This week Carolyn and I spent a very pleasant weekend away in Cardiff enjoying being a couple again and taking in a bit fine dining, shopping and culture.
The culture side of our weekend away meant following up on a long term plan to visit the 1st Century base of II Augusta Legion at Isca Augusta, modern day Caerleon in South Wales. This visit dovetailed perfectly as a follow up to my post in December last year to the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter that covered in some detail the history and artefacts of II Augusta's first base in Isca Dumnoniorum, modern day Exeter.
The Roman II Augusta Legion is thought to have relocated its base of operations from Exeter to Caerleon sometime around 74-78 AD after having possibly temporarily located to Gloucester in the mid 60's where the legion provided men for pacification of the northern borders under Emperor Vespasian's chosen governor, Peteillius Cerialis (71-74 AD). It then moved into South Wales or rather the territory of the Silures under the command of the new governor Sextus Julius Frontinus, an experienced soldier picked by Vespasian to deal with this stubbornly fierce tribe who had been resisting Roman occupation for nearly thirty years, inflicting several punishing defeats to the legions in that time.
We arrived in Caerleon on a very wet Sunday, though thankfully not as wet as the Saturday where we dashed between shops in Cardiff in driving wind and rain. I wonder if the II Augusta were treated to similar weather when they got down to constructing the first level of defence for their new base.
The National Roman Legion Museum is in Caerleon but, understandably, doesn't open until 2pm on a Sunday and so we spent the morning looking at the remains of the legionary baths, amphitheatre and barracks before a light lunch and off to the museum. Needless to say, I took plenty of pictures to share and decided to split the post into two parts to mirror the day.
|The map illustration of Caerleon today and the Roman related sites dotted around the town is taken from my excellent guide book purchased in the museum.|
The Fortress Bath House
|Impression of the fortress bath complex as it may have appeared in 80 AD - Paul Jenkins, National Museum of Wales|
|The remains of the open air pool as seen in the illustration above with a lighting effect to simulate water|
The special light projector presents the image of a legionary swimming and occasionally "bombing" into the pool. It is really well done and brings the whole scene to life.
The construction of the baths began around 75-77 AD, about the same time as the fortress itself and the vaulted concrete main building would have towered over the other buildings and compares to medieval cathedrals such as that at Wells in Somerset for the footprint and height of the hall and vaulted ceiling.
One aspects of history that always appeals to me are the personal details that link the people of then to the people today, and it was great to see the 2,000 year old footprint of one of the legionary builders, together with his dog's paw-print left in the Roman tile clay.
|and his dog!|
|LEG II AUG - No doubting who built this place.|
Alongside the open air bath the excavation reveals part of the frigidarium or cold bath hall with the plunge pools and ornate drain covers set off against skilfully placed silken drapes showing where the windows, walls and columns would have stood and giving an impression of the building's shape and appearance.
|Impression of the Caerleon Amphitheatre by John Banbury|
|The rail in the centre of the processional entry or Portae Pompae serves to protect some of the original Roman paving stones|
|Carolyn looks nervous as she prepares to enter the arena - "we who are about to die salute you"|
The sign at the main entrance to the central arena was a timely reminder that this building was as much a monument to man's inhumanity to man as an archaeological wonder and the rain on the day just seemed to add to the melancholy feel of the place.
|The inner walls would have once been covered in white plaster painted with red lines to give a dressed stone appearance.|
|Military training as depicted by Peter Connolly|
|A drain runs under the centre of the arena through the south gate, centre top, that still carries water out and down to the River Usk to this day.|
|One of the side entrances with steps thought to have lead up to a private box|
|The other preserved domed side entrance is thought to have served as a shrine to the Goddess Nemesis with a VIP box above|
|The brick wall at the side entrance provided a small waiting area under the stand possibly for other gladiators or animals to wait before their entrance into the arena from the side|
By following the Roman wall along to the north west corner of the fortress one comes to the Prysg Field barracks uncovered in 1927-29 by Victor Nash-Williams.
These are the only legionary barrack blocks visible in Europe.
|The four rows of barrack blocks with the semi-circular remains of the legionary ovens for cooking the rations|
|The remains of the earth ramparts can be seen around the top of the picture, interspersed with cook houses backing on to the guard towers. At the far end of this block are the larger quarters of the Centurion and junior NCO's.|
|Modern reconstruction of one of the barrack rooms at the National Roman Legion museum|
|The cook house foundations with the basement of the guard tower behind forms a gap in the earth ramparts beyond the barrack room wall|
Sources referred to in this post
Caerleon Roman Fortress - Jeremy K. Knight
Caerwent Roman Town - Richard J. Brewer