rnasonry arma wall in Friiford's facility that the front of the seating banks of every

rural amphitheatre would have been retained by a wall of some sort.

The rural facilities were, moreover, like their urban and auxiliary counterparts, modest in

plan. They al1 seem to have been provided solely with portae pompae as entrances and only one

monument, that at Frilford, has revealed evidence of chambers comrnunicating with the arena. The
Frilford amphitheatre chambers were accessible only frorn the arena as was the case in the Silchester

and Dorchester amphitheatres. No monument conjectured or known to have been a rural

amphitheatre has yet yielded the traces of any central arena features such as basins or pits; such

features are simiIarIy lacking in the other classes of British amphitheatres.

It is presurned that the embankments of rural amphitheatres would have carried timber

seating but no evidence which would enable the reconstruction of their seating has been found.

No estimate of seating capacity has been proposed for any of the monuments which are or

may be rural amphitheatres although it can be assumed that their seating capacity would have varied

according to their dimensions. The Catterick amphitheatre current1y appears to have been the largest

rural arnphitheatre as well as the largest of Britain's amphitheatres and the Woodcuts earthwork rnay

constitute Britain's smallest, should it be confirmed to be an amphitheatre-

Although the few artifacts recovered on the site of each of the five monuments indicate that

they are of Roman date, it has only been possible to establish the construction date of Catterick's

amphitheatre (late second century A.D.).

The functions of Britain's rural amphitheatres are not well understood. It is assumed that

the Charterhouse-on-Mendip's facility was used as a venue for gladiatorial and animal fights by the

residents of the small Roman rnining centre to which it belonged. It is plausible that Catterick's

arnphitheatre, which was likewise attached to a civilian settlement, may also have been used for such

recreational purposes. Both civilian settlements were preceded by small Roman forts and it is

conceivable that the Charterhouse and Catterick amphitheatres may first have been used by Roman

soldiers.

Frilford's arnphitheatre, which lay next to a sanctuary, is assumed by its excavator to have

been used as a venue for activities connected to religious festivals as were the theatre-amphitheatres

commonly found in the rural sanctuaries of Gaul. This presently cannot be substantiated however.
The presence of chambers in Frilford's amphitheatre and the discovery of faunal remains in the

arena suggest that, regardless of whether or not it served a religious purpose, venufiones and perhaps

gladiatorial shows were staged in the building.

The uses of the Winterslow and Woodcuts monuments are even more obscure. These

earthworks have yet to be authenticated as amphitheatres and nothing more of them can be known

without further archaeological investigation of their ruins.

It is clear that there is much which is not yet known about Britain's arnphitheatres. The rural

arnphitheatres are the least undentood ofthe province's amphitheatres owing to the Iimited amount

of excavation which they have undergone. Further and systematic excavations of each of the

earthworks known or conjectured to be a rural amphitheatre is necessary to establish the dates of

their construction and to enable reconstruction of their architectural features and original appearance.

Such archaeological excavation would also shed light on the intended purpose or uses of country

am ph itheatres and would pennit a beiter understanding of their relationship with the settlements near

which they were built. We are ignorant of their purpose, of who authorised and funded thcir

construction and of who might have organised spectacles, if indeed these buildings served

entertainment purposes. It will be impossible to answer these questions without further excavations.

Urban amphitheatres are somewhat less of a mystery although our understanding of the

appearance of those constructed in the second and third centuries would be greatly improved with

the excavation of the Aldborough and Caistor St. Edmund buildings and a re-examination of the

remains of Caerwent's amphitheatre. Only through excavation can the actual building date of the

Aldborough and Caistor St. Edmund arnphitheatres be established. A reexamination of the

amphitheatre ruins at Caenvent might also permit a more precise date to be established for the

initiation and termination of the monument's construction. The date of Richborough's amphitheatre
also remains to be firrnly established (the 19th century excavation logs are unreliable) and

consequently this monument should Iikewise undergo further archaeological excavation.

The seating banks of many of the structures known or presumed to have been amphitheatres

need to be more systematically investigated in order to permit the reconstruction of the seating

arrangements of various amphitheatres. Only the Sikhester, Cirencester and Carmarthen

amphitheatres' seating areas have been excavated in some systematic fashion but further

investigation of their seating areas is also needed to determine whether or not the terraces making

up their auditoria were actually intended for standing spectaton or whether they formed the b a i s

for timber seating structures of some kind.

