Camulodunum - The 'Fortress of the War God Camulos' - became the capital of Roman Britain. Archaeological excavations over many years have revealed a town of importance and sophistication; a consumer society catered for by mass-production and international trade.
The Roman town was home to 3 theatres, more than any other in Britain, as well as the only Roman chariot-racing Circus on the island. There were also at least 8 temples built, public water supply for the town, over 40 pottery kilns, glass and metal manufacturers and a major industrial complex. Large town houses have been uncovered with under floor heating and many fine decorated mosaic floors.
Come and discover Camulodonum, the oldest recorded town in Britain; or as it is known today: Colchester.
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The Roman Invasion
The Emperor Claudius spent just sixteen days in Britain, long enough to lead his troops into Camulodunum and receive the submission of several British kings. The Roman army then built a legionary fortress on the highest ground inside Camulodunum, the site of the present town centre.
By AD49 the fortress at Camulodunum had been turned into a civilian settlement named Colonia Claudia after the Emperor, and this became the first capital of the new Roman province of Britannia.
The colonia was populated mainly by retired soldiers, whose role was to spread Roman civilisation and keep an eye on the natives. Many of the military buildings were retained and converted, but the legionary defences were dismantled, leaving the town fatally unprotected. Large public buildings were constructed, including a theatre and a senate house. The grandest building of all was the Temple of Claudius, built to worship the Emperor after his death in AD54, when he was made a God.
The Boudican Revolt
The Boudican Revolt
Colchester Castle stands on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius, and the foundations can be visited on guided tours which take place daily at Colchester Castle.
Roman Colchester was virtually destroyed a few years after it was founded. In AD60 Queen Boudica of the Iceni, led a major rebellion against the Roman rulers who submitted to Claudius in AD43. After his death the Romans assaulted his widow Boudica and her daughters, refusing to accept the women as the king's heirs.
A revolt erupted and Boudica led her followers against Camulodunum, the Roman capital. Here the Iceni joined forces with the Trinovantes to attack and burn the undefended town. Those who survived retreated to the town's largest building. The Temple of Claudius, but they could only hold out for a couple of days. The Temple, which had been paid for through local taxes and built with slave labour of the Britons, was a focus of hatred. It was burnt and all the defenders slaughtered.
Colchester was quickly rebuilt but this time the town was enclosed by a substantial defensive wall. Some two thirds of the wall still stand today and is the oldest town wall in Britain. A particular section of interest is Balkerne Gate, the original main entrance to the town.
The Gosbecks site is located on the south-western edge of Colchester as it is known today. Gosbecks was Cunobelin's (referred to as the King of Britons) royal seat at Camulodunum. After the Roman invasion, Gosbecks was allowed to continue as a flourishing native centre, watched over firstly by a Roman fort which could house 500 soliers. Nearby the largest of the five known Roman theatres in Britain was built, with seating up to 5000 people. There was also an impressive Romano-Celtic temple complex.
The discovery of the finest bronze figure from Roman Britain, nearby what is now the Mercury Theatre, shows that even native religion was becoming Romanised. Gosbecks can be visited as it being preserved as an Archaeological Park, and its various historic features are explained on site.
Visit Roman Colchester today
Colchester's amazing Roman past continues to be uncovered. In 2004, the only Roman Circus in Britain was discovered to the south of the town, and is now open to the public as a museum.
In 2014, the Colchester Archaeological Trust unearthed a hoard of Roman silver and gold jewellery and coins, now on display in Colchester Castle Museum alongside a wealth of Roman Artefacts. Daily Guided Tours of the Castle will also show you the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, and a recent discovery of the Temple's arcade in front of Colchester Castle is soon to put on public display.
On the edge of the main cemetery, at Butt Road, the earliest known Christian Church in Britain, dating from the 4th Century, has been uncovered. The foundations are on display next to the police station, with an interpretation board for visitors.
The Visitor Information Centre run regular Guided Tours of Colchester, which will take you on a walk through Colchester's history.
Colchester Castle is the largest Norman Keep in Europe. Constructed on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius. The Castle Museum today reveals many fascinating layers of history to visitors.
The Colchester Roman circus (chariot-racing arena) was discovered in 2005. It was built in the early 2nd century AD and seems to have been in use for about 150 years. It is the only known Roman circus in Britain.
The remains of the Roman theatre in the town centre can best be seen in Maidenburgh Street in the Dutch Quarter. Look for the darker paving in the road showing the outline of the theatre's walls.
Colchester's Roman Wall is the oldest and longest surviving town wall in Britain.
The Archaeological Park is one of the most significant Iron Age and Roman sites in the country. Enjoy a walk and discover the highlights of the site with the interpretation boards around the Park.