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Chapter 8
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.


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Chapter 10

 p215  Chapter IX


Forums and Basilicas

Forum was originally the open space in front of a building, especially a tomb, but ultimately it designated one particular open space in a town, of which the modern market-place may be regarded as the counterpart. But the forum stood for more to the Romans than the market-place does to us. With its adjuncts, of which the basilica was chief, it was the centre of civic life and movement, combining the functions of market, town-hall, law-courts, exchange, and a gathering-place where the citizens discussed matters of mutual interest, settled points of difference, gossiped, and idled. It was the rendezvous for all classes, and for all purposes.

The forum itself was an open space surrounded by a portico, behind which were shops and offices, the basilica usually forming one side. The relation of forum to basilica may be likened to that of market-place to market-hall, as in a general way all that took place in the one might take place in the other. However the name originated — basilica means 'king's house' — this structure was to all intents and purposes a covered forum. In its earlier form it was forum-like, consisting of a central space (media porticus) surrounded by a narrow portico; but as this central space was covered as well as the portico, its width was determined by the structural limitations of the roof, hence was relatively narrow. It is probable that the earliest basilicas had open sides, that is, that the whole structure was supported on columns; but in later times the external columns gave place to more or less continuous walls, and the whole building assumed a hall-like character. The portico or ambulatory which at first passed all  p216 round the central space, as at Pompeii, was eventually discontinued at the ends.

From Vitruvius we learn that the colonnades which divided the porticoes from the media porticus were often of two orders of columns, the lower of which supported the architrave of a gallery; but in his Basilica of Fanum there was a single order of lofty columns, and the gallery rested upon pilasters attached to the back of them.1 At Pompeii, there was also a single order, but no pilasters or gallery, and so far as we know this was the case in Britain. The roofs were of timber. Whether there were clerestory windows is disputed. The Fanum basilica had openings above the entablature, but these appear to have been merely horizontal slits, introduced rather for ventilation and lighting the central ceiling than for diffusing a light below. It is probable that the general lighting of the interior was derived from large openings in the side walls, as seems to have been the case at Pompeii. Subsequently, however, the construction underwent a great change, and clerestory windows became an important architectural feature, as in the Basilica of Constantine. In this structure, the nave was separated from the aisles by arcades of three arches each, supported on massive piers, the columns now appearing as vaulting-shafts, the whole space, nave and aisles, having a vaulted roof.

An essential feature of the civil basilica was the tribunal, or tribunals (for sometimes there were several), where justice was administered. Normally, the tribunal took the form of a large semicircular or rectangular chancel-like recess at the end of the building opposite the chief entrance, but occasionally it was an internal structure, as at Pompeii. Its floor was raised above the general level, and in the centre was the chair of the praetor, and on either side the seats of the judices and advocates. Its front was fenced off from the hall by a low wall or an open screen (cancelli, whence our 'chancel'), and in the centre of this, or in front of it, was an altar. The great Basilica of Ulpia, erected by Trajan, had a tribunal at each end, while on one side, which may be regarded as the front of the building, were a grand central and two smaller entrances, from the Forum of Trajan; and on the opposite side a small court between two spacious  p218 apartments, which were used as libraries. In two, at least, of the British basilicas were several apartments along one side, some having wide openings to the hall, and we may reasonably suppose that they all were used for official purposes, judicial and administrative.

This preliminary 'canter' has prepared the reader for the more difficult pursuit of this chapter — the reconstruction, as far as possible, of the forums of this country from their scanty remains. Silchester2 provides us with the most complete plan of one (Fig. 64). It was the central and chief architectural feature of the town, covering an oblong space about 315 by 278 ft. The forum itself occupied the eastern two-thirds of the space, and the basilica, with an external range of chambers, formed its western side, the whole group having an external portico interrupted by the chief entrance and the tribunals of the basilica. This portico averaged 14 ft. in width, the outer sleeper-wall serving both as a kerb and as a foundation for the colonnade. The columns were about 15 ft. apart and probably as high, and their timber architrave carried the lower edge of the portico roof. The whole plan, it will be observed, resembles that of the Forum Traiani in its main features.