Current knowledge of Britain's mil itary amphitheatres would also be increased by the

further excavation of their ruins. The second legionary amphitheatre at Chester and its counterpart

at Caerleon are the best understood of al1 British amphitheatres but little is actually known about

their seating arrangements. Future excavation of the southern portion of Chester's arnphitheatre,

which still lies buried, might yield valuable information on the construction of the legionary

amphitheatre's seating in addition to providing a better understanding of the monument's design.

The remains of Tomen-y-mur's amphitheatre remain unexcavated although they also ought

to be investigated. It constitutes the only auxiliary amphitheatre currently known in Britain but may

actually be one of several which once existed. Excavation of this monument would make it possible

to become farniliar with this sub-class of military amphitheatre and would aid in understanding the

ruins of other auxiliary amphitheatres, should they be found. Excavation would also allow the

construction date of the Tomen-y-mur monument to be established, would make the reconstruction

of the building's design and appearance possible and would perhaps also yield evidence indicative

of its uses.
It was recommended by Michael Fulford in 1989 that the exterior of Romano-British

amphitheatres be explored in order to discover whether or not associated buildings stood in

proximity of some and to perhaps uncover remains which would shed light on the nature of the

monuments' uses? Such work has only been undertaken at the site of Catterick's amphitheatre,

where the remains of several buildings used for an unknown purpose but thought to be related to the

amphitheatre were uncovered outside the eastern section of the seating bank,3 but could similarly

prove rewarding elsewhere. It is theorised that amphitheatres would generalty have had auxiliary

buildings, resembling some of those found near Rome's Colosseum,4 and, if found in the vicinity

of any other British amphitheatres, these buildings would provide information which would greatly

supplement that obtained frorn the excavations of the arena and seating banks of these monuments.

It has been stated by Michael Fulford that arnphitheatres never gained popularity in Roman

Britain and that this is attested by the general simplicity of design and small size of these building^.^

This may not, however, be an accurate assessment.

The number of amphitheatres in Roman Britain is one indication that they were popular

amentities. Sixteen amphitheatres have been positively identified in Britain and two more

monuments have been tentatively identified as amphitheatres, making a total of eighteen known or

conjectured amphitheatres. This total is comparable with or greater than the number of

amphitheatres in other regions of Europe. The province of Germania Superior seems to have had

only three amphitheatres; one possible amphitheatre is also known. Two amphitheatres and one

possible amphitheatre have been identified in the former Germaniu Inferior. Three arnphitheatres

and one possible amphitheatre are known in the province of Dacia. Five arnphitheatres and two

possible am phitheatres have been identified in the province of Pannonia Superior whi le two

amphitheatres and one possible amphitheatre are currently known in the province of Pannonia

Inferior. The province of Noricum presently seems to have boasted only hvo amphitheatres and the
province of Dalmatia may have had three (two are known and one possible amphitheatre has been

identified).6

It also seems that there were more arnphitheatres in Britain than in the Spanish provinces.

Hispania Tarraconensis is now known to have had only three amphitheatres and may have had four

in total; oniy three amphitheatres are known in the former Hispania Baetica though it may have had

as many as seven; Hispania Lusitania presently seems to have boasted only two facilities. Roman

Britain's amphitheatre total is, however, comparable with that of the former province of Gallia

Narbonnensic, which is known to have had ten amphitheatres and may have had up to fourteen.'

It appears, however, that amphitheatres were not as numerous in Britain as in the Gallic

provinces collectively referred to as the "Three Gauls." There are onIy three amphitheatres and three

possible amphitheatres in the region which was once the Roman province of Gallia Lzrgdunensis but

there are also twenty-three structures which are architectural hybrids of theatres and amphitheatres

and would have served as a venue for gladiatorial and animal shows.8 This brings the total of known

or possible facilities suited to gladiatorial and animal garnes in Gallia Lugdunensis to twenty-nine.

