Friday, January 27, 2012

Glevum: The Roman origins of Gloucester

Glevum: The Roman origins of Gloucester

By Nigel Spry 

Gloucester and District Archaeological Research Group, 2003

Introduction: In 1997 Gloucester celebrated its founding as a Colonia – the highest status to which any Roman settlement could aspire. To learn about this, let's start at the beginning – and then we can follow on with some later history.

Some time after AD 49 the Roman army – we cannot be certain but probably the 20th legion or elements of it, from Colchester – built a fortress at Kingsholm near an Iron-Age settlement beside the then course of the Severn. There appears to have been two major phases of construction, the later one bringing the site to full legionary size. The use of the fortress and its continuity of occupation is uncertain, but its probable role was as a strategic base and support headquarters for campaigns in Wales. Because of flooding the location was an unsatisfactory one; this no doubt was one reason that around AD 66 it was abandoned and the army established a new fortress one km to the south, on an area of raised ground that would in due course become known as Gloucester, where there had been earlier occupation.

The new fortress, rectangular in shape and covering an area of 17 hectares (43 acres), had turf faced and 'timber strapped' clay ramparts, 3.5m high, surmounted by a timber palisade and walkway, and fronted by wide steeply cut V-shaped ditches. Substantial timber gate towers pierced the rampart on each side and between them along the ramparts were other timber towers at intervals and at the rampart corners. Between the west and east gates ran the Via Principalis To the south of this road, at the centre of the fortress stood the legionary headquarters building. From here – now 'The Cross' – the Via Praetoria ran up to the north gate, while a fourth main street, starting south of the headquarters building, completed the pattern. The fortress was aligned more or less parallel to the Severn, the course of which was then much closer in to the site than now. Within the fortress gravel streets were laid out in a regular grid pattern and standardised barrack blocks constructed, together with other military buildings, granaries, workshops and stores.

Click here to read this article from the Gloucester and District Archaeological Research Group