A Look at Roman Chester

Plan of fort and location of ampitheatre

Last June we had a few days in Chester, mostly to visit my aunt and uncle in North Wales but also to visit some of the castles along the North Wales coast. We managed to do all that, and I posted three ‘castle posts’ once we got home, as well as one about Bodnant Gardens. We were staying at a hotel in Chester, so we also spent one of our days in the city – but I never did get around to posting about it. So today I’ve duly written it up.

Chester is located in the county of Cheshire in the north-west of England, south of the River Mersey and the much larger city of Liverpool. The River Dee flows through it in its way to the Irish Sea:

Map of Cheshire showing location of Chester. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, Creative Commons
Map of Cheshire showing location of Chester. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion, Creative Commons

Chester’s a lovely old city, with evidence of settlement throughout various periods since Roman times. The town centre is known for its many ‘black and white’ buildings and galleried shops, or the ‘Chester Rows’.

Bridge Street, Chester (2)
Bridge Street, Chester.  Author: Crashlanded. Creative Commons

There is a lot about this city I could talk about – including the Anglo-Saxon period and the medieval castle and city walls . . .

Chester's City Walls -Bridgegate to Eastgate (2)
Chester’s City Walls – Bridgegate to Eastgate, Source: geog.org.uk. Author: John S. Turner. Creative Commons

In the ‘Dewa’ Roman museum, there are cellar remains showing settlement at various levels/strata – through Roman, Saxon and later medieval periods. Buildings around the city also provide evidence for these periods, as well as later times.

Cellar remains showing levels of settlement at Dewa Museum
Cellar remains showing levels of settlement at Dewa Museum

But today I want to focus on the Roman settlement at Chester (Deva or Dewa).

Dewa/Deva stood on a ridge of red sandstone in a loop of the River Dee. This photo shows a ‘cut’ through the ridge for the Chester – or Shropshire Union – Canal:

Triassic Sandstone along canal

The settlement began life as a mostly wooden fortress built by the Second Legion, Adiutrix, in AD 70, and was named after the local name for the goddess of the river, Dewa. The site was perfect for several reasons. It controlled the newly occupied and hostile areas of the Welsh as well as those of Northern Britain, and the River Dee was navigable up to the sandstone ridge, providing good harbour facilities and good protection on the southern and westerly sides. It is also possible that the fortress was intended as a supply base and embarkation point for the intended conquest of Ireland.

At the end of the 80s, the 2nd Legion was sent to Germany and the Twentieth Legion, Valeria Victrix, moved into the fortress:

Moulded antefix roof tile showing badge and standard of the Lefion XX - from Holt, Clwed, Wales. Author: AgTigress. Creative Commons
Moulded antefix roof tile showing badge and standard of the Legion XX – from Holt, Clwyd, Wales. Author: AgTigress. Creative Commons

The Twentieth replaced the wooden buildings with stone and stayed in the fortress until the 5th century.

Remains of a wooden jetty have also been found. Exports would have included tin, silver, hides, oysters, wooden products, basketry, slaves and hunting dogs. Despite Britain’s mineral wealth, Rome gained little from the country and needed to import far more goods in order to meet the demands of the Roman soldiers stationed here. According to the Roman writer, Strabo, imports included ivory, amber, gems, glass vessels, wine, olives and olive oil, figs, pottery, papyrus and spices.

Here are some photos of some of the artefacts, plus a few replicas, of Roman items we saw on display at the Dewa Roman Museum:

Deva had the typical ‘playing card’ design of all Roman forts. The outer edge was a tall, thick stone wall, five courses high, and with four gatehouses to enter:

Plan of fort and location of ampitheatre

Outside the fortress wall, as well as the civilian settlement (canabae/vicus) were a bath house and an amphitheatre. Evidence of the amphitheatre was first discovered in 1929 but it wasn’t until 1993 that excavation work started on it. To date only half of it has been excavated. It is thought to have been the biggest amphitheatre in Britain and seated 7,000 spectators. There were four entrances, the main one being on the northern side.