There are nine amphitheatres and six facilities combining the features of theatres and amphitheatres

in the area which was once the Roman province of Gallia Aquitania, making a total of fifteen

gladiatoria1 and animal combat venues. There are five amphitheatres and two possible

amphitheatres in the former province of Galia Belgica, making seven known or possible

arnphitheatres; when one adds the twelve known hybrid facilities, the maximum number of buildings

for gladiatorial and animal games in the province rises to nineteen. In all, seventeen arnphitheatres,

five possible arnphitheatresand 4 1 hybrid buildings are known in the territory which once comprised

the "Three Gauls," making a total of 63 possible or actual gladiatorial and animal show venues9

This great number of gladiatorial and animal game facilities may not, however, be an indication that

amphitheatres, munera and venationes were more popular in the "niree Gauls" than in Roman
Britain, but may instead be a reflection of the Gailic provinces' greater population. The "Three

Gauls" are thought to have had as many as 12 000 000 inhabitants in the fourth century A.D.'' A

recent estimate places Roman Britain's population only at about 3.7 million people in the fourth

century A.D."

Roman Britain had far fewer amphitheatres than had Italy (79 amphitheatres and 49 possible

amphitheatres)" but this is not surprising. Amphitheatres were far more numerous in Italy, the

birthplace of the amphitheatre, than in any other Roman province.I3

The small size, modest appearance and simplicity of design of British amphitheatres should

not be considered anomalous, as Fulford has suggested, for several reasons. AI1 but Caenvent's

amphitheatre belonged to the Type 1 structural type of amphitheatre, the type which was

predominant in several regions of the empire, particularly northern Italy, GauI and the Danubian

provinces. It should be noted that Type I buildings were typically smaller than those endowed with

a Type II structure, the structural type which characterises Rome's Colosseum, owing to their earth

bank construction. Seen in this context, the relatively modest dimensions of many of Britain's

amphitheatres are not remarkable.

Moreover, utilitarian amphitheatres are not unique to Britain. Type 1 amphitheatres were

generally stark in appearance because of the building materials used, materials which included earth,

timber and uncut stone.I4 The appeaI of Type 1 amphitheatres to builders actually lay in the fact that

they were easily and economically constructed with readily available and inexpensive materials.

Centres which would othenuise have been deprived of amphitheatres could afford the construction

of Type I amphitheatres, allowing their inhabitants as much opportunity to attend gladiatorial

exhibitions and verrationes as had the residents of the wealthy cities." The presence of Type 1

amphitheatres in Britain can actually be interpreted as a sign of the pronounced desire of the

province's population to have amphitheatres and watch gladiatorial games and animal fights.
Likewise, the simplicity of plan exhibited by Britain's amphitheatres cannot be considered

distinctive. There are many amphitheatres in continental Europe and North Africa very close in

design to those of Britain. Selected examples include the amphitheatres of Vetera (Birten) in

Germania Inferior, Enge (near Bem) in Germania Superior, GemelZae in Numidia, lisippira (Sidi

Bou Al i) in Afi.ica Proconsularis, haenae (Thi na) in Apica Proconsuluris, Marcianopolis (Reya

Devnya) in Moesia Inferior and the first phase of the amphitheatre at Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gallia

Lugdunensis, al1 of them Type Ia and Ib amphitheatres devoid of service corridors, chambers and

short axis entrances.I6 Examples of Type [a and Ib amphitheatres furnished with short a i s

entrantes, chambers accessible only from the arena or a combination of these features but lacking

service corridors include the amphitheatres of Miciu (Vetel) in Dacia, Lambaesis (Lambse) in

Numidia, Ernporiae (Ampurias) in Hispania Tarraconensis and the military amphitheatre of

Aquincum (Budapest) in Pannonia Superior. ''

Fulford dismisses the possibility that the utilitarian nature of Britain's buildings may be the

result of lirnited financial resource~.'~This nevertheless remains plausible. Roman Britain's

communities, particularIy the major towns, were comparatively small and would therefore probably

have had proportionally fewer aristocrats than cities elsewhere in the empire.I9 Consequently there

would have been less wealth available in British municipalities to fund the construction of public

buildings and the staging of public entertainment.20This is reflected in the public works of Rornano-

British towns which were generally, regardless of the type of building, not lavish. The construction

of Type 1 amphitheatres rather than Type II structures likewise implies that financial resources were

actually limited.

