Roman military amphitheatre

Roman military amphitheatre

The Military Town Amphitheatre

The arena floor of the Military Town amphitheatre is larger than that of the Colosseum!

The Military Town amphitheatre has an elliptical form and was constructed using a natural depression in the ground. According to the latest excavations, this natural depression may have been used by the legion as a training ground from as early as the 1 st century.

According to the building inscription in the Aquincum Museum stone collection, the amphitheatre was built in stone by the Legio II Adiutrix during the reign of Antoninus Pius, around 145.

The amphitheatre is 131.8 metres long and 108.4 metres wide and its arena (fighting floor) is 89.6 metres long and 66.1 metres wide, making this arena larger than that of the Colosseum in Rome. The two main gates lie at the ends of the longer NE-SW axis. At both ends of the shorter axis was a cage for wild animals (carcer). There were inscribed altars in the sanctuary of Nemesis.

As the other amphitheatres along the Danube, this too can be classified as an earth amphitheatre. The spectators’ seats were constructed on top of the mound built around the arena. Only the 24 U-shaped wall sections and the wall of the arena were built from stone. The amphitheatre, with a capacity of 10-13 thousand spectators, could be entered through a vaulted flight of stairs.

Colorful, Violent and Sometimes Full of Elephants

Cartagena is a coastal Mediterranean city in the Region of Murcia in south eastern Spain and because it forms a natural seaport the ancient city of Cartagena was strategically important to both Carthage and Rome. Further adding to its appeal, the city’s close proximity to rich silver and lead mines was irresistible to the Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors, assuring the Mediterranean city of Cartagena has a very long and colorful, but somewhat violent, past.

The city of Cartagena was founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginians, and according to a city guide in Europe Up Close it was from here that in 223 BC the famous Carthaginian general, Hannibal, marched his invading army into Iberia and later set off with his elephants over the Alps to conquer Rome. The Roman general Scipio Africanus conquered the city in 209 BC and renamed it Carthago Nova (literally 'New New City’) and Emperor Julius Caesar later gave the city ‘Latin Rights.’ It remained an important Roman colony until it was eventually sacked by the Vandals in 435 AD.

Mosaic pavement from British museum. Excavated at Bordj-Djedid in 1857 (Africa, Tunisia, Carthage). Date: 5thC (late)-6thC (early). Culture: Vandal or late Roman. ( Public Domain )

Caerleon Roman Fortress, Baths, and Amphitheatre


HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Rare 1st-century barracks remains

In 74 AD the II Augusta Legion founded a fort at Isca, in what is now Caerleon. The fort was built in the territory of the most powerful tribe in southern Wales, the Silures. Establishing the fort here was a statement of power by the Romans, who were still wary of the local tribes after the threat of Boudicca's rebellion in 60 AD.

The legion was stationed here until the late 3rd century, when it may have moved to Richborough in Kent. The name Isca lives on in the name of the town of Usk, and the River Usk that runs past the Caerleon site.

The Roman Bath

Located just a stone's throw from the National Roman Legion Museum on the High Street are the remains of the bath s established for the soldiers of the 2nd Legion.

Think of the baths at Caerleon like a leisure centre built for the 2nd Legion. Within this complex were chambers for hot and cold baths, exercise rooms, and an open-air swimming pool. There were even heated changing rooms, warmed by an underfloor heating system. The baths were in use from around 74 AD to 287 AD. One unusual find from the site was a large number of gemstones discovered in the drains under the baths.

Presumably, these gemstones were dropped by bathers in the pools. At one side of the natatio, or swimming pool area, is a clay tile with the imprint of a foot presumably, someone who steeped on the tile before it had hardened, and left the imprint of their boot in the soft clay.

Nearby is another tile showing the imprint of a dog's paw. One of the interesting items on display at the Baths museum is two sections of lead pipe used to bring water to the site. There is also an extremely fine section of a mosaic showing part of an animal, and an exposed area of the hypocaust.

The Amphitheatre

A short walk from the barracks and just outside the town walls, stand the remains of the Caerleon Amphitheatre, where soldiers and citizens of Isca came to relax and enjoy entertainment like animal hunts and gladiators in combat.

The amphitheatre is huge, with sloped banks for seating over 6000 spectators, and was erected around 90 AD. The building of the amphitheatre outside the fort walls shows that this area of South Wales must have been fully under Roman control, only 16 years after the fort was built.

The amphitheatre was not used solely for blood-sports it was also used by the military as a parade ground. Running along the field boundary to the north of the amphitheatre is a very well-preserved section of the original fort wall.

