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Dr Caroline Pudney at the amphitheatre in Chester.

The film puts forward a picture of Roman Chester as a monumental place, with status not just in Britain but across the Empire, a key “portal” position in the “Roman machine”, and “much more vibrant, dynamic and complex than just a military base”.

Dr Caroline Pudney, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Programme Leader for BA Archaeology at the University of Chester, shares the insights in the latest video in the ‘Global History in One City' series.

In the film, which is accompanied by a blog, Dr Pudney explains that Chester owed its existence to Rome. She outlines how Chester became home to the biggest legionary fortress (Deva Victrix, often shortened to Deva) in Britain and contained an extraordinary elliptical building which is entirely unique in the whole of the Roman Empire.

She also discusses how Chester boasted the largest amphitheatre in Britain and visits the Grosvenor Museum to highlight the nationally important collection of Roman tombstones, which evidence how Chester was a truly cosmopolitan place with a diverse population. Inscriptions, epitaphs and carved images show that, for example, soldiers and tradespeople originated from places including Italy, Spain, Greece and the Middle East.

She said: “By the end of the 1st Century AD, the Roman Empire covered the majority of modern-day Europe. Britain, and Chester, situated at its North West fringes, were connected to this colossal machine by road, river, and sea.

“Deva was 20% larger than other legionary fortresses in Britain. It’s thought that this is because it served as the seat of the Governor of Britannia for a time (or was at least planned to), and from where an invasion of Ireland may have been considered. The likelihood is that it acted as a military base and an administrative centre for much of what is now Cheshire and North Wales.

“As one of Roman Britain’s permanent legionary fortresses, it not only functioned as a frontier base, but as a point of entry into and out of the province, and for many, it was home; a place to live and work.

“Flat bottomed barges and small vessels could travel up the Dee to Deva, perhaps offloading goods and people from larger vessels docking at Meols on the Wirral peninsula. This meant that not only soldiers could make good lives for themselves in and around Chester. Evidence tells us that traders, skilled craftspeople, engineers, doctors, wives and children also lived out their daily lives within the vicinity of the fortress.

“The migration and mobility of people and objects across vast swathes of what is now modern Europe and the Near East led to the fusion of cultural traditions and beliefs. A cultural melting pot existed under the umbrella of Rome, and millions of people across the breadth of the world would have known about Chester.”

Roman Chester by Take 27 Ltd.jpg

Deva - Roman Chester - in the mid 3rd Century by Take 27 Ltd.
Deva - Roman Chester - in the mid 3rd Century by Take 27 Ltd.

She added: “New discoveries are constantly emerging showing us what Roman life would have been like in Chester - including the remains of distinct cultural practices, such as cooking styles and the clothes and jewellery people wore - but we have only just scratched the surface and there is still so much to discover.”

Discoveries include those made during the annual Grosvenor Park dig, in partnership with Cheshire West and Chester Council, where students join with archaeologists to uncover more about Chester’s Roman past, with footage from this Spring’s excavation featured in the film.

The ‘Global History in One City’ series aims to demonstrate how Chester’s history is part of a dynamic worldwide story. The films in the series to date are: The Forgotten Germans of the First World War; Chester’s Legacies of Empire; An International City: Chester in the Middle Ages, and Viking Age Chester - A Node in Transnational Networks.

Further films to be released will look at Chester and the English Civil War, and witch hunting in Cheshire.

To watch the Deva Victrix - Roman Chester film, please visit here or for all the videos in the series, and more information, take a look at: www1.chester.ac.uk/global-history.

To read the blog, please visit here.

For further updates please go to: https://www.facebook.com/HistoryChester and https://www.twitter.com/HistArchChester.

  • Thank you also to Planet X Television which has supplied shots for the film.
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History Archaeology Roman Chester Deva