Fulford also dismisses the possibility that Britain's arnphitheatres were in many cases small

monuments owing to low population levels. This is not an unlikely proposition however. When one

compares the size and population estirnates of various bases and civilian communities with the
seating estimates proposed for their respective amphitheatres, one finds in most cases that

amphitheatres were designed to accommodate the entire population of the centres to which they

belonged as well as visitors, in some instances? For example, it has been calculated that the second

amphitheatre constructed at Chester could have accommodated about 7000 spectators; the legionary

fortress' entire garrison of about 5000 could therefore have been seated at one tirne in the building

as well as up to 2000 guests. Sirnilarly, Caerleon's arnphitheatre is thought to have been able to

accommodate 6000 people, which would have permitted the entire legion of about 5000 to watch

spectacles at once as well as about 1000 guests. Silchester's amphitheatre is thought to have

accommodated a minimum of 3640 spectators and a maximum of over 7000 while the Roman

town's population is calculated as having been, at most, only 4000. Roman Carmarthen covered an

area of oniy 13 hectares yet it was furnished with a disproportionately large amphitheatre capable

of holding 4500 to 5000 people. Dorchester's amphitheatre in 1952 was still capable of

accommodating the population of the entire Dorchester region. One can conclude that modern

Dorchester's population is no more numerous than that of its 32 hectare Roman predecessor and that

the arnphitheatre could have held many spectators in addition to those from the Roman town.

There are other indications that amphitheatres actualty enjoyed a great measure of popularity

in Britain. Eight of the province's district capitals, more than half of the fourteen confirmed

capitals, boasted an amphitheatre as well as two of the province's three permanent legionary

fortresses. There rnay have been many more than the 18 monuments now known in the province.

Their earth construction made them easily destmctible structures and many may consequently have

been lostU while others may now be obscured by vegetation or modem features (the Catterick

amphitheatre, which lies under the modem racetrack, was not previously recognised because the

swell of its seating bank seemed like a natural feature; London's amphitheatre lay over two metres

below the modem Street level, beneath a medieval landmark). It is suspecied that Colchester
(Camulodum, a veterans' colony and the initial seat of Roman Britain's Imperia1 cult), where the

foundations of an imposing curving wall have been found,= is the potential site of an amphitheatre

and it is theorised that the province's remaining three coloniae would each have possessed an

am~hitheatre.~~

Four of the 18 monuments recognised as amphitheatres or possible amphitheatres (those of

Caistor St. Edmund, Frilford, London and Catterick) were discovered only during the last twenty

years, the most recent discovery being that of Catterick's building in the summer of 1995. It can be

expected that amphitheatres will continue to be discovered in Britain.

The protracted length of time over which amphitheatres were constructed in Britain also

implies that they were popular amenities. Their construction was not Iimited to the first century

A.D., the beginning of the province's Roman occupation, but rather extended through the second

and third centuries, that is, through two thirds of Britain's Roman period. Construction of

amphitheatres appears to have ceased in the third century, the time at which such facilities ceased

to be built throughout the Roman Empire. Moreover, the repeated repairs and refurbishments

undertaken in many British amphitheatres throughout the Roman period also suggest that the

province's inhabitants considered these buildings to be essential amenities.

Likewise, the dates and circumstances of the abandonment of sorne British amphitheatres

indicate that these buildings were appreciated by the province's population. The dates of the repairs

and remodellings performed on the Cirencester, Silchester and London amphitheatres indicate that

their use did not cease until the early fourth century or perhaps later. This suggests that several

Romano-British amphitheatres continued to be used long after the construction of the last

amphitheatre in the third century.

The abandonment of London's amphitheatre appears to be contemporary with the desertion

of the community? This also seems to have been the case at Caerleon, where the arnphitheatre was
abandoned in the iate third century, the time at which most of Legio II Augusta was transferred to

Richborough. It may be deduced from these instances that British arnphitheatres enjoyed a

pronounced and sustained popularity throughout the Roman period and that they were often

abandoned only when the communities which they served began to decline or in the face of other

extenuating circumstances.

One may conclude that arnphitheatres were a significant aspect of Romano-British society.

Far from "...[failingJ to thrive in Britain,"26 these buiidings may actually have been greatly

appreciated by the province's inhabitants and gladiatorial and animal games may have enjoyed a

rnuch greater degree of popularity than hereto believed. Continued archaeological investigation of

known amphitheatres and of suspected amphitheatre sites as well as additional discoveries of

amphitheatre remains may in the future confirm this.