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Fig. 64. — The Forum and Basilica, Silchester. (After Fox and Hope.)
(75 ft. to 1 in.)

The open square of the forum was 142 by 130 ft., and had on its north, east, and south sides a portico somewhat wider and probably loftier than the external one, and between the two was a range of rooms from 30 to 33 ft. in width. The chief entrance was a little south of the middle of the east side, so as to face a street from the east. Only its concrete foundations remain, but their massiveness and a few architectural fragments found about the site prove that it was on a grand scale, probably having the form of a triumphal arch, adorned with columns, and not less than 45 ft. in width. The remains of the rooms just referred too were too slight to supply a clue as to how they were entered, or whether they opened on both porticoes or the inner one only. The square rooms were probably shops. Two in the south range had apsidal ends towards the street, and Mr. Fox, in his masterly description of the remains, suggested that they "were used by the governing body of the city as offices of some sort, or courts connected with the forum." One of the square rooms of the north range was divided by a semicircular wall so as to present to  p219 the inner portico a shallow apse, and this may have been the municipal shrine. The apartments next to the basilica were narrow, and were certainly passages affording side entrances to the forum.

Mr. Fox doubted whether the rooms, even if they were open to both porticoes, would receive sufficient light (a difficulty which especially besets the two apsidal rooms as any windows they may have had in their curved backs would necessarily be small) and he suggested that they were loftier than the porticoes, and had windows above their roofs. But as sloping roofs would render the rooms unduly lofty, he concluded that the inner portico had a terraced roof, and that the windows were on that side only. As he, however, suggested later that the rooms or shops on the north side of the forum may have had upper storeys opening on to the terrace, this somewhat weakens his argument. Still there is much in favour of a second storey, as the increased elevation would greatly enhance the architectural effect; but we will return to this question later.

The basilica was burnt down late in the Roman period, and was rebuilt on the old lines, but with two important deviations. The earlier structure is shown on our general plan. It will be noticed that it was divided into the usual nave and aisles by two colonnades, and that the tribunals were semicircular. The second building had a nave and a single aisle along its east side, and the tribunals were rectangular with their raised floors projecting into the nave. Along the west side of both halls were a central apsidal apartment with a raised floor reached by three steps which extended the full width of the front, and on each side of this, several rectangular apartments. The hall was entered by two doors from the ends of the inner portico of the forum, and possibly there was a central entrance from the square, as in the Basilica of Ulpia. The columns of the second basilica appear to have been such of those of the first as had escaped destruction. They were of Corinthian type of good design, with drums 2 ft. 10 ins. in diameter above the bases, and this implies, according to Mr. Fox, a height inclusive of the capitals of about 27 or 28 ft., and to this must be added 6 or 7 ft. for their timber entablatures. In each case the roof was undoubtedly of timber covered with tiles; but whether the whole space was covered by a single gable-roof, or whether the nave roof was of greater  p220 elevation so as to leave an intervening clerestory, is a matter of conjecture. Mr. Fox suggested that the colonnades were interrupted in front of the great western apse to form a transept; and this implies a transverse roof (as in Vitruvius's Basilica of Fanum) of similar width and height to the nave roof, with an east and west gable. Whether there were clerestory windows or no, the main volume of light was probably derived from large windows or openings in the east wall. The earlier tribunals were probably surmounted with half-dome vaultings, and externally with shallow half-cone roofs; the later, with coffered ceilings and gable-roofs. There was no structural provision for galleries in either the earlier or the later building.

The later building was of inferior workmanship; nevertheless the interior must have had a certain splendour. The walls were aglow with colour, for many fragments of painted plaster were found on the site, as also pieces of marble wall-linings. The fronts of the tribunals appear to have been covered with Purbeck marble, and the apses to have had a white marble dado. A few fragments of a large stone statue of a female with a mural crown were found about the front of the western apse; and it is not unlikely that it stood in this recess and symbolized Calleva or the Civitas Atrebatum.