Model of ampitheatre

A small room at the east entrance may have held the beasts – which would most likely have included stags, bulls and bears, not the lions and elephants etc seen in Rome.

The entrance to the passageway shown is thought to have led to area where the beasts were held
The entrance to the passageway shown is thought to have led to the area where the beasts were held

A shrine to the goddess, Nemesis, was discovered beside the north entrance and an altar dedicated to the centurion, Sextius Marciano. The walls of the arena were painted a reddish brown to give a marbled effect and the arena floor was covered in yellow sand to stop combatants from slipping. It could also be easily cleaned.

Gladiator fights were popular and aroused great passions. Gladiators were often prisoners of war or condemned slaves reprieved from execution and specially trained. Combat gave them a chance to win a ‘new life’ by showing skill and courage. The killing of beasts would have reinforced the belief in man’s dominion over nature – important in a world in which wild animals still posed a real threat.

Gladiator info.

Gladiator fights

All in all, Chester is well worth a visit. Many tourists also come to see Chester Cathedral, too, which belongs to the later medieval period. Built of the local red Triassic sandstone it was opened in 1541.

Here are some photos of the cathedral to finish with:

Roses, Book Promotions and a Trip to Wales

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This is another of my ‘mixed bag’ posts, with no particular theme. I’m also in the middle of writing a story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers at the moment, so I’d better make this quick so I can get back to it and leave this evening for writing my book. Well, that’s the plan at the moment.

June is always such a glorious month in the UK (although many days this year have given me cause to doubt that!). Now that the spring flowers have died off, the summer blooms are opening and the garden is becoming more colourful by the day. The fruits on the trees are also beginning to swell and it looks as though we’ll have some bumper crops this year.

Roses are such beautiful flowers, although I know of a few people who are’t keen on them. Being from Lancashire (land of the red rose of the Wars of the Roses) red roses have always been a particular favourite. When I had our first child in 1973, my parents sent two dozen red roses to me in hospital. Nowadays, of course, flowers aren’t allowed on hospital wards. But I love roses of any colour and we have lots dotted around our garden. The rambler over the pergola, shown above, is not far from our back door, and the fantastic scent hits you as soon as you open the door.

For anyone interested in getting free books on Amazon, today is the first of my five free days for ‘Shadow of the Raven‘, Book One of my Viking trilogy. I decided to try all five days together this time, although I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing. I usually split the five days into two throughout the three-month period. Some people prefer to just have five separate days, which I have’t tried yet. Perhaps I’ll try that next time.

Shadow of the Raven (Medium)

Next week June 18 – 22 (Thursday – Monday) the second book of my trilogy, Pit of Vipers, will also be free. This is the first time I’ve had this book on the Select programme, so I’ve yet to see how well that works. I can’t imagine anyone would want to read Book Two without having read Book One, although it does stand alone, according to the editor of the Self Publishing Review, who has now reviewed both of my books (both reviews are in my side bar).

Pit of Vipers Final (Medium)

I’m still toying with the idea of taking my books off the Amazon Select scheme so that I can put them with other online publishers as well, like Barnes and Noble. Amazon Select demands exclusivity, which has its pros and cons. I’ve heard so many arguments regarding the best thing to do, but I’m still unsure. If anyone has any sound advice to offer here, I would be very grateful to hear it.

I’m off to Wales next week for a break – just Husband and me. We’ve decided to stay in Chester, a lovely old town, convenient for travelling into Wales or North-West England. My brother and his wife and family still live in the north-west, and my aunt and uncle live in North Wales. We’ll be spending some of the week visiting people, but the rest of the time, we intend to head out to visit three of the castles along the North Wales coast – Conwy, Caernarfon and Beau Maris – so that I can do a couple of posts about them. The last of these is on the Island of Anglesey, so I’m not sure we’ll have time to get to that one. I also want to do a post about Roman Chester. They’ve now opened up an ampitheatre just ouside the town, which was still being excavated last time we visited some years ago.  But my priority will be the castles – which I’ve visited several times before.  Here’s a photo of Caernarfon Castle we took a few years ago. It’s an awesome place…

carnarven

I hope to have plenty more photos by next week.