Notes
1 .Thecampus or parade-ground is mentioned in Arnmianus Marcellinus XXI.2.1; Fronto Principia
Historiae 13; Tertullian Ad martyres 3; Vegetius Epitoma de rei miiitaris 1.1 1 , 1.26, 11-23 and 111.2.
Cavalry and infantry excercise halls are mentioned in Vegetius Epitoma de rei nzili~aris11.23.

2.FuIford' Silchester Arnphitheatre, 193.

3 .Moloney, Current Archaeolow no. 148 (June 1W6), 13 1- 132.

4.Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 1 5 1,336. The ancillary buildings connected with the Colosseum
included the Ludus Magnus (gladiators' school), the Ludus Mututinus (the school of Rome's
bestiarii), the Ludtrs Dacicus, the Castra Misenentium (the base of the sailors who worked the
rigging of the Colosseum's awnings), the Armamentarium (gladiators' amory), the Summum
Choragium (the workshop in which the Colosseum's equipment and props were constructed), the
Saniarum (gladiators' hospital) and the Spoliamm (gladiators' morgue). Al1 of these faci 1ities were
located in an area to the west of the Colosseum.

S.Fulford, Silchester Amohitheatre, 193.

6.The numbers of known amphitheatres and tentatively identifred amphitheatres are listed for each
province in Golvin, L' Am~hithtreromain, 275-277, table 26.

7.Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 275-276, table 26.


8.Function of theatre-amphitheatres: Ibid, 225.

9Jbid, 276, table 26.

1O.Drinkwater, Roman Gaul: The Three Provinces. 58 BC-AD 260, 169- 1 70.

1 1 .Millett, The Romanization of Britain, 185.

12.Golvin7L'Am~hithtreromain, 275, table 26.

13Jbid., 275-277, table 26.

16. Verera amphitheatre: Golvin, L'Am~hithtre romain, 80; Enge arnphitheatre: Ibid., 90;
GemeiIae amphitheatre: fiid., 90; Ulisippira amphitheatre: Ibid, 95; Thaenae amphitheatre: Ibid..
95; Marcianopolis amphitheatre: Ibid, 139; Lugdunum amphitheatre: Ibid, 1 17.

17.Micia amphitheatre: GoIvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 90; Lumbaesis amphitheatre: Ibi.. 93;


Emporiae arnphitheatre: Ibid, 121; Aquincunl amphitheatre: Ibid., 91.

1 S.Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 193.

19.Potter and Johns, Roman Britain, 75.

2 1. Wacher, Towns of RB, 56.

22.Painter, British Museum OuarterIv 33 (1969), 126.

23.Possible amphitheatre remains at Colchester: Wacher, Towns of RB, 108- 109; Painter, British
Museum Ouarterlv 33 (1969), 130; Golvin, L'Am~hithtreromain, 9 1.

24.Besides that at Colchester, there were veterans' colonies at York (Eburacum), Lincoln (Lindunr)
and Gloucester (Glevum).

25.Use of London amphitheatre ceased in the Iate fourth century, only after the abandonment of the
other large buildings in the city region in which it was located (Bateman, Curent ArchaeoIoey no.
137 [February 19941, 167).

26.Fulford, Silchester Amphitheatre, 193.


GLOSSARY

amphitheatrum: the term which denoted an amphitheatre in Imperia1 times.

andabata (pl. andabatae): a gladiator who fought wearing a helmet devoid of eye-holes. He could
not see his adversary.

balteus: a balustrade built on top of an amphitheatre's arena wall serving to protect spectators; the
wall of a praecinctio or horizontal walkway; or, a wide belt worn by retiarii and other
gladiators.

bestimizu (pl. bestiarii): a wild beast fighter, typically armed with a knife or spear.

carcer (pl. carceres): an animal holding Pen.

cavea: the seating surrounding an amphitheatre's arena.

cuneus (pl. cuneo: wedge-shaped block of seats.

eques (pl. equites): a gladiator who fought on a horse. Equites were usually pitted against each
other in the arena.

essedarius: a gladiator who fought in a chariot. This gladiator's narne is derived from essedum, the
term which denotes a Celtic war-chariot.

euripus: the drain encircling an amphitheatre's arena.

fiscina: the trident wielded by a reliarim.

galerus: the sleeve wh ich covered a retiarius's shoulder.

gradus (pi. gradus): a tier of seats.

iacdum: the net wielded by a retiarius.

lanista (pl. lanistue): a gladiatorial trainer.

luduc (pl. ludi): a gladiatorial training school.

maenianum (pl. maeniana): a horizontal zone or storey of seating.

munera (sing. munus): the spectacles staged in an amphitheatre; the term may also denote
gladiatorial shows only.
munrra publica (sing. munus publicum): games staged by municipal officiais or priests as a
requirement of office.

munus gladiatoriurn (pl. munera gladiatoria): a gladiatorial exhibition.

naumachia (pl. naumachiae): a mock naval battle staged in a flooded arena or on a lake.