The remains of the Forum of Venta Silurum (Caerwent) have been explored as far as the modern buildings on the site admit (Fig. 65).3 It resembled that of Silchester, but was smaller and simpler, forming an oblong block, 181 by 250 ft., in the centre of the town and on the north side of the main street. The chief entrance was from this street, through a single opening, which was probably arched; but its remains apparently related to the back of the structure, for the short side walls probably extended to the street side, some feet away, and conceivably there was a street-side archway of some architectural grandeur, with a portico on either side along the front of the building. The open square was 108 by 101 ft., was flagged, and had a marginal gutter cut in a line of large blocks of sandstone, with an outlet into an unusually large drain in the north-east corner. The portico was 16 ft. wide, with a concrete floor and a broad kerb, on which its columns rested, but there was no indication as to their positions. Behind the east portico was a range of  p221 shops, 20 ft. deep, with wide openings to the ambulatory. The shops on the south side of the square, on the other hand, had their openings to the presumed street-side portico. The excavation of the western side revealed two long lines of walling, but no remains of transverse walls dividing the space between them into shops. If it had ever been so divided, the walls were probably removed when a rectangular building was set across the range and the ambulatory in front. Its massive lower courses were about 10 ft. thick and were discontinued across the end next the square, indicating, perhaps, that the structure had an open front. The whole is suggestive of the podium, 35 ft. by nearly 50 ft., of a temple — possibly the sanctuary of the municipal lares.

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Fig. 65. — The Forum and Basilica at Caerwent. (After Newton and King.)
(75 ft. to 1 in.)

The basilica was on the north side of the square, and was divided into a nave and aisles by two massive sleeper-walls which carried the colonnades, the total internal width being 63 ft., with a concrete or mortar floor. At the east end of the nave was a rectangular tribunal, across the opening of which stretched a sill of large blocks of sandstones with a shallow chase and three sockets to receive the foot of a timber cancelli. The concrete floor was higher than that of the nave, and rested upon a pillared hypocaust, and the chamber was entered by a door from the eastern prolongation of the south aisle, containing the  p222 stokehole of the hypocaust, serving as a passage to a street door. The excavations of 1909 proved that the west end of the basilica was treated in a precisely similar manner, except that the tribunal had no hypocaust, and the walls were too reduced to show whether its front had a similar sill. The length of the hall between the tribunals was about 125 ft. The south wall was reduced to the level of the floor, and along its outer side two stone steps stretched the full width of the forum-square. It seems probable from this that the wall was the sleeper of the piers of an arcade, in other words, that the south aisle was open to the square — an arrangement which may equally apply to the basilica at Silchester so far as its remains go, and which was usual in the head-quarters of the castella. How the hall was roofed is equally a matter of conjecture with Silchester; but the fragments of large columns of similar character to those of that basilica undoubtedly belonged to its colonnades.

The chambers along the back of the basilica were six, as at Silchester, but their arrangement was different, and Caerwent has the advantage of several of the openings between these rooms and the aisle remaining; but, unfortunately, the eastern two-thirds of the range is overlapped by a modern farm building, thus rendering it uncertain whether the intervening walls had doors. No means of access was found in the easternmost room, but probably it was entered from its neighbour, a narrow apartment with a door from the aisle. The next, a square room, had an opening to the aisle, 19 ft. wide, with no indication of having been provided with doors; perhaps it had a fence or screen like the east tribunal. The central room had apparently a similar opening. No direct access from the aisle into the next and largest room was found. It had, however, a door into the lobby of the westernmost room. This lobby was originally entered from the aisle by a larger door; but, as this was subsequently built up, there must have been some other means of access to these western rooms. The large room just referred to had a mosaic pavement and decorated walls,4 and on the latter were several shallow vertical grooves which were continued on the floor, apparently to receive timber partitions of some sort, but how high or how far they extended is unknown. Little more can be said of this interesting range of rooms. Probably  p223 they received light from windows in the back walls. A height of 25 ft. would not be disproportionate to the length and width of the largest room, and this may represent the height of the range, and it is reasonable to think that it had one continuous longitudinal roof. Possibly the smaller rooms had a storey above them reached by a staircase in the narrow second apartment from the east end.

