The Chester of today is a modern and cosmopolitan city that blends so seamlessly into its ancient surroundings that it is easy to forget about its fascinating affair with the Roman empire.
For the city was once a thriving Roman settlement, where over 5,000 soldiers lived and fought to protect the growing empire. As the success of Chester’s stake on the empire grew, so did the community within it and soon the area became a thriving area filled with workers, residents, homes, markets and entertainment complexes.
1During the Roman occupation, Chester would have been known as ‘Deva Victrix’. ‘Deva’ means ‘Goddess’ in Latin and ‘Victrix’ means ‘Victorious’. It was named to honour the goddess of the River Dee, although it was mostly shortened to ‘Deva’.2For the Romans, bathing was key to maintaining good hygiene and prevent against infections and illness. The site of the baths can be found in the Roman Gardens were the remains of the underfloor heating system and sandstone columns from the Exercise Hall can be found. 3Many Roman treasures have been found at the site of the Amphitheatre including a bowl with a decorative scene of a gladiator fight, part of a handle of a sword. It is thought that the theatre could hold around 10,000 people and was home to a range of entertainment. 4The Roman goddess Minerva was the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare. There are many shrines to the goddess around the city, including in Handbridge were a shrine, complete with a carving of Minerva herself still stands on Edgar’s Field.5In 2016, an amateur treasure hunter from abroad discovered a handful of Roman coins and left them on the doorstep of an unexpecting resident of Tarvin. It is thought that the coins dated back to the Constantinian era (around 272 – 337 AD).
Originally a fortress that was built by Legio II Adiutrix (a legion of the Roman army) under the orders of Emperor Domitian; Deva Victrix, was built with everything needed to make a successful and powerful army succeed outside the comfort of their homeland.
The fortress was home to barracks, defensive walls and even luxury facilities to keep its army in top condition. Soldiers within the Legio II Adiutrix would have had access to the legionary baths, a complex of luxury facilities that were lavishly decorated with mosaic floors which incorporated an underfloor heating system. A fleet of engineering and ahead of its time, using water from the springs in nearby Boughton which flowed along the aqueduct and into the pipes of the baths.
Visitors to the baths were able to access a gymnasium and outside exercise yard, before visiting the cool room to enjoy an invigorating blast in the cold pool or the hot room for a relaxing dip in the plunge bath. As the baths were open 24 hours a day and forming a core part of the Roman lifestyle, it was a popular place for the soldiers to relax.
Despite the lack of evidence as to what the purpose of the building was, many believe that it could have been built as a palace or temple, as this level of opulence had not been seen before in any other fortress of the Roman empire, perhaps eluding to the success and stance of Chester in the empire itself.
As the Roman stronghold took place, thousands of residents began to settle in the area, outside the walls of the fortress and it soon became not just a prosperous area for the army, but a flourishing residential area for many Romans and their families. It wasn’t until the late fourth century that the fortress became unused, with many of the Roman tools and masonry being left behind and used to build other buildings within the area, including St. John’s Church, close to the remains of the amphitheatre.
Things To Do
The Roman Amphitheatre
The Roman Amphitheatre is right in the heart of Chester and is open to the public daily. With a beautiful mural on the wall that shows a scene from an ancient battle, guests can enjoy a taste of what it was like to visit a famous gladiatorial show. Guests can explore the entrance, seating area and arena floor. With free entry, guests are free to explore throughout the day.
The Dewa Roman Experience
An exciting and highly interactive experience, the Dewa Roman Experience allows guests to feel what life was like in Roman Chester.
The tour guides are in full costume and character as they take guests on a tour of Deva Victrix, exploring life-like reconstructions of the fort, barracks and granary as well as the bath house and market stalls, where the thousands of residents would have purchased their household goods. The experience also includes a visit to range of Roman artefacts that have been discovered during the many excavations of the site.
An added part to the experience are Solider Patrols, which allows guests to get out and about in Chester, exploring the ancient remains with a costumed tour guide. With the Roman soldier taking guests on a tour of the places that his ancient counterparts would have frequented, guests are able to explore the fortress through the eyes of one of the thousands of soldiers who lived within its walls.
The Roman Gardens
With a fascinating history and stunning scenery, the Roman Gardens are a must-visit, allowing visitors to walk on the same grounds that Roman soldiers did thousands of years ago. As the site of the Roman Baths, guests can explore a range of ancient ruins including the remains of five pillars which once formed part of the exercise hall within the baths. Also, on show is the remains of the underfloor heating system, with informative plaques giving visitors an insight into the engineering that was behind the system.