Nerneseum: an amphitheatre shrine dedicated to the goddess Nernesis.

opus incertum: a type of masonry used to face a wall's concrete core consisting of small irregular
Stones.

pegmata (sing. pegrna): the winches used to lifl animal cages or pieces of decor from the rooms
found beneath the arena floor of some arnphitheatres,

podium (pl. podia): a wide platform located imrnediately behind an arnphitheatre's arena wall. It
was intended to accommodate seats of honour.

pompa: ceremonial procession which paraded in an amphitheatre's arena before a show began.

portae pompae (sing. porta pompae): main entrances, located at either end of an amphitheatre's
long a i s , which provided access to the arena.

portae posticae (sing. parlapostica): secondary entrances located at either end of an amphitheatre's
short axis or elsewhere along the perimeter of the arena wall. They provided access to the
arena from the exterior of an arnphitheatre or could provide access from the arena to an
annular service corridor or small chambers located behind the arena wail.

praecinctio (pl. praecinctiones): a walkway between two horizontal zones of seating (rnaeniana).

procurator (pl. procuratores) familimm gladiatorium: an imperial official in charge of a


province's teams of gladiators.

retiarius (pl. retiarii): a gladiator equipped with a net (iaculum)and a trident (fuscina). He wore
only a short tunic, wide belt (bafteus)and a sleeve on his shoulder ( g a l e m ) . Retiarii fought
against secutores. Samnites or murmillones.

sacellum (pl. sacella): an amphitheatre's shrine.

Samnis (PI. Samnites): a gladiator equipped with a short stvord and long shield. Sumnifes wore a
visored helmet decorated with a cresf a sleeve on the right arm, a greave on the lefi leg and
a belt. They are shown fighting retiarii on the Borghese Mosaic and the Bignor Mosaic.

scafaria: small radial staircases which divided an arnphitheatre's seating bank into cunei or wedge-
shaped seating sections. They pennitted spectators to descend to their seats from the
vomitoria or praecinctiones.
securor (pl. secutores): a heavily armed gladiator who usually fought against a reliarius. He wore
amour and helmet and carried a shield.

spectacula: the term which denoted an amphitheatre in Iate Republican times.

tribunalia (sing. tribunal): boxes found on an amphitheatre'spodium at either end of the short mis.
They were reserved for dignitaries.

velarium: awning protecting the spectators seated in an amphitheatre from the elements.

venatio (pl. venationes): a combat between men and animals or between animals; a venafio could
also comprise the delivering of criminals to beasts. This type of death sentence was termed
dmnatio ad bestias.

vomitoria: entrances to the seating. They consisted of doorways in the external wall of an
amphitheatre which provided access to interna1 staircases ascending to the cavea.
British Amphitheatre
Sites
O 49 98 147 196
49
9

Figure 1.

xiii
Figure 2. Structural types of am phitheatres: a, Type Ia amphitheatre: tirnber seating on
continuous earth banks; 6,Type la amphitheatre: stone seating on continuous earth banks;
c, Type Ib amphitheatre: earth banks divided into large sections by radial walls; d, Type Ib
amphitheatre: earth banks divided into small sections by radial walls; e, Type II amphitheatre:
seating supported on radial walls toofed with vaults.
Figure 3a. Diagram of an arnphitheatre: I , arena; 2, arena wall;
3, euripus; 4, portaepompae; 5, portaeposticae; 6, chambers s e ~ i n gas
beast pens (carceres); 7, cavea; 8, vomitoria; 9, outer wall.