The amphitheatre is oval, broken up into 8 sections by passage between the high banks of seating. It is 184 feet long and 136 feet wide and there were two processional ways, one at each long end. Halfway along the oval on each side were seats of honour for dignitaries, equivalent to modern box seats.

Below these were small chambers where the humans, or animals, waited to enter the arena. One of these lower chambers has a small niche set into the wall, presumably for a shrine to the godes Nemesis, who controlled fate and divine vengeance.

This really is quite an impressive site the scale of the seating shows how popular the entertainments were the total number of seats was more than the number of men serving in the 2nd Legion. You can walk out into the centre of the arena floor and look up ant the sloping stands, and imagine what it would be like to be a gladiator, with 6000 people watching you. It is quite a staggering sensation.

During the Middle Ages, the amphitheatre was known as King Arthur's Round Table.

London's Roman Amphitheatre


HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Remains of timber drains

One of the hidden delights of historic London lies beneath the pavement of Guildhall Yard, lost from view. Under the ground lies the remains of a large Roman amphitheatre, lost for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in the 20th century.

The amphitheatre was probably built around AD 74. It was enlarged and comprehensively renovated around AD 120, and remained in use until around AD 360. It must have fallen out of use by the late 4th century, as there is evidence that stone was being robbed from the site for other building projects by that time.

The site lay neglected in the post-Roman period, but by the early medieval era, new buildings began to be erected on the site. At first these new buildings were simple timber houses, but sometime in the 12th century the first Guildhall was built to serve as a centre for civic administration.

How was the amphitheatre used?

The scale of the London amphitheatre is a measure of Roman London's importance as a provincial capital city. The amphitheatre would have been the main centre for entertainment in Londonium, and would have been viewed as a mark of civilsed life under Rome. One of those 'civilised' delights was gladiatorial combats and executions. As many as 6000 people watched gladiators fighting in the arena, at a time when the total population of London was below 30,000 people.

What is unusual is that the amphitheatre is located inside the Roman walls, close to the fort. Only 5 other amphitheatres across Britain have been found where there is such an obvious link with the military most amphitheatres were civilian, and located outside city walls.

The amphitheatre is not circular, but oval, measuring roughly 105m long and 85m wide. The entire structure is under Guildhall Yard and its surrounding buildings.

The shape of the amphitheatre affected the layout of London's streets. Streets established in the 10th and 11th centuries were clearly routed in order to avoid the amphitheatre remains. An area roughly corresponding to the amphitheatre has been an open space, or yard, since at least the 14th century.

The amphitheatre was uncovered during preparations to build the Guildhall Art Gallery to display artwork owned by the City of London. The site has been excavated on at least three occasions in 1951, 1985, and 1987-8, all under the direction of the Museum of London. The amphitheatre lies roughly 8m underground, under centuries of rubble and rubbish that gradually raised the ground level.

One of the most remarkable features of the amphitheatre is that so many timber features have been preserved. The waterlogged conditions under Guildhall Yard helped preserve wooden remains that would ordinarily have rotted away under dry conditions.

Excavations revealed an outer wall, banked to provide seating in tiers, sloping down to an inner wall encircling the area floor. The main entrance was in the east, and on either side were small chambers probably used as changing rooms, or perhaps as shrines. These chambers may even have been used as holding pens for wild beasts used in the gladiatorial combats.

Excavations also uncovered several drain channels lined with wooden planks, leading to a sump chamber. Remarkably, much of the timber drains have been preserved. They can be viewed through plexiglass set into the floor. You can also see timber thresholds leading to side-chambers and even some of the sand from the original arena floor.


Access to the Roman Amphitheatre is through the Guildhall Art Gallery on the east side of Guildhall Yard. Having said that, your visit to the amphitheatre really begins before you enter the Gallery. If you look at the paved surface of Guildhall Yard you'll notice that the paving is made up of different coloured stones. An arrangement of dark stones follows the contours of the underground amphitheatre beneath your feet, and you can begin to get a sense of just how large and impressive it was.

After you enter the Guldhall Gallery (and go through security measures) you go down a flight of steps to a viewing area looking down into the dimly-lit underground amphitheatre. Here you will find display cases of objects found during excavations, such as pieces of Samian ware pottery. There are also several information panels giving an overview of the amphitheatre and its history. Then you go down another set of stairs into the amphitheatre itself.

