Isca Augusta (Caerleon)

The Amphitheater at Isca

The Amphitheater at Isca

Who you would meet there:

The native inhabitants of this Area of Wales were the Silurians. Until the Roman military base was established in AD 75, these would be the most likely people to meet in this area. After the establishment of the Roman military base you would meet Silurians, Romans and Possibly other British tribes that had good relations with the Romans.

The Silurians were actually the cause of the fort being built. They were at the time not on the best of terms with the Romans. When the fort was built, the Roman governor thought the Silurians needed to be brought under better Roman control. Even still you would meet many Romans, and possibly natives of other parts of the Roman Empire, who were not part of the official military. These people would have been there to provide goods and services to the soldiers. The Legion stationed there was the Legio II Augusta.

Fun Fact: The Roman Amphitheater in Caerleon (modern Isca) was thought to be King Arthur’s round table during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Why you would go there:

Isca was a military town  in a remote province of the Roman Empire. This is not a place your average Roman goes for vacation. You would most likely travel here with the military either as a part of it or as a supplier. There would also be officials that traveled to Isca as the military camp grew into a more functional town. From with in Britain someone may have traveled to Isca to deliver messages, or report problems in an even more remote area of the province.

You might also travel to Isca to see the entertainment at the amphitheater. It is the largest one in Wales. The amphitheater could have hosted a number of kinds of entertainment, but the most likely for the circular design would be gladiatorial games and other circus games. The amphitheater may not have attracted travelers from other provinces, but it would have drawn in a huge number of soldiers, Roman settlers, and locals whenever games were held.  At the times when the fort was host to a full legion the amphitheater would have seated all of them, up to six thousand people.

Fun Fact: The modern town of Caerleon comes from the Celtic words for the home of the legion.

The remains of one of the buildings in the fort.

The remains of one of the buildings in the fort.

 

How you would get there:

From inside the British province travel to Isca would be over rivers and over land. Travel from Londinium would take about eight days in good weather.  Travel from Rome would take much longer. You would begin in Rome and take a barge down to Ostia. Then you would get on a boat and sail up to Arelate. From there you would take river boats and marches up through Gaul and then a ship across the English Channel. Once in Britian you would march and take rivers to reach Isca. To reach such a remote province is no easy task, it would take more than a month in good weather and more than two in bad weather.

What Isca was like:

Isca was a military castrum. This military fort would be a nearly self- sufficient town with barracks, kitchens, baths, forges, tailors and doctors all with in the fort walls. The presence of the amphitheater indicates that there may also have been more of a town outside the wall of the castrum. however the modern town likely sits on any remaining direct evidence of this.

When a full legion was stationed at the castrum Isca was probably a pretty busy town. There would be 6000 men to feed clothe and entertain. No brothels have been found yet, but there were probably several. The population probably varied over time because the military men were probably moved all over Britain to deal with different threats problems and more vulnerable forts. Isca was occupied by Legio II Augusta for two hundred years. However even after the fort was abandoned by the Roman Military the rest of the town was still occupied.  The remaining Roman population blended with the locals and the town eventually became Caerleon.

Fun Fact: Isca got its name from the nearby River Usk. The “Augusta” came from the legion stationed there.

References:

Caerleon Net Archaeology at Caerleon 2010: The Priory Field Dig http://www.caerleon.net/history/dig/2010/index.html

“Historic UK” The Roman Fortress of Isca http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/The-Roman-Fortress-of-Isca/

Scheidel, Walter, Elijah Meeks Orbis: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World http://orbis.stanford.edu/#


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