To return to the shops of the forum — there is no direct evidence that they had upper floors for storage purposes as the Pompeian shops usually had, but something can be said in favour of these. The pillars of a portico 16 ft. wide could hardly have been less than 10 ft. in height,5 and, adding to them an architrave and a sloping roof, the back of the portico would not be less than 16 or 17 ft. high. It is unlikely that the shops would be of less height than the portico, so that we may assume that the inner slope of their roof would either be a continuation of that of the portico, or would start at a higher level, thus giving an elevation of at least 22 ft. for its ridge. The shops would thus be lofty enough for upper floors reached by ladders and lighted by windows in the street wall, or by windows in front between their roof and that of the portico. The shops at Silchester were fewer than at Caerwent, but they were larger and their walls thicker. Accepting Mr. Fox's suggestion that the portico there had a terraced roof, this would admit of a second storey of shops opening upon the terrace, which may have been reached by staircases in the narrow apartments or passages next the basilica and on the north side of the main entrance. The shops were large enough to have their back portions partitioned off for storage purposes, with windows in their walls.

The Basilica of Viroconium (Wroxeter), which was excavated in 1859, resembled that of Pompeii in its planning, and in not forming an integral part of a forum-group (Fig. 61).6 The forum has not yet been discovered, and is supposed to have been on the opposite side of one of the adjacent streets. A portion of the south wall of the former still stands high above the ground, and is the most conspicuous vestige of the ancient town, the rest of its remains being little else than foundations. These remains showed that the hall was 229 by 67 ft., with two sleeper-walls  p224 which carried the colonnades, the columns of which were of similar size and design to those at Silchester and Caerwent. The nave was paved with small bricks laid herringbone-wise. The only traces of flooring in the south aisle were a few flagstones; while in the north aisle a mosaic pavement of simple design was found, the divisions of which were suggestive that the columns were 8½ ft. apart. The chief entrance was at the west end, and was apparently a double one with an external portico. There was an interval of about 10 ft. between the street on the north and the north wall. This may represent another portico, for it is rather narrow for a range of offices as at Silchester and Caerwent. A central breach in this wall may be the site of a north entrance to the hall. On the south side and near the east end was a door into the public baths. At the east end are the foundations of a narrow enclosure entered by a small door, which was regarded as a yard by the explorers. It is where a tribunal should be, but as it is not at right-angles with the hall it may be an insertion of later date. Altogether this basilica requires further and more thorough exploration.

The Basilica of Corinium (Cirencester) was considerably larger than those described above. The late Mr. Wilfrid Cripps made a sufficient number of excavations on the site in 1897, to indicate a hall-like structure with the sleeper-walls for two colonnades, a western apse of the full width of the interior, and along the south side a row of chambers — the whole forming an oblong block.7

The walls of these chambers were thinner than those of the main fabric, showing that they were probably of less height; and this equally applies to the external walls of the spandrels of the apse, which Mr. Cripps regarded as small yards. The wall of the apse in its turn was rather thinner than the walls of the hall. There was no indication of an eastern apse, and he was strongly of opinion that that end of the building had a square portico. From these data we may fairly conclude that the Corinian basilica consisted of an oblong hall, 285 ft. in length, and of proportionate height, with a large western apse of less elevation; and an eastern portico which contained the chief entrance. The chord of the apse was occupied by a sleeper-wall, which probably supported the revetment and parapet of the  p225 floor of the tribunal. The square stone pads of the westernmost pair of columns remained, but, owing to the presence of modern buildings on the site, it was not possible to ascertain how far the columns of each colonnade were apart. Fragments of the columns and their capitals were found, and here again they were of similar character to those at Silchester, but were slightly smaller. That this hall was not only imposing from its great size and architecture, but was enriched, like that of Silchester, with marble, was proved by the fragments of Purbeck marble moulding and Italian marble linings turned up during the excavations; and the roofs, it may be added, were covered with stone slabs.