Only a part of the curving arena and its walls are available to explore, and the far side of the site is taken up with a large artwork showing banks of spectators looking down into the arena. The designers of the display have done a remarkable job of recreating the atmosphere of the original site no mean feat when you consider that the entire structure is underground and much of it is still buried beneath the surrounding buildings.

The really impressive thing about the amphitheatre is the timber-lined drains and sump. It is extraordinary how well they have been preserved after almost 2000 years.

It will not take long to explore the site even though the original amphitheatre was huge, the exposed portion open to visitors is relatively small. It is well worth taking the time to explore the Gallery - thankfully above ground and well lit! There are also regular chances to explore the site with a Museum of London archaeologist and to enjoy handling some of the treasures unearthed during excavations.

I've seen it written elsewhere that you have to buy a ticket to the Guildhall Gallery to gain access to the Amphitheatre. This is not so both the Roman Amphitheatre and the Guildhall Gallery are free to enter, as is the Guildhall itself, which is well worth exploring.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About London's Roman Amphitheatre
Address: Guildhall Yard, off Gresham Street, London, Greater London, England, EC2V 5AE
Attraction Type: Roman Site
Location: Access is through the Guildhall Gallery in Guildhall Yard. The closest tube station is St Paul's.
Website: London's Roman Amphitheatre
Location map
OS: TQ325813
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Nearest station: Bank - 0.2 miles (straight line) - Zone: 1



Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Roman Entertainment: The Hippodrome

This was where the Romans went to see the chariot racing.

The Circus Maximus was the largest hippodrome in Rome and could hold up to 250,000 people. Chariots were pulled by 2 – 4 horses, and were driven seven times around the ring at extremely fast speeds. Sometimes accidents happened and drivers were often trampled to death.

There were four teams – red, white, blue and green – and fans of each team would wear their team’s colours.

The remains of the Roman Brocolitia Mithraeum, Temple to Mithras at Hadrian’s wall in the North of England.

Esoteric cults from the eastern end of the Mediterranean were popular among soldiers. Inscriptions from military sites show the popularity of figures such as the Hittite storm god Dolichenus and the Iranian sun god Mithras. Shrines to Mithras have been found on Hadrian’s Wall, as far from the cult’s origins as they could get within the Roman Empire. With its emphasis on strength and courage, Mithraism became particularly popular, especially among officers. Similarities to Christianity have led some to argue that this shaped or paved the way for the spread of Christianity among the imperial elite.

Architecture of the Amphitheater

The amphitheater in Pula is known as an ‘arena’, due to the sand that covered its inner space since Roman times. The Pula Arena was constructed during the 1st century AD, when the city, which was then known as Pietas Julia , was the regional center of Roman rule. It has often been claimed that the monument was built during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, who was also responsible for the construction of the Coliseum. This is perhaps due to the discovery of a coin dated to the reign of this emperor in the malting (a building in which malt is made or stored). Incidentally, Pula is located along the Via Flavia , which connected Trieste to Dalmatia, and was built during Vespasian’s reign.

The exterior of the Pula Arena in Croatia. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Alternatively, the Pula Arena could have been built as a wooden structure during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. It was only during the reign of Claudius that work on a stone version of this monument began. The construction of the Pula Arena was completed during the reign of Titus, the successor of Vespasian.

The Pula Arena is elliptical in shape. Its longer axis has been measured to be 132.45 m (434.55 ft.), whilst its shorter one is said to be 105.10 m (344.82 ft.). The walls of the Pula Arena, which are still quite well-preserved today, are found to be 32.45 m (106.46 ft.) high. As for the area that was used for the events, it measures at 67.95 m by 41.65 m. (222.92 ft. x 16.64 ft.) It has been estimated that this amphitheater could have accommodated a maximum of 25,000 spectators. Some say that the Pula Arena is the 6th largest surviving Roman amphitheater.

Statesman and scholar

Best known now for his contested discovery of the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, Scottish nobleman James Bruce was serving as the British consul in the coastal city of Algiers (today the capital of Algeria) in 1763.

Imposingly tall and broad, Bruce was a voracious scholar with a curious mind. Before his arrival in Algiers to take up his post, he spent a few months in Italy poring over the history of the African region and its role in antiquity.

Bruce’s short temper and strong opinions soon led to clashes with his superiors in London. In 1765, he lost his appointment. Rather than return to Britain, he and a Florentine artist named Luigi Balugani embarked on an adventure across Africa. On their journey, they kept notes and made illustrations depicting the many extraordinary people and places they encountered.

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Watch the video: Welterbewürdig! Das römische Amphitheater von Künzing. Museumsführung: Highlights aus dem Museum #5 (November 2021).