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CAERWENT ROMAN TOWN, NP26 5AU

GETTING THERE

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?

The remains of a Roman walled town with some portions of the defences still standing to an impressive height. Foundations of numerous Roman buildings are also visible including the Forum. Any visit should include a stop at the Church of St Stephen which has the Paulinus inscription on display - a statue which was raised on honour of Governor Tiberius Claudius Paulinus and which has provided historians with an insight into local civil administration. A small museum can be found in the car park and there is also a Norman motte.

VISIT OFFICIAL SITE (Opens in new window)

Roman remains and motte are managed by CADW.


POSTCODE

LAT/LONG

Car Park / Museum / Walk Start

NP26 5AU

51.612006N 2.770979W

Roman Shops

NP26 5AU

51.611724N 2.769785W

Courtyard House

N/A

51.612560N 2.769802W

Forum-Basilica

N/A

51.611845N 2.767891W

Church of St Stephen

NP26 5AY

51.610673N 2.768454W

Norman Motte

N/A

51.609172N 2.765769W

Notes:  Today Caerwent is a small village which can be found just off the A48 to the north of Caldicot. A dedicated visitor car park is provided adjacent to the museum and well placed located to start a walk of the walls.

Caerwent Layout (AD 350). A plan showing the Roman road layout which was laid out on a grid pattern. The Gloucester to Cardiff road ran through the centre of the settlement which was dominated by the Forum-Basilica. Excavated and visible buildings are shown. The town defences initially consisted of a single ditch and earth rampart. Around the late third century AD this rampart was fronted with stone. Towers were added to the north and south walls only circa-AD 350.

Pound Lane Shops. The foundations of a number of shops that were extensively modified over the duration of Caerwent’s occupation. It is likely only the foundations were stone and the upper portions of the structure were timber.

Tribes of Britannia. The Silures occupied the coastal region around South-East Wales.

Wales > South Wales CAERWENT ROMAN TOWN

Located on the Roman road from Gloucester to Cardiff, Caerwent was built as a planned settlement for the defeated Silures tribe. Originally intended  to facilitate their Romanisation, it later became a self-governing community and by the third century AD had a town wall. In the closing decades of Roman Britain it hosted a military garrison.

HISTORY OF CAERWENT ROMAN TOWN


Conquest


The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 and, after subduing southern England, pushed into Monmouthshire where the Silures tribe was mounted a fierce resistance. The tribe seems to have mostly occupied fortified hill and promontory forts along the coastal zone but the terrain was densely wooded which enabled them to fight a guerrilla war against the Romans. To defeat them, the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) was moved to Usk where in AD 55 they established a new fortress in the very heart of the Silures’ territory. Within a few years the Twentieth Legion had started to bring the tribe under control but in AD 60 Roman Britain was thrown into turmoil by the Boudica rebellion in East Anglia. Colchester (Canulodunum), London (Londinium) and St Albans (Verulamium) were all destroyed and the province was nearly lost. Only by rendezvousing all their forces and defeating Boudica at the Battle of Watling Street was control retained.


Roman Recovery


Consolidation after the Boudica revolt took over a decade and it wasn't until the AD 70s that full scale campaigns could again be mounted in Wales. The Second Augustian (Legio II Augusta) was deployed to the region and they built a fortress at Caerleon to replace Usk (which was deemed too difficult to resupply). Again the Romans strategy of placing a Legionary battle group in the heart of Silures territory proved successful and the tribe was finally defeated.


Foundation


After their surrender to the Romans, the Silures would have been classified as dediticii - effectively a conquered people with no rights. However, key to the enduring success of the Romans was to 'civilize' the local populace. For this reason the Silures were ejected from many of their hilltop fortress and invited to settle in a new Roman town. Caerwent, which was known to the Romans as Venta Silurum, was founded circa-AD 75 for this purpose.


Precisely what form the early town took is uncertain. Recent excavations have suggested it was little more than a few houses spread along the Gloucester to Cardiff road. However, it eventually had a planned systems of streets which enabled the town to be divided into rectangular plots (insulae). This early town had no defences; Imperial permission was required to construct them and, for a newly conquered people, this would never have been granted.


Town Defences


The Romanisation process seemed to work well on the Silures because ultimately political identity was restored to the tribe. Caerwent became a self-governing town - a privilege that was granted to only one other tribe in Wales (the Demetae at Carmarthen). By the late second century AD the town was thriving, it probably had a population of circa-2,000, and around this time basic defences were built although the reason for them is unclear. Some historians argue Roman towns raised defences for prestige or administrative purposes (for example taxation) but it seems more probable they were raised at Caerwent in the response to some external threat – perhaps raids from Irish pirates. The defences consisted of a V-shaped ditch and rampart. The latter was constructed from the spoil from the ditch and built on top of a cobbled surface for stability. It would have been topped by a timber palisade whilst four timber gatehouses provided access into the town.


Irish Pirates


The third century AD saw an increasing threat from Irish pirates who raided Wales and the West Coast. Significant Roman military re-structuring also led the withdrawal, circa-AD 290, of the Second Augustian Legion (Legio II Augusta) from its base at nearby Caerleon. Together it seems likely that these events prompted the upgrading of the defences at Caerwent. Around this time a stone wall was built against the earth rampart standing in excess of 7 metres tall. A second V-shaped ditch, further away from the walls than the earlier ditch, was probably added at this time to take into account the increased height advantage the defenders would have from the new rampart. The four gatehouses were also replaced in stone.


The threat from Irish pirates did not diminish and accordingly the Romans built or upgraded numerous forts to deal with the threat. Caerwent's defences were also upgraded around AD 350 when protruding towers were added to the north and south curtain walls. The purpose of these turrets was almost certainly to support ranged weaponry - probably archers - which implies a military presence at Caerwent at this time. A similar arrangement existed at Bitterne (Southampton) which is believed to have functioned as a Saxon Shore fort whilst also being the settlement of Clausentium. The administrative and organisational structure of these militarised settlements is unknown.  


Post-Roman Occupation


The late fourth century AD saw Roman military forces withdrawn from Britannia to fight elsewhere in the empire. It is likely Caerwent went into decline at this time although some form of occupation continued. Little is known about the settlement during the next one hundred years but by the early sixth century AD it had become the capital of the Kingdom of Gwent. Quite literally this is where the modern name derives from - Caerwent translates as "fort of Gwent". At some point before the tenth century a monastery was founded at Caerwent.


Normans


The Norman invasion of England in 1066 was followed by incursions into Wales both by the King himself and the Marcher Lords, magnates given unrestricted powers to seize territory and rule it in a quasi-regal capacity. The main Norman fortresses at this time were at Chepstow and Cardiff but Caerwent was important due to its position on the road between them. To ensure control of the road, a small motte-and-bailey castle was constructed in the south-east corner of the Roman defences. A small portion of the Roman wall was demolished and the motte built over its foundations re-using the Roman ditches for protection. A new ditch was cut to the north-east (inside the Roman walls) to create a bailey. This fortification, which was never more than a small outpost, was probably only occupied for a short period. As Chepstow became the dominant port in the region, Caerwent simply declined into a small hamlet with the bulk of the former Roman town simply reverting to pasture.

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Norman motte built in the south-east corner of the Roman walls.

Romano-Celtic Temple