Enclaves of Roman Britain

I decided to create this little map just recently after going down memory lane and remembering my visit to St Albans and the Roman ruins in there. I think it is easy to forget sometimes the scope of the enclaves the Romans held in Britain, particularly in England itself. So I have pin down the markers for some of the most important places in the region of Britannia so we can go through them and develop the network of strategic locations as seeing through the eyes of Rome in this annoying island of the Atlantic that became Great Britain.

As you may see, the southern areas of the country are more populated than further up north. We need to consider the accessibility issues that the original roman invasion would have to face regarding the access to the island via the sea from the Gallia. In this respect, the green dot becomes our first stop: Dubris.

Portus Dubris: this is modern day Dover. A natural strategic position due to its coast and proximity to France through the channel, the importance of this area of Kent is constantly reminded to the British throughout history. Dubris would become the selected spot to build a lighthouse to provide guidance for future ships incoming from the continent. If we believe the sources, it seems that there would have been two lighthouses in this location that on a clear day would have been visible from the coast of France. Dubris is also the starting point for what is now known as Watling Street: the ancient Roman road built over the Briton’s earlier route, that they used to connect their main positions in the south such as Dubris, Rutupiae and Londinium.

Rutupiae: currently Richborough in Kent. Traditionally understood to be the site used to move forward Claudius invasion of the island, this is nowadays a contested area of study. What cannot be refuted however is the use of this location as both a port enclave as well as a fortress. Over the road previously mentioned that connects this site with the other important locations in England, we also find the monumental arch, which in many ways symbolises the entry into Britannia.

Londinium: carrying on up the road, we eventually reach the Roman site of what would become London. Estiblished c 43 AD, this was another strategic place for the Romans as it gave them access and control over the Thames. Long is the tradition the city has carried of being a crucial stop for the transportation of goods (and people), for the Romans this would have become a pivotal enclave, allowing them to expand their ever-growing international trade routes. As a consequence, London would have been a major commercial base. Moreover, we know that this is likely to have been the base for the provincial governor as well as the procurator.

Calleva Atrebatum: Silchester. Calleva was important to the Romans for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was a point of crossroads, connecting what is known as the Devil’s Highway with London in one end and Silchester on the other. From this site, the road also split down to modern-day Bath and other areas of the west of country including Old Sarum and Gloucester. In addition, this would have been the administration centre for the Atrebates tribe which seems to have been assimilated through the process of Romanisation.

Aquae Sulis: perhaps one of the best knows historical sites in Britain, the city of Bath is of course famous for its Roman thermae. In conjunction to the temple complex dedicated to Sulis Minerva (Sulis being the Celtic deity they amalgamated through syncretism with Minerva), Bath would have already been during Roman times a popular touristic destination.

Isca Augusta: on to the Welsh territory we en counter the headquarters for the 2nd Augusta legion – hence the name, Isca meaning settlement on the river Usk. The enclave would have comprised a 50 acre building site with a fortress as well as baths, including a 41m open air pool. Moreover, there we can still see the ruins of what used to be a great amphitheatre capable of sitting 6000 people.

Viroconium Cornoviorum: hoping back on to Watling Street, we reach our final destination in Wroxeter. Likely to have been one of the fifth biggest settlements in Roman England, it as established around 58 AD as a castrum for the Legio XIV Gemina on their way to conquer Wales. The site would have included a brand new forum dedicated to Hadrian, as well as a basilica completed by 130 AD.

Fanum Cocidi: this would have been one of utter most northern sites in Roman Brittain. This fort built-in Bewcastle (Cumbria) would have been 6 miles further up from Hadrian’s wall. This would have been used as an outpost to control movement in the area. Seemingly it would have been originally manned by the first cohort of Dacians fulfilling border patrol.

 

 

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