The chambers along the south side of the basilica were 20 ft. in depth, and, to judge from those excavated at the west end, from 15 to 16 ft. wide, and between each was the square pad of a column or pilaster. Probably these chambers were shops, with open fronts between these columns or pilasters. Whether the north side of the main building was bordered with a similar range of chambers is uncertain; but Mr. Cripps was of opinion that the forum lay on that side.

On the west side of Bridge Street, Chester, were discovered in 1863 the remains of a large building which was almost certainly a basilica.8 About 128 ft. of its south wall, 4 ft. thick, was exposed, which probably had extended to the street, as along the street side was found another brick wall, presumably the east end of the building. Sixteen feet to the north of the former wall was a parallel row of ten column bases or their cuttings in the rock; and at a further distance of 39 ft., another and corresponding row. Whether there was a corresponding wall on the north could not be ascertained, as modern buildings occupied the site. The columns were 12 ft. apart from centre to centre, and, to judge from the bases and the fragments of the drums and capitals, they were of Corinthian type, with a diameter of 2 ft. 5 ins. above the bases. Assuming that there was a north wall 16 ft. beyond the north colonnade, we have here a building divided into a nave and two aisles, of a total internal width of 76 ft.

At the west end of the excavation were some foundations which suggested a tribunal projecting slightly into the nave; but eastwards both rows of column bases ceased at 60 ft. from the  p226 street. Whether these extended to the street was a disputed point, as no traces of their foundations were found in the interval, but it is noteworthy that the space would exactly allow of four more columns to each colonnade. In this case the hall would be 180 ft. long, as reckoned from the presumed tribunal.

The south wall was bordered with a range of rooms of unknown depth, as they were overlapped by modern buildings. Two of these rooms had hypocausts, and several of them mosaic pavements. As other hypocausted rooms are known to exist under these buildings, it is supposed that the various chambers formed part of a large bathing establishment. If so, the whole group must have resembled that of Viroconium in having the basilica to the north, entered from one of the main streets, and the public baths immediately to the south; and the former, like the nave at Viroconium, appears to have been paved with small bricks. In the opinion of two local architects, the drums of the columns were each constructed of two 7 ft. lengths of stone, representing a total height, with capital and base, of 18 or 19 ft. — a height proportionately less in relation to the diameter of the drum than Mr. Fox's estimate for the Silchester columns, and suggestive of an upper tier of columns or a lofty clerestory.

Of the remains described in this chapter, two only combine forum and basilica — those at Silchester and Caerwent. In each we have a symmetrical group of buildings, with the forum in front and the basilica behind, the chief entrance being in the front of the former, and the administrative courts and offices being at the ends and along the back of the latter. This planning too closely resembles that of the principia of the forts to be accidental. Of the basilicas at Wroxeter, Cirencester, and Chester we know less, and still less of their relationship to the forums of these places. The first was certainly not architecturally associated with a forum, and the site where we should have expected one was occupied by the public baths; and this appears to have been the case at Chester, but possibly the forum was on the north, as probably it was at Cirencester. So far as we can judge from their imperfect plans, these basilicas differed from those of Silchester and Caerwent in having their chief entrance at one end.

