Caerwent – roman town

History

   Caerwent, or the Roman Venta Silurium, was founded in 75 AD in the lands of the conquered Celtic tribe of the Silures. Its Latin name meant “the market settlement of the Silures“. The town that was on the Roman road between Isca Augusta (Caerleon) and Glevum (Gloucester) was in contrast to nearby Isca, essentially founded for civilian administration, not for military purposes. The process of romanization of the Silures proceeded quickly, and Caerwent soon became a self-governing city. A similar privilege, only Demeta, boasted in Wales. At the end of the second century, the town was full of life, it was probably about 2,000 inhabitants, and by that time it was strengthened by the first fortifications. In the 3rd century, the threat posed by Irish pirates grew, and the military restructuring led to the withdrawal of the 2nd Augustus Legion from its base in nearby Caerleon. These events initiated the further expansion of the town’s fortifications. At the end of the fourth century, Roman armies withdrew from Britain to fight in other parts of the empire. Probably Caerwent began to decline, although it was still inhabited. Little is known about the settlement in the next hundred years, but at the beginning of the sixth century it became the capital of the Gwent kingdom. It is from this period that the modern name of the city comes from, Caerwent translates as “Gwent stronghold”.
  
After the invasion of the Normans into England in 1066, a period of invasions to Wales began, both by the king himself and by the marcher lords. The main Norman fortresses at that time were in Chepstow and Cardiff, but Caerwent was important because of its location on the road between them. To ensure control over the road, a small motte-and-bailey castle was built in the south-east corner of the Roman fortifications. This fortification, which was never more than a small watchtower, probably only functioned for a short time. When Chepstow became the dominant port in the region, Caerwent transformed into a small settlement, in which most of the former Roman city served as a pasture.

Architecture

   Archaeological excavations suggest that initially Caerwent was a small settlement with a dozen or so houses, scattered along the road from Gloucester to Cardiff. In its final Roman form, it was a large urban organism with the size of 17.5 hectares, on a plan similar to a rectangle, with a regular layout of streets, that enabled the division of the city into rectangular plots (insulae). In terms of erected buildings, Caerwent was essentially a miniature version of Rome. In its central place there was a forum and a basilica. The forum was an open market surrounded by porticoes with rows of columns that supported the roof shading shops, offices and taverns, while the cobbled central area provided a place for stalls. The basilica occupied the northern side of the forum. It was a large building with dimensions of 80×55 meters and a probable height of 20 meters, in which courts, town events and celebrations took place. On its edges there were smaller rooms for officials listening to the residents affairs.
   Not far from the forum, on the east side, there was a temple complex. It was built quite late, about 330, in place of the earlier Celtic temple. It is not known what deities were worshiped in it, it could be Roman Mars or Celtic Ocelus, it is also possible that it was already used by Christians. The temple was built on a square plan, with an inner sanctuary with a structure close to the tower and with a niche at the back, in which were located sculptures and other objects of worship. The temple was entered on a long path overlooking the street, preceded by a porch in the shape of an oblong building. The sanctuary was surrounded by a by-pass and a sacred courtyard.
  
At the beginning of the second century, public baths and shops were also built, including blacksmith’s forge. The shopping buildings combined commercial functions (the front part from the street side) with the residential one (the back of the building). The households were in the form of farms with small plots, but also developed, rich residences with courtyards. The city from the second century was secured by timber – earth fortifications, rebuilt at the turn of the second and third century into stone defensive walls.

Current state

   Currently, Caerwent is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Wales, in which you can see, among others, the foundations of the Roman forum and basilica, the temple from the third century, relics of houses with preserved remnants of the hypocaustum heating system, and especially (described in a separate article ) urban fortifications.

show Roman temple on map

show Roman forum on map

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bibliography:
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Caerwent roman town
Website wikipedia.org, Caerwent.