Figure 36. Restored section and elevation of the cmea o f the arnphitheatre at
Pola: 1, podium; 2, praecinctio; 3, first maenianum; 4, second maenianum;
5, third rnaenianum; 6, gallery; 7, sealaria; 8, cuneus; 9, vomitoria.
CHESTER
A AMPWTHEATRE O 0V.EN
s BARRACK B U I L D I N G ~ I P PRINCIPIA
E EXT RA-MURAL BUILDING R RAMPART BuILOING
G CRANARY T TOWER
H HYPOCAUSf U UNIDENTIf IEO

Figure 4. Plan of the Chester legionary fortress.


CHESTER AMPHITHEATRE

Figure 5. PIan of Chester timber and Stone amphitheatres.


Figure 6. Reconstruction of Chester timber amphitheatre's seating and framing.
Figure 7. Stone and timber arnphitheatre on Trajan's Column.
Period il

-.:-.-;
-.II.-
P a s o g n linrd
Period III .
Figure S. Three phases of the Caerleon amphitheatre: a, Period 1; b, Period II; c, Period III.
Figure 9. Plan of the Tomen-y-mur amphitheatre.
MW\ \ - SILCHESTER The Arnphitheatre

Figure 1O. Plan of Silchester amphitheatre showing Roman timber and stone phases.
Figure 1 1. Plan of Richborough showing amphitheatre.
? 5.3 . ;1 . '5.0
. 270 2fO 100 Feer
; 18 0 ,& C; $C 40 Meber
Figure 12. Plan of the Dorchester amphitheatre.

c ?
CC

l a J 150 254 250


t
JO0 Feet
18 ii r-. S 610 7'0 do do:,.re~

Figure 13. Plan of the Chichester amphitheatre.


O 50 100 150 200 250 300 Fer
1 I 1
t
O
1
IO
I
I
20
I
30
I
1
40
I
50
1
60
1
I
70
I
80
I
90hletres

Figure 14. Plan of the Cirencester amphitheatre.


Guildhall
Yard

Figure 15. Plan of the London amphitheatre.


Figure 16. Reconstruction of the terracing on the seating bank in the timber phase of the
S ilchester amphitheatre.

Figure 17. Outline reconstruction of the original Roman layout (recess to left and post trenches
to right) of the Dorchester amphitheatre.
I) AMPHITHEATRE MO R D
IDE U
MNE u;\r
T A R UM

Figure 18. Plan of the Carrnarthen amphitheatre.


O roo 2.00 r T.

Figure 19. Plan of the Aldborough amphitheatre.

Figure 20. Plan of Caistor St. Edmund showing the location of the amphitheatre-
Siiggested r e c o n s t r u c t i o n of
s e a t i n g on the c a v e a
I

Figure 2 1. Diagrammatic reconstruction of the seating arrangements on the


northem half of the Cmarthen amphitheatre's cavea,
Figure 22. Plan of Caerwent.
O K) 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 m

Figure 23. Plan of the Caenvent amphitheatre.


Figure 24. The Hawkedon helmet. Top, front. Bottom, from above.
Figure 25. The Chavagnes gladiator cup (fint century A.D.).a, view of the cup. b, the two
friezes on the body.
Figure 26. Le#, bronze statuette of a gladiator, from London (?). Righr, bronze statuette of
a giadiator, from London.
Figure 27. Mosaic fiieze showing Cupids as gladiaton, from the Bignor Villa, Sussex. Top, left
half of fiieze. Bottom, right half of f i z e .
17 75
--
y"a
-);
#-,
1 ~ 1 , 1 ~ ~ , 1 6 ROMAN

'-
O

Figure 28. The Iron Age settlement and Roman temple at Frilford.
::: Area unavailable for
examinat ion

A Arnphitheatre
C Cemstery

-
1
-
Temple
Roman Road

RNsr Ock

Figure 29. Map of Frilford.


Figure 30. Plan of the Charterhouse-on-Mendip
amphitheatre.

TRENCHES ' /

Figure 3 1. Pian of the Frilford amphitheatre.


Figure 32. Map of Wintenlow region.
t w 1
0 .
- - 100
- - Z
. OOTT .
Figure 33. Plan of the Woodcuts "amphitheatre".

Figure 34. Plan of the Catterick excavations showing the position


of the arnphitheatre's bank.
C H ARTERHOUSE
M i ~itn g Site

Figure 35. Map of Charterhouse-on-Mendip Iead-mining area.


Figure 37. Plan of the Catterick excavations showing the Neolithic
burial cairn and the Iron Age and Roman enclosure.
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