Approaches to Roman Archaeology in Wales
An insight into the past discoveries of Roman Wales
Curated by Jennifer Jones
School of History, Archaeology and Religion
Henry Rowlands, Mona antiqua restaurata : an archæological discourse on the antiquities, natural and historical, of the isle of Anglesey (1723)
Whilst there has been a big focus on Roman archaeology in South Wales, there has also been work conducted to investigate a Roman presence in North Wales. Henry Rowlands studied many aspects of archaeology in Anglesey, cataloguing a range of different period sites. This illustration demonstrates the plan of a Neolithic tumulus supposedly altered by the Romans during their invasion of North Wales. The impact of the Roman Army reached far across England and Wales, leaving behind a wealth of archaeological monuments and artefacts for people to see in Wales today.
Beale Poste, Britannic researches : or, new facts and rectifications of ancient British history. London : J. R. Smith (1853)
The Romans in Britain developed a network of roads, branching out from Londinium reaching across Great Britain, enabling the movement of armies and the development of trade and communication. This images demonstrates the network of Roman Roads that enabled the Roman Army to reach South Wales and create the Roman Legionary Fortress that still stands in Caerleon.
Aylett Sammes, Britannia antiqua illustrata : or, The antiquities of ancient Britain [...] together with a chronological history of this kingdom. London : Printed by Tho. Roycroft, for the author (1676)
The Roman army as depicted by Aylett (1676) were a group of highly organised and strategic soldiers. The testudo formation adopted by the soldiers in this image provided a successful method of infiltrating hostile areas, whilst keeping the men fully protected from any missiles they encountered. With such successful battle tactics it is no surprise that following the initial invasion on AD43 the presence of the Roman army was felt throughout Britain. The legacy of the Roman Empire can be seen archaeologically throughout South Wales to this date.
Octavius Morgan, Excavations prosecuted by the Caerleon Archæological Association within the walls of Caerwent in the summer of 1855. Archaeologia, Vol. XXXVI (1856)
The town of Caerwent was founded as a market town for the defeated Silures tribe. Much of the remains of this Roman town can be seen in the current village. This image shows a plan of one of the Roman houses with a beautifully illustration of one of the Mosaics found during excavations by Octavius Morgan in 1855. The presence of mosaics, hypocausts and houses suggest that the town was primarily a civil construction, with little military function, making it distinctively different to the Roman Legionary Fortress of Caerleon.
John Storrie, Notes on excavations made during the summers of 1894-5, at Barry Island and Ely Race Course. Cardiff : Western Mail (1896)
A major focus of Roman archaeology in Wales is naturally the important archaeological sites of Caerleon and Caerwent. There are many other interesting aspects of Roman Archaeology scattered throughout Wales. The excavations by Storrie in 1894-5 unearthed a Romano British villa at Barry Island, the plan of which is shown in the illustration. Villas represent small farmsteads, built in the Mediterranean style of architecture, highly evocative of Romano British occupation. Like the town of Caerwent this villa represents domestic, rather than military occupation of Wales.
John Williams, Essays on various subjects, philological, philosophical, ethnological, and archeologically connected with prehistorical records of the civilized nations of ancient Europe (1858)
Whilst Roman buildings were a major focus of Roman archaeology, material culture is equally important, and was a frequent focus of study by antiquarians. This illustration shows samian pottery, as represented by John Williams (1858). Samian pottery is often decorated with elaborate designs that were changed rapidly over short spaces of time, making them very useful for dating archaeological sites. Many past excavations were concerned with cataloguing buildings and pottery, which is far from the scientific and interpretive archaeological approaches that we use today.
John Edward Lee, Description of a Roman building and other remains lately discovered at Caerleon. London : J.R. Smith (1850)
Caerleon Roman legionary fortress (Isca) is a long lasting legacy of Roman activity in South Wales. Caerleon was the home to the Legio II Augusta from about 75 to 300 AD. This image depicts one of the Roman buildings as encountered by John Edward Lee in 1850. In that same year Lee, aided by several other local antiquarians opened the first Museum at Caerleon to celebrate the importance of this archaeological site.