The following table gives the internal dimensions of the  p227 halls of all these basilicas, exclusive of projecting tribunals; but the length in the case of Chesters is uncertain:—

Width of Nave
132 or 180

It will be observed that while the halls varied greatly in length and width, the width of their naves varied only within the limits of 4 ft., apparently indicating that from 34 to 38 ft. was considered the widest space which could be safely spanned with a timber roof. The widths of the intercolumniations were indicated at Wroxeter and Chester alone, but there was evidence at Cirencester that they could not have been less than 12 ft. 6 ins. The columns in every case were of Corinthian type, with drums of more than 2 ft. in diameter. Mr. Fox's estimate of the height of the Silchester columns is certainly too much for some of these columns, and this has an important bearing upon the roof-treatment of the naves. If we accept the estimate for the Chester columns, the height of the entablature above the floor could hardly have exceeded 23 or 24 ft.; but for so wide a nave, a roof or a ceiling at this height would have been unduly low. This suggests one of two alternatives — a clerestory rising above the aisle roofs, or a second tier of smaller columns rising from the level of aisle galleries. As no fragments of smaller columns which could be reasonably supposed to have belonged to an upper tier have been found on the sites of the Romano-British basilicas, the former alternative is the more probable. The designs and execution of the capitals bespeak an early date, from which we may infer that the Romans, with their usual foresight and imperial instincts, at once provided their newly planned towns with large and strong public buildings, capable of meeting all future requirements; and that they adequately met these requirements is proved by the fact that none of our basilicas shows signs of having been enlarged.

 p228  Amphitheatres

The best known remains of amphitheatres in this country are at Caerleon, Dorchester, Richborough, Silchester, and Cirencester; less known are those at Caerwent, St. Albans, Charterhouse on Mendips, Colchester, Wroxeter, and Aldborough. There are circular depressions or enclosures which have been regarded as amphitheatres at Housesteads, Maryborough near Penrith, Tomen-y‑Mur in North Wales, Ynys-y‑Bordan near Llandovery, St. Piran's Round in Cornwall, and some others. With the exception of those at Richborough, which were subjected to the spade in 1849, these remains have received little attention until recently. Trenching at Housesteads in 1898 proved that the so‑called amphitheatre was probably an ancient quarry. Some preliminary cuttings at Caerleon by the Liverpool Association in 1909 gave promising results. The Charterhouse example was more thoroughly explored in 1909, and that of the Maumbury Rings at Dorchester has been in progress since 1908, both under the direction of Mr. H. St. George Gray.

Before its exploration, the Richborough amphitheatre presented an oval depression surrounded by a slight bank, the depth of the hollow being about 11 ft. 6 ins. The trenching proved that the bank covered a wall about 3 ft. 6 ins. in thickness, the space enclosed being an ellipse 200 by 166 ft., with the longer diameter east and west. Three entrances were found, that on the north being 6 ft. wide, and approached by an inclined way, 9 ft. wide, between two wing-walls, the other two — on the west and south — being very imperfect. Within the wall was a sloping bank resting on a stratum of mortar 15 ft. wide. The account of the work is meagre, and it is not quite certain whether the wall was the external one or the inner revetment of the cavea.9

Both walls were brought to light at Caerleon. The external was substantially built, 5 ft. 6 ins. in thickness, and strengthened with large buttresses on the outer side and smaller on the inner, and 35 ft. within this wall was a thinner arena wall, which originally was at least 7 ft. high. Between the two walls was disclosed the lower portion of the slope of the cavea, consisting of the natural  p229 soil below, and continued upwards by that removed from the general cavity. No trace of seats was observed, and it is probable that these were of timber. The arena floor was a layer of sand. This amphitheatre was elliptical, having an estimated larger diameter of 274 ft., approximately north-east and south-west, and a shorter of 226 ft., the arena being about 204 by 156 ft. The remains of an entrance were found on the south, 9 ft. wide, between massive jambs, the road apparently descending to the arena between two wing-walls. There were also north and east entrances, probably for the spectators, the latter having incurved sides.10

