31 July 2012

Romans in Chester

Chester is a 2000 year old city in the North West of England, founded by the Romans. History is taken very seriously there. Very, er, seriously. OK – not so seriously but there is a lot to be said about learning while you are having fun. With regular gladiatorial training for kids, it’s like the Romans never left!

The Romans knew how to enjoy themselves and they left behind in Chester one of the few amphitheaters in the United Kingdom. It isn’t quite The Coliseum of Rome but people are nevertheless very proud of this two thousand year old remnant of past colonialism. 

 The Romans of course did not know the city as Chester. They called it Deva Victrix or simply Deva (pronounced dee-wa). The local tourist office puts on the training for kids each summer – it’s always a success and profits go to the amphitheater restoration project – much of it is still underground. Plus visitors to the amphitheater get to hear a Roman Centurion barking out orders to his troops.

The amphitheater sat around ten thousand people in its heyday which gives us a good idea of just how important a place Deva Victrix was to the Romans. It was built just outside the walls, the city's defensive barrier (which still exist today). However, like all British cities it was abandoned to its fate by Emperor Honorius who in 410AD told them to look after themselves and withdrew the legions back to the mainland of Europe.

Although the period after occupation saw decline and abandonment the modern city's roads still follow the old lines drawn up 2000 years ago by the Romans. Yet you often see the remnants of the legions still marching through the same streets - or even sometimes just wandering on their own.

The chance to be a Roman soldier was one of the things I looked forward to each summer term at school. I remember one year it was cancelled and we were all most despondent. Yet even if you don’t get a chance to be one yourself, you get plenty of sightings of Roman soldiers in Chester throughout the year.

The fun isn't just for the young. Bigger kids are allowed to join in too. Yet when the Chester Races happen each year, some argue that the fun goes a little too far...!

When things are a little calmer, Roman Centurions are happy to talk to the tourists.
In fact I remember our careers officer at school being horrified when one of the boys told her that it was his ambition to become a Roman soldier. It did seem to be a very cool summer job at the time, that’s for sure, even though there is always the occasional anachronism.

First Image Credit Flickr Usre Nick Bramhall