Richborough CastleRichborough is one of the most important Roman sites in Britain. One of the landing places of the Roman army in AD43, Rutupiae Portus, went on to become one of the main supply bases for the Roman troops. As conquest over the British became certain, the base was turned into a town with a triumphal, monumental arch celebrating the empire's military success. Today, you can see the remains of this arch, the large defensive ditches surrounding the fort and the remains of the old store rooms. There are also some Saxon remains on the site; the relics of an early Saxon church and a baptismal font. On your visit, step into the museum which contains Roman weapons, coins, ornaments and some of the best examples of Roman pottery to be found in England.
Background to the Roman Invasion of Britain
The Romans had turned their eye towards expanding their empire into Britain some 150 years before they finally succeeded. Attempts by Julius Caesar and Gaius Caligula both failed but political unrest in the middle of the first century AD, enabled Emperor Claudius to disrupt the favourable trading and diplomatic links between the two areas in favour of invasion and total annexation. Rome had seen Verica, the leader of the Atrebates expelled and hostility from the tribes of Catuvelauni left an aggressive force on the north west frontier of the Roman Empire. Verica appealed to Claudius for aid. Claudius responded with an invasion sending an eminent senator, Aulus Plautius with the charge of four legions, a force of some 20, 000 men.
Early History of the Richborough Fort
The first settlers at Richborough arrived with the Iron Age but it wasn't until the Roman era that the site gained in significance when Richborough served as a port protecting the passage of ships between the mainland and the Isle of Thanet. This seems difficult to believe as you stand on the landlocked site but in those times Richborough was either an island or a promontory lying in a natural lagoon of what was once the Wantsum Channel. A perfect spot for a protected harbour, Richborough was occupied for almost 400 years and the Saxons were also based here before moving to Sandwich.
The Civilian Settlement
As Roman supremacy was established, Richborough developed into a busy port and town which was renowned throughout the empire for its oysters. The harbour is thought to have been east of the site but was probably destroyed with the erosion of the River Stour. The town itself was actually larger than the site you'll see here today. Enclosed by the fort walls, the town was arranged around a rectilinear grid of streets which contained a mansion or hotel for diplomatic guests, houses, workshops and shops. Most of these were built in timber but some were later replaced by stone.
In A.D.250 a new fort was constructed in an attempt to secure the peace of what was now predominantly a commercial and residential settlement. The troops returned, levelled the centre of town and built in its place an internal earthen rampart with three defensive ditches. The triumphal gateway was now turned into a lookout tower climbed via a timber staircase. The fort was only used for 25 years. Although Roman presence at Richborough continued, historians are unsure as to the exact nature of the settlement. By the end of the fourth century, the Roman troops left Richborough and as their rule in Britain drew to its close, their soldiers were positioned in other problematic areas of the empire.
Early Christian Remains at Richborough
On the site today, you'll be able to see the foundations of the chapel of St. Augustine. Constructed in the late Saxon period, the chapel had a rectangular nave and chancel with a western porch. In the 12th century the chapel was rebuilt with an apse at its western end. By the 17th century the chapel was demolished and its stones were used elsewhere.
Other remains of the early Christian church date to the end of the Roman period. You'll be able to see a Baptismal font which once stood in the side chapel of a church that seems to have been constructed out of timber. On your out, you can pop back inside the museum and check out the statue of Demeter, the Greek god of agriculture which appears to have been converted into the stone threshold (face-down) of this early church.
Postcode: CT13 9JW
Town/city or near: Sandwich
24th March – 30 September from 10 a.m.- 6p.m, access to amphitheatre possible at any reasonable time.