The Maumbury Rings were on a larger scale, the external measurements being about 345 by 333 ft. with the longer diameter NNE and SSW. Unlike the last two, it was of earthwork and timber. In its present state the banks are highest on the east and west sides, and attain a height of about 30 ft. above the arena. The structure was used as a fort in the civil wars of Charles I, and to adapt it for the purpose considerable alterations were made, especially at the south end. To the same period may also be referred a terraced walk gently ascending the inner slope of the east and west sides. The recent excavations11 have proved that the arena was 196 ft. long, with a probable width of about 20 ft. less, and that its floor, sunk into the chalk-rock, was covered with gravel. The sides of this depression were vertical for several feet, and had been retained by stout posts; and several feet behind these there had been a second row of posts to support the foot of the bank. The excavation for the north entrance was 21¼ ft. long, and there were some indications of an ascending pathway on either side by which the spectators reached their places. At the opposite end were the remains of a rectangular recess or enclosure in the arena side, about 13 ft. 6 ins. wide, and 17 ft. 6 ins. deep, reached by a descending road from the south entrance of the amphitheatre behind. Mr. Gray regards this enclosure "as the den for impounding the bestiae during the performances when not required for actual exhibitions and combat, the walled pathway to the south evidently being the track by which the animals were brought into it from outside the amphitheatre."  p230 And he regards the inner line of posts round the arena as a barrier "over which the bestiarii and others engaged in the sports and combats, when hard pressed by the beasts, could jump and secrete themselves without disturbing the spectators."12

Contrary to the general rule, the amphitheatre at Caerwent was within the walls of the ancient town; it differed also in its arena, being on the common level. The inner or arena wall encloses an irregular elliptical space, 145 ft. long from east to west, and 121 ft. wide, and at the east end is the gap for an entrance. At a distance of 20 ft. to the south is a short length of the external wall with a right-angled return at its east end, which is probably the side of a south entrance. This amphitheatre was a late construction, several buildings having been pulled down to make room for it, and apparently was never finished.13

Fords and Bridges

So far as can be gleaned from the few recorded remains, the Roman fords were essentially submerged portions of the roads, only more strongly constructed so as to resist the scour of the water. A good example — perhaps the best of any — was a ford across the Trent at Littleborough, near Lincoln, which was removed as a hindrance to navigation in 1820. It consisted of a strongly constructed pavement of large squared stones, 18 ft. wide, the whole being kept in place between two rows of piles ranging from 10 to 12 ft. long, which carried horizontal beams to serve as kerbs.14 Dr. Stukeley mentions a ford on the Foss Way across the Ivel at Ilchester, and another across the Ebble at Bemerton, near Old Sarum, both strongly paved. Another paved ford, 20 ft. wide, crossed the Calder on the Roman road between Manchester and Ilkley.

In nothing was the constructive genius of the Romans more grandly displayed than in their bridges and bridge-like aqueducts, as many examples in Italy and elsewhere on the Continent testify. The former alone concern us here, as no remains of the latter have been found in Britain. With two or three doubtful exceptions,  p232 and these only small structures of a single arch each, all that remain of our Roman bridges are the abutments and piers or their foundations; and from these little can be inferred as to their superstructures.

Of the existing bridges that have been attributed to the Roman period, the claim of one deserves to be mentioned, for it rests upon the high opinion of the late Mr. Roach Smith. It is a small and narrow bridge with a fine semicircular arch, over the little river Coch near Tadcaster, on a Roman road leading to that place.

The finest remains of an undoubted Roman bridge in this country are those of one that crossed the North Tyne at Chesters, near Chollerford, on the line of Hadrian's Wall.15 The plan, Fig. 66, will enable the reader to grasp the chief features. It had four waterways, and was 184 ft. long between the abutments. These abutments were unusually large, and the intervening three piers were each 31 ft. long and 16 ft. wide, with cut-waters to the north. The lateral faces of these structures were 21 ft. 6 ins. wide, indicating a roadway of about that width. Since Roman times, the river has swerved to the west, leaving the eastern abutment some 50 ft. inland. This was uncovered in 1860, and it proved to be a grand work, constructed of huge, well-squared stones, of which five courses remained in one place. The masonry had been laced together with embedded T‑headed iron rods, the grooves of which show well in Fig. 67. The west abutment, which is in a more ruined condition, and the piers are of similar construction. That the road-platform was of timber is highly probable, as several of the loose stones have recesses for spars, and voussoirs have not been found amongst the débris. The great size and strength of the abutments is explained by the fact that each supported a tower, which terminated the Wall on either side of the river, and dominated the bridge and its approaches.


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Fig. 66. — Plan of Bridge over the North Tyne near Chesters. (After Clayton.)
(50 ft. to 1 in.)

Some of the loose stones on and about the eastern abutment show that, although situated on a wild frontier, the bridge was not without ornamental treatment. Conspicuous among these are two column-like shafts — one entire and some portions of the other — each arising from a square block with a string course along the front, and having a conical boss on its summit, the total height being nearly 10 ft. There is also a barrel-shaped  p233 stone, 2 ft. 6 ins. long, with a row of eight stud-holes around its middle, the whole resembling the nave of a wheel with its spoke-holes. Mr. Sheriton Holmes suggested that these worked stones appertained to a swing-opening in the span of the bridge next the abutment, of which the barrel-shaped stone was the counterpoise.16 The main structure of the bridge is generally attributed to Severus, but in it is incorporated work of an earlier and of a later period. Embedded in the east abutment are the lower courses of the water-pier (indicated on the plan) of an older and narrower bridge. The masonry is of the same massive description as the abutment; but the stones are held together by dovetailed cramps. The later work consists chiefly of extensions of the wing-walls of the abutments. A still later work is seen in a curious covered way which winds through the abutment from north to south.

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If the remains of a bridge which were found buried and to some extent supported in the silt that filled a small creek at Wallasey, near Birkenhead, were Roman — and it is reasonable to think that they were — they supply valuable data as to the timber-work of a Roman bridge. This bridge was 100 ft. long and 24 ft. wide; and its platform rested upon the rocky sides of the channel at its extremities, and upon two intervening stone piers that had fallen. Each span of the roadway was supported by four compound bearers, 33 ft. long, of three well-squared oak beams each, which carried the transverse rafters. The mortice-holes showed that the bridge had cross-railed parapets.17

When the ancient bridge over the Tyne at Newcastle was demolished in 1771, it was found that the medieval builders had availed themselves of portions of the stone piers of their Roman predecessors, and that the foundations of these were laid on oak piles. Another bridge crossed the Tyne at Corbridge, and a survey of its remains, made in 1907, shows that it was about 462 ft. long, with eleven waterways, and piers which resembled those at Chesters. A Roman bridge on stone piers crossed the Nene, near Caistor; and the old Caerleon bridge over the Usk, also of stone and timber, which was removed about a century ago, is said to have been Roman. A timber pier (apparently Roman) with a cutwater at each end has recently been exposed in the Wye at Chepstow.

The Author's Notes:

1 For restoration of the basilica, see Viollet-le‑Duc, Lectures on Architecture, I. Plates 8 and 9.

2 Archaeologia XLVI, p349.

3 Personal observation, and Archaeologia LXI, p569.

4 Page 286.

5 Mr. Fox's estimate for the corresponding columns at Silchester was 15 ft.

6 Uriconium, p109.

7 Trans. Bristol and Glouc. Arch. Soc. xxi, p70; Proc. Soc. Ant. 2, vii, p203.

8 Roman Cheshire, p134.

9 Smith, Antiquities of Richborough, etc., pp52 and 161.

10 Report not yet published. Personal observation and particulars supplied by Mr. Frank King.

11 Interim Reports for 1908 and 1909.

12 Second Interim Report, pp19 and 10.

13 Archaeologia LIX, p104.

14 Arch. Jour. xliii, p12.

15 Arch. Aeliana (N.S.), V, p142; VI, p80.

16 Arch. Aeliana (N.S.), XII, p124; XVI, p322.

17 Roman Lancashire.

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