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Caerwent Roman City

A Scheduled Monument in Caerwent (Caer-went), Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

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Latitude: 51.6111 / 51°36'40"N

Longitude: -2.7686 / 2°46'7"W

OS Eastings: 346871

OS Northings: 190535

OS Grid: ST468905

Mapcode National: GBR JH.9N9J

Mapcode Global: VH7B9.YRPS

Entry Name: Caerwent Roman City

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3824

Cadw Legacy ID: MM001

Schedule Class: Domestic

Category: House (domestic)

Period: Roman

County: Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

Community: Caerwent (Caer-went)

Built-Up Area: Caerwent

Traditional County: Monmouthshire


The monument consists of the remains of Venta Silurum, the most important civilian Roman settlement in Wales and the administrative capital, or civitas, of the Silures tribe. The surviving town walls are among the finest examples of Roman masonry in Britain and it was the standing remains that attracted early antiquaries to the town. In the 16th century William Camden noted 'the ruinous walls, the chequer'd pavements (mosaics), and the Roman coyns', while in the 17th and 18th centuries mosaics were uncovered, and most destroyed. Since 1899 over half of the area within the walls has been excavated with the result that much is known about the layout of the town.

The settlement at Caerwent was established in the late 1st century AD, soon after the Roman conquest of South Wales, and was located on the line of the road connecting Gloucester with Carmarthen. The earliest buildings in the town were probably mainly timber framed and the settlement straggling, arranged along either side of the road. By the late 2nd century the town had developed to become rectangular in plan, and was laid out on a standard Roman grid pattern. The first town defences, built around this time, consisted of an earthen bank and outer ditch, and the road ran E/W through the middle of the town, along the line of the modern road. The Roman road was wider than the modern road, and had gateways at each end. There were also gates on the N and S sides of the town. The town within the walls was laid out in 20 blocks or insulae, with the main public buildings - the forum basilica, temple and baths - located in the middle. The temple was built in about AD 330, with its entrance off the main road through the town. The layout of the temple is of typical Roman plan with a private inner shrine and a sanctuary alcove, surrounded by a public ambulatory set in a walled sacred garden, or temenos, with a long entrance hall fronting the street. The deity worshiped in the temple is unknown, however a stone found in one of the excavated houses (now on display in the Church) was dedicated to Mars Ocelus, a Rhineland conflation of two gods, one Roman and one Celtic, which indicates a degree of cultural fusion in the religious practices of the inhabitants of the town. The forum, located immediately W of the temple, was also entered from the main road. It comprised a paved rectangular area which would have been enclosed by colonnades of shops. On the N side are the remains of the basilica, built in the early 2nd century AD and later rebuilt in AD 300 before being dismantled in the middle of the 4th century. It was aisled internally with two rows of Corinthian columns and would have provided space for public meetings and ceremonies, as well as small rooms for administrators and magistrates. Shops lined other sections of the main street and the side streets, with the rest of the space within the insulae taken up with houses, farms and industrial buildings. On Pound Lane, which follows the line of a Roman side street, are the exposed remains of a colonnaded shopfront facing the street, with accommodation arranged around a courtyard behind. This is typical of the excavated shops in the town, which had the commercial unit fronting the road, with accommodation, workshops and a yard behind. Just inside the S gate was a large building that could have been an Inn, fronting a side street that ran N/S through the town. Although the basic town plan was rigid and orderly, in detail it was far less rigorously geometrical with some of the 20 insulae packed with buildings and others containing fewer buildings and open space. By the 4th century the town was prospering and several large luxurious houses of typical Roman courtyard layout had replaced earlier smaller dwellings. Many of these new houses boasted wall paintings, mosaic floors and hypocaust underfloor heating. In the NE part of the town the partial remains of a possible amphitheatre partly overlay two of the insulae and one of the side streets. This was evidently a late development in the town.

Around AD 220 an inscribed plinth was erected on the site of the modern War Memorial to commemorate Venta Silurum's patron, Tiberius Claudius Paulinus. The inscription reads 'To [Tiberius Claudius] Paulinus, Legate of the Second Legion Augusta, proconsul of the province of Narbonensis, emperors propraetorian legate of the province of Lugdunensis, by decree of the council, the Canton of the Silurians '. This stone was found in 1903 and is one of the most important Roman inscribed stones found in Britain. It is on display in the Church.

In the second half of the 3rd century or the first half of the 4th century, the town defences were strengthened, with an external wall built onto the earthen bank and the gateways rebuilt in stone. Around AD 350 towers were added to the N and S walls (6 on the S side, 5 on the N side), and about this time the original defensive ditch was filled in and a new outer ditch dug, and the N and S gates were blocked. The town wall can be best appreciated on the S side of the town, where it is accessible for its entire length from the E to W gateways. These gateways would have been the principal entrances to the town and probably comprised double archways and flanking guard chambers. The S wall stands to a maximum height of 5m and retains much of the original facing stone, in places right to the top. Where the facing stone is missing the roughly coursed rubble core of the wall is visible. The original 2nd century earthen bank was retained after the stone wall was built and would have been surmounted by a wall-walk. The towers built along the N and S walls are semi-octagonal in plan. Most are ruinous, but one on the S wall stands to nearly the full height of the wall and has internal joist holes which demonstrate that it would have been 3 storeys high, containing three windowless rooms.

In the SE corner of the town, overlying the Roman wall is a small medieval Motte around 24m in diameter and 5m high. There is no record as to the date and function of this castle, but it is likely to be 11th or 12th century in date and was probably built to take advantage of the defensive capabilities of the substantial Roman walls.

The monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of Roman urban organisation and of the growth of towns. The monument forms an important element within the wider Roman context and the structure itself may be expected to contain archaeological information in regard to chronology, building techniques and functional detail.

The scheduled area comprises the remains described and areas around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.

Source: Cadw

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