Chester (Deva Victrix) was one of the three permanent legionary fortress of Roman Britain. It was founded in the early AD 70s as part of the northward advance of Roman arms. Inscriptions show that at least some of the primary buildings were built under the governor Agricola, celebrated by his son in law, the Roman historian Tacitus. This was one of the largest legionary fortresses in the Roman empire, containing unique and anomalous buildings which hint at a rather greater intended status.
The site of Chester guarded the access across the river Dee into north Wales, in a strategic position that separated the potentially troublesome peoples of north Wales from those of northern England. It remained a military base for the entire period of Roman occupation of Britain, and for most of this time it housed the 20th legion Valeria Victrix. The Dee was navigable up to Chester, and this made the site the principal Roman port of the Irish Sea coast, and it remained important through the medieval period until eclipsed by the rise of the deep water port of Liverpool.
Outside the fortress a civilian settlement grew up, and an amphitheatre was built as part of the original conception. This grew to be the most elaborate and largest amphitheatre in the province, and recent excavation has revolutionised our understanding of it, leading to its re-display.
The Roman fortress walls survive in part to full height, including some sculptural decoration. Repairs to the wall in the late Roman period incorporated a large number of tombstones. Now in the famous Grosvenor Museum, these are an important source for the lives, deaths and origins of the inhabitants. Mostly military, they include legionaries from Spain, Hungary and Syria. Nemesis is invoked in an altar from the amphitheatre, and a man lost in a shipwreck is commemorated.
The Roman walls and street grid are still the basis of the urban pattern of Chester, and can easily be traced in the cityscape, now flanked by the famous medieval Chester Rows. Windows into the city’s Roman past appear in odd places, and we will visit several of these. Part of the day will also be a trip behind the scenes at the museum and a chance to talk to some of the archaeological team.
10:15 - Gather at the Grosvenor Museum for tea and coffee.
10:30 - Introductory lecture from Tony Wilmott
11:30 - Half the group will have a guided tour of the museum with Tony , the other half will go behind the scenes with Jane Hebblewhite, and then this will reverse.
12:45 - Walk to lunch at Ye Olde Kings Head.
14:00 - The afternoon will be spent on foot . We will walk some of the Roman wall, visit the amphitheatre and Roman traces beneath the city, finishing at the Norman cathedral and monastic church of St John’s.
See something old in a new way
Andante Study Days offer rare, often unique, insights into the world of working archaeology. All are led by expert guides, and are designed to give guests access to some of the best of British Archaeology...
What to expect
- An expert guide to accompany you throughout the Day
- A mixture of lectures, practical demonstrations, handling sessions, guided tours and walks
- Special access to museums, sites and galleries otherwise closed to the general public (where specified)
- Small Groups 12-25 guests
- The